FRIDAY, MAY 8, 1863
Sherman’s Corps, at last on the eastern side of the Mississippi river, made a force march from Grand Gulf all the way to Harkinson’s Ferry, almost 20 miles on its first full day ashore. In front of it General McClernand’s Corps advances to the Big Sandy Creek. And General McPherson’s Corps was this day edging toward Utica, Mississippi.
James Birdseye McPherson was a life long soldier, a superb engineer, and universally liked and admired by his peers. He graduated from West Point in 1853, where his roommate had been the future Confederate General John Bell Hood. McPherson then designed defenses for New York City and Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay (below). His Civil War service began at Forts Henry and Donelson, and after the Battle of Shiloh he was promoted to major General, all under General Grant.
He was loved by his troops, and asked no more from them than he himself was willing to risk. A fierce union man and patriot, McPherson would later answer those who criticized his compassion for suffering Southerners in Vicksburg by saying, “When the time comes that to be a soldier, a man must forget…the claims of humanity, I do not want to be a soldier.”
SATURDAY, MAY 9, 1863
Confederate President Jefferson Davis again orders General Pemberton to stay behind his defenses in Vicksburg, while Confederate General Johnston, Pemberton's immediate superior, has just urged Pemberton to take the field against Grant.
Pemberton (above) is inclined by his nature to obey Davis. That was the safe choice. He does not feel strong enough to secure Vicksburg and engage Grant away from the "Gilbralter of the South". Davis has even attempted to get Robert E. Lee to release Longstreet’s Corps to be sent to Mississippi, for the Vicksburg defense.
But Lee is in the middle of planning his invasion of Pennsylvania, and without Longstreet's corps there can be no such invasion. So, Davis is forced to turn to a man for whom he has no respect. Finally, on this late date, May 9, 1863, Davis authorizes his Secretary of War (as Davis will not even communicate with the man directly) to order General Joseph E. Johnston (above) to “…proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces in the field.” He also issues a public call for state militias to defend Vicksburg. It is all he can do to save the situation in Mississippi.
Meanwhile Brigadier General John Gregg’s (above) over strength 3,000 man Brigade, dispatched north from Port Hudson, finally arrives in Jackson, Mississippi, after a forced march of 80 parched miles along the damaged rail lines from Brookhaven, Mississippi. He posts his men on the Pearl River, just north of town, where they can enjoy some desperately needed water.
Although he is now a Texan, this is familiar territory for Gregg. He graduated with a law degree from La Grange College, just across the border in Tennessee from where Grierson began his cavalry raid.
At the start of the war Gregg formed the 7th Texas Infantry regiment and was almost immediately captured. He was exchanged almost as quickly and in September of 1862 was commissioned a brigadier General and sent to Mississippi, where he fought at the Battle of Shiloh.
A year later, once his men are rested after their long march, Gregg expects to fall on the rear of Grant’s army when the Union General tries to cross the Big Black River on his way to Vicksburg.
SUNDAY, MAY 10, 1863
In Virginia General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson dies of pneumonia, brought on by the bed rest demanded by his wounds suffered at Chancellorsville. When told of his death, Lee, who admits he did not know Jackson very well, still cries out, “I have lost my right arm.”
In Mississippi on this day, Union General McPherson’s Corps cautiously approaches Utica, Mississippi, while Sherman’s Corps advances to the Big Sandy River. McClernand’s Corps has been ordered to slowly move on Clinton, Mississippi. Moving with McClerand, Grant (above) decides to drop all “lines of communication” with Grand Gulf behind him. From now on his men are making do with the rations they carry and what they can forage from the countryside. It is a massive gamble.
William T. Sherman will later calculate that each Union soldier in the field requires three pounds of food stuffs each day, in addition to the 13 pounds of “re-supply” required to keep him “effective” - armed with ammunition and powder, boots, uniform and medicine. All of this had to be carried in horse or mule drawn wagons that accompanied each regiment and which trailed the army in long supply trains. In addition, each regiment was expected to carry 25% additional supplies for their teamsters. Even though the Civil War has been labeled “the first railroad war”, its armies were always carried on the backs of horses and mules.
