Prelude to Jackson

28 05 2012

On May 1st, Grant’s army had pressed its way into Mississippi and defeated Bowen’s Brigade at Port Gibson.  Now, with the East Bank of the Mississippi abandoned by the Confederacy, Grant was free to do what he pleased without confederate supervision  and it pleased him very much to march on Jackson.  Jackson was the point that connected Vicksburg to the Confederacy.  It has rail connections to the South, North, and (as Grant rightly feared) the East.  If he were to ignore Jackson it would be the point were a great Confederate host would emerge in 3 or 4 weeks to crush him against the anvil of the Vicksburg defenses.  It would be the point at which food and supplies needed for a proper counter attack would (and had already begun to) be collected everyday until the counter attack was ready.  It needed to go.

With the destruction of Jackson on his mind Grant, began snaking his army east through Mississippi toward Jackson with McPherson’s XVII Corp in the lead.  Their march was deliberate but their decision to invade without supply would have consequences.  Grant’s army could not just march, they had to forage as well.  They spread into the rich countryside and gathered what they needed.  In fact, the land (and by land I mean the occupants of central Mississippi) provided amply.  No army ever marched better fed but it would take well over a week before Union Forces appeared at the outer defensive perimeter of Jackson near Raymond.

The Battle of Raymond

General John Gregg arrived at Raymond on May 11th with 3000 men and some really bad intelligence.  Pemberton was convinced the Grant would turn north towards Vicksburg at the the Big Black River Railroad crossing near Edward’s Station.  He wanted Gregg in place to attack Grant’s rear once the Union army turned north and began their march towards Vicksburg.  From this position Gregg’s force would destroy Grant’s ability to move food and supply to the front and would disrupt his communications.

Leaving aside for a moment that Grant’s decision to ignore conventional military thinking and spurn supply for forage meant that cutting his supply line was not that useful, Pemberton’s plan had one other MAGNIFICENT short coming; Grant was ignoring Vicksburg in favor of Jackson.  Raymond is on a direct path from Port Gibson to Jackson.  His entire army was moving towards Gregg and his men.  The displacement of Confederate Calvary in Mississippi by Grierson’s raid and Nathan Bedford Forests defense of Alabama meant Grants army had effectively disappeared.

250px-John_GreggOn arriving at Raymond, Gregg began to hear tales of the industrial foraging that was going on to the west.  He also heard that troops where coming his way and would likely be there the next day.  Not doubting Grant’s intention to wheel towards Vicksburg, Gregg assumed that he would be running into a foraging brigade that was flanking the main advance.  Confident he could lick such a force, he spread his men out across the 3 roads that entered Raymond from the west.  The land here was very hilly and forested; well suited for defense.  He would have the element of surprise and would have no difficulty licking a marching brigade burdened with gathering and carrying forage.

On the Morning of May 12 McPherson’s lead division, lead by General John A. Logan, marched directly into a fight.  Picket’s began to fire from well obscured lines on wooded hilltops and the three guns that the confederates brought to the battle began to rain down shells from a commanding position to the confederate rear.  Logan deployed his lead brigade and the ample artillery he had at hand.  In short order he was able to set up 10 guns and soon began to give better than he got.

raymond-ms-battle-map-8-22-2007

Gregg found himself in a peculiar situation.  It appeared to him that the blue clad scavengers had brought more guns than soldiers.  This was clearly a weird way to forage but “oh well”.  The confederates could not skirmish with big guns and had to either retreat from their hill top position or advance on the union troops now lined near the creek bed below.  The decided on the latter.  Greggs Brigade rose up and went on the attack.  This was, as you can imagine, the last thing that Logan expected.  Out of their original positions the union guns lost their targets to the topology of the battlefield and soldiers that were that morning intent of scourging local farms for bacon and beets found themselves the target a determined Confederate assault.

Gregg’s initial position astride three separate roads converging on Raymond meant his troops were in a good position to flank his initial target.  It appeared that the main confederate spearhead was coming from the direct from and Union troops began to bend in order to apply the fire of a seemingly longer line to the smaller confederate from.  As more confederate regiments converged on the fight they began to find the union soldiers badly out of position to received them.  Had this been a brigade on brigade assault it would have been a short one.

Despite initial success, Gregg finally began to understand the full gravity of his situation.  The brigade he had attacked began to be reinforced by other brigades.  Soldiers began attacking his position from both the left and right of brigade directly to his front.  The large numbers of artillery that outnumbered his own three guns suddenly doubled.  Furthermore, Logan began to make strengthened counterattacks directly to the confederate front.  This was not a foraging party.  This was a Union army.

Gregg realized that, despite early success, the gig was up.  He now had to get out of his current position as intact as possible and return to his base of supply.  Gregg’s troops successfully withdrew, screened by the topography of the battlefield.  They were through and out of Raymond before the ladies of the city had finished preparing a meal for their gallant defenders.  Not to fear though, the Union troops would be along soon enough.

Jackson was clearly the target of this invasion and Gregg would be needed there.  A whole army would be needed there.  What’s more… an army commander would be needed.  The city would have to be prepared for assault and the various disconnected commands of the west would need a respected  overall commander to coordinate them.  …And the south had such a man!  A man who’s audaciousness had saved the south from invasion time and again.  Robert E. Lee!  Sadly, Lee was busy in Virginia so they sent Joseph E. Johnston instead.

Advertisements