Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May 14, 1863: Joseph Johnston to John C. Pemberton

On this day 150 years ago, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston pulled his forces out of Jackson, Mississippi to avoid being crushed by Ulysses S. Grant's advancing Union army. Although Johnston felt compelled to evacuate the capital of Confederate Mississippi--the second state to secede from the Union--he immediately began communicating with Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton about how to cut Grant off from his supply line and concentrate Confederate forces in Mississippi against a part of Grant's army. Johnston misread the situation; Grant had abandoned his own supply lines and was living off the country and Grant would make it his business to prevent the scattered Confederate units in the Vicksburg theater from concentrating against his army.

Lieutenant-General PEMBERTON:

GENERAL: The body of troops mentioned in my note of last night compelled Brigadier-General Gregg and his command to evacuate-Jackson about noon to-day. The necessity of taking the Canton road at right angles to that upon which the enemy approached prevented an obstinate defense. A body of troops, reported this morning to have reached Raymond last night, advanced at the same time from that direction. Prisoners say that it was McPherson's corps [four DIVISIONS], which marched from Clinton. I have no certain information of the other; both skirmished very cautiously. Telegrams were dispatched when the enemy was near, directing General Gist to assemble the approaching troops at a point 40 or 50 miles from Jackson, and General Maxey to return to his wagons, and provide for the security of his brigade, for instance, by joining General Gist. That body of troops will be able, I hope, to prevent the enemy in Jackson from drawing provisions from the east, and this one may be able to keep him from the country toward Panola. Can he supply himself from the Mississippi? Can you not cut him off from it, and, above all, should he be compelled to fall back for want of supplies, beat him? As soon as the re-enforcements are all up, they must be united to the rest of the army. I am anxious to see a force assembled that may be able to inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy. Would it not be better to place the forces to support Vicksburg between General Loring and that place, and merely observe the ferries so that you might unite, if opportunity to fight presented itself? General Gregg will move toward Canton to-morrow. If prisoners tell the truth, the forces at Jackson must be half of Grant's army. It would decide the campaign to beat it, which can be done only by concentrating, especially when the remainder of the eastern troops arrive-they are to be 12,000 or 13,000.

J. E. Johnston.

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