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Battle of Jackson

May 14, 1863

The Union victory at the Battle of Jackson paved the way for subsequent victories at the Battle of Champion Hill (May 16, 1863), the Battle of Big Black River Bridge (May 17, 1863), and the surrender of Vicksburg (July 4, 1863) following a prolonged siege.

On April 29, 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant launched his spring offensive aimed at capturing Vicksburg, the "Gibraltar of the Mississippi." With the aid of Admiral Porter's gunboats, Grant attempted to move Major General John A. McClernand's 13th Army Corps across the Mississippi River at Grand Gulf, below Vicksburg. When the Confederate resistance proved to be too formidable, Grant chose to bypass the Rebel works and move the crossing nine miles farther down the river. On the morning of April 30, 1863, roughly 23,000 Union soldiers disembarked from troops barges at Bruinsburg, Mississippi during the largest amphibious offensive in American history prior to the invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II.

Despite the large number of Yankees involved, the Confederate forces in the area were still superior in number. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, the commander of Confederate troops in and around Vicksburg, had roughly 30,000 soldiers at his disposal. Fortunately for Grant, Pemberton took literally his orders to defend Vicksburg at all costs. Rather than moving forward to stem the Union invasion force at Bruinsburg, where it was most vulnerable, Pemberton chose to keep most of his troops in garrison at Vicksburg. As a result, the landing was unchallenged and the only Confederates nearby were Major General John S. Bowen's force of 6,000-8,000 soldiers who had marched to Port Gibson after thwarting Grant's landing at Grand Gulf the previous day.

As the Union forces came ashore, they secured a beachhead and began marching toward Port Gibson, twenty miles to the east. The next day, the Federals defeated Bowen's greatly-outnumbered Rebels at the Battle of Port Gibson (May 1, 1863).

After establishing his presence in Mississippi, Grant had three options.

  1. He could move directly north and launch an assault on Vicksburg, his primary target. To do so, however, would expose his army to attack from the rear by the roughly 6,000 Confederate forces garrisoned at Jackson, Mississippi, fifty miles to the east of Vicksburg.

  2. Alternatively, Grant could turn and face the Rebels at Jackson, commanded by Brigadier General John Gregg, and then assault Vicksburg.

  3. Finally, Grant could follow his original orders and march his army south to combine with General Nathaniel P. Banks' Army of the Gulf, capture the river town of Port Hudson, and then return to assault Vicksburg.

Choosing the latter would place Grant under the command of the more-senior Banks, an option that probably did not appeal to Grant. When Banks informed Grant that he was not yet prepared to assault Port Hudson, Grant choose to turn his attention to Jackson.

On May 7, 1863, Grant's force, which by then had swelled to 45,000 soldiers, began marching northeast toward the state capital in three columns, with each column consisting of one corps. Grant's movement toward Jackson prompted Confederate Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, two days later to telegraph General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Department of the West, to "Proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces, giving to those in the field, as far as practicable, the encouragement and benefit of your personal direction."

The next day, May 10, 1863, Pemberton ordered Gregg to march his brigade of 3,000 to 4,000 Confederate soldiers from Jackson to Raymond. Gregg's men arrived in Raymond on the afternoon of May 11, and they spent the night preparing for battle the next day.

On the morning of May 12, Confederate scouts erroneously reported to Gregg that a Federal brigade of about 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers was moving toward Raymond. Believing that the numbers were fairly even, Gregg decided to stand and fight. Unfortunately for Gregg, his scouts had seen only the lead brigade of Grant's army. Unbeknownst to Gregg, he was about to send his brigade into battle against an entire Union corps numbering 12,000 Union soldiers. The results were predictable — by the end of the day, what remained of Gregg's brigade after the Battle of Raymond was in flight back to Jackson.

General Johnston arrived in Jackson on May 13, 1863 in time to witness the arrival of Gregg's retreating troops. Quickly ascertaining that he stood no chance of halting Grant's approaching juggernaut, Johnston immediately ordered the evacuation of Jackson. The commanding general assigned Gregg's men the unenviable task of holding off the Yankees until the exodus could be completed.

With only 6,000 troops at his disposal, Gregg ordered the deployment of 900 men to the O.P. Wright farm, three miles northwest of Jackson. Gregg directed them to delay the advance of Major General James B. McPherson's 17th Army Corps, numbering 12,000 Bluecoats, which was approaching from the northwest. As McPherson's soldiers approached the farm at 10 a.m., on May 14, 1863, a cloudburst impeded their progress more than the vastly outnumbered Rebels. Following an hourlong delay, the Yankees stormed forward at 11 a.m. and quickly overpowered their opponent in an engagement that featured intense close-quarter fighting.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Gregg, Major General William T. Sherman's 15th Army Corps, numbering 16,000, soldiers, was also marching toward Jackson from the southwest. When Gregg learned of Sherman's advance, he quickly deployed a force of roughly 1,000 Rebels along Lynch Creek outside of the city, in hopes of slowing the Yankees. Confederate artillerists arrived in time to establish a temporary battery from which to shell their enemy. Once the Rebel barrage began, Sherman quickly called forward his corps' more imposing ordnance and forced the Confederates to retreat leaving the bridge across swollen Lynch Creek intact. Sherman's soldiers quickly poured across the bridge, chasing their enemy through a woods on the other side. Upon emerging from the opposite side of the woods, Confederate artillerists in Jackson temporarily halted the Bluecoats.

As the Yankees pondered their next move, Johnston advised Gregg that the evacuation of Jackson was achieved and that he too should abandon the city. Gregg left behind a small contingent of militia and civilian volunteers to man the heavy guns as his garrison escaped. Sherman's soldiers quickly dispatched the remaining defenders and raised the Stars and Stripes over the Mississippi state capitol building.

Grant and Sherman did not tarry long in Jackson. Grant left on May 15 after ordering Sherman to destroy anything that might benefit the Confederacy. Sherman's men severed telegraph lines, destroyed the railroad to Vicksburg, and torched the city's factories and machine shops before departing on May 16. The Confederates reoccupied what the Yankees left intact that evening.

Grant's victory at the Battle of Jackson, and the subsequent destruction of the city's infrastructure impeded Johnston's ability to unite his forces with Pemberton, now isolated at Vicksburg, or to come to Pemberton's aid. Resounding Union victories at the Battle of Champion Hill (May 16) and the Battle of Big Black River (May 17), forced Pemberton to take refuge within the City of Vicksburg proper. After a prolonged siege, Grant eventually forced Pemberton to surrender the Gibraltar of the Mississippi on July 4, 1863.

Confederate casualties in the Battle of Jackson are estimated at 845 (killed, wounded, and missing). Union casualties totaled 300 (42 killed, 251 wounded, and 7 missing).

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