Pembeton Forgets All About that Grant Fellow

April 25, 1863 (Saturday)

Maybe John Pemberton just liked horses.
Maybe John Pemberton just liked horses.

While General Grant was moving with his men and personally searching for a way to cross the Mississippi River and take out Confederate-held Grand Gulf, his counterpart, General John C. Pemberton was at his headquarters in Jackson, forty-five miles east of Vicksburg. It was from here that he was overseeing the river defenses and gathering troops to deal with the three different cavalry raids streaming in from the north.

Though the biggest threat came from Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, on this date, Pemberton’s attention was almost fully taken by the Federal cavalry, two columns of which were in Mississippi (the third, under Grenville Dodge, was gallivanting in Alabama). Nearly ignoring Grant, Pemberton had dispatched infantry brigades and divisions throughout the state in hopes of stopping the Federals. What he desperately needed was his own cavalry. This would allow his infantry to reinforce Vicksburg.

Because his infantry could not keep up with the Union raiders, he had two ideas. First, he wanted to mount a regiment of his infantry and called upon John Pettus, Mississippi’s governor, to get the required horses. “I have the honor to call upon you to exercise the right vested in you by the Legislature of Mississippi,” he wrote Pettus, “and to seize or impress the requisite number of animals—587—with trappings when possible.”

For his second idea, the governor’s help would also be needed. As the Union cavalry columns moved south, they attacked along the main railroad lines, sacking and burning storehouses and depots. There was not nearly enough cavalry (even if he could somehow slap spurs upon an infantry regiment), so the duty, he believed, fell upon the citizenry.

Map approximately showing the approximate location of the scattered Rebel forces and the two Union Cavalry raids.
Map approximately showing the approximate location of the scattered Rebel forces and the two Union Cavalry raids.

“The people residing in the immediate vicinity of each important depot of supplies and manufactures, and each railroad connection,” began Pemberton, ” can easily render the Government an essential service and greatly relieve the army and increase its efficiency in protecting the country from the raids of the enemy.” He wanted to Governor “to organize all the citizens within a radius of 10 miles of each locality, not now in the Confederate or State service, into companies, battalions, and regiments, as the number at each place may justify.”

Each man wast to arm himself and provide his own horse (that is, if the government hadn’t already taken it to be used by the Confederate Army). “When danger is apprehended,” continued Pemberton, “these companies should assemble at a given point and should remain embodied until the danger shall have passed.” He wanted Governor Pettus to make all of this happen “at once.”

Meanwhile, Pemberton was in communication with General William Loring, now at Maridian, General Adams at Newton Station, trying to get someone – anyone – to track down the Federal cavalry under General Benjamin Grierson riding like hell towards the south. From his headquarters in Jackson, ninety miles west, Pemberton gave suggestions and attempted to predict the path the Yankees might take. General Joe Johnston, commander of the Department of Mississippi, did the same thing, from his headquarters in Tullahoma, Tennessee, over 300 miles away.

William Wing Loring didn't know if he was coming or going.
William Wing Loring didn’t know if he was coming or going.

The previous day, Pemberton had called for Generals Adams and Loring to return to Jackson. This made no sense at all seeing as how there were Yankees seemingly everywhere. Loring, completely befuddled by both the enemy and by Pemberton, was trying to figure it out while asking Adams: “Where is the cavalry to come from?”

Finally, Pemberton sorted it out by telling Loring to remain where he was. In his reply, Loring explained that the Federals seemed to be well on their way to reinforcing the Union troops under General Banks at Baton Rouge. He had telegraphed General Buckner on the Gulf of Mexico to see if he couldn’t do something, and asked Pemberton why the Confederate cavalry under General Gardner at Port Hudson couldn’t help out.

In turn, Pemberton wired Gardner, warning him of the possible link up, reminding him that his cavalry could be used to intercept the raiders. To General Johnston, Pemberton conceded that “these raids cannot be prevented unless I can have more mounted men.”

Finally turning to the true issue at hand, Pemberton sent a message to General Stevenson at Vicksburg. After informing him that it might be necessary to reinforce Grand Gulf with the troops from Vicksburg (or vise versa), and giving a bit of advice on artillery, he unloaded all of the details concerning the raids by Federal cavalry – probably the farthest thing from poor Stevenson’s mind.

Stevenson may not have been too concerned over the raids themselves, but the purport, according to Pemberton was that troops from the Vicksburg garrison might have to be wicked away to reinforce Port Hudson (since troops from Port Hudson had been detached to deal with the raids.

“It is indispensable that you keep in your lines only such force as is absolutely needed to hold them, and organize the remainder, if there are any of your troops as a movable force available for any point where it may be most required,” wrote Pemberton, completely ignoring the fact that General Grant had upwards of 60,000 troops making plans to cross the Mississippi to take Grand Gulf and quite probably Vicksburg.

Throughout much of early April, Pemberton had been convinced that Grant was moving off to the north, probably to reinforce General Rosecrans near Nashville. Though he had since been convinced that Grant was here to stay, on this date, it seemed like he completely forgot Grant was even there.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 3, p781, 786-689; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard. []
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Pembeton Forgets All About that Grant Fellow by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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