Thursday, June 28, 2012

Battle of Big Black River Bridge

The day after the near-run Battle of Champion's Hill, Confederate General John C. Pemberton was fighting to save his army for a last stand at Vicksburg. The last natural barrier between Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant and Vicksburg was the Big Black River. Pemberton ordered Brig. General John S. Bowen to defend the crossing with just three brigades while soldiers crossed over a bridge and a steamboat positioned as a bridge. The Confederates hastily constructed a breastworks made out of cotton bales lined up against a bayou.

John A. McClernand's XIII Corps closed in on the defenders. Brig. General Michael K. Lawler led his brigade in an assault that carried them through waist-deep water to the breastworks. The rebels broke and attempted to cross the river any way possible. Over 1700 Confederates were captured, killed in combat or drowned attempting to cross the river. The rebels who succeeded in crossing burned the bridge and steamboat, but merely delayed what was to come — Grant would place Vicksburg under siege.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Battle of Champion's Hill (or Bakers Creek)

The summer 0f 1863 proved decisive in the Western theater of the American Civil War. After a daring landing south of Vicksburg, General Ulysses S. Grant cut a swath through enemy territory and securing his rear with the capture of Jackson, Mississippi, turned back west with the intent of destroying Confederate forces under John C. Pemberton and capturing Vicksburg.

Pemberton had headed west after the Battle of Jackson. His commanding officer, Joseph E. Johnston ordered Pemberton to attack Grant at Clinton. On May 16, 1863 Pemberton arrayed his forces on a three mile line overlooking Jackson Creek. Grant ordered James B. McPherson and John A. McClernand to take the ridge. After fierce fighting the Federals gained the ridge only to be pushed back by a counterattack led by Confederate General John S. Bowen. Pemberton ordered William W. Loring to reinforce Bowen. Loring refused, stating that he had Union troops in his front. Bowen did not have the manpower to hold the ridge and the Confederate retreat began in earnest. Brig. General Lloyd Tilghman's brigade valiantly formed a rearguard, allowing Pemberton's army to escape, though not before Tilghman himself was killed by artillery fire.

The retreat set the stage for another engagement the next day— the Battle of Big Black River. Pemberton would soon be cooped up in Vicksburg and its fall would just be a matter of time.