To support each 1,000 men in the field required 40 – 50 wagons (drawn by about 300 mules), to carry foodstuffs (for the humans and animals), tents, blankets, cooking gear, ammunition, tack, horse and human shoes, and one or two ambulances. Each of the horses required 26 pounds of fodder per day and each mule required 24 pounds, half of which the army was required to carry and half of which the animals were expected to find for themselves. When Grant proposed “living of the land” after leaving Port Gibson it was a literal proposal for the animals. Each 2-3,000 pound wagon load of supplies could cover about 20 miles in an eight hour day of marching. As the army marched the supplies would be used up, which would lighten the load a little, but the humans and the animals still had to eat.
On average a Civil War army required one horse for every three men - 20 horses to pull each artillery piece, and six mules to pull each wagon. And that was in addition to the mounts for cavalry and officers – which meant that Grant’s army of 42,000 men required 14,000 horses and mules. And the vast majority of animals in a Civil War army were merely beasts of burden. Each horse and mule lived a short, brutal life, even more so than the humans who controlled them.
MONDAY MAY 11, 1863
General McClernand’s Corp reaches Five Mile Creek in Mississippi. Following him up, General Sherman's men reach Auburn, Mississippi. But because the roads out of Raymond have not been picketed, (the rebels have no idea the Union army is even close to them) travelers can come and go from Raymond as they please. Thus McPherson, advancing out of Utica, is well aware of the presence of Confederate troops in Raymond, but the Confederates are not yet aware of his presence, just half a day’s march south of the town. Not wanting to alert the Confederates, the Federals are marching under strict drum and bugle silence. Still, General McPherson’s biggest concern this day is finding water for his men. It is an amazing turn of events considering that for weeks his men have been waist deep in swamps and bayous. It has been the driest spring in decades.
In fact it is a year of freakish weather. On January 21, 1863 the Army of the Potomac suffered through the infamous “Mud March”. Days of heavy rain, followed by vicious winds and temperatures in the 30’s, turned yet another attempt to sidestep Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, into a freezing march into hell. Defeated by the weather the Union troops returned to their winter camps and the bumbling General Ambrose Burnside was replaced by the over confident Hooker. A month later, on February 25, a foot of snow and mild temperatures allowed 10,000 rebel soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia to engage in what might have been the largest snowball fight in history.
Early that spring farmers in the upper Midwest sensed a good crop ahead, but May brought drought from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. St. Paul recorded less than an inch of rain over the first 21 days of May, and then on the 22 \23 the city was flooded with a 2 inch downpour – followed by a return to drought conditions and cool temperatures. The Mississippi River is so low that barge and boat traffic through the twin cities is heavily restricted. The droughts in Southern California that year and the next were so severe they killed a quarter of a million cattle in Santa Barbara County, and even more in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, reducing all of the Southern California Rancheros, the foundation of the local economy, to financial ruin. This forces the landowners to search for another crop, which leads to the introduction of the Valencia Oranges from South America. The record of tree rings says that the drought of 1863-64 across the Great Plains and the south western United States was even more severe than the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s.
This Monday, Confederate General Johnston telegraphs Pemberton now in Edwards, urging him to abandon Vicksburg completely and withdraw to Jackson, Mississippi. Pemberton refuses. He replies instead that he has placed strong forces along the Big Black River and is attempting to build a force “of maneuver”. Pemberton’s “plan” is simple; either way Grant turns there will then be a Confederate army in his rear, either himself or Johnston at Jackson. It seems a brilliant “Napoleonic” plan, but it depends upon communication between two widely separated forces, divided by a powerful and active enemy. And whichever way Grant turns, Pemberton’s strategy has left the Vicksburg & Jackson Railroad unprotected in the middle. With so much as a singe mile of additional track destroyed, Vicksburg becomes an albatross around Pemberton’s neck. But Pemberton seems unwilling to accept this reality.
