previous next

Chapter 11:

On May 2d the secretary of war telegraphed General Beauregard as follows: ‘Advices show the enemy abandoning their attack on the eastern coasts and concentrating great forces on the Mississippi. Send with utmost dispatch 8,000 or 10,000 men to General Pemberton's relief.’ General Beauregard replied that he had returned to North Carolina Cooke's and Clingman's brigades, but would send at once 5,000 men and two light batteries to General Pemberton's relief. He added that he would then have left only 10,000 infantry available for the defense of South Carolina and Georgia, and if he sent more troops to Pemberton, he would lose command of the Savannah railroad. This satisfied the secretary, and on the 4th he telegraphed General Beauregard to hurry the 5,000 troops on as soon as possible.

Accordingly, orders were issued, assigning Brig.-Gens. S. R. Gist and W. H. T. Walker to the command of brigades, with a light battery attached to each, and directing them to report to General Pemberton. These two brigades were composed of Georgia and South Carolina troops, the Fourth Louisiana battalion being attached to Walker's brigade.

By General Beauregard's order of May 4, 1863, the command of Carolinians and Georgians known in the Western army as Gist's brigade was duly formed. The following was its composition: Sixteenth South Carolina, Col. James McCullough; Twenty-fourth South Carolina, Col. C. H. Stevens; Eighth Georgia battalion, Capt. [204] Z. L. Watters; Forty-sixth Georgia, Col. P. H. Colquitt; Ferguson's battery, Capt. T. B. Ferguson.

On the 5th, General Beauregard telegraphed General Pemberton that he would send two brigades of his best troops, and requested that they be kept together under General Gist. On the 6th, the first of Gist's troops, five companies of the Forty-sixth Georgia, under Col. P. H. Colquitt, and the Twenty-fourth South Carolina, under Lieut.--Col. Ellison Capers (Col. C. H. Stevens remaining to bring on the stores of the regiment), left Charleston for Jackson, Miss., by way of Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma and Meridian. Delayed on the way, these commands reached Jackson on the evening of May 13th, and went into bivouac near the depot, with orders to be ready to march out on the Clinton road at dawn next day. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston reached Jackson by the same train.

The situation was most critical in Mississippi. General Grant's army was thrown between Jackson and Vicksburg, holding the railroad at Clinton, where McPherson's corps was encamped. Sherman's corps was between Jackson and Raymond, McClernand's in supporting distance. General Pemberton, with 17,000 men, was at Edwards depot and marching to give battle. General Johnston did not have exceeding 6,000 men in and about Jackson. The three corps of General Grant numbered about 45,000 effectives.

It was easy to beat Johnston at Jackson before Pemberton could possibly come to his aid, as the latter had only reached Edwards on the 13th, and formed for defensive battle at that point. Clinton was 8 miles from Jackson, and Edwards was distant 25 miles, so that Grant was between Pemberton and Johnston, 25 miles from the former and 8 miles from the latter. This was the situation on the night of the 13th of May. McPherson advanced upon Jackson early on the 14th, on the Clinton road, and Sherman at the same time, on the Raymond [205] and Mississippi Springs road, both corps converging on Jackson, while Pemberton was in line of battle at Edwards, and General Grant's cavalry was demonstrating in his front to keep up a show of attack. To check McPherson and Sherman while valuable stores were being removed from Jackson toward Canton, General Johnston sent the troops he could command out on the roads leading to Clinton and Raymond.

The Twenty-fourth South Carolina, Lieutenant-Colonel Capers, five companies of the Forty-sixth Georgia, Capt. T. B. Hancock, of Gist's brigade, with the Fourteenth Mississippi and Capt. J. A. Hoskins' battery of four pieces, were ordered out at daylight on the 14th, under Colonel Colquitt, to take position on the Clinton road, at a point to be designated by Brig.-Gen. John Gregg. General Gregg selected a good position on a ridge about 3 miles from Jackson, assisted Colquitt in arranging his defense, and left him with orders to hold the enemy until ordered to retire through Jackson. The Georgians (five companies) and the Mississippi battalion were posted on the right of the road, and the Twenty-fourth and Hoskins' battery on the left. The position was at Wright's farm, the command being on the right and left of his house. The Twenty-fourth was advanced some distance to take advantage of a garden fence, and the artillery placed in battery on the crown of the hill, one gun behind the Twenty-fourth, in support, and three at the main road. This little brigade, which did not number over 900 men and officers, was attacked at 9 a. m. by the Seventh division of the Seventeenth army corps, composed of three brigades with four light batteries, and held its position until 2 p. m. before it was forced to retire.

