May 12, 1863 (Tuesday)
Confederate General John Gregg had moved his brigade of cavalry to Raymond, Mississippi, leaving Jackson upon the orders of General Pemberton, commanding in Mississippi. The Federal Army of the Tennessee, under General Grant, was steadily moving eastward from the Mississippi, snaking up the Big Black River. Pemberton was under the conviction that Grant was about to launch an attack where the Vicksburg & Jackson Railroad crossed, and had stationed over 20,000 men under William Loring to defend it.
But Pemberton was mistaken. Grant, of course, had designs upon the river crossing and ultimately, to the west, Vicksburg itself, but first, he wished to take Jackson, the state capital. This misconception of Grant’s plans caused Pemberton to hold up Loring, allowing Grant to move with relative ease. It also claimed another victim – that of John Gregg.
So persuaded by Pemberton’s assertion that any further movement by Grant to the east was merely a feint, Gregg, who commanded a mixed bag of 3,000 mounted infantrymen and dismounted cavalrymen, decided to play upon what he believed was Grant’s right flank. He had expected to have upwards of 5,000 men, but half of his force had been given vague orders by Pemberton and never showed up. Nevertheless, thought Gregg, he would attack.
Scouts reported about 3,000 Yankees were coming his way along the road running southwest from Raymond. Gregg believed this to be a screen set up by Grant to mask the right flank. He planned to wait behind Fourteenmile Creek, allow the enemy to cross, and then pounce upon them.
Gregg watched with what must have been an almost diabolical glee as a thin blue skirmish line picked its way closer and closer towards the bridge. Soon, they would cross and he would have his prey. About 100 yards on the other side of the creek, Gregg’s skirmishers met the enemy, who seemed to be rather surprised to find any resistance at all along this lonely road. Gregg’s artillery also joined the increasing fray.
But as the Federals reached the creek, from his vantage point, Gregg saw the Federals wheel up artillery of their own and begin to blast away with canister shot. His heart sank. This wasn’t some cavalry screen or a small raiding party. This was at least a brigade of infantry. But still, he figured he could capture it. Calling up the bulk of his force, he prepared for battle.
The Union skirmishers splashed across the creek, pushing the Rebels as they went. But the main Federal line had become thoroughly tangled in the underbrush and woods. With his enemy both pinned down and supposedly outnumbered (or at least beatable), he concocted a plan. With a small portion of his force, he would keep the Yankees busy, while the rest of his men circled around the Union position and fell upon their flank and rear.
For a time, this actually seemed to be working. Some of the Federals were retreating, while others were clearly reeling and about to. Everything seemed perfectly set for a Confederate victory – and it was only noon.
But it was only noon. The Union troops before Gregg had indeed a brigade that, under Elias Dennis, had threw out skirmishers who crossed Fourteenmile Creek. But the Yankees encountered by his swinging flank attack were actually another brigade, under John E. Smith. They had become wildly entangled and their disorganized state led to what Gregg was taking for a Confederate advantage.
Both of these brigades were in John Logan’s Division in James McPherson’s XVII Corps. Logan had one other brigade and McPherson had two other divisions – 18,000 or so men, all told. Gregg had tangled with parts of two brigades, but there were eleven more storming down the road. Hearing the sounds of battle General McPherson rode up to the front. There, he saw that Logan’s last brigade, under John Dunlap Stevenson, was quickly becoming disorganized. Seeing Gregg’s attack upon their right flank, McPherson quickly threw Stevenson’s men to the battle, bolstering the right.
As the Confederate right pressed what they believed to be the advantage, through the smoke and dust they saw what actually lay in their front. It was at least a full division of Federal infantry. Word was swiftly sent back to Gregg, but the messenger couldn’t find him.
In the meantime, the entire Union line was strengthening. The Confederate right was beginning to buckle and a gap had formed between it and the left. The Federals seemed to be coming from everywhere. Entire Union brigades attacked single Rebel regiments, usually with disastrous casualties. And for a time, the Southerners held, digging and clawing to maintain what ground they could.
Though some of Gregg’s units even mounted countercharges, it was growing ever clearer that to stay meant to be annihilated. The Confederate right was beaten and while his left was holding, his center was soon to give. Gregg gave the orders for an organized retreat, having one regiment cover the route of another. The Rebels made for Raymond. It wasn’t a rout, but it was hardly an organized retreat. There, they met Wirt Adams’ cavalry, which had arrived too late to do anything at all.
Gregg had suffered 73 killed, 252 wounded and 190 missing, while the Federals lost 66 killed, 339 wounded and 37 missing. Gregg’s figures may have been incomplete, as General McPherson claimed that they buried over 100 Rebels and captured over 700.
Though a clear Union victory, the battle essentially meant little. Neither Grant’s nor Pemberton’s forces were greatly diminished and, as far as numbers went, it barely effected the campaign. But when it came to tactics, it changed everything.
Previous to the battle, Grant never really planned to focus upon Jackson. He was moving towards it, but needed only to sever the lines between it and Vicksburg. Now, however, he was realizing that Jackson might be more important than first believed. Rumors abounded that Confederates from all across the country were being funneled into Jackson in hopes of saving Vicksburg. It was even said that General Joe Johnston was coming to personally oversee the campaign.
Grant also noticed that Pemberton was staying on the defensive, maintaining his lines around the Big Black River and Edward’s Station. If Grant moved between Jackson and the Big Black, he might have to deal with two large Confederate forces on either side of him. But if he first his Jackson, scattering Johnston’s recently-arrived Rebels, he could trust Pemberton not to get too involved. Once Johnston was beaten, Grant could turn on Pemberton and Vicksburg.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p736-738; Vicksburg by Michael Ballard; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth. [↩]