General Gregg’s troops arrive in Raymond late in the afternoon, dust covered and exhausted yet again. One soldier writes, “…when the brigade filed into a field near Raymond to camp, the men were too tired to stand in line long enough to ‘right dress,’ and everyone dropped to rest as soon as we halted.” To his surprise Gregg does not find Wirt Adam’s cavalry in town. Without informing anyone, Adams has galloped ahead to Edwards Station, leaving behind only a force of 40 state militia cavalry. Gregg is forced to rouse his own men to guard the Utica road. TUESDAY MAY 12, 1863
General Johnston (above) sends yet another, firmer, warning to Pemberton. He says he has information that Grant's target is Jackson, and pleads with Pemberton to attack the Union rear. Pemberton replies that he is still not certain which way Grant is going to turn. Johnston might order Pemberton. But what would he do if Pemberton disobeyed? And if he did retreat to Jackson, would Pemberton not then be disobeying President Jefferson Davis?
In Raymond, General Gregg receives word that the main Federal force is approaching Edwards Station. But he also knows, finally, that there are Federal troops approaching his own position. He logically assumes this latter group must be a small raiding party, and he sees an opportunity to defeat a portion of Grant's army.. Just after dawn he parades his men through town to buck up the civilians, and then conceals them on the town's outskirts, along Fourteen Mile creek, with 35 men picketed on the bridge over the creek itself. When the Federal raiders charge across the bridge, Gregg intends to pin them against the river with a furious and overwhelming charge of his own.
Just as Gregg expects, at about 10:00 am that Tuesday morning, Federal skirmishers appear at the tree line south of Fourteen Mile Creek. But to Gregg's surprise they are supported by Union artillery, which begins to shell his picket guard with canister. Clearly this is more than a mere raiding party. But Gregg now assumes it is merely a brigade. So he moves his 3,000 men back, out of canister range, behind some low hills, where they can remain hidden, ready to fall upon the Union brigade after it crosses the bridge. Gregg also moves two regiments into woods to his left where they can quickly slip across the creek and capture the Union artillery.
What Gregg does not know it that he is facing General John Alexander “Black Jack” Logan’s entire Third Division, advance guard for McPherson’s 17th. Corps of 16,000 men. Logan may look like a wild man with his intense jet black eyes and tousled hair but he is a surprisingly good soldier - even if he is yet another of those Stephen Douglas Democratic generals. The difference between Logan and McClernand, is that Logan is a charismatic leader of men with no dreams of higher command. And he smells Gregg’s trap to his front. Logan allows his men to take a meal break while he posts cavalry on his flanks.
It is after noon before Logan orders his men to advance. But on Logan's right flank, what follows would be a comedy of errors if men were not being killed and maimed. The 23rd Indiana regiment crosses Fourteen Mile Creek above the bridge, and stumbles sideways into a Texas Regiment that punishes the Hoosiers with fire and sends their survivors scampering back the way they came. Then the Texans charge across the creek and are caught in a cross fire between an Ohio and an Illinois regiments. In their turn the Texans fall back in retreat.
On the opposite flank, the two Confederate regiments step out of concealment ready to attack, only to discover an entire Federal division in line of battle to their front, with another two full Union Regiments outflanking them to their left. In a flash the tables have been turned, and suddenly it is the Confederates who have been suckered into attacking a far superior force. The best that Gregg can now do is to fight a series of desperate delaying actions while he withdraws, covered by the Third Kentucky Mounted Infantry which has just arrived from Jackson. Raymond is abandoned as Gregg falls back on the Mississippi state capital.
Union casualties in this "Battle of Raymond" are 68 killed, 341 wounded, and 37 missing. Rebel losses are reported as 100 killed, 305 wounded, and 415 captured. But the Union Army reports burying many more Rebel dead than the 100 officially listed, indicating the almost haphazard nature of the force that Greg threw together at Raymond. McPherson senses the enemy confusion and notifies Grant.
By courier set back to Grand Gulf Grant notifies Washington of his intention to attack the state capital of Jackson, Mississippi on the 14th. The pace of events around Vicksburg are suddenly picking up.