The enemy's official reports give his losses as follows: Second brigade 215, Third brigade 37, Fourth brigade 13; total in division, 265, exclusive of artillery. In defending this position Colquitt's little brigade of two battalions, one regiment and four guns lost 198 men and officers, [206] killed, wounded and captured. The heaviest loss was in the Twenty-fourth South Carolina, which held its position longest and lost 105 men and officers. LieutenantCol-onel Capers was wounded, and Lieut. A. F. Cunningham, of Company F, was killed. On the enemy's part their main loss was in the center brigade, which made the direct attack in front.

The fighting in the final assault, which carried the position and forced a retreat on Jackson, is described as follows by the commander of the Tenth Missouri, which, with the Seventeenth Iowa, Eightieth Ohio, Thirty-sixth Illinois, and Company E, of the Twenty-fourth Missouri, made up the Second brigade:

Colonel Holmes, commanding the brigade, now ordered bayonets fixed and a charge made upon the enemy. The troops moved forward at double-quick, cheering wildly, driving in first the skirmishers, and then the main line, passing over about 500 yards under a terrific fire of shell, canister and musketry to the house of O. P. Wright, in and behind which, and the hedges, fences and trees surrounding it, the rebels were hidden and protected. Here ensued an almost hand-to-hand conflict, with the Twenty-fourth regiment South Carolina volunteers. The Tenth Missouri suffered severely from the stream of fire which issued from behind every object which could furnish protection to the enemy. We succeeded finally in dislodging them and driving them some 200 yards to the left [enemy's left] and toward the main road to Jackson. Reforming our line, a section of the Sixth Wisconsin battery was rapidly brought upon the field.....

But the Twenty-fourth, now under Major Appleby, had followed the remainder of the brigade in retreat, and joined General Johnston's little army moving out from Jackson on the Canton road. In the fight above described, the attack on the Georgia and Mississippi battalions was made principally by the Iowa and Ohio regiments, and was well sustained by the Georgians and Mississippians. The conduct of Captain Hoskins' battery was beyond praise. But for the service of his four guns, the [207] position could not have been held two hours against the attack of the Federal division. Writing to General Beauregard from Canton, on the 25th of May, General Gist said:

None of the troops from your department reached Jackson in time for the affair at Raymond, and only two regiments of Gen. W. H. T. Walker's brigade, Martin's battery, Twenty-fourth South Carolina, five companies of the Forty-sixth Georgia, and Eighth Georgia battalion arrived in time to participate in the skirmish and evacuation of the city. I got within 6 miles, and was ordered back by General Johnston with remainder of Walker's and my own brigade. . . . The only troops of my brigade engaged at Jackson were those mentioned above, and all officers join in awarding them highest praise for soldierly conduct and gallantry. The Twenty-fourth regiment South Carolina volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Capers commanding, particularly distinguished themselves. [War Records, Vol. XXIV, Pt. III, p. 919.]

General Walker's troops were not engaged in the battle at Wright's house. The Eighth Georgia battalion of Gist's brigade arrived in Jackson by train on the morning of the 14th, too late to take part with the Twenty-fourth South Carolina and the Forty-sixth Georgia.

