February 7, 1864 (Thursday)
“The enemy have crossed the river and are driving my men in on both the upper and lower Jackson roads,” wrote C.C. Wilbourn, commanding the Confederate cavalry holding best they could near Brandon, Mississippi. “They are fighting me altogether with small arms.”
While most of the Rebel cavalry under S.D. Lee had regrouped well to the north of General Sherman’s eastward-marching columns, some had remained with the infantry under William Wing Loring and Samuel French, whose commands were much closer to Morton, twenty miles farther east. From his new encampment, General Loring took up Wilbourn’s case, writing to Lee. “It will be necessary to have some cavalry on the road to Jackson,” he explained. “I am informed that Wilbourn has only 40 men and Herren only 60 men.”
Lee replied that he had sent a “good regiment” to Loring at dawn, but thus far, Loring had heard nothing from it but rumors that it was scattered. With merely 100 men between his force of, perhaps, 6,000 and the 25,000 Yankees, Loring needed any help he could fine.
Some help was already coming, however. Troops from Meridian, reinforcements sent by General Leonidas Polk, were now arriving at Morton where he was determined to make a stand. Part of this involved convincing cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest to unite with S.D. Lee’s troops about 150 miles north of Jackson and descend upon Sherman’s supply line, and thus force him back to the Mississippi River.
This wasn’t the most solid of plans, but with so few troops and no possibility of obtaining more, Polk had to try something. But this point, he didn’t even know where Sherman was headed.
Sherman, however, did know. His intent was Meridian. The Federal troops in the lead corps, under James McPherson, were up at dawn, leaving the burned out city of Jackson, and marching across the Pearl River. Before them, and mostly on the left, Union cavalry under Edward Winslow pushed back Wilbourn’s hundred or so Rebels.
McPherson’s Corps reached the town of Brandon, which had been the previous day occupied by French’s Division – they had since marched hard for Morton. There the Federals stopped, though they hardly rested. The remainder of the day was spent destroying the railroad, bridges, public property, and finding forage. Like Jackson behind them, Brandon was set ablaze.
“The work of destruction was most thoroughly done,” reported the New York Tribune. “The houses of prominent rebels were burned. Every horse and mule that could be found was seized upon, and the number became so great that a special detail was made to care for them. In fact, everything of an edible nature was levied upon and made an item in our commissariat. Thousands of blacks came into our lines. The railroad track was torn up, and every wagon, bridge, and depot was burned.”
Sherman, of course, had issued direct orders not to burn houses, but they fell upon deaf ears, just as their transgressions were met by his blind eyes.
The Federals would leave Brandon just as they left Jackson, marching east toward the gathering Rebels at Morton. Though General Polk had no clue as to Sherman’s intentions, a scout that he had sent behind enemy lines was certain. “They do not try to conceal that their destination is Meridian,” he reported, “to cut our communication with Mobile.” All this day and the next, Polk would build his forces, while building his courage, at Morton. And all the while, Sherman would draw closer.1
- Sources:Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 32, Part 2, p685, 688, 689, 690; Rebellion Record Vol. 8, p 470; New York Tribune, March 21, 1864; Sherman’s Mississippi Campaign by Buck T. Foster. [↩]