• View from Battery DeGolyer

    Vicksburg

    National Military Park Mississippi

Battle of Big Black River Bridge (May 17)

Modern-day Big Black River

Modern-day Big Black River

NPS Photo

Pemberton ordered Bowen's division, and a fresh brigade commanded by Brigadier General John Vaughn, to hold the bridges across Big Black River long enough for General Loring to cross. Unbeknownst to Pemberton, however, Loring was not marching toward the river, but instead northeast, to join with the forces of General Johnston. Federal troops appeared early in the morning and prepared to storm the defenses, with McClernand's XIII Corps quickly deploying along the road and Union artillery opening on the Confederate fortifications with solid shot and shell.
 
Big Black River Battlefield

Big Black River Battlefield

NPS Photo

The Confederate line was naturally strong, and formed an arc with its left flank resting on Big Black River and the right flank on Gin Lake. A bayou of waist-deep water fronted a portion of the line, and 18 cannon were placed to sweep the flat open ground to the east. As both sides prepared for battle, Union troops took advantage of terrain features and Brigadier General Mike Lawler, on the Federal right, deployed his men in a meander scar not far from the Southern line of defense.

Believing that his men could cover the intervening ground quickly, and with little loss, Lawler boldly ordered his troops to fix bayonets and charge. With a mighty cheer the Federals swept across the open ground, through the bayou, and over the parapets. From beginning to end, the charge lasted three minutes.
 
Big Black River Bridge

Big Black River Bridge

NPS Photo

Overwhelmed by the charge, Confederate soldiers threw down their rifle-muskets and ran toward the bridges across the river. In the panic and confusion of defeat, many Confederate soldiers attempted to swim across the river and drowned. Luckily, Pemberton's chief engineer, Major Samuel Lockett, set the bridges on fire, effectively cutting off pursuit by the victorious Union army. Badly shaken, the Confederates staggered back into the Vicksburg defenses and prepared to resist the Union onslaught.

Confederate losses at the Big Black River Bridge were not accurately reported, but 1,751 men, 18 cannon, and 5 battleflags were captured by the Federals. Union casualties totaled only 279 men, of whom 39 were killed, 237 wounded, and 3 missing. Grant's forces bridged the river at three locations and, flushed with victory, pushed hard toward Vicksburg on May 18.

The Civil War-era bridge which spanned the river at this site was set on fire by the Confederates to prevent pursuit by Grant's victorious army. The modern railroad bridge is pictured above.
 

Did You Know?

Did You Know?

Vicksburg National Military Park was the last of the first five National Military Parks established by the Congress of the United States during the last quarter of the 19th century.