Battle of Jackson, Mississippi
On May 9, 1863, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston received a dispatch from the Confederate Secretary of War directing him to “proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces in the field.” As he arrived in Jackson on the 13th, from Middle Tennessee, he learned that two army corps from the Union Army of the Tennessee — the XV, under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, and the XVII, under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson — were advancing on Jackson, intending to cut the city and the railroads off from Vicksburg. Johnston consulted with the local commander, Brig. Gen. John Gregg, and learned that only about 6,000 troops were available to defend the town. Johnston ordered the evacuation of Jackson, but Gregg was to defend Jackson until the evacuation was completed. By 10:00 am, both Union army corps were near Jackson and had engaged the enemy. Rain, Confederate resistance, and poor defenses prevented heavy fighting until around 11:00 am, when Union forces attacked in numbers and slowly but surely pushed the enemy back. In mid-afternoon, Johnston informed Gregg that the evacuation was complete and that he should disengage and follow. Soon after, the Yankees entered Jackson and had a celebration, hosted by Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant who had been traveling with Sherman’s corps, in the Bowman House. They then burned part of the town and cut the railroad connections with Vicksburg. Johnston’s evacuation of Jackson was a tragedy because he could, by late on the 14th, have had 11,000 troops at his disposal and by the morning of the 15th, another 4,000. The fall of the former Mississippi state capital was a blow to Confederate morale. (NPS summary)
Jackson, Mississippi (14 May 1863)
After the bloody engagement at Raymond Grant feared that a Confederate force was gathering at Jackson that would threaten his rear if he turned on Pemberton. He was determined that any effort against Vicksburg had to be preceded by the reduction of those forces. While McClernand kept an eye on Pemberton, who had move out to a position near Edward’s Station, McPherson marched north from Raymond to Clinton. Sherman moved through Raymond, trailing McPherson’s corps and marched to Mississippi Springs. Grant now had two corps in position to threaten the capital from different directions.
In Jackson, the newly arrived Johnston was planning the evacuation of the city. In order to gain time to remove the valuable military supplies from the city Johnston sent troops under Gregg to man the hastily prepared trenches. He also ordered Pemberton to attack Clinton to draw Union attention away from his activities. Pemberton realizing that there were four divisions of Federal troops in that area declined to do so. Grant could effectively disregard his presence.
At 0600 on the rainy morning of 14 May Sherman and McPherson began their march on the Mississippi capital. Their plan was a coordinated two prong attack on the city. Crocker’s division of led the way from the west and BG James Tuttle’s division of Sherman’s Corps from the southwest. Tuttle’s men had little difficulty driving the Confederate skirmishers before them “until we were within 2 ½ miles of Jackson where we encountered a heavier force with artillery.” Tuttle ordered the 2nd Iowa Artillery up to engage the enemy guns and a gun duel ensued. After thirty minutes the Confederate “battery was silenced” and the march continued until they reached the works on the outskirts of the city. There artillery from the works “opened a brisk fire upon us.” In there immediate front was a small force consisting of the 3rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry, a battalion of sharpshooters, and the gunners. Rather than attack head on Sherman ordered the lead units to ready for battle while the 95th Ohio conducted a reconnaissance to the far right of the Union line. The Buckeyes, under Colonel W. L. McMillen, found the trenches empty and were led by the Confederate guns by a contraband. McMillen’s men made prisoners of the gunners and nine guns while the remaining Confederate troops concluded they could delay the Union advance no longer and made good their get away. Sherman’s column “marched into town without further opposition.”
At the western approaches to town the Union forces were finding the going much tougher. Because they needed to protect the primary escape route along the Canton Road a much larger force was drawn up there. Colonel P. H. Colquitt, Colonel W. H. T. Walker, and Colonel R. Farquharson (commanding Gregg’s Brigade) had their brigades blocking the Clinton Road. At approximately 0900 Union troops from Holmes brigade of Crocker’s division collided with the Confederate skirmish line. The line “reluctantly and slowly fell back” on to the main line comprised of the 24th South Carolina, 46th Georgia, and 14th Mississippi supported by four guns of Hoskin’s battery. Holmes “commanded that bayonets be fixed and a charge made upon the enemy.” The bulk of the attacking force was made up of the 17th Iowa, 10th Missouri, and 80th Ohio. The fight swirled back to the O. P. Wright house where an “almost hand to hand conflict with the 24th Regiment South Carolina Volunteers” ensued. There the majority of the casualties for the entire action occurred. Ellison Caper’s stubborn South Carolinians reported 105 losses and the nearby 46th Georgia totaled 88. The 17th Iowa, 10th Missouri, and 80th Ohio accounted for 68% of the Union total of 300. At 1600 Gregg withdrew the last of the Confederate troops when he received word that the trains had cleared the city. The fight for Jackson was over
The fall of Jackson accomplished much more than it originally appeared. Besides pushing Johnston north to Canton and farther away from consolidation with Pemberton and the destruction of the supply line to Pemberton Grant also stopped the flow of Confederate reinforcements to the area.
On 12 May there were nearly 10,000 troops headed to Jackson from as far away as South Carolina. All of these troops would have to pass through Jackson. When the city became untenable as a railhead these movements stopped where they were when they received the word that Jackson had fallen. When these movements stopped Johnston’s forces were effectively reduced from a projected 15,000 to the few that had moved to Canton from Jackson. This group did not pose a significant enough threat to prevent Grant from turning the bulk of his army toward Pemberton. They had ceased to be active players in the campaign for Vicksburg. As Sherman destroyed anything in Jackson of military value, McPherson and McClernand moved off to intercept Pemberton’s attempt to march to join Johnston.