The Battle of Raymond
From America's Civil War Magazine (historynet.com)
BY AL GOODMAN JR.
Raymond, the county seat of Hinds County, Miss., had so far been untouched by the war, but soon its citizens would find their new courthouse, their homes and several churches pressed into service as hospitals and headquarters for two warring armies. Things would never be the same along the sleepy streets of the rural town.
That spring found Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s efforts to capture Vicksburg, Miss., at a critical point. The campaign to clear the Mississippi River had stalled before the guns of the river fortress of Vicksburg. The Devoted City was the northern door to a 200-mile-long portion of the river that still remained closed to the Union. The Mississippi was protected by Confederate batteries at Warrenton, Grand Gulf and the southernmost bastion of Port Hudson.
Disaffected members of President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet were calling for Grant’s removal as commander of the Department of the Tennessee. Grant’s operations in Mississippi in 1862 and early 1863 had not secured Vicksburg, and he seemed to be unwilling or unable to move. Sequestered on his command ship Magnolia, Grant carefully considered the three most viable options available to him: first, fall back to Memphis and attempt a repeat of his earlier 1862 push through the center of Mississippi; second, place his army on river transports and steam past Vicksburg’s guns to land south of the city; or third, contrary to all current military principles, march south through Louisiana and cross the river to its eastern bank, south of the Big Black River.
Grant, characteristically, chose the third option and ordered his 20 divisions to march from his base at Milliken’s Bend, La., through the sloughs and bayous toward Hard Times, La. The news of a pending move transformed the low morale of his army to a mood of high anticipation. One Ohio soldier wrote to his father from Milliken’s Bend: A dark cloud has passed over & thank God the bright sky once more appears. You have no idea of the hard talk that I have heard come from discouraged soldiers a short time since, but all that has passed.
McPherson’s XVII Corps consisted of the 3rd Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan; the 6th Division, led by Brig. Gen. John A. McArthur; and the 7th Division, under Brig. Gen. Marcellus M. Crocker. Their assigned infantry regiments came from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Grant’s movement orders placed McClernand’s corps in the advance, to be followed by McPherson’s and Sherman’s corps. The 60-mile march to the embarkation point at Hard Times began in March and took almost a month. Along the way, the troops constructed corduroy roads and engaged in minor skirmishing with Trans-Mississippi cavalry and Captain Francis M. Cockrell’s Confederate Missouri infantry. Meanwhile, the Union Navy’s transports and escorting ironclads ran past Vicksburg and Warrenton and linked up with the army with few losses. The subsequent repulse of Flag Officer David Dixon Porter’s ironclads at Grand Gulf, however, forced a change of the planned crossing site. The river crossing would have to be made from DeShroon’s Landing, an old plantation levee 10 miles south of the citadel, to Bruinsburg, a point midway between Grand Gulf and Rodney, Miss.
The XIII Corps spearheaded the largest amphibious landing in American history up to that time, crossing the Mississippi on April 30, followed by the XVII Corps. McClernand’s troops pressed east to Port Gibson, where they battled with a small Confederate division led by Brig. Gen. John S. Bowen on May 1. The XIII Corps was victorious, opening the road inland to the invading Federal army.
Grant immediately rode to the now-abandoned Grand Gulf defenses to establish contact with his headquarters and report to Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. While there, Grant reached a second decision. His original plan had called for attaching McClernand’s corps, after securing Grand Gulf as a base of supply, to Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks for the purpose of capturing Port Hudson.
The unwelcome news that Banks was campaigning in central Louisiana with 15,000 men and would not arrive back at the Mississippi River for several weeks changed everything. Grant now determined to move his entire army inland. He would supply his units by foraging and by moving supply wagons to Grand Gulf down the road his men had built in Louisiana.
A reconnaissance made by McPherson on May 5 indicated that the bulk of Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton’s Confederate forces were digging in north of the Big Black River. Grant suspected that Pemberton was also massing troops at the state capital at Jackson. McClernand’s corps was sent toward Utica, followed by McPherson’s, while Sherman’s XV Corps finished crossing the river at Grand Gulf and marched on to Hankinson’s Ferry.
