On its way to destroy the Southern Railroad in central Mississippi in the early days of May 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was swung out over a broad front. As it moved eastward from Port Gibson, Maj. Gen. John McClernand’s XIII Corps held the left closest to the Big Black River, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s XV Corps moved in the center, and Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps advanced on the right, farthest removed from the enemy—or so it was thought.
The march was hot and dusty, and water was scarce. On May 12, Grant directed his three corps to various crossings of Fourteenmile Creek to secure a source of water for his men and animals. It would also move his army into position for the planned lunge against the railroad. But, the Union men would have to fight for the water and, as fate would decree, McPherson would bear the lion’s share of the fight.
Confederate Brig. Gen. John Gregg had been dispatched to Raymond with 3,000 men and orders to strike the Federals in flank or rear as they advanced. Faulty intelligence led him to believe that he would only face a small contingent of Union troops. Gregg’s intention was to hold the enemy in check with one regiment where the Utica Road bridged over the Fourteenmile Creek while his other regiments attacked en echelon to the left, turn the Federal flank, and destroy the enemy in his front. Rather than the single brigade Gregg was expecting, McPherson’s powerful 10,000-man corps was bearing down on him.
The morning of May 12 found McPherson’s XVII Corps on the march along the Utica Road toward Raymond. Almost immediately upon leaving their encampments at the Roach plantation, Capt. John Foster’s 4th Independent Company of Ohio Cavalry, screening the advance, came under fire. Throughout the morning’s march Foster’s cavalrymen were pestered by Mississippi State Militia troops. The Mississippians, often referred to as “grey-beards and striplings,” were no match for the Ohio troopers, so they grudgingly fell back toward Raymond where they informed Brig. Gen. John Gregg that a Union column was advancing along the Utica Road toward the town.
Just before 10:00 a.m. a skirmish line of Union infantry swept over a low ridge and moved cautiously into the valley of Fourteenmile Creek. As they neared the belt of timber that lined the stream, a deadly volley ripped into their ranks. Almost at the same time the three guns of Capt. Hiram Bledsoe’s Missouri battery sent shells crashing among the Union skirmishers. With battle joined, Union Maj. Gen. John A. “Black Jack” Logan led the long blue column, deployed his lead brigade and called up his artillery which soon joined the fray. Thick clouds of white-blue smoke and dust, however, quickly obscured the field and commanders on either side could not accurately assess the size of the force in his front.
Regardless, Gregg’s blood was up and he ordered the attack. While the 7th Texas, led by Col. Hiram Granbury (who was later killed at Franklin), engaged the Federals along the Utica Road at the bridge, Gregg’s other regiments splashed en echelon across the creek and slammed into the Federals. The blue line began to waver and broke in places, but Logan rode forward and with “the shriek of an eagle” turned the men back to their places.
Union resistance stiffened and by noon the Confederate attack faltered as McPherson directed fresh troops to extend his line both left and right. A strong wind also began to stir which cleared much of the smoke and dust, exposing the field and the paucity of Confederate numbers. By 1:30 p.m. the tide of battle had shifted as Gregg’s battered troops were confronted by five Union brigades with still more Federals arriving on the field. McPherson launched a counterattack which compelled Gregg to abandon the field and retreat through Raymond toward Jackson.
With a victory in hand, Grant chose to divide his columns and continue north toward the Southern Railroad, while also pressing eastward toward Jackson to intercept reinforcements for Vicksburg gathering under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Another skirmish there with Gregg’s command on May 14 led to the evacuation of the capital city and the scattering of Johnston’s force.
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