May 11, 1863 (Monday)
General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee snaked its way east along the Big Black River, consuming as it went. Entire farms were devoured as if descended upon by locusts. In fear of having to rely upon his potentially unreliable supply lines, Grant ordered his men to live off the land as much as possible. By this date, his force, in three separate columns, was mostly at rest.
John McClernand’s XIII Corps halted just east of the village of Cayuga, near Fivemile Creek, to allow William Tecumseh Sherman’s XV Corps to pass. In Grant’s strategy, McClernand would hold the left, Sherman would maintain the center, as the XVII Corps, under James McPherson, made up the right. In these masses, they would move towards Mississippi’s capital, Jackson, severing Vicksburg’s lines of communication and supply before turning back and hitting the bastion itself. Grant planned to send two divisions to take the city, while the rest of his force made for Vicksburg.
Throughout the day, McClernand’s advance scouts pushed ahead, crossing Fivemile Creek and moving well beyond. As they came close to the crossroads leading west to Edward’s Station (and ultimately Vicksburg), they encountered stiff resistance. Another detachment probed east toward the town of Raymond, but found nothing but a shortage of water.
Sherman’s march took most of his men through Cayuga, following the well-worn and blighted path of the XIII Corps, even intermingling with them for a time. An advance regiment, however, had a more interesting day. Sent to secure Hall’s Ferry, along the Big Black, they wandered their way to Baldwin’s Ferry, a few miles upstream. There, they found an entire Rebel brigade encamped on their side of the river! But before too many shots could be exchanged, the Confederates retreated.
General Grant spent most of the day issuing orders, moving his three corps like chess pieces, while covering the Big Black River crossings in his wake. Everything he did was focused upon the next day. General McPherson’s Corps was simply ordered to the town of Raymond. The ground would have to be quickly covered due to the scarcity of water. McClernand’s Corps was to push forward to Fourteenmile Creek, several miles ahead. While Sherman was to march for the same crossing. Grant wanted both McClernand and Sherman to arrive simultaneously. He expected to find some opposition at Montgomery Bridge.
Meanwhile, Confederate General John Pemberton was doing his best to figure out what Grant was about. His Army of Mississippi was headed by William Loring at Edward’s Station, five miles east of the Big Black River. But completely in over his head, he had ordered Loring to hold at Edward’s, but send two brigades west to the crossing. In Pemberton’s mind, Grant would attack at the river crossing. If, however, he pushed east towards Jackson, Pemberton wanted to fall upon the Federals from behind.
Completely separate from Pemberton’s thinking was the Confederate cavalry. Of course, he knew they were there, but had ordered them not to bring on a general engagement. They were to nip at the flanks and rear only. John Gregg, leading a brigade of cavalry at Raymond, had no plans to follow these orders.
Pemberton’s defense was continually plagued with badly-worded orders. And though his to Gregg were plain, his to Wirt Adams, commanding another brigade of cavalry, were not. Pemberton had told Gregg that he would find Adams in Raymond. But he only told Adams to scout Raymond. And so Adams sent five troopers on a scouting mission while the rest of his brigade remained in Jackson.
Word came to Gregg that Grant’s Federals were moving steadily between Raymond and Edward’s Station. If this were true, he would be cut off. But by this time, General Pemberton had convinced himself that Grant was going to attack along the Big Black River. If he seemed to be moving east at all, it was merely a feint. He ordered Gregg to hit Grant’s right flank once exposed, but Gregg wasn’t so sure he had enough men to do that.
But through the night, Gregg began to put the pieces together. Sure, maybe they didn’t all fit precisely, but with a bit of work, and if one didn’t pay too close attention, his plan seemed to mostly somewhat work. Given that any Federal move to the east was a feint, it would also be given that it would not be the bulk of the enemy’s army – only a few regiments at best. This was “confirmed” before daylight of the next day when 3,000 Yankees were reported nearby.
Gregg reasoned that he could certainly send 3,000 running back to the main body. When the panicked and exhausted Federals mixed with the troops of the true right Union flank, they would create an even greater panic, of which, Gregg assumed he could take complete advantage.
Gregg was, of course, ridiculously mistaken.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 3, p295-298; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard. [↩]