By May 11, Sherman’s corps had pushed forward of McClernand’s corps at Cayuga. Both corps then marched to Auburn, where they split–McClernand’s XIII Corps marched parallel to the Big Black River toward Edward’s Station, and Sherman’s XV Corps moved in the direction of Jackson. McPherson’s XVII Corps was placed in the protected position of the right flank, moving toward Raymond from an assembly point in Utica. Grant had shifted the XVII Corps to his right flank to keep its young commander away from Pemberton’s divisions west of the Big Black.
Pemberton, for his part, was completely in the dark concerning Grant’s movements due to a lack of cavalry and civilian scouts. His only positive moves were to send Bowen’s division to Edward’s Station and a small brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. John Gregg from Jackson to Raymond. The latter troop movement would result in just what Grant had been attempting to avoid–an independent action on McPherson’s part.
Meanwhile, Pemberton sent an ambiguous order to Colonel William Wirt Adams, the commander of the only mounted Confederate force of any size in the area. The order read: Gen. Gregg is ordered to Raymond. Direct your cavalry there to scout thoroughly and keep him informed. Adams interpreted the telegram to mean that he should give Gregg his forces presently in Raymond, not that he should send his entire regiment there. Gregg would find only five cavalrymen at his disposal, along with a unit of 40 Mississippi state troops.
Adams proceeded with six companies to Edward’s Station. Upon his arrival, he quickly discovered the error and dispatched 50 riders, under Captain William R. Luckett, to form a screen between Raymond and Utica. That force rode smack into Sherman’s corps and had to ride around its active pickets. The cavalrymen would arrive at Gregg’s headquarters on the night of May 11, too late to be deployed before the battle.
Gregg dispatched the state troops to patrol the Utica Road, with his five-man cavalry force to act as couriers. The infantry regiments placed pickets on all the roads leading into Raymond. Meanwhile, Pemberton wired Gregg’s headquarters that he believed the enemy’s objective must be the railroad bridge over the Big Black River and that any enemy forces on the right were only a feint. Brigadier General William H.T. Walker’s brigade soon marched from Jackson to Gregg’s position. Their combined forces then stood ready to attack the Federal rear or flank as it turned to the northwest.
The soldiers making up the main body of the XVII Corps shook out their blankets early on May 12 and began their march up the Utica Road at 4 a.m. During the previous 12 days they had been in one major battle and several small skirmishes and had endured short rations while constantly on the move. In spite of such adversities, morale was high as the army continued to move inland. Sergeant Ira Blanchard of the 20th Illinois Infantry later wrote, We found little time to eat, much less to sleep, but were pushed forward before we had time to make a little coffee in the morning, or should we stretch out on the ground at night we had to sleep with one eye open, as the command might be forward at any moment. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan’s 3rd Division led the XVII Corps onto the Utica Road, preceded by one of the army’s two cavalry units.
Gregg was awakened that morning by one of Adams’ cavalrymen with a message from Captain J.M. Hall, which said that his state troops had spotted Federal cavalry and large dust clouds approaching up the Utica Road. Gregg believed that force to be a single brigade on a marauding excursion and immediately implemented a plan to attack and capture the enemy formation.
By 9 a.m., the 7th Texas, commanded by Colonel Hiram B. Granbury, moved southwest one mile from Raymond to the intersection of the Auburn and Utica roads. A screen of skirmishers from Companies A and B, under Captain T.B. Camp, moved across the knee-deep waters of Fourteen Mile Creek and established themselves on the southern bank. From the trees, they faced across a field sloping upward 300 yards to a rise on the Utica Road. The 7th Texas had been captured at Fort Donelson in February 1862 (when Gregg commanded the regiment), released and consolidated with the 49th and 55th Tennessee regiments, and finally reorganized as an independent unit again in January 1863. This was to be the first engagement by the re-formed regiment since its exchange in November 1862.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas W. Beaumont’s 50th Tennessee marched 1 1/2 miles south of Raymond to establish a roadblock on the Gallatin Road. The men occupied a low ridge and planned to extend to the left along the ridge if their flank was threatened. Approximately 1,500 yards separated them from the 7th Texas’ position. Colonel Randell MacGavock moved his 10th/30th Tennessee Consolidated Regiment to 1,000 yards behind the 50th Tennessee and 1,000 yards to the east of the 7th Texas. From that location, the regiment could reinforce either of its sister units rapidly by marching down a developed road.
