Pemberton “Advances” Away from Grant

May 15, 1863 (Friday)

Where you going, General Pemberton?
Where you going, General Pemberton?

Joe Johnston was on the move north, trying to put as much distance between himself and General Grant’s Army at Jackson, Mississippi as possible. But he wasn’t just fleeing willy nilly into the night. He had a plan, and that plan was to somehow meet up with General Pemberton’s force, which was supposed to be moving east towards Clinton. The whole point was to unite and defeat Grant’s apparently divided army in detail.

In fact, late the previous night, he sent a message to Pemberton describing just that. It was all masked in broad vagueries, like “I am anxious to see a force assembled that may be able to inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy.” He also suggested that they could beat half of Grant’s army “only by concentrating.”

In his letter, Johnston again suggested that Pemberton move east and interrupt Grant’s supply line back to the Mississippi River. On the morning of this date, Johnston received a message from Pemberton (written the previous day), who had decided to move south toward Dillon rather than east as Johnston had thought best.

Upon arriving in Jackson on the 13th, Johnston ordered Pemberton to move east from Edward’s Station to Clinton. Pemberton had received this message in a timely fashion, mulled it over and decided upon a different route.

As it turned out, Pemberton had similar plans to play upon Grant’s supply line, but wanted to do it much closer to Vicksburg. Disregarding Johnston’s orders to move east, Pemberton began to march his force south. Unfortunately for both plans, Grant was no longer relying upon the Mississippi River for his sustenance, much to the chagrin of the Mississippi farmers.

Pemberton’s new plan sent Johnston into a fury. The only way that they could achieve victory was to unite. Now both Confederate forces were moving away from each other! “Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plans impracticable,” wrote Johnston to Pemberton after receiving the infuriating missive. “The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton.” This was all well and good, but the message wouldn’t reach Pemberton until the 16th, a day after he started his march.

Though about as approximate as usual, I highly suggest you follow along with the map.
Though about as approximate as usual, I highly suggest you follow along with the map.

Back in Jackson, the city was in flames. William Tecumseh Sherman’s men had been let loose upon the railroad, making “Sherman neckties” as they went. Jackson had been a large supply hub, manufacturing artillery caissons, clothing, and ammunition.

The XV Corps took care of all of it. Textile factories were burned to the ground, while arsenals were raided and torched. The carriage factory, which had been converted to the production of caissons, faired no better. Even the prison, which was churning out munitions, was set ablaze, though Sherman believed that it was the prisoners themselves who did the deed.

And of course, there was general looting and pillaging. Buildings and houses of all varieties met fiery ends. Even a Catholic Church wasn’t spared. Banks, hotels, hospitals, almost everything save the state capitol itself, was decimated. While Sherman would write that the acts in Jackson “injure the morals of the troops, and bring disgrace on our cause,” he didn’t do all that much to stop it.

Meanwhile, the rest of Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was headed towards Bolton Depot. Grant figured that if Johnston was going to unite with Pemberton, he would do it there. Thanks to the intercepted message of the previous day, Grant also figured that Pemberton would follow the orders of his superior and move east to Clinton. But that’s not what Pemberton was doing at all.

Pemberton believed that moving towards Clinton was an incredibly bad idea. “Such a movement will be suicidal,” he wrote in his official report, attributing the phrase to one of his staff. Pemberton began what he called “his advance movement,” even though it wasn’t exactly advancing toward the enemy.

Say, General Sherman! Your neckties sure do fit like a dandy!
Say, General Sherman! Your neckties sure do fit like a dandy!

Through the mud soaked roads leading from Edward’s Ferry, three Confederate divisions slogged, hoping to cut off a supply line that Grant had severed himself over a week before. This was a full on march. Wirt Adams’ Cavalry led the way, and the infantry was followed by supply wagons, as more cavalry brought up the rear.

Pemberton wanted to take the road towards Raymond southeast, then turn off, approaching Dillon from the north. They made it as far as Baker’s Creek, which they found to be flooded. The ford was impassable and the bridge was washed away. Rather than turning around, they waited, hoping the waters would recede in short order.

But it was fairly clear that they wouldn’t, so General Loring suggested another approach. They could double back, take the road that went towards Jackson, turning off on a parallel road that led to Raymond, and then turn off again on the road to Dillon. This was a confusing mess, but there was hardly any other choice.

All went with relative smoothness until they reached the turnoff for the road that led to Raymond. There, Confederate cavalry reported a whole slew of Yankees in the area of Bolton, less than five miles away. It was past nightfall, and rather than risk bumping into whatever was out there, Pemberton ordered his advance division (under Loring) to stop where they were.

Some of the men, especially those in John Bowen’s Division, could see the Union campfires to the east and knew what was about to happen. The last division, under Carter Stevenson, marched through the night to catch up.

All the while, the Federals under McClernand and McPherson were readying themselves for a pre-dawn push west towards Edward’s Station and the incredibly out of place Confederate Army of Mississippi.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p51, 268-269; Part 3, p313, 882; Pemberton, Defender of Vicksburg by John C. Pemberton (not the same guy); Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Vicksburg by Michael Ballard; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth. []
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Pemberton “Advances” Away from Grant by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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