Joe Johnston Arrives in Jackson (and then Quickly Leaves)

May 13, 1863 (Wednesday)

The disembodied head of General Joe Johnston finally arrives.
The disembodied head of General Joe Johnston finally arrives.

By the evening of the 13th, Confederate General Joe Johnston had arrived in Jackson, Mississippi. He was charged with taking command of the entire force in and around Vicksburg, saving the city and defeating General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee.

En route, General John C. Pemberton, who directly commanded the Southern troops in the field, had written of their current predicament. “The enemy is apparently moving in heavy force toward Edward’s Depot,” wrote Pemberton. “With my limited force, I will do all I can to meet him.” Pemberton’s problem was that his limited force was spread thin, having to cover the crossings over the Big Black River “lest he cross and take this place [Bovina – five miles west of Edward’s Station/Depot].”

Johnston did not arrive alone. He was accompanied by 3,000 men from Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee. Waiting for him were not only the refugees from the previous day’s battle of Raymond, but a brigade sent from Georgia under W.H.T. Walker, as well as one from Charleston, South Carolina, commanded by States Rights Gist (this was actually his given name).

Upon his arrival, General John Gregg, who had been defeated the previous day at Raymond, gave Johnston a somewhat clearer picture of the situation. Pemberton’s main force was indeed at Edward’s Station, but William Tecumseh Sherman had moved four Federal divisions to Clinton, blocking the way. In truth, it was two divisions under James McPhearson, but for Johnston, with only 6,000 men under his command, it was mere semantics.

Today's approximate map.
Today’s approximate map.

What Johnston desperately needed to do was unite with Pemberton. To do this, he wanted to catch “Sherman’s men” at Clinton in a vise by advancing upon him from Jackson and Edward’s Station. “If practicable, come up on his rear at once,” wrote Johnston to Pemberton. “To beat such a detachment, would be of immense value.”

Pemberton was thinking the same thing, ordering General William Loring, commanding at Edward’s Station, to reconnoiter the enemy force near Jackson. If they were indeed near Jackson, he planned to “fall on their rear and cut communication.” By evening, Loring was convinced that Grant’s entire force was moving on Jackson. “From every source, both black and white,” he wrote Pemberton, “I learn that the enemy are marching on Jackson. I think there can be no doubt of this.”

General Grant spent the day on the move. Following the battle of Raymond, he pushed James McPherson’s XVII Corps to Clinton (where it was mistaken for Sherman’s Corps), slid Sherman’s XV Corps towards Jackson, which it approached from the southwest, and backtracked John McClernand’s XIII Corps to Raymond.

You can call him "States" for short.
You can call him “States” for short.

Late that night, Joe Johnston assessed the situation. While he would have loved to trap “Sherman’s Corps” at Clinton, he didn’t believe he had enough troops to do it. All he could now muster were 6,000. Over the next day or so, his numbers might double, but as he peered over the hastily constructed breastworks ringing the town, he figured that he didn’t have a day or so to wait.

“I am too late,” he wired Jefferson Davis. Whether or not he actually was, has been debated for about 150 years, but to Johnston, it was true. Jackson had to be given up. And with Jackson, probably Vicksburg – the place Davis himself had ordered be held at all costs.

And so Johnston decided to evacuate Jackson and move his force thirty miles northeast, while General Gregg manned the trenches and fought a delaying action to allow Johnston to make his escape.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 3, p859, 870, 873, 305; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds; Vicksburg by Michael Ballard; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams. []
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Joe Johnston Arrives in Jackson (and then Quickly Leaves) by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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4 thoughts on “Joe Johnston Arrives in Jackson (and then Quickly Leaves)

  1. I love your writing. Even though us Civil War buffs already know what’s gonna happen, its still very tense and ‘who knows’ 🙂

    1. Thank you! This is pretty well the highest compliment you could give me. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do.


  2. So did Johnston just chicken out like a McClellan always worried being outmanned, or did he have an opportunity to make an impact on stopping Grant? Seems to me whatever he did was indecisive and a waste of time.

    1. That’s a tough one. At this point, anything Johnston did was basically pointless. However, if Davis would have listened to Johnston from the beginning and abandoned Vicksburg early on, what looks to be a coming siege that probably won’t end well would have been averted.

      Johnston at this point was indecisive and wasting his time, but he what more could he do with what the incredibly out of touch Davis gave to him?

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