On the evening of May 11, Grant had directed McPherson to move to Raymond to obtain rations. He emphasized his directive by adding: Upon one occasion you made two days’ rations last seven….I look to you to impress the necessity of this upon your division and brigade commanders, and through them upon your troops. McPherson issued his own orders to Generals Logan and Crocker and went to bed.
A provisional cavalry battalion, commanded by Captain John S. Foster and made up of Companies A and E, 2nd Illinois Cavalry; Company C, 5th Missouri Cavalry; and the 4th Independent Company Ohio Cavalry (a total of 160 men), led the XIII Corps out of bivouac before 3 a.m. on May 12. Almost immediately, the Union force began to engage Confederate pickets and scouts. Logan’s lead brigade, the 2nd, moved out at 3:30 a.m. Luckily for the hard-marching troops of Logan’s division, the Mississippi roads were deep in soft dust, as nearly one-third of them were without brogans because of worn-out soles.
At about 9 a.m., McPherson, who was accompanying the lead brigade, realized that his cavalry screen was having a hard go of it and ordered the horsemen to the flanks to secure any lateral roads. Brigadier General Elias S. Dennis deployed his 2nd Brigade, placing the 20th Ohio on the right and the 78th Ohio to the left of the Utica Road. These regiments in turn deployed skirmish companies to their front and advanced toward Fourteen Mile Creek. The remaining 30th Illinois and 68th Ohio regiments continued in columns of four down the road.
The advancing skirmishers moved down through a cotton field toward Fourteen Mile Creek at about 10 a.m. The Confederate troops had disappeared, and the advancing bluecoats got a much-needed reprieve. Sergeant Osborn H. Oldroyd of Company E, 20th Ohio Infantry, recorded: Our line marched down through open fields until we reached the fence, which we scaled and stacked arms….No sooner had we done this than the boys fell to amusing themselves in various ways, taking little heed of the danger about to be entered. A group here and there were employed in ‘euchre,’ for cards seem always handy enough where soldiers are. Another little squad was discussing the scenes of the morning. One soldier picked up several canteens, saying he would fill them. Soon after he disappeared, he returned with a quicker pace and with but one canteen full, saying, when asked why he came back so quick: ‘While I was filling the canteen I heard a noise, and looking up discovered several Johnnies behind trees, getting ready to shoot, and I concluded I would retire at once and report.’
No sooner had the soldier returned to his company than three large puffs of white smoke appeared on the ridge behind the creek, quickly followed by explosions above the relaxing men. Brigadier General John E. Smith quickly brought up his five regiments of the 1st Brigade and moved to the right flank of the Ohio troops. Colonel Manning Force took his 20th Ohio forward across the field and into the now-abandoned creek bed. After crossing the stream, the men used its small northern bank as a temporary breastwork.
Just as Bledsoe’s guns opened fire on the Federals, McPherson topped the rise and saw the clouds of smoke from their discharge. Quickly dismounting, he observed battle lines on both sides of the Utica Road, glimpses of shining metal along the creek and artillery in action. Because the air was very calm, the smoke from discharged weapons hung low to the ground, which made it impossible for McPherson to accurately estimate the number of enemy units–a problem that would plague him throughout the battle. From the rapid rate of cannon and rifle fire, he deduced that a force of 4,000 to 5,000 men, supported by two artillery batteries, was to his front. That overestimation was influenced by McPherson’s assumption that the Confederates must know his exact numbers from the reports of their scouts and that a small force would not attempt to block his entire infantry corps in a head-on battle.
