In November 1849, California applied for admission to the Union as a free state, forcing the issue of slavery to the forefront of American politics once again. Eventually a compromise was worked out between the free and slave states that came to be known as the Compromise of 1850. One major provisions of the compromise was that Congress passed a tough new fugitive slave law to help Southern owners reclaim runaway slaves who had fled to the North.
One of the first fugitive slaves to fall victim to the new law was Thomas Sims, an escapee from Georgia who was living in
Boston, Massachusetts when he was captured in April 1851. After a very public trial, Sims was ordered returned to his owner in Georgia. The prisoner was marched down the streets of Boston by a detachment of U.S. Marines through a very large, angry crowd of citizens, who watched the scene unfold. Sims was placed on a ship bound for Georgia, and sent back into bondage. Thomas Sims became a cause celebre throughout the North, and abolitionists used the case to rally others to their cause. Abolitionist J.W.C. Pennington, an escaped slave himself, wrote of the case, “Thomas Sims has been given over to his claimant and has been taken back into slavery. These cases are enough to break one’s heart. It is difficult to see how the enormous evil and crime of slavery can be carried to a greater extent. The whole land is full of blood.” – The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Thomas Sims spent 12 years in slavery after being returned, his bondage only ended by a daring escape from Vicksburg during the spring of 1863. The Boston Traveler reported the story on April 24, 1863:
A REMARKABLE INCIDENT – ESCAPE OF SIMS, THE FUGITIVE, FROM THE REBELS AT VICKSBURG
Thomas Sims, well known as the first of the persons sent South from this city, under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law, arrived here last night, with his family. He came direct from the vicinity of Vicksburg, having escaped from that city only three weeks ago. It will be remembered that the master of Sims resided in Savannah, Georgia, and that under the order of the U.S. Commissioner, Sims, at early dawn, was escorted by the police, under City Marshal Tukey, protected by the military, the whole under the direction of U.S. Marshal Freeman, to Central wharf, where he was placed on board a vessel which conveyed him to Savannah. Ever since that time he has been held as a slave. His fortunate escape from the rebels at this important period is certainly a remarkable and pleasing event.
From Mr. Sims we have gathered the following particulars of his experience since his enforced departure from this city: Sims says that after being taken back to Savannah he was kept in jail for a short time, and would have been severely punished but for the sympathy manifested for him at the North. Soon after, he was taken to Vicksburg, where he remained for ten or eleven years, working for the benefit of his master, at his trade as brick-layer. He is married, and has one child, about eight years of age.
He escaped from Vicksburg in a ‘dug out’ boat, accompanied by his wife and child and three other men. He started directly for Boston, and would have been here before had he not been detained at Cincinnati by the illness of his wife and child. His report is that the Rebels at Vicksburg are in a desperate condition. They have meat occasionally, but the larger portion of their living is bread and molasses. He thinks that within a year the rebels would give in, even if our army should not make any further move against them.
Sims remained in Vicksburg up to the time of his escape, but his wife had been removed to a plantation some miles out of the city. He and his friends having obtained the boat, which they concealed, determined to escape. He was allowed to go in and out of the city without restraint, and having hired a horse he went out at night and got his wife and child. They were fortunate in being able to pass the pickets, and with the men of the party they embarked in the boat and put out into the stream.
The men were all armed, and had determined, if discovered, to fight for their lives. It was a moonlight night, and at one point they passed near a rebel battery, but providentially the moon was obscured by a cloud just at that time, and they were not seen.
The fugitives report that the slaves are now allowed greater privileges than before the war commenced, and in consequence of there being little cotton planted their work is light. Sims and his wife are now stopping at the residence of his sister, Mrs. Sikes, living in Garden Street. He proposes to remain in this city. They came away comfortably clothed, but were able to bring nothing with them. Sims wore a new pair of shoes, for which he paid $20. They were clumsily made, and would sell here for about $1…Sims had an interview with General Grant after his escape, and received from him permission to pass through his lines en route for Boston. As he has been engaged for the past year in peddling amongst the soldiers, having bought his time of his master, he has undoubtedly acquired considerable knowledge of the sentiments of the troops. He says that their number has been largely overstated.
In connection with this event it might be stated that ever since his departure from Boston, efforts have been made to purchase Sims. The sum of one thousand dollars was raised here and offered to his master. It was declined, and $2000 asked; the sum of $1800 was then offered, but the breaking out of the war put a stop to further negotiations.
On April 25, 1863, the Boston Traveler had a follow-up article with more information about Sims’ escape:
Thomas Sims, whose second escape from slavery we mentioned yesterday, says the rebel force at Vicksburg, three weeks ago, was not more than five or six thousand men. Gen. Lee was in chief command, and Gen. M.L. Smith was associated with him. There were no stores of provisions at Vicksburg, or anywhere else, in that vicinity. Only a small portion of the inhabitants remained in the city, and those of the poorer class. These had received provisions form a ‘free market,’ but that source was about exhausted. Gen. Pemberton was at Jackson, but he had no army there.
The number of guns mounted at Vicksburg was seventy or eighty; few of these were more powerful than rifled 32’s. A short time since a 7-inch Dahlgren gun was mounted, and it was supposed that a shot from that gun destroyed the ram Switzerland, a few nights before he left.
Two of the men who escaped from Vicksburg with Sims, found employment on Porter’s fleet, although offered passes to the North. One came to New York, and the fourth, an intelligent young fellow, accompanied him to this city. The fugitives brought with them a few household treasures, keepsakes of friends, and daguerreotype pictures of dear relatives, still in bondage, but whom they hope soon to greet as free.