Looking back upon the event and reflecting on the performance of the little brigade at Wright's house, it seems almost ludicrous to read in the report of Major-General McPherson, commanding the Seventeenth army corps, an account of the formidable disposition he made to attack it. Erroneously stating that he found the enemy ‘posted in strong force under Gen. W. H. T. Walker,’ he continues:

The position of the enemy was carefully reconnoitered, and Lieut. J. W. McMurray's battery, Parrott guns, brought up to reply to their artillery, which had already opened on our lines. While the dispositions for the attack were being made, a very heavy shower set in which delayed the attack an hour and a half, the rain coming down in such torrents that there was great danger of the ammunition being spoiled if the men opened their cartridge boxes. The time, however, was well employed in [208] putting the men in position, and bringing up Logan's division as a reserve. The enemy occupied a semicir-cular ridge, stretching across the main road, his right holding a piece of woods, and his center and left commanding rolling ground in his front, over which it would be necessary to pass to attack him. Two [only one, Hoskins'] batteries were in position, one covering the road and the other near his left, having a good range across the open field. The disposition of my troops was as follows: Boomer's brigade on the left of the road in the timber; Holmes' brigade on his right, in the open fields; Sanborn's brigade on the right of Holmes, with skirmishers well out on his flank; John E. Smith's brigade, Logan's division, in the woods in rear of Boomer, about 400 yards, in column of regiments as a reserve; Stevenson's brigade across a ravine on Boomer's left, with directions to advance and gain a road which entered the city from the northwest; Dennis' brigade remained a short distance in the rear to guard the trains.

Six brigades arrayed in battle by the accomplished General McPherson, against two battalions, one regiment, and a battery of four guns!

General Johnston's forces, about 6,000 strong, encamped the night of the 14th, 5 miles from Jackson on the Canton road. As many of the stores as could be run out of the city by railroads to Canton and Brandon, and by wagons, were safely removed, and General Grant's army was free to turn upon General Pemberton.

The situation in Mississippi was so serious that additional troops were ordered from South Carolina, and on May 15th the secretary of war directed General Beauregard to send Evans' brigade with all dispatch to General Johnston. The governor of South Carolina, the mayor of Charleston and General Beauregard all remonstrated with the President against stripping the coast of the State almost bare of infantry, but the President was firm in the belief that the enemy had but a small force in South Carolina; that his troops had gone to Virginia, North Carolina and to the southwest, and that 10,000 of all arms were sufficient for the defense of Charleston and the coast. [209] Accordingly Evans' brigade—Seventeenth, Col. F. W. McMaster; Eighteenth, Col. W. H. Wallace; Twenty-second, Lieut.-Col. J. O'Connell; Twenty-third, Col. H. L. Benbow; Twenty-sixth, Col. A. D. Smith; Holcombe legion, Lieut.-Col. W. J. Crawley—went to Mississippi, and was assigned to the division of Major-General French, in Johnston's little army.

On the 20th of May, General Gist, with the balance of his brigade, joined General Johnston at Canton, and was assigned to Walker's division. Meanwhile the disastrous battles of Baker's Creek and the Big Black had been fought and lost by General Pemberton, and Grant was investing Vicksburg, with his army greatly increased. By the 4th of June, General Johnston had collected at Jackson, Canton and Yazoo City, and on the Big Black, a force of 24,000 infantry and artillery, and 2,800 cavalry under Gen. W. H. Jackson. This force was almost without transportation, and was deficient in ammunition for all arms. The Big Black river, impassable except by bridges, interposed between General Johnston's army and Grant's, and was guarded at every pass by intrenched forces from the army investing Vicksburg.

Johnston decided that an attack on Grant under these circumstances was impracticable, though urged by the secretary of war to make it. Pemberton had 18,000 or 20,000 effective troops in the defenses of Vicksburg, and on the 4th of June, General Johnston wrote him: ‘All we can attempt to do is to save you and your garrison.’ He urged a simultaneous attack at the same point with a view of extricating Pemberton, and proposed that it be made north of the railroad. But General Pemberton deemed himself too weak to attack his foe, strongly intrenched, and General Johnston held the same view on his part, so that the siege of Vicksburg progressed, Grant being secured in his intrenchments by his overwhelming numbers and powerful artillery from Pemberton in front, and by the fortified crossings of the Big Black from Johnston in rear. [210]

Finally, on June 29th, General Johnston put his army in motion for the Big Black, the force effective for service being reported, June 25th, at 28,569, of all arms. General Johnston puts it, on the 29th, at a little over 20,000 infantry and artillery, and 2,000 cavalry, supplied with transportation, full equipment of ammunition, and a serviceable floating bridge. ‘This expedition,’ General Johnston wrote in his Narrative, ‘was not undertaken in the wild spirit that dictated the dispatches from the war department.’ On the 21st of June, the secretary of war had urged Johnston to attack General Grant for the relief of Pemberton, and had said: ‘The eyes and hopes of the whole Confederacy are upon you, with the full confidence to fail nobly daring, than, through prudence even, to be that you will act, and with the sentiment that it is better inactive.’