McPherson quickly directed the 8th Michigan Battery to unlimber at his position. Captain Samuel De Golyer deployed his two 12-pounder howitzers to the left and four James rifles to the right of the road, then opened counterbattery fire. The 30th Illinois moved to the left flank of the 68th Ohio along Fourteen Mile Creek, west of the bridge site. The remaining regiment, the 78th Ohio, moved to the right of the 20th Ohio.
By noon, Gregg saw an opportunity to cross the stream to the east of the dazed Federals, sweep behind the six enemy guns and put what he believed was the entire force into the bag. The 10th/30th Tennessee moved down the Gallatin Road, then to the left of the 50th Tennessee, which had moved southeast from its original position. Both units were poised on the edge of the woodland facing toward the southeast. The 3rd Tennessee moved to the old 50th Tennessee position, where the 7th Texas linked to its right flank. The 41st Tennessee moved out of Raymond to the graveyard in a support position. Gregg planned for his fellow Texans to begin the assault en echelon to the right, with the 50th and the 10th/30th Tennessee charged with capturing De Golyer’s guns. The Confederate attack began with the 7th Texas pushing the Federal skirmishers back to the creek.
The 68th Ohio fled from the scene, leaving the 20th Ohio standing alone. By then, the 23rd Indiana’s officers had discovered that they were alone and were dressing ranks when the 3rd Tennessee burst into their line of battle. Frantic minutes passed while the Hoosiers fell back across the creek, rallied in the open field and dressed to the right of the 20th Illinois. The 7th Texas continued forward and actually crossed the creek to the east of the 20th Ohio, which it engaged at 100 yards’ range. Colonel Force ran to the troops on his right from the 20th Illinois, which had not fully crossed the field. He commanded them to move to the creek because the Confederates had begun to reoccupy it and were flanking him. Soon thereafter the Illinois commander was killed, and the regiment withdrew across the field and knelt behind the fence.
At that moment, Logan rode up shouting, For God’s sake men, don’t disgrace your country; see how they’re holding them! Thanks to the personal intervention of their division commander and a sharp turn in the stream bed that protected their right flank, the 20th Ohio held for two more horrible hours.
McPherson held Logan’s 3rd Brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. John D. Stevenson, at the crest. Two brigades had disappeared into the dust, smoke and tangles below, and he needed a reserve force until Crocker’s 7th Division arrived on the scene. Stevenson deployed the 81st Illinois to the right, the 7th Missouri in the center, the 32nd Ohio to the left flank and kept the 8th Illinois on the road. At that point, the Federal cavalry reported that a Confederate force was moving from east to west and would soon turn the right flank of Smith’s 1st Brigade. The 8th Illinois was ordered to extend the corps’ right flank immediately.
The attack by the 7th Texas and 3rd Tennessee sorely pressed Dennis’ and Smith’s line. The 81st Illinois was marched double-quick toward the 23rd Indiana, while the 8th Illinois was ordered to move from the right flank toward the 68th Ohio in the center of the field. Logan placed the 81st Illinois between the 23rd Indiana and the 31st Illinois, closing a dangerous gap. Stevenson then moved the 7th Missouri and 32nd Ohio forward to the right flank of the new line. That formed a defensive position facing toward the north and northeast, with the exception of the 31st Illinois, which stuck out of the line facing southeast.
The Tennessee regiments on Gregg’s eastern flank had begun moving forward to turn the Federal right flank. In fording the creek and crossing the tangled jungle that bounded it, the 50th Tennessee drifted in front of the 10th/30th Tennessee. The Federal cavalry screen engaged Beaumont’s 50th Tennessee, revealing the attacking Southerners to McPherson. The sounds of battle near the bridge rolled toward him as Beaumont walked to the edge of the smoke and dust on a personal reconnaissance. He was shocked to see standard after regimental standard arrayed before him, with more filling the crest of the ridge to the south. This was no isolated brigade but at least a full division. Deciding to forgo his attack orders, Beaumont took up a defensive posture. Colonel MacGavock, seeing no movement by Beaumont, also waited, since his 10th/30th Tennessee was to attack following the 50th Tennessee.
