Head Quarters 13th Army Corps
Battle Field near Vicksburg Miss
May 29th 1863
My last gave you a brief account of the battle of Port Gibson, and, perhaps, of the operations of this Corps in opening the way and leading the advance from Milliken's Bend to that place. I write now to give you a hasty account of subsequent operations--
Having beaten the enemy at Port Gibson, my corps resumed the advance in the morning and took the town of Port Gibson. Thence, I moved on to Willow Springs; Big Sandy & Fourteen Mile Creek, four miles from Edward's Station. Coming up with a ditachment of the enemy at Fourteen Mile Creek, I immediately engaged it; drove it back upon Edward's Station, and seized and held the main crossing of the creek. At this time Edward's Station was the objective point of the Army's movements. On the same day Sherman seized the crossing of Turkey Creek to my right, and McPherson Raymond still farther to the right.
While I was on Fourteen Mile Creek the direction of the Army's movement was changed by order of its commander. I was required to forbear attack upon Edward's Station, then held by a large rebel force, and to move on the North side of the Creek to Raymond; & thence
and to Jackson and Clinton to support Sherman and McPherson. This movement had to be executed in front of Fourteen Mile Creek and within three miles of Edwards Station, and was very hazardous.
The whole flank of my corps had necessarily to pass in front of the enemy. To guard against an attack upon my flank and rear, I marched Hovey's division towards Edward's Station and formed it in line of battle fronting the Station and about two and a half miles from it. The enemy was led to believe that he would be attacked, and acted on the defensive; meanwhile, I filed the rest of my command to the right under cover of this demonstration -- finally detaching from the line of battle, under cover of woods, until it also was drawn off. Too late to harm us, the enemy attacked my rear, but was immediately and decisively repulsed. The next day Carr's division marched through Raymond to within four miles of Jackson -- and Hovey's division also marched through Raymond to Clinton on the railroad, while Osterhaus' division remained as a reserve at Raymond.
On the second day after, pursuant to orders, my whole command, except a garrison left at Raymond, countermarched towards Edward's Station, a part by the way of Bolton Station, from which place a picket of the enemy was driven.
On the second day after, I marched upon three converging roads towards Edward's Station. My corps, again, led the advance -- Smith's division, supported by Blair's division of Sherman's Corps, moving upon one road -- Osterhaus division supported by Carr on another, and Hovey's division, supported by two divisions of McPherson's corps on another. The roads of approach and plan of attack were of my own suggestion.
Smith on the left first met the enemy and opened on him the fire of his artillery.
Thinking he might flank my right, or in the last resort escape in that direction, the enemy moved to my right, when Hovey's division met him and heavily attacked him. The same ground was lost and won three times -- Hovey finally holding it with five guns he had captured-- In turn giving away on the right, the enemy again moved towards the left, when Osterhaus and Carr struck him and drove him, pell mell, to the front and left by the route that a portion of his force escaped -- capturing many prisoners. Logan's and Quimby's divisions supported Hovey whose loss in killed and wounded was large.
Pushing on the same evening with Carr's and Osterhaus' divisions, I chased the retreating foe from Edward's Station and captured that place with a considerable quantity of Commissary, Quarter Master, and Ordnance stores. The darkness of night only stopped me.
At early dawn, I resumed the pursuit and came up to the enemy in considerable force behind his defences at the rail road bridge on Big Black. This was about 7 a.m. First opening with artillery, a charge at the point of the bayonet, followed and the enemy was routed from his cover. Here I took between one and two thousand prisoners and eighteen pieces of cannon, besides a considerable number of small arms. All this was the work of two divisions of my corps unsupported by any other force.
The remnant of the fugitive enemy crossed the bridge over Big Black and burned it. At an early hour next day I had rebuilt the bridge and immediately crossing I took up my line of march for this place -- approaching it from a point on the Jackson road by the Baldwin's Ferry road.
McPherson crossed the Black higher up and approached by the Jackson road-- Sherman crossed still higher up on a pontoon bridge and approached on the Bridgeport road. On the 18th I bivouacked two miles and a half from the enemy's works. On the 19th, I was ordered to advance over rough and unexplored ground and attack the enemy's works. During the 19th, 20th, & 21st I continued to reconnoitre and advance under the fire of hostile artillery and sharpshooters.
On the 21st all the corps were again ordered to make a simultaneous assault upon the enemy's works at 10 A. M. on the 22nd-- All were to advance in quick time, with bayonets fixed and without firing a gun until the enemy's outer works were carried. The ground in many places in my front was impracticable on account of deep ravines, precipitous hills, and an abbatis of fallen trees and underbrush, yet, selecting the best lines of approach time would allow, I promptly advanced at ten o'clock, and within thirty
fiveminutes had made a lodg ement and planted our colors upon two of the enemy's forts, or rather lunettes. The struggle was sanguinary and desperate. I lost some thousand men killed and wounded.
Being the first to attack and gain a lodgment on the enemy's works, he rapidly massed from right and left upon me. I asked for a diversion in my favor on the right or re-inforcements. A diversion was attempted but failed in consequence of the repulse of the attacking party. Re-inforcements came up, but too late -- night cutting short the engagement.
Meantime, I had firmly held the lodgment I had gained for near eight hours, under a scorching sun and the enemy's fire. My flags had floated over the two works mentioned for the same time, and I had captured and brought prisoners from the inside of one of those works. I had fought longer against a stronger force and gained more than any other corps, and was the last to yield to the necessity of withdrawing from the enemy's works.
The plan of attack was incapable of successful execution. Our lines were weakened, and also their attack, by extreme attenuation for the distance of some seven miles, while art and nature had combined to give to the enemy's works the greatest strength. Almost the universal judgment, within the range of my knowledge, was against the practicability of the plan. Under any circumstances it would have been difficult to have stormed the works; but less so, by massing our forces on one or two well chosen points, than in any other way. Failure having resulted, indications of a disposition to shirk responsibility are becoming manifest.
Among other dodges it is whispered, that I urged that other corps should attack as well as mine. The answer is, that was Genl Grant's order and while executing the order myself I desired that others should do so too. Without co-operation my command would have been virtually destroyed. The fault, if any, attaches to the plan of attack and not to me or to any one who sought to execute it.
It is said that, alternatively, I asked to be re-inforced. I did, and if it had been done in time the weight and force of my column would
so have been so augmented as to have consummated the partial success I had already gained.
These pretexts are too silly and contemptible to be dwelt upon. My apology for noticing them, at all, is an honest and irrepressible indignation at the monstrous injustice that meanness would do to me and my command, which fought longer and gained more success than any other.
An investigation of the whole campaign above Vicksburg and East of the Mississippi, around to Milliken's Bend, Port Gibson, Champion Hill, and Big Black to Vicksburg, will show who led to failure, and who to success and who, if any one, is responsible for blunders:
Your obt. sevt
John A. MClernand