The life of Sims, with the story of his treatment since taken back to slavery, would make an interesting story, and probably it will be published in a small volume, at an early day.
Thomas Sims and his family arrived in Boston by late April, and within a matter of days he had his first public appearance before an audience that was eager to hear his story. On May 6, 1863, the Boston Herald ran the following ad for Sims’ presentation:
The Boston Traveler wrote the next day that Sims spoke for an hour and forty minutes, and that the freedman stated “His escape recently was not caused by ill treatment, but because he felt he had a right to be free. He had been well treated since his remandment to slavery. His appearance is that of an intelligent and energetic man, and he received frequent applause. His wife and child were on the platform.
Thomas Sims settled back into life in Boston, but being a celebrity, the newspapers published stories about him from time to time. On July 25, 1863, the Boston Traveler gave this report on local men who had been examined for possible conscription into the Union army:
In the Fourth District, 111 men were examined, and of them 96 were exempted, 12 offered accepted substitutes, and 4 were passed. Among the exempted was Thomas Sims, the well-known fugitive slave, on the ground that he belonged to the 2d class, he being upward of thirty-five years of age.
Sims did not become a soldier, but he found another way to aid the Union cause. On December 27, 1864, the Boston Traveler reported that “Thomas Sims, the fugitive slave, taken from Boston to Georgia, some years since, is now a recruiting agent at Nashville, Tenn.”
As a prominent former slave, Thomas Sims made quite an impression in Nashville. An unnamed Union officer wrote the following letter which was published in the Lowell Daily Citizen & News on December 30, 1864:
Among the curiosities of the time, however, is the presence here in Nashville of Thomas Sims, as a recruiting agent for colored
troops; Thomas Sims, to send whom back to slavery Boston got on its knees, shed its tears and brandished its weapons, and the whole United States trembled and shook; he, who was in his day the most famous of martyrs, is now a quiet, energetic recruiting agent to aid that very government which exhausted all its warlike powers and all the resources of statesmanship to return him to a state of slavery; or rather, not that same government, but the usurping power that then held the reins of government.
I think nothing could better illustrate the antagonism of the two powers than this incident, or give a more cheering indication of our progress and triumph. Ten years ago this man was dragged through the streets of Boston in the midst of the entire military and police of the city, to be returned to slavery, because what called itself ‘the government,’ said he must go back. Now, in the midst of the very community to which he was then sent a slave, he is laboring a free man to aid in the maintenance of free institutions – not in consequence of having purged himself of any crime but simply by a restoration of his manhood. How can any one doubt which is the Republic and which the Despotism?
There is one final mention of Sims I found that is worth quoting; at the very end of the war as the conflict was coming to a bloody end, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper made this brief mention of him on April 15, 1865:
Statesmen are commonly considered great in proportion to their possession of the gift of insight, but what statesman could have dreamed when Thomas Sims was carried down State street in Boston, as a fugitive slave, that in March, 1865, he would be in Huntsville, Ala., recruiting colored troops for the State of Massachusetts? This is the fact, but the man who ventured to predict four years ago would have been considered a candidate for the insane asylum.
News of Thomas Sims was harder to locate after the Civil War ended, but I did find a notice in the Kalamazoo Gazette on October 20, 1881, that he had started a job working in the Attorney General’s office in Washington, D.C. The man that gave Sims the position was Charles Devens Jr., the United States Attorney General himself. During the Civil War Devens had served as a general officer, but in 1851 he had been a United States Marshal, and it had been his duty to return Sims to the ship that bore him back into slavery. Devens had done his duty as a marshal, even though he did not agree with the court’s ruling. Later, when money was being raised to try and buy Sims’ freedom, Devens asked that he be allowed to pay the entire sum himself. The effort to buy Sims’ freedom came to naught, but over thirty years later Devens was in a position to make amends.
I tried to determine what happened to Thomas Sims after his appointment to a job with the Attorney General’s Office, but unfortunately, I could not find anything definitive regarding his life after 1881. If anyone has information about Thomas Sims’ later years, please contact me and I will post the information to this article.
The Vicksburg Campaign cost thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers their lives, and lonely graves lay scattered over the countryside. Very little care or attention was paid to these graves while the war still raged, but after the conflict ended, most of them found new places for their eternal rest. Union soldiers were interred in the Vicksburg National Cemetery, and Confederate soldiers at Cedar Hill Cemetery.
Given the crude nature of most of the original graves, it should not come as a surprise that some of the bodies were missed by the teams of diggers charged with finding and transporting the remains to their respective cemeteries. This is the story of one soldier who was missed; he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and lay in a forgotten grave for over 70 years. The Vicksburg Evening Post related the story on December 14, 1933:
ROBERT BRADLEY, C.C.C. BOY, FOUND SKELETON IN PARK
Doing Erosion Control Work When Discovery was Made
The skeleton of an unknown Union soldier was discovered in the National Military Park Thursday morning by Robert Bradley, of Inverness, Miss., a C.C.C. camp boy in the J.W. Collier camp. Bradley, along with a squad of other boys, was doing erosion control work near the Baldwin Ferry Road, just to the rear of the camp.
Bradley, using a pick, struck something. He immediately withdrew his pick and reported
the incident to S.S. Mitchell, foreman. An investigation was made and as the dirt was
removed the skeleton was unearthed. The spot on which the skeleton was found was on a hillside, which would indicate the soldier was killed in action and then removed to back behind the lines for burial.
