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
(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.