The Vicksburg Campaign in a Nutshell part III - By Morgan Gates --The Confederate Commander Lt. General John C. Pemberton is a man ill-suited to his place in history, he is short on almost everything he needs to defend Vicksburg, and the shortage he is feeling the most is his lack of combat experience. Jefferson Davis has told him to hold Vicksburg at all cost, while his immediate superior General Joseph E. Johnson (CSA) keeps telling him to come out and fight Grant. He decides to hedge his bets and does both, leaving 12,000 men back to guard Vicksburg, he takes 23,000 Rebels out along the Jackson Road to meet Grant. Once past the Big Black (the southern and eastern boundary of the county in which Vicksburg is located) he decides to turn south and cut Grants supply lines. Grant however is traveling too light and too fast, and Pemberton is slowed in his march by lack of supplies and washed out bridges, as a consequence, the Confederate Army is strung out between three roads when first contact is made.
As we discussed in the last installment Grant’s vast army (32,000) is converging along three roads, the very 3 across which Pemberton’s is straddling…
Let me daydream a moment here, what would have happened if Pemberton had moved faster that day. Had his entire army on the Raymond Road, encountered the two Union divisions on that road, won the battle of Raymond Road, while the rest of the Union Army skirted past his rear and captured lightly defended Vicksburg??? Now back to our regularly scheduled post.
…contact on Raymond Road is first, stopping further movement by the Rebel Army. CSA Maj General General Loring’s Division engages in what turns into a day-long artillery duel along the Raymond Road. General Bowen’s (remember him from Port Gibson) Division is on the Middle Road facing McClernand’s men (McClernand a political General and Grant West Point don’t like each other). Grant has told him to advance cautiously and not to bring on a major engagement and he is following the letter of his orders, thus a small contingent of southern boys sent out by Bowen as a road block has pretty much stopped his advance. On the Jackson road, however things are about to get interesting!
The Dry spell that had contributed to the Battle of Raymond (May 12) had broken on May 14th as Grant’s troops advanced on Jackson, the runoff from this deluge has swollen normally placid Baker’s Creek into a raging torrent that has washed away the bridge on the Raymond Road shortly before Pemberton’s troops had tried to advance down it. This washout had forced Pemberton to backtrack and swing his army well to the north east and cross the bridge on the Jackson Road. That means when the battle begins the Confederates have the still swollen creek to their rear and you don’t need a degree from a military academy to know that is a bad thing! Fortunately for Pemberton the Union force to his right and center don’t seem to be in a hurry, his real problem is that his rear elements are almost to the crossroads of the Jackson and Ratliff Road, which turns almost 90 degrees to the right and intersects with the Raymond road a few miles to the west (see map) and Grant’s troops are coming down the Jackson road from the east. The Union couldn’t have been in a better position to turn Pemberton’s flank if Grant himself had planned it that way unfortunately Pemberton’s officers can’t see the approach because their view is blocked by a high hill immediately to the east named Champion Hill, over which the Jackson road extends. When one of Pemberton’s subordinates General Stephen D. Lee decides to send a scouting party up the hill “just in case” he discovers, (US) General McPherson’s men approaching the base of the hill, Lee hastily extends his overstretched brigade along with Barton and Cummings units to refuse the flank. In one of the most lopsided engagements imaginable these brave men are pushed off the hill by more and more Union troops as Pemberton, practically jumping up and down, desperately orders up reinforcements only to be rebuffed by his arrogant subordinate William Loring first then John Bowen. Bowen thinking better of his initial refusal sends his aggressive Missourians into the fray, where they bravely retake the hill only to finally run out of ammo and be pushed off the hill for good by even more fresh Union troops sent forward by the late arriving Grant. The loss of the hill means the crossroad and the Confederate line of retreat are lost and things are looking desperate indeed until the Confederate chief engineer Samuel Lockett gets a temporary bridge complete allowing the Rebels to retreat along another road. At about this same time the Union forces along the other two roads also start to advance, obstinate William Loring’s Division is holding the bridge and covering the retreat, but when the time comes for his men to retreat he says the fire is too heavy and leads his men off in a different direction. Loring’s Division will escape to fight another day, but they will never return to Vicksburg, and eventually Join Johnson north of Jackson.