Bits of the blue uniform, showing he was a Union soldier, were taken from the grave, along with some buttons. These were seen by a Post representative who visited the scene yesterday. Bradley’s pick was said to have struck the skull of the skeleton, breaking it, and in the removing of the remains from the grave, where they had remained for seventy years, the bones were disarranged. However, these were partly placed together, which showed the soldier must have been about six feet tall, and was an adult.
The soldier was believed to have been a member of General A.J. Smith’s division, in operation against the Texas Lunette. The remains were taken in charge by Stuart Cuthbertson, park historian, will be interred in the National Cemetery. Photographs of the spot where the skeleton was found, and other details in connection with the unearthing of same, were made by the camp photographer, and these will accompany Major Heider’s report to headquarters in Washington, D.C.
I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on September 21, 1967. Being a native of our fair state’s capital city (although I have never resided there), I have always had an interest in what took place in Jackson during the Civil War.
Jackson, Mississippi, probably suffered more during the Civil War in terms of physical
damage than any other city in the state. A growing, prosperous state capital in 1861, four years later it was, by and large, a burned out shell that had truly earned its nickname of “Chimneyville.”
The city was fought over not once, but twice during the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign: the Battle of Jackson on May 14, 1863, and again during the Siege of Jackson from July 10 – 17, 1863. In this article I will give an overview of these two actions, but I intend to focus on two specific areas of interest: the fighting that took place around Lynch Creek during the Battle of Jackson, and the ill-fated attack made in the same area by Union Colonel Issac C. Pugh’s brigade during the Siege of Jackson.
To fully understand why thousands of Union and Confederate troops fought at Jackson in the summer of 1863, a little background on the Vicksburg Campaign is necessary.
From the earliest days of the Civil War in 1861, both Northern and Southern leaders understood that Vicksburg, Mississippi, would play a pivotal role in the conflict. Abraham Lincoln said of the city, “See what a lot of land these fellows control of which Vicksburg is the key…The War can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket,” and Jefferson Davis supposedly said, “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.”
It is easy to understand why Vicksburg was deemed so important. With the city under Confederate control, the Mississippi River was closed to Northern commercial shipping, and it was a crucial link that kept the Southern states from being split in half. As long as this shipping line was intact, crucial supplies from Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas would continue to flow into the eastern half of the Confederacy.
The first serious attempt by Union forces to take Vicksburg came in 1862, but the operations that summer by the United States navy failed. Then Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s overland campaign to capture the city was forced to turn back in December 1862 because Confederate cavalry raids damaged his supply lines. One final attempt to capture Vicksburg, a thrust at the city by Major General William T. Sherman, was decisively crushed at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou on December 29, 1862.
The failure of the 1862 campaign to take Vicksburg might have given many generals pause, but not Ulysses S. Grant: He simply believed “There was nothing left to be done but go forward to a decisive victory.” The general began shifting his troops from Memphis to join Sherman’s who were already encamped opposite Vicksburg on the Louisiana side of the river. By the end of January 1863, most of Grant’s army, known as the Army of the Tennessee, was in Louisiana, and huge stockpiles of supplies were being built up in anticipation of future operations against Vicksburg.
In the spring of 1863 Grant adopted a plan for capturing Vicksburg that offered the opportunity for decisive results, even though it would put his army at considerable risk. He would move his army south through Louisiana to a point below Vicksburg, locate a suitable crossing point, then ferry his men to the Mississippi shore and move inland to maneuver against his opponent, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commander of the Department of Mississippi and Louisiana. This was a bold strategy, for once he was in Mississippi, if the campaign failed for any reason, Grant’s army stood a good chance of being trapped and destroyed.
General Grant landed his troops at Bruinsburg, Mississippi, on April 30 – May 1, 1863. Once on Mississippi soil he moved quickly and decisively with his troops, never allowing General Pemberton to unite his superior forces against him. Grant defeated the outnumbered Confederates at the battles of Port Gibson, Mississippi, on May 1, and Raymond, Mississippi on May 12.
The Battle of Raymond had been a small engagement, but it had a profound impact on the course of the campaign. After learning of the hard fight put up by the Confederates at Raymond, Grant believed that there was a large number of the enemy at Jackson, and to him, the next move was obvious:
A force was also collecting on my right, at Jackson, the point where all the railroads communicating with Vicksburg connect. All the enemy’s supplies of men and stores would come by that point. As I hoped in the end to besiege Vicksburg, I must first destroy all possibility of aid. I therefore determined to move swiftly toward Jackson, destroy or drive any force in that direction, and then turn upon Pemberton.
On the night of May 12, Grant sent his corps commanders their orders for the next day’s march. Major General James B. McPherson, commander of the XVII Corps, was at Raymond, and he was to move at first light for Clinton, then pivot his troops to the east and advance on Jackson using the Clinton-Jackson Road. General Sherman’s XV Corps was to march through Raymond to Mississippi Springs, five miles east of the town. On May 14 he was to move his men via the Mississippi Springs Road, bringing them into Jackson from the southwest. Generals McPherson and Sherman marched their respective corps all day on May 13 to reach their assigned positions, and by the time they halted for the night, Grant had approximately 24,000 men in the two corps within a few hours marching time of Jackson. 
On the night of May 13, General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Department of
Tennessee and Mississippi, arrived in Jackson. He was Pemberton’s immediate superior, and had been ordered to Mississippi by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to personally coordinate the effort to defeat General Grant. 