WEDNESDAY MAY 13, 1863
This morning General Grant orders General McClernand to pull back to a line to the east of Raymond, Mississippi, and hold there to protect the rear of his operations against Jackson. Having thus neutralized any threat from the political McClernand (for 24 hours at least) Grant now feels free to join Sherman’s Corp, as it follows McPherson's Corps toward Jackson. At Clinton, McPherson's men will cross the Vicksburg and Jackson railroad line, and they will pause there long enough to destroy a couple of miles of track and cut the telegraph line to Vicksburg. The jugular of the "Gilbraltor of the South" has been severed.
ackson. Here Johnston discovers that half of the 6,000 troops he expected to find have already been defeated at Raymond the day before, while bearing down on him are two Federal army corps of about 24,000 men. Still there are Confederate reinforcements on their way. Another five thousand men will arrive within 24 hours, and six thousand more 24 hours beyond that. But Johnston suspects that Grant will not wait for those reinforcements to arrive. And he is right. After consulting with General Gregg, who has just retreated from Raymond, Johnston telegraphs Richmond, “I am too late”. He orders Gregg to defend the Jackson only long enough to evacuate as many supplies as possible. To meet this requirement Gregg throws his first line of defence out two miles beyond the Jackson fortifications to the south and west. Johnston is certain that, if he can get Pemberton to moved toward his position now, together they will finally have enough men to crush Grant's army between them.
General Joseph Eggleston Johnston (above) always contended that the shrapnel wounds he suffered at the Battle of Seven Pines in May of 1862, was the best shot “…ever fired for the Confederacy”. Severely wounded in the shoulder and leg, Johnston was replaced as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia by General Robert E. Lee. But the truth is that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, convinced of his own military genius, had already grown frustrated with Johnston’s cautiously formal command style. A hunting companion described Johnston as reluctant to shoot because he was “…afraid to…risk his fine reputation.” Johnston is elegant and well mannered to a fault.
In person Johnston exudes elegance, education and culture, and a 19th Century "Star Quality" largely lost on us today. He was described by Stephen Vincent Benet as the "...the little precise Scotch-dominie of a general, stubborn as flint, in advance not always so lucky, in retreat more dangerous than a running wolf". But whether it was circumstances (such as the timing of his arrival in Jackson) or his overly cautious nature, Johnston is always an excellent general… in retreat.
After recovering from his wounds suffered at Seven Pines, Johnston is sent to the Western Theater in early 1863 - seemingly to keep him out of Lee’s way and Davis' hair. This time Johnston is given no troops to command. Rather he is limited to advising the dyspeptic and argumentative General Braxton Bragg (above) in Chattanooga, and the indecisive Pemberton in far off Vicksburg. Johnston complains to Davis that “I cannot direct both parts of my command at once”. Still, Davis does not have enough faith in Johnston to allow him to collect a theater reserve force, nor enough troops to form one. And after the war, Grant will observe that, “I have had nearly all of the Southern generals in high command in front of me and Joe Johnston gave me more anxiety than any of the others. I was never half so anxious about Lee.”
Late that afternoon, before the telegraph lines to Edwards are cut, Johnston sends the following message to Pemberton; "I have lately arrived, and learn that Major-General Sherman is between us…It is important to establish communication, that you may be re-enforced. If practicable, come up in his rear at once...All the troops you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all-important."
But that night the heavens open and the spring drought is briefly quenched with a massive downpour that falls across the entire state. For awhile, nobody is going anywhere in Mississippi very quickly.
The rain pours down all night, letting up only in mid-morning. The roads into and out of Jackson are reduced to quagmires.
Sherman also senses the rebels are not serious about fighting. So, despite facing water a foot deep across his path, and the continuing downpour, and despite not being certain about the condition of his own soldier’s powder, Sherman orders his men forward at the bayonet. He is looking for weak points. At about 10:00 am they cross Plum Creek and the Lynch Creek Bridge and quickly drive the Confederates back into their fortifications. Meanwhile, to the north, on the Union right flank, General McPherson has pushed two of his divisions, commanded by Generals Logan and M.M. Crocker, forward to pin down the rebel troops.
General Marcellus M. Crocker is an example of the way the war has reshaped men’s lives. He had been enrolled in West Point when his father’s death required him to return home to Illinois in the fall of 1849. Marcellus then moved to Iowa, where he passed the bar in 1852. When the war broke he immediately raised a company of volunteers. Over the winter of 1861-62 Marcellus was promoted to Brigadier General and commanded troops at the battles of Shiloh and Corinth. In the Vicksburg campaign Crocker commands the 17th division. Later in the war Crocker will be offered the Republican nomination for Iowa governor, but replies “If a soldier is worth anything he cannot be spared from the field; if he is worthless, he will not make a good Governor.”
