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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Vicksburg

   

On May 13 Pemberton received an order from Johnston to march for Clinton and a junction with the Confederate forces in Jackson. One of the Rebel couriers given the message was a Federal spy, and on May 14 the message was passed on to Grant by McPherson. With Johnston moving to the northeast, Grant found himself in a position to converge his three corps on Pemberton, who, if he had followed Johnston's order, was marching to Clinton.

McClernand and McPherson marched for Bolton, a spot on the railroad between Clinton and Edwards. Grant figured that if Johnston did decide to turn to the southwest, Bolton would be his likely target. Meanwhile, Grant ordered Sherman to remain in Jackson long enough to destroy railroads and Confederate government property. The fiery destruction got a bit out of hand, much to Sherman's chagrin, and he would ever after be held responsible by Jackson residents for turning their city into "Chimnevyille."


(click on image for a PDF version)
BATTLE OF JACKSON, MAY 14, 1863
Johnston decides that his force is too small and entrenchments inadequate for a successful defense of the capital. He orders an evacuation, leaving behind a small force commanded by Gregg. Gregg posts his men on the Clinton road. McPherson comes down the Clinton road, but a rainstorm delays his attack against Gregg, who is forced to withdraw to the Jackson entrenchments. Sherman's corps approached on the Raymond road. An artillery duel ensued, won by the Federals. Gregg learns that the evacuation has been completed, and he orders a general withdrawal to the north.

On the Edwards front, John Pemberton was in a quandary. He had received a message from Johnston (sent before he evacuated Jackson) to attack the Yankees at Clinton, while Johnston would march west in a pincer movement, but that did not seem reasonable to Pemberton. Not only would he have to uncover Vicksburg, but he knew that McClernand's force lay on the Raymond-Edwards road in a position to strike the Confederate right flank if Pemberton did as Johnston said.

Demonstrating his lack of confidence in his own ability to make important decisions, Pemberton assembled a council of war on May 14. Most of his officers supported Johnston's plan, but, after much discussion, Pemberton decided that his best move was to march southeast toward Grant's supply line. This would keep the main Rebel army between Vicksburg and McClernand and, depending on circumstances, would put Pemberton in a position to countermarch back to Edwards to block any advance by Grant from Jackson.

UNION TROOPS DESTROY CONFEDERATE HOLDINGS IN JACKSON. (LC)

THIS ALEXANDER GARDNER PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS UNION REINFORCEMENTS IN VIRGINIA ABOUT TO EMBARK FOR VICKSBURG. THEY DID NOT REACH MISSISSIPPI IN TIME TO ASSIST IN THE CAMPAIGN. (LC)

As one of his engineers later wrote, Pemberton made the mistake of trying to please two masters: Johnston and Jefferson Davis. Davis had said to hold Vicksburg; Johnston wanted him to attack Grant. So he made his decision based on a desire to please Johnston by assuming the offensive (albeit in the wrong direction) while remaining in a position to protect Vicksburg.

Pemberton wired Johnston of the decision and suggested the possibility of using his advance toward Raymond as a means to hit the Federal forces at Jackson from the flank and rear. A victory would keep the Yankees from getting any closer to Vicksburg. (Two divisions remained in Vicksburg to defend the city in case Grant somehow got past Pemberton and Johnston.) Pemberton did not know that Johnston had abandoned Jackson, and by the time he got the news, the decisive battle at Champion Hill would be under way.

On the morning of May 15, Pemberton tried to get his army under way. Supply problems and a flooded Bakers Creek delayed the advance as the commanding general and his staff demonstrated their lack of competence at leading a large army in the field. No scouts had been sent out to reconnoiter the creek that flowed on a northeast to southwest course a few miles east of Edwards.

By the end of the day, Pemberton's three divisions, led by Carter Stevenson, John Bowen, and William Loring, had made little progress. The head of the column, Loring's division, camped west of Jackson Creek, a few hundred yards east of Bakers Creek. The remaining divisions, Bowen's in the center and Stevenson's on the left, were strung out to the northwest behind Loring.

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