Upon arriving in Jackson, General Johnston was given the unwelcome news that only 6,000 troops were available to defend the city, and General McPherson’s XVII Corps had already been spotted advancing on Jackson from the east; the Confederates had not yet detected Sherman’s corps moving in from the southwest. Johnston came to the conclusion that Jackson should be evacuated as quickly as possible. To buy time for this withdrawal to take place, Johnston ordered Brigadier General John Gregg to stay behind with a rear guard and fight a delaying action to slow the Union advance.
General Gregg marched 900 of his men out of Jackson and ordered them into line of battle at the O. P. Wright farm, three miles northwest of the city on the Clinton-Jackson Road. At the time he made his dispositions for a delaying action, Gregg was still unaware that Sherman’s XV Corps was approaching Jackson from the southwest.
By 10:00 a.m. on May 14, General McPherson’s XVII Corps had reached the O. P. Wright farm and began to form into line of battle for an attack. A heavy rainstorm delayed the assault for an hour, but when given the order to go forward the Federals charged the Confederate line. Gregg’s vastly outnumbered Confederates refused to give ground, and the fighting became hand-to-hand before the Southerners were forced to retreat into the entrenchments surrounding Jackson.
While the battle was still going on at the O. P. Wright farm, another fight was about to begin on the southwest outskirts of Jackson.
General William T. Sherman’s XV Army Corps, approximately 16,000 men strong, left Mississippi Springs before sunrise on May 14 marching for Jackson. Brigadier General James M. Tuttle’s division took the lead, and he arranged his troops for the march with Brigadier General James A. Mower’s brigade at the head of the column, followed by the 2nd Iowa Battery and Battery E, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. Brigadier General Charles L. Matthies brigade came next, and Brigadier General Ralph P. Buckland’s brigade brought up the rear. 
The XV Corps move to Jackson was slow, as the broken terrain increased the difficulty of the march, and the close proximity of the Confederates made the Union forces advance cautiously, lest they walk into an ambush. The 5th Minnesota Infantry of Mower’s brigade were sent ahead of the main column to watch for any signs of Confederate activity, and it wasn’t long before they encountered mounted Rebels, with whom they skirmished all the way to the outskirts of Jackson.
The Union column was within about two miles of Jackson by 9:30 a.m., and at that time the men could clearly hear the sounds of the fighting being done by their comrades at the O. P. Wright farm. About 10:00 a.m., the blue column followed the Raymond Road down a gentle slope that led to the bridge crossing Lynch Creek. The waterway itself was a raging torrent – recent rains had filled the small tributary, making the bridge the only practical crossing. There was just one obstacle: a Confederate force of infantry and artillery drawn up in line of battle on the North side of Lynch Creek. If Sherman’s men were going to cross the bridge, they would have to take it by force.
The arrival of the XV Army Corps on the southwest outskirts of the city came as a rude shock to General Gregg, who had to quickly scrape together what troops he had on hand and send them out to try and slow down Sherman’s troops before they marched into Jackson unopposed. He ordered Colonel Albert P. Thompson to take his command, the 3rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry, along with the 1st Georgia Sharpshooter Battalion and four cannon from Martin’s Georgia Battery and hurry with all haste to Lynch Creek, where they were to delay the Union column as long as they could. A delay would be all Thompson could do; he had less than 1,000 men with which to hold back an entire Union corps.
Colonel Thompson got his men into position behind Lynch Creek just in time: he had no sooner put them into line of battle than the first Union soldiers marched into view. He placed the 3rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry on the right side of the Raymond Road, Martin’s Georgia Battery astride the road, and the 1st Georgia Sharpshooter Battalion on the left side of the road. The spot where the Confederates made their stand is close to the modern crossing of Terry Road over Lynch Creek.
As the Union troops came into view, Martin’s Georgia Battery opened fire on them, filling the air around the Federals with hot metal from explosive shells. General Tuttle reacted to the attack by deploying his troops for battle near what is today the site of the Carmelite Monastery on Terry Road.
At the sound of the firing, General Sherman, who was near the head of the column, rode up and surveyed the Rebel position across Lynch Creek. He immediately ordered an attack on the Confederates. General Tuttle reacted by ordering Captain Nelson Spoor, chief of artillery, to emplace his two batteries of cannon. The six guns of the 2nd Iowa Battery went into action on the right side of the Raymond Road, and the six guns of Battery E, 1st Illinois Light Artillery dropped trail on the left side of the road. The Union cannon roared into action, firing at the Confederate artillery to neutralize it so that the infantry could safely advance on Lynch Creek.
General Tuttle deployed his infantry with Brigadier General Joseph A. Mower’s brigade behind the 2nd Iowa Battery, and Brigadier General Charles L. Matthies brigade behind the 1st Illinois Light Artillery. He kept his third brigade, that of Brigadier General Ralph B. Buckland, in reserve behind the other two brigades. All told Tuttle had approximately 5,000 men under his command for the attack, with more troops of the XV Corps coming up behind him if reinforcements were needed.
The duel between the Union and Confederate artillerymen was a one-sided affair, with the
12 Union guns quickly swamping the 4 guns of Martin’s Georgia Battery with their fire. One of the men on the receiving end of this intense shelling was Bugler Isaac Hermann of Martin’s Georgia Battery. He later wrote of the experience in his memoirs:
One of their shots passed over my gun and knocked off its sight, passed between the detachment, striking the caisson lid in the rear and staving it in…I saw a ball rolling on the ground, about six feet to my right. It seemed to be about the same caliber as ours. It rolled up a stump, bouncing about fifteen feet in the air. I thought it was a solid shot and wanting to send it back to them through the muzzle of our gun, I ran after it. It proved to be a shell, as it exploded, and a piece of it struck my arm. It was a painful wound, but not serious. Another ball struck a tree about eight inches in diameter, knocked out a chip, which struck my face and caused me to see the seven stars in plain day light and very near got a scalp of Captain Howell, who stood behind that tree.