By noon Crocker and Logan’s men have driven the Confederates back into their fortifications, and McPherson calls a halt to feel out the rebel main lines. At the same time, to the south and west of Jackson, Sherman’s Corp is tapping the Confederate lines at the bridge over Plum Creek, and sends General Tuttles’s division eastward to outflank the rebel line.
There, just after 2:00 pm, General Tuttle finds the fortifications empty. The Confederate General Gregg has received permission to withdraw north along the Central Mississippi Railroad and the Canton Road.
The “Battle of Jackson” has cost Grant’s army 42 dead, 25 wounded and 7 missing. Gregg lost about 845 dead, wounded and captured, affirming Johnston’s decision not to stand and fight with a mix of militia and regulars against a far stronger veteran Union force. Sherman’s men enter the capital of Mississippi at about 4:00 pm, and almost immediately Grant begins issuing orders to abandon the newly won prize.
The goal of the campaign is Vicksburg, and Grant has never lost sight of that. The capture of Vicksburg opens the Mississippi River and cuts the Confederacy in-two. The capture of Jackson is merely a step on the road to that goal. Grant does not have the men to hold the place unless he also takes Vicksburg. So, even while Grant’s commanders celebrate the capture of yet another Confederate state capital, he is ordering McPherson’s men onto the road again, to rejoin McClernand’s Corps back to the west of Raymond. Sherman is to leave two divisions in Jackson, but only long enough to destroy track of the Central Mississippi Railroad, and any manufacturing in the city. By the time Jackson is returned to the Confederacy, Grant means it to be almost worthless.
That night, six miles north of Jackson, and with the telegraph lines cut by Sherman.s men, General Johnston sends written dispatches to Pemberton at Edwards Station, telling him of the capture of Jackson. But he also see’s an opportunity in this calamity. He now commands 11,000 men, and in 24 hours he will have 15,000. He knows that Grant does not have enough men to hold Jackson and take Vicksburg. So he tries, once more, to prod Pemberton, into action against Grant, asking, “Can he supply himself from the Mississippi? Can you not cut him off from it, and above all, should he be compelled to fall back for want of supplies, beat him?....I am anxious to see a force assembled that may be able to inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy." But what neither Johnston nor Pemberton realize yet, is that there is now no supply line for Pemberton to cut.
This night at Edward’s Station, General Pemberton holds a council of war with his four commanders: the cavalry of Wirt Adams (above) is now Pemberton’s eyes and ears.
Pembertons's most trusted subordinate is Major General Stevens Bowen (above), who graduated from West Point in 1853.
He is joined by Major General Carter Stevenson (above), who graduated from West Point in 1838. The most colorful and the most argumentative of Pemberton's three divisional commanders is Major General William Wing "Old Blizzard" Loring.
In 1862 General Loring (above) had been subordinate to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. When cold weather came and Jackson took his troops into winter quarters, he ordered Loring to use his men to picket the defenses and keep his men on patrol to watch for Union probes. Loring complained to Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin about Jackson’s “utter disregard for human suffering”. Benjamin agreed with Loring and gave him permission to bring his men in from the cold. The insulted Jackson thereupon threatened to resign unless Loring was removed. And Jackson was far more valuable to the south than Loring. The complaining general was eventually shipped out to Vicksburg, where he could henceforth torment Pemberton.
After the council of war that night, Pemberton replied to General Johnston’s message. “I shall move as early tomorrow as practicable with a column of 17,000 men to Dillions, situated on the main road from Raymond to Port Gibson...The object is to cut the enemy’s communications and to force him to attack me, as I do not consider my force sufficient to justify an attack on the enemy in position or to attempt to cut my way to Jackson.”
Pemberton has thus rejected Johnston’s recommendation that they jointly fall on Grant’s rear. Instead Pemberton has chosen to attack the Union supply trains that must be filling the roads between Grand Gulf and Jackson. The most logical focus for such an attack would be Dillion, midway between the two. Again, looking for the middle ground, Pemberton has chosen a position right in the middle of "No Man's Land". He has neither cut Gran's supply lines - which do not exist - nor confronted Grant's hungry men in front of Jackson.
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