On Gregg’s right flank, the 7th Texas and the 3rd Tennessee continued their assault across Fourteen Mile Creek. The 20th Illinois had advanced back across the field and met the 7th Texas’ left-wing companies, driving them back into the creek bed. Federals were now emplaced in Fourteen Mile Creek east of the bridge for about 130 yards, firing north, and Confederates held more than 100 yards of the creek to their right, firing toward the south.
The 31st Illinois, which was still facing to the east and projecting out of the Federal line like a spear point, suddenly had screaming Rebels charging past its exposed rear. Quickly, the Union troops discharged their muskets into the exposed left flank of Walker’s Tennesseans. Walker had his men lie down and hold, believing that Beaumont soon would take the Illinois troops in the rear.
Logan’s 3rd Brigade had arrived on the field and deployed its artillery on the crest, which soon added to the smoke that blanketed the valley. Gregg had no contact with his two left-wing regiments and ordered his reserve regiment, the 41st Tennessee, to attack. Colonel Farquharson’s men began the march from the cemetery down the Gallatin Road. At that same time, Stevenson began a counterattack against the 3rd Tennessee with the 81st Illinois, 31st Illinois, 45th Illinois and 23rd Indiana. Walker held for more than 45 minutes, until his men could stand no more and escaped across the creek. The surging tide of bluecoats was checked by accurate musket volleys fired by the reinforcing 41st Tennessee.
As the Texans rallied near their artillery, the Whitworth rifle burst its tube with a loud explosion. Gregg now had only two guns to oppose what soon would be 22 Federal fieldpieces. McPherson ordered the 7th Division, just arriving, to reinforce the front. The 4th Minnesota moved to the left flank of Dennis’ brigade, and the remaining 48th and 59th Indiana went to the center, where they became de facto reserves.
On the eastern flank, the isolated men of the 50th Tennessee were being pushed farther east by the massing Union regiments. The men of the 10th/30th Tennessee, having lost touch with the 50th, stood their ground in isolation. A messenger arrived from Gregg, ordering them to the west to halt the Federal advance east of the bridge. The 41st Tennessee was holding, but several regiments were moving into the gap between MacGavock and the 41st’s line of battle. The 10th/30th Tennessee soldiers quickly moved westward and found themselves in an exposed field just as an approaching weather front began to blow the smoke and dust away to the east, exposing MacGavock’s regiment as the only open target on the field.
McPherson now had a clearer view of the valley and realized excitedly that he could defeat his opponents. The entire Federal artillery began to shell the 10th/30th Tennessee while the skirmishers of four Federal regiments advanced upon it. MacGavock knew that if he withdrew, Gregg’s line would quickly collapse and be rolled up; if he stood, his men would be cut to pieces. Throwing back his crimson-lined cloak, he stood at the head of his troops and ordered a charge. A Union bullet soon cut him down, but the enraged Tennessee men pressed on and broke the approaching skirmish lines, killing the 7th Missouri’s color-bearer.
The Tennesseans’ rage soon was cooled by overwhelming volleys and artillery rounds, and they withdrew behind the hill crest and lay down, beating back the pursuing Irishmen of the 7th Missouri. Suddenly, the 41st Tennessee, on their right flank, turned and marched away to the east. Just as quickly, three companies of the 7th Texas appeared on the 10th/30th’s right flank. Gregg had ordered the 41st Tennessee to the far east flank to guard against a turning movement there. He did not know that the 50th Tennessee was already blocking the Gallatin Road against such a threat.
The regiments of Crocker’s 7th Division arrayed themselves to the left of the Utica Road, adding the division’s guns to the artillery line. By that time, prisoners questioned by Gregg had revealed the true nature of the force he was confronting. While Gregg was pondering his options, a courier from Adams’ cavalry arrived with the news that heavy Federal reinforcements were advancing. Gregg concluded that his best defense was a good offense. He would attack, even as he slowly withdrew toward Raymond. His right flank had bled itself dry; should the blue masses before him move straight up the Utica Road and cross the bridge, they would be in Raymond before he could withdraw. To forestall that possibility, his last intact unit, the 1st Tennessee Battalion, was ordered forward to feign an attack against the 4th Minnesota, while actually moving to the east side of the Utica Road. At that time, about 4 p.m., all coordination ceased between Gregg and his regimental commanders. Each commander was on his own.