Colonel Thompson realized that his men could not withstand the devastating concentration of artillery fire being thrown at them, so after about 20 minutes of the fearful pounding, he ordered his men to fall back into the woods that stood in front of the fortifications protecting the southwest approaches to Jackson. The Confederates hastily withdrew to the edge of the woods, a position that is adjacent to the modern location of Battlefield Park.
The Confederates fell back from Lynch Creek leaving the bridge spanning the waterway intact, giving the Yankees a way to cross the flooded stream. General Tuttle advanced his division to pursue the retiring Confederates, but crossing his entire command over one bridge was a rather slow and drawn out process. Once on the north side of Lynch Creek, however, he deployed his men in an open field that fronted the woods where Colonel Thompson’s Confederates had taken up residence. He placed General Mower’s brigade on the left side of the Raymond Road, General Matthies brigade on the right side of the road, with the 1st Illinois Light Artillery and the 2nd Iowa Battery in the road. General Buckland’s brigade was again in the rear behind the other two infantry brigades as a reserve.
As soon as his men were formed, General Tuttle began to advance on the Confederates in the woods. Seeing the massive Federal line of battle sweeping toward him, Colonel Thompson wisely chose not to engage them with his small command, instead ordering them to fall back into the earthworks around Jackson. Tuttle’s men followed, passing through the narrow skirt of woods only to find open fields, and off in the distance Rebel earthworks with deadly looking cannon pointed their way. The Southern artillerymen opened fire on the Union soldiers, and Tuttle halted his men while he mulled over what to do. 
While the Yankees were figuring out their next move, General Gregg received word about 2:00 p.m. that the last of the Confederate troops and supplies had been safely evacuated from Jackson. His mission complete, Gregg then ordered his troops to withdraw from the city as well, leaving only a few Mississippi militia and civilian volunteers behind in the trenches to man the heavy cannon.
In the meanwhile, General Sherman ordered a probe of the Confederate entrenchments, and finding them largely undefended, he moved his troops through an empty section of the works and captured or put to flight the few remaining Confederate defenders. The triumphant Union army entered Jackson, and the United States flag was unfurled over the capitol of Mississippi. 
The Battle of Jackson, although a minor skirmish by Civil War standards, was an important engagement of the Vicksburg Campaign. The Federal capture of the city broke up the Confederate troop concentration that was just beginning to take shape in the city, and neutralized an important communication, transportation, and supply center. General Pemberton’s army in Vicksburg was isolated, and never able to affect a junction with General Johnston’s troops, allowing Grant to concentrate his forces against the Confederates in the Hill City.
The area around Lynch Creek had seen both large troop movements and some fighting during the Battle of Jackson. General Grant himself, who was traveling with General Sherman on May 14, witnessed much of the action on this property. Casualties during this fighting were light: Tuttle’s division reported only 6 men killed and 22 wounded. There are no casualty reports for Colonel Thompson’s Confederates, but he probably had just a handful of killed and wounded. It was not, however, the last blood that was spilled on this ground. There would be fighting on an even larger scale during the Siege of Jackson in July 1863.
After the Battle of Jackson, General Grant fixed his gaze on the goal that had eluded him for so long: Vicksburg. He aggressively moved his army west toward the city, and on May 16, 1863, he met and decisively defeated the army of General John C. Pemberton at the Battle of Champion Hill. The Rebels began retreating to Vicksburg, but Grant caught up to them at the Big Black River and defeated General Pemberton again on May 17. After the disastrous stand at the Big Black River, the routed Confederates straggled back into Vicksburg and marched into the earthworks defending the city.
The Army of the Tennessee arrived at Vicksburg on May 18, and believing the city could be easily taken, Grant planned an assault for the next day. But the attack on May 19 was beaten back with heavy losses, and an even larger and better-coordinated attack met with similar results on May 22. Afterwards General Grant settled in for a siege to starve the Confederates out of Vicksburg.
While Grant was besieging Vicksburg, General Joseph E. Johnston was busy assembling
what was known as the “Army of Relief” to rescue the trapped Confederate garrison in the city. By June 3 he had a force of 31,000 men and 72 cannon with which to accomplish this goal. General Grant was well aware of the threat that Johnston posed to his rear. He took steps to guard against an attack from this direction by establishing an exterior line of defense in late June commanded by General Sherman. Known as the “Army of Observation,” Sherman’s force consisted of 30,000 men and 72 cannon.
The fiery Sherman was chomping at the bit to go after General Johnston’s Army of Relief, and the only thing holding him back was word from General Grant that Pemberton had surrendered Vicksburg. On July 4, 1863, Sherman received notice that the Rebel general had in fact surrendered, and Grant ordered him to start after Johnston’s army. Sherman’s troops, augmented by reinforcements to about 50,000 men, began moving that same day.
General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Relief had started moving toward Vicksburg on June 29, and on July 2-3 he had scouts looking for a place to cross the Big Black River. On the west side of the waterway was General Sherman’s Army of Observation, and Johnston was still trying to find a safe crossing of the Big Black when he was notified on July 5 that Pemberton had given up Vicksburg.
On receiving this news General Johnston immediately began a retreat back to Jackson, his men arriving in the city on the evening of July 7. The next day he had his soldiers hard at work with picks and shovels improving the earthworks around Jackson. The general had decided to hold the city in the hope that Sherman could be goaded into attacking his entrenched troops.
Knowing that Sherman’s soldiers would soon reach Jackson, General Johnston had his men file into the trenches around the city on July 9. Two of the divisions of Johnston’s army
were directly involved in the fighting that impacts the area near Lynch Creek: Major General Samuel G. French’s division, of approximately 4,000 men, held the section of trenches that ran from the Southern Railroad of Mississippi to the Raymond Road. Major General John C. Breckinridge’s division, approximately 5,000 men strong, manned the trenches from the Raymond Road to the Pearl River.
Sherman’s army reached Jackson on July 10, and a reconnaissance of the Confederate earthworks convinced the general that the position was too strong to assault. He wrote in his official report:
I soon satisfied myself that General Johnston had taken refuge in Jackson, that he had resolved to fight behind intrenchments, and that his intrenched position was the same substantially that we found last May, only that it had been much strengthened and extended, so that its flanks reached Pearl River. The works were too good to be assaulted, and orders were given to deploy and form lines of circumvallation about 1,500 yards from the enemy’s parapet, with skirmishers close up, and their supports within 500 yards, also that each corps should construct covered batteries for their guns and trenches for their men.
General Sherman’s disposition of troops to surround the Confederate fortifications at
Jackson placed two Union divisions near Lynch Creek: Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey’s division of the XIII Army Corps, and Brigadier General Jacob G. Lauman’s division of the XVI Army Corps, which was attached to the XIII Army Corps during the Siege of Jackson. Hovey’s division was approximately 3,600 men strong, while General Lauman had over 6,000 men in his division.
Hovey’s and Lauman’s divisions arrived in the vicinity of Jackson on July 10, marching down the Robinson Road until they reached the outskirts of the city. With Hovey’s men in the lead on July 11, the two divisions then marched cross-country to the southeast until they reached the Raymond Road, near a farm owned by the Holloway family.
On reaching the Raymond Road, General Hovey deployed his division into line of battle with his left on the Raymond Road and his right on the New Orleans, Jackson and
Great Northern Railroad. He then set his men in motion, and as they moved up to Lynch Creek, they were fired on by the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles of General French’s division. Hovey called up two guns of the 16th Ohio Battery, which immediately began shelling the Confederates across Lynch Creek. The Union infantry then charged, and the 1st Arkansas fell back in the face of overwhelming Union numbers. Hovey’s men forded Lynch Creek without any further opposition, and as it was getting dark, the general halted his men for the night.
General Lauman’s division was supposed to take up a position on the right of Hovey’s division, but darkness found them far short of their goal. They camped for the night behind Hovey’s men, just west of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad.
At 7:00 a.m. on July 12, Sherman’s artillery roared into action, as he had his cannons fire over a thousand rounds at worthwhile targets in the fortifications or within the city of Jackson itself. The barrage ceased about 8:00 a.m., and General Hovey was ordered to move up by his immediate superior, Major General Edward O. C. Ord, commander of the XIII Army Corps. The purpose of this move was to bring Hovey’s division in closer contact with the Confederate fortifications, and to align his men with the Union troops on his left. Hovey sent word of this movement to General Lauman, and then pushed his men forward.
As Hovey began to advance, General Lauman was moving his division as well to take up a position on his right. He marched his men east of the railroad to the forward slope of Bailey’s Hill, a point about one mile from the Confederate earthworks. Today Bailey’s Hill is located on the frontage road just off the Gallatin Street exit of I-20. The hill itself is obscured by the automobile dealerships on the front slope of the mount.
On Bailey’s Hill, General Lauman formed his division for a forward movement to bring his
men into line with Hovey’s division. He placed Colonel Isaac C. Pugh’s brigade into line of battle, with Colonel George E. Bryant’s brigade behind him in reserve. Colonel Pugh’s brigade consisted of the following regiments in line from left to right: 53rd Illinois Infantry, 3rd Iowa Infantry, 41st Illinois Infantry, and 28th Illinois Infantry. The 53rd Illinois, the leftmost unit in the brigade, kept its left flank against the tracks of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad.
General Lauman gave the order for his division to advance, and with Pugh’s brigade leading the way, the Federals marched down Bailey’s Hill toward Lynch Creek. Pugh’s men waded through Lynch Creek, and on the north side of the waterway they came into line with Hovey’s division on their left. Pugh halted his men, for they had reached their assigned position, and besides, the colonel had a bad feeling about the ground to their immediate front:
I was ordered by General Lauman to move my line forward cautiously, which order I obeyed. After passing a small creek, lined with timber and dense underbrush, my command arrived in the open field, when I halted and had my line dressed up. I did not like the looks of the ground. There was a corn-field in front, beyond which there was a skirt of timber, and beyond that the timber had been felled. The fences had been laid down, and the corn cut down, except a strip immediately in front of my line. I ordered one of my aides to request General Lauman’s presence on the ground, as I did not like the appearance of the field, and I did not intend to advance farther without orders.
While Lauman was halted, the 5th Ohio Battery brought up six guns and began hammering away at the Confederate fortifications to their front. The Rebel cannon soon began to reply, and for about 25 minutes there was a lively artillery duel.
As soon as the artillery fire ended, General Lauman ordered his troops to continue the advance. Pugh’s men moved though a cornfield and into a narrow stretch of forest, but as they reached the far edge of the trees, the colonel quickly called for a halt. He had good reason for doing this, as the woods opened on a cleared field where all of the trees had been cut down and turned into obstacles called abatis – rows of large limbs with the ends of the branches sharpened, placed with the points towards the enemy, forming a very difficult barrier for infantry to cross. On the far side of the abatis were the Confederate fortifications defending the southwest approaches to Jackson.
While Lauman’s troops were pushing forward, Hovey’s division to their left was also advancing to get in closer proximity with the Confederate earthworks to their front. During this movement Hovey’s men had a lively firefight with the Rebel skirmishers out in advance of their fortifications. General Hovey wrote of this fighting in his official report:
The skirmishing soon became very sharp, and for an hour the conflict was entitled to the name of battle. The enemy burned several houses in our front, and opened upon us with canister, grape, shell, and musketry. Slowly and steadily we drove them before us into their works, and were soon enabled to plant a section of the First Missouri Battery, Lieutenant Callahan commanding, on the Raymond Road, about 500 yards from the enemy’s battery. In about one hour and a half after the commencement of this affair, we had occupied the woods beyond the open ground in our front and within short range of the enemy’s works. Here I found it impossible to advance farther without exposing my right to a raking fire from the enemy’s works, which were within 500 yards of my line.
A portion of the earthworks that Hovey’s men began digging at this time still exists in Battlefield Park, just off U.S. Highway 80. Terry Road, which runs along the western boundary of the park, in is the same approximate location as the Civil War road that ran from Raymond to Jackson.
While Hovey’s men were digging in, Lauman had decided to advance his men into the obstacle-filled clearing fronting the Confederate fortifications, even though such a move was sure to bring on heavy fighting, something that was definitely beyond the scope of his orders. His bluecoats would be moving toward a sector of the Rebel entrenchments defended by Brigadier General Daniel Adams’ brigade. Specifically they were aimed at a portion of the works held by the 32nd Alabama Infantry and 19th Louisiana Infantry, supported by the Washington Artillery of Louisiana with six cannon. The guns were placed where the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad tracks cut through the earthworks.
As the Union soldiers moved into the open and began trying to work through the abatis to their front, the Washington Artillery hit them with what Colonel Pugh later described as “A murderous fire on my whole line.” Major George W. Crosley, commanding the 3rd Iowa Infantry, wrote this account of the attack:
The enemy now opened fire with twelve pieces of artillery, all bearing directly upon our line, and also gave us a heavy fire of musketry. The men answered this greeting with a shout, and rushed forward to the assault. We were met by a perfect storm of grape, canister, and musketry. The timber and brush had been cleaned away in front of the enemy’s works, and an abatis formed, which broke our line and threw the men into groups, thus giving the enemy’s artillery an opportunity to work with the most deadly effect.
For the soldiers of the Washington Artillery, the tightly packed mass of Federals trying to
force their way through the dense stand of abatis was a dream come true: they couldn’t ask for a better target. Their ammunition of choice was canister, which consisted of a tin can packed with 27 iron balls. When the cannon fired, the canister broke apart in the tube and came out in a shotgun-like blast that was extremely effective against infantry out to about 300 yards.
Billy Vaught, a member of the Washington Artillery, wrote this account of the effectiveness of canister on the Union soldiers at Jackson:
I tore down part of my breastwork in the midst of the fire & ordered double charges of
canister to be fired…My double charges of canister still tore wide gaps in their still advancing line of infantry. They bore a splendid banner right toward me – three times that banner went down & as often sprang up. ‘Aim at that flag!’ was my order – down it went, never to rise again except as a trophy.
Withering away under the devastating artillery fire, Pugh’s men moved to their right and attempted to storm a section of the Rebel entrenchments held by Brigadier General Marcellus A. Stovall’s brigade, made up of the 1st & 3rd Florida Consolidated Infantry, the 4th Florida Infantry, 47th Georgia Infantry, and 60th North Carolina Infantry, supported by 4 guns of Cobb’s Kentucky Artillery. This movement simply exposed the Federals to even more Confederate fire, and they continued to lose men at an alarming rate. To try and provide some support for his beleaguered infantry, Lauman sent up two guns of the 5th Ohio Battery, but they were so badly damaged by the Rebel cannon that they were put out of action without firing a shot.
The men of Pugh’s brigade fought bravely, pushing to within 80 yards of the Confederate fortifications before going to ground in an attempt to escape the deadly hail of artillery and gunfire. Facing near certain death if they remained where they were, some soldiers chanced the firestorm and ran for the rear, while others put up handkerchiefs to signal that they wanted to surrender. The fighting was over, and a Union brigade had been decimated in the space of about an hour. It was a true disaster: over 200 men captured, and the flags of the 28th Illinois, 41st Illinois, and 53rd Illinois captured by the enemy. The human toll was even worse: out of the 880 men in Pugh’s brigade, 67 were killed, 293 wounded, and 148 were missing. Confederate casualties amounted to only 7 killed and 43 wounded.
The shell-shocked survivors of the attack fell back to Bailey’s Hill, where a distraught Lauman was clearly overcome by the disaster that had befallen his men. When his immediate superior, Major General Edward O. C. Ord, heard of the bloody repulse and went to investigate he found Lauman’s men in a sorry state:
Scattered, except that part which had not been with him, and when I called upon General Lauman to take immediate steps to put the remnant of his command under temporary cover, to call the rolls and gather the stragglers, I found he did not know how to do it, and for fear that the enemy might follow up their advantage, and the right flank being too important to trust in such hands, I relieved him, and placed his division under the command of Brigadier General A. P. Hovey, who at once placed the cut up part of it in the rear in good position, had the scattered regiments collected, rolls called, and reported casualties. The hill to which Lauman had retired was then occupied by a fresh brigade, who that night erected batteries, which secured them the position.
