Prelude to the Battle
Grant Crosses the Mississippi
On April 29, 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant launched his spring offensive aimed at capturing Vicksburg, the “Gibraltar of the Mississippi.” With the aid of Admiral Porter’s gunboats, Grant attempted to move Major General John A. McClernand’s 13th Army Corps across the Mississippi River at Grand Gulf, below Vicksburg. When the Confederate resistance proved too formidable, Grant bypassed the Rebel works and moved the crossing nine miles farther down the river. On the morning of April 30, 1863, roughly 23,000 Union soldiers disembarked from barges at Bruinsburg, Mississippi during the largest amphibious offensive in American history prior to the invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II.
Federals Nearly Unchallenged
Despite the great number of Yankees involved, the Confederate forces in the area were still larger. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, the commander of Confederate troops in and around Vicksburg, had roughly 30,000 soldiers at his disposal.
Fortunately for Grant, Pemberton took his orders to defend Vicksburg at all costs literally. Rather than moving forward to stem the Union invasion force at Bruinsburg, where it was most vulnerable, Pemberton kept most of his troops in garrison at Vicksburg. As a result, the landing went unchallenged. The only Confederates nearby were Major General John S. Bowen’s force of 6,000-8,000 soldiers who had marched to Port Gibson after thwarting Grant’s landing at Grand Gulf the previous day.
Battle of Port Gibson
As the Union forces came ashore, they secured a beachhead and began marching toward Port Gibson, twenty miles to the east. The next day, the Federals defeated Bowen’s outnumbered Rebels at the Battle of Port Gibson (May 1, 1863).
After establishing his presence in Mississippi, Grant had three options.
- He could move directly north and assault Vicksburg—his primary target. To do so, however, would expose his army to attack from the rear by the roughly 6,000 Confederate forces garrisoned at Jackson, Mississippi, fifty miles to the east of Vicksburg.
- Alternatively, Grant could turn and face the Rebels at Jackson, commanded by Brigadier General John Gregg, and then assault Vicksburg.
- Finally, Grant could follow his original orders and march his army south to combine with General Nathaniel P. Banks’ Army of the Gulf, capture the river town of Port Hudson, and then return to assault Vicksburg.
Grant Focuses on Jackson
If Grant merged forces with the Army of the Gulf, he would be under Banks’ command because of seniority—a situation that Grant probably did not find appetizing. When Banks informed Grant that he was not ready to assault Port Hudson, Grant focused on Jackson. On May 7, 1863, Grant’s force, which by then had swelled to 45,000 soldiers, began marching northeast toward the state capital in three columns, with each column comprising one corps.
When Grant moved toward Jackson, Confederate Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, telegraphed General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Department of the West, to “Proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces, giving to those in the field, as far as practicable, the encouragement and benefit of your personal direction.”
On May 10, 1863, Pemberton ordered Gregg to march his brigade of 3,000 to 4,000 Confederate soldiers from Jackson to Raymond. Gregg’s men arrived in Raymond on the afternoon of May 11 and spent the night preparing for battle the next day.
Battle of Raymond
On the morning of May 12, Confederate scouts erroneously reported to Gregg that a federal brigade of about 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers was moving toward Raymond. Believing that the odds were fairly even, Gregg decided to stand and fight. Unfortunately for Gregg, his scouts had seen only the lead brigade of Grant’s army. Unbeknownst to Gregg, he was about to send his brigade into battle against an entire Union corps numbering 12,000 Union soldiers. The results were predictable. The Union victory at the Battle of Raymond forced Gregg’s brigade to retreat to Jackson.
Confederates Evacuate Jackson
General Johnston arrived in Jackson on May 13, 1863, and witnessed the arrival of Gregg’s retreating troops. Quickly determining that he stood no chance to halt Grant’s approaching juggernaut, Johnston immediately ordered the evacuation of Jackson. Johnston ordered Gregg’s brigade to hold off the Yankees until he could complete the withdrawal.
May 14, 1863 — Clash at Jackson
Federals Overwhelm Opponents
With only 6,000 troops at his disposal, Gregg ordered the deployment of 900 men to the O. P. Wright farm, three miles northwest of Jackson. Gregg directed them to delay the advance of Major General James B. McPherson’s 17th Army Corps, numbering 12,000 Bluecoats, which was approaching from the northwest. As McPherson’s soldiers approached the farm at 10 a.m., on May 14, 1863, a cloudburst impeded their progress. Following an hour-long delay, the Yankees stormed forward at 11 a.m. and quickly overpowered their opponent in an engagement that featured intense close-quarter fighting.
Sherman Approaches from the Southwest
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Gregg, Major General William T. Sherman’s 15th Army Corps, numbering 16,000, soldiers, was also marching toward Jackson from the southwest. When Gregg learned of Sherman’s advance, he quickly deployed a force of roughly 1,000 Rebels along Lynch Creek outside of the city, hoping to slow the Yankees.
Confederate artillerists arrived in time to establish a temporary battery from which to shell their enemy. Once the Rebel barrage began, Sherman called his corps’ more imposing ordnance forward and forced the Confederates to retreat leaving the bridge across swollen Lynch Creek intact. Sherman’s soldiers quickly poured across the bridge, chasing their enemy through woods on the other side. When the Rebels emerging from the opposite side of the woods, Confederate artillerists in Jackson temporarily halted the Bluecoats.
Federals Occupy Jackson
As the Yankees pondered their next move, Johnston informed Gregg that the evacuation of Jackson was completed and that he too should abandon the city. Gregg left behind a small contingent of militia and civilian volunteers to man the heavy guns as his garrison escaped. Sherman’s soldiers quickly dispatched the remaining defenders and raised the Stars and Stripes over the Mississippi state capitol building.
Aftermath of the Battle
The Federals did not tarry long in Jackson. Grant left on May 15 after ordering Sherman to destroy anything that might benefit the Confederacy. Sherman’s men severed telegraph lines, destroyed the railroad to Vicksburg, and torched the city’s factories and machine shops before departing on May 16. The Confederates reoccupied what the Yankees left intact that evening.
Grant’s victory at the Battle of Jackson and the subsequent destruction of the city’s infrastructure impeded Johnston’s ability to unite his forces with Pemberton, now isolated at Vicksburg, or to come to Pemberton’s aid. Resounding Union victories at the Battle of Champion Hill (May 16) and the Battle of Big Black River Bridge (May 17), forced Pemberton to take refuge within the City of Vicksburg proper. After a prolonged siege, Grant eventually forced Pemberton to surrender the Gibraltar of the Mississippi on July 4, 1863.
Confederate casualties in the Battle of Jackson were 845 (killed, wounded, and missing). Union casualties totaled 300 (42 killed, 251 wounded, and 7 missing).