The 50th Tennessee stood on the Gallatin Road listening to the firing to the west. Finally, Beaumont marched them toward the guns, along the way passing the 41st Tennessee, which was marching toward Gallatin Road. The two regiments exchanged places. The 50th Tennessee took up a position east of the still prone troops of the 10th/30th Tennessee, whose new commander, Lt. Col. J.J. Turner, learned of a large force to his left rear. He quickly turned and attacked the enemy force, which consisted of the 32nd Ohio, the 7th Missouri, and the 48th and 59th Indiana regiments, but he was compelled to withdraw up the Gallatin Road. Beaumont realized that he soon would be bagged if he remained, so he moved his regiment astride the Gallatin Road, where the men retrieved their knapsacks and haversacks dropped prior to the battle. Beaumont’s Tennesseans soon were joined by six companies of the 3rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry riding in from Jackson. The Tennesseans and Kentuckians then began a hurried withdrawal and passed through Raymond.
Crocker ordered his 1st Brigade forward against the Rebel artillery. Colonel John B. Sanborn, the brigade commander, described the scene: This charge was one of the most splendid battle scenes that could ever be witnessed….The whole line, with banners unfurled, went forward at double-quick….The fleeing lines of rebels in front; the sharpshooters, who had been concealed behind cotton bales & in an old cotton gin, throwing out white handkerchiefs at every window & over every bale. Bledsoe limbered up his remaining two Napoleons and, accompanied by the 1st Tennessee Battalion and a portion of the 7th Texas, moved up the Utica Road and passed through Raymond. Gregg’s forces stopped near Snake Creek, where Walker’s brigade of 1,000 men, recently arrived from South Carolina, joined them for the night.
McPherson’s first battle as a corps commander was not impressive. For more than six hours, a brigade had held him in check as he marched and countermarched units before it, feeding in forces only piecemeal. His pursuit of the shattered enemy forces was only halfhearted at best, possibly because he never fully realized what forces he had been engaging. His report to Grant was that he had met the enemy about 6,000 strong, and his later after-action reports indicated that was the case. Even two weeks later, McPherson submitted a detailed report that listed Gregg’s strength at 4,000 to 5,000 men, supported by two batteries. He placed Confederate losses at 823 and his own at 442. Gregg’s more accurate report of his own casualties was of 514 men killed, wounded or missing.
Had McPherson captured the bulk of Gregg’s forces at Raymond and rolled over Walker’s brigade the next day, Grant’s army would not have had to meet Pemberton at Champion Hill on May 16 but instead farther west at the Big Black River bridge earthenworks. An intriguing possibility exists that the Confederates could have held in the entrenchments and allowed Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to move out of an unmolested Jackson to attack the Federal rear. After all, the Confederate Department of the West had at its disposal more than 50,000 men to counter Grant’s 41,000 to 45,000 men.
McPherson’s dispatches and reports of heavy concentrations of forces near Jackson forced his commander to make another critical decision. Large enemy forces seemed to lie on both flanks of the Army of the Tennessee. Grant decided to block Pemberton and take the city of Jackson, the capital and the communications and manufacturing center of Mississippi. Sherman and McPherson would assault its earthworks, while McClernand sent one division to the town of Clinton and one division to back up Sherman, and employed his remaining division to occupy Raymond. In the end, Grant’s Mississippi gamble would pay off handsomely, and the Battle of Raymond would become a mere footnote in the lengthy annals of Grant’s victorious Vicksburg campaign.
This article was written by Al Goodman, Jr. and originally appeared in the September 1997 issue of America’s Civil War magazine. Used with permission from historynet.com.
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