General Lauman’s military career, which up until that point had been marked by one success after another, was over. Sent back to Vicksburg in disgrace, he never led troops in the field again.
Lauman’s attack on July 12 illustrated the futility of any future effort to assault the strongly held Confederate fortifications. The Federals settled in for a siege to force the Rebels out of Jackson. Over the next few days General Hovey oversaw the extension of his line east to the Pearl River. Once this was accomplished, all the major entrances to Jackson west of the river were closed to the Confederates.
In the meantime, the Union dead from Lauman’s ill-fated attack remained where they fell out in front of the entrenchments held by General Breckinridge’s division. After two days in the Mississippi heat the bodies were decomposing badly, and the smell was so offensive that the Confederates could hardly stand to stay in their trenches. One Louisiana soldier said that viewing the Union dead “Was the most sickening sight I ever beheld.” Conditions were so bad that General Johnston sent a message to General Sherman asking for a two-hour truce so that the dead could be buried. Sherman agreed, and the Confederate soldiers of Breckinridge’s division had the thankless task of burying the Union corpses.
Fearing that the Federals might cross the Pearl River and cut off his only avenue of retreat, General Johnston decided on the night of July 16 to evacuate Jackson and withdraw to the west. Under cover of darkness his men quietly pulled out of their entrenchments and marched across the pontoon bridges spanning the Pearl River. These bridges were located close to where modern East Silas Brown Street crosses the Pearl River.
Sherman’s men triumphantly entered Jackson on the morning of July 17, and began to methodically destroy anything of military value. The general did push some of his men across the Pearl River, and they occupied Brandon on July 19. He elected to allow Johnston to retreat westward in peace, writing that “I do not pursue, because of the intense heat, dust and fatigue of the men; but I will perfect the work of destruction, and await orders.”
In his after action report, General Sherman summed up what his men had accomplished during the Siege of Jackson:
In reviewing the events thus feebly described, it may seem superfluous to call attention to the fact that the great mass of troops thus called on for action were on the 4th of July in the trenches before Vicksburg, where for nearly two months they had been toiling in a hot sun in close and stifling rifle-pits, and without stopping to indulge for a moment in the natural joy at the great success which had there crowned their labors, they were required again to march in heat and dust for 50 miles, with little or no water, save in muddy creeks…and then had to deal with an army which had, under a leader of great renown, been formed specially to raise the siege of Vicksburg…that we drove him 50 miles and left him in full retreat, that we have destroyed those great arteries of travel in the state which alone could enable him to assemble troops and molest our possession of the Mississippi River…This seems to me a fit supplement to the reconquest of the Mississippi River itself, and makes that perfect which otherwise would have been imperfect.
Sherman was correct in his assessment of the Siege of Jackson: afterwards Vicksburg was firmly in Union hands, and the Confederates were never able to mount a serious challenge to Union control of the Mississippi River. The Federal victory at Mississippi’s capital city in the summer of 1863 marked the end of one of the most decisive military campaigns in the American Civil War.
 Jeff T. Giambrone, An Illustrated Guide To The Vicksburg Campaign & National Military Park (Jackson, MS: Communication Arts Company, 2011), 36. (Cited hereafter as An Illustrated Guide).
 Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr., The Pride of the Confederate Artillery: The Washington Artillery in the Army of Tennessee (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997), 113-114. (Cited hereafter as Pride of the Confederate Artillery).
Official Records, Series 1, Volume XXIV, Part 2, 605.
Here is the Confederate pension application of John S. Yancy:
And here is the pension application of his wife, Pearl Yancy, filed in 1955:
John S. Yancy died August 13, 1928, and was buried in Rucker Cemetery, Tippah County, Mississippi. Here is the tombstone application Pearl Yancy filled out to obtain a government headstone for her husband:
And here is his grave:
John S. Yancy has been dead for 85 years, but his legacy lives on in his son, Mike Yancy, a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
UPDATE 9/4/2013 – I have done a little more research on John S. Yancy, and found some additional information about him that is very interesting. Shortly after his son Mike was born, the Tippah County newspaper, the Southern Sentinel, published the following article on December 20, 1923:
“Tippah County probably has the distinction of having the youngest ‘son of a Confederate veteran’ in the United States. This youngster came into the world on the 12th of this month and is a son of J. Sam Yancy, age 76, who saw active service in the Confederate army and was engaged in the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads, 20 miles southeast of Ripley. Mr. Yancy is living with his third wife, a young woman whose 29th birthday will be celebrated in a few days. Mr. Yancy has a great grandchild older than this son of his.”
I also found an obituary for Yancy in the Southern Sentinel, August 16, 1928. It reads in part:
“Mr. J. Sam Yancy, one of the oldest and most respected citizens of this county, passed away on Monday evening at eight 0’clock, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. E.M. Bartlette in Ripley. Mrs. Yancy is in the hospital at Booneville for an operation and on account of her absence Mr. Yancy was carried to the home of his daughter. His remains were laid to rest on Tuesday afternoon in the Rucker graveyard. Mr. Yancy leaves six children by his first marriage…And by his second marriage he leaves a widow and one child, Mike, about four years of age…Though very young for military service at the outbreak of the war between the states he saw service in the Confederate army…Mr. Yancy was a good friend, a good neighbor, a good citizen and good Christian man. Having been so long a familiar figure around Ripley he will be much missed, especially by the older people who had been his life long friends. The Sentinel extends its deepest sympathy to the bereaved family.”