Johnston moved to the Big Black, not indulging the sentiment of Mr. Seddon, that it was better to dare an attack and fail, than to remain only in observation of the siege. His purpose was to make a reconnaissance along the Big Black to find a point of attack, his hope being to extricate General Pemberton's army and not to raise the siege. These reconnoissances on the 1st, 2d and 3d of July satisfied him that an attack north of the railroad was impracticable, and before he had made his proposed examinations south of the railroad, Vicksburg capitulated. Learning this, General Johnston fell back to the fortified line around Jackson, where he was invested by three corps of Grant's army, under Sherman, which, by the 10th, were intrenched in front of Johnston's semi-circular line. Daily skirmishes took place, and the city of Jackson was well pelted with shot and shell until the night of the 16th, when Johnston crossed Pearl river, saving his stores and public property, and carrying off his entire force, artillery and wagon trains. Ultimately the army was encamped at and near Morton, Miss., on the 20th of July. The enemy did not follow except in small force, and after [211] burning the town of Brandon, destroying the railroad bridges, and setting fire to the city of Jackson, which he utterly destroyed, on the 23d of July the ruined city was left to its distressed inhabitants, and Sherman's army returned to Vicksburg.

In the campaign above described, from May 20th to July 20th, Gist's brigade formed part of Walker's division, Evans' brigade of French's. The marches and countermarches to which they were subjected in the heat of summer, the men for the most of the time badly supplied with shoes and actually, at times, suffering for water fit to drink, fully tested the spirit and discipline of the brigade. In the short siege of Jackson, July 10th to 16th inclusive, Walker's division occupied a position on the left center of the line of defense, with its right on the Clinton road, the brigades posted as follows: Ector's, Gregg's, Gist's and Wilson's. Several casualties occurred in General Gist's brigade on the picket line, and in the trenches, but no return of them is available.

In the retreat from the Big Black, French's division reached Jackson in advance July 7th, and at daylight on the 9th, the troops were put in position in the trenches, Evans' brigade on the right resting on the Clinton road, with the batteries of J. F. Culpeper and B. A. Jeter on its front. On the 11th an effort was made to force in Evans' skirmishers, and handsomely repulsed by the Holcombe legion. The next attack was on Breckinridge, at the left of French, and the 13th was devoted to heavy cannonading. John Waties' battery was put in position at French's left. There was heavy firing all the morning of the 14th, with brisk skirmishing. Evans' line advanced, drove back the enemy, burned several small houses which sheltered the Federal sharpshooters, and then fell back to their line. Gist's brigade remained encamped near Morton until the latter part of August, when, in response to General Bragg's request for troops, Walker's and Breckinridge's divisions were ordered to report to him near Chattanooga. [212]

Capt. James Gist, special aide to General Gist, and Dr. Thomas L. Ogier, division surgeon, both died of fever at Morton, lamented by their comrades. Captain Gist and Doctor Ogier were both identified with the brigade of General Gist from its earliest history, and were greatly loved and respected as efficient and faithful officers. [213]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
14th (5)
July 20th (2)
June 4th (2)
May 20th (2)
May 13th (2)
May 4th, 1863 AD (1)
August (1)
July 23rd (1)
July 10th (1)
July 7th (1)
July 3rd (1)
July 2nd (1)
June 29th (1)
June 25th (1)
June 21st (1)
May 25th (1)
May 15th (1)
May 2nd (1)
29th (1)
16th (1)
13th (1)
11th (1)
9th (1)
6th (1)
5th (1)
1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: