Part II:

 

Grant Moves South

The Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign Begins

 

The Mississippi Central Railroad

Looking south as it crosses the Tallahatchie River, just above Abbeville.

Huge swamps surround the area.

 

 

General Grant: "On the 25th of October I was placed in command of the Department of the Tennessee.  Reinforcements continued to come from the north and by the 2nd of November I was prepared to take the initiative...The campaign against Vicksburg commenced on the 2nd of November as indicated in a dispatch to the general-in-chief in the following words:  "I have commenced a movement on Grand Junction, with three from Corinth and two from Bolivar.  Will leave here (Jackson, Tennessee) tomorrow and take command in person.  If found practical, I will go to Holly Springs, and, may be, Grenada, completing railroad and telegraph as I go."

 

The Illinois Connection.

Grant, McCullough, Lincoln, Dickey, and McClernand.

 

*** 

 

Promptly, Grant positioned his forces west of Corinth at the next key rail center at Grand Junction, Tennessee. Then he began pushing his army south into Mississippi, using the railway as his support line. In late November his advance fought its way south through Holly Springs, Lumpkin's Mill, and finally approached Pemberton's army at the Tallahatchie River above Abbeville. Grant pressed the Rebel front while ordering additional troops to cross the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas to cut the Rebel retreat off from Grenada. Union General Hovey was part of this command and had moved his cavalry to Panola and Oakland, above Grenada. He reported: 

 

"To the enemy our cavalry seemed ubiquitous--at Charleston, near Grenada, at Panola, Oakland, all within so short a time that the enemy supposed several columns were advancing on the rear of General Pemberton's army, and gave rise to the wildest conjectures as to the magnitude of our forces and designs. Major-General Grant in the mean time had been pressing the enemy near Abbeville, and as soon as the rebels were apprised of our presence in their rear an order was promulgated in their camp ordering three days' rations and preparations for retreat. Intercepted letters, prisoners, and citizens confirm this fact beyond doubt." 

 


The Battle of Oakland

Texas cavalry stops Union advance west of Coffeeville and north of Grenada.


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With Union Generals Hovey and Washburn advancing near Oakland and Grant pushing from the north, the Confederates began their "Retreat From Abbeville," moving south, hoping for an opening to reach Grenada. CSA Colonel Griffith of the 1st Texas cavalry moved to Oakland to stall the Union cavalry as CSA General Price threw out a rear guard to slow Grant's advance. Following the Battle of Corinth, Van Dorn had been relieved of his command, pending a court of inquiry over his handling of the battle as alledged by General Bowen. Pemberton was now assigned as head of the Confederate army in the west and was sent to Grenada to build defense works to block Grant as the rest of the army moved south. 

 

The Confederates entered Oxford on December 2nd and Griffith was able to stop the Federals in a brisk fight at Oakland on December 3rd. With Griffith's cavalry guarding the Oakland area the southern army now had a chance to reach Grenada in safety and fight from a strong position. The bluffs overlooking the Yalobusha River were the strongest natural defense point between Corinth and Vicksburg and the Confederate generals planned to mass their armies at this point and prepare for a conflict that both sides thought would rival Shiloh. But fatefully, this never happened.

 

***

 

A hot skirmish was fought in Oxford on December 2nd as the Federal advance encountered the Confederate rear guard just north of town. Colonel Mizner of the 3rd Michigan engaged CSA forces on the hills northwest near the rail line, while the 7th Kansas and 4th Illinois pushed down the main road to the center. The skirmishing continued right to the town square where the Rebels made a stand before Federal re-enforcements were called in and drove them south toward the Yokona River.  

 

Fletcher Pomeroy, 7th Kansas Cavalry, and now orderly to Col. Thomas P. Herrick, gave this account:  

 

“Tuesday, 2nd. Oxford, Miss. Our brigade moved out of camp at 3 A.M. with three days rations, and crossed the Tallahatchie on the main road. The rebel works at that point are very strong, and they might have offered a strong resistance if we had attempted to have taken them by assault. A flank movement by our right wing compelled an evacuation without a battle. We moved on through Abbyville and met the enemy near Oxford about 2 o’clock. Some pretty sharp fighting followed but we succeeded in driving him into, through and beyond the town. Eight rebels were killed and several wounded and captured. I took two prisoners. We had pushed our way along the streets and alleys and across the house lots to within three blocks of the public square, when we were obliged to call for re-enforcements as there was a strong force of the enemy there.  

 

“While we were waiting for the re-enforcements to come up, Col. Herrick and I were standing just at the edge of the main street. Presently we realized that we were targets for some sharp shooter up the street. We drew back a little and soon saw a man come from behind a building and stand beside a nearby tree and fire and then step back. I trained my carbine on that spot, and when he appeared again I pulled the trigger before he had a chance to. He jumped back without firing and did not show up again. As we were falling back after having driven the Johnnys through town, I had occasion to stop so got behind. As I hurried on to overtake the command I discovered two rebels crawling out of a corncrib beside the road. I succeeded in “surrounding’ them and took them into camp, muskets and all. They evidently thought the coast was clear, and that they could safely crawl out and get away. We are camped in the town tonight. It is a fine town.”

 

 

Union troops camped on the town square in Oxford, Mississippi. December, 1862.

 

***

 

Due to the heavy rains and bad road conditions, CSA General Price and his rear guard were now moving slowly towards Water Valley. On the 4th, the Federal advance kept pressing the Confederate rear guard and nearly over took them inside the town. Mis-communication between the Union leaders allowed the Rebels time to rush south to the O’Tuckalofa Creek and burn the wagon bridge and set fire to the railroad trestle, hoping to slow the Federals. Yet, the Union forces moved quickly to save the railroad bridge and found a crossing where they sent a detachment to press the Rebels farther south on the Coffeeville road. The Confederates slogged down the muddy road, and at 4 pm even more rain began to fall. With night coming on, the Federal detachment returned to join their regiments, and camped on the north bank of the O’Tuckalofa Creek in Water Valley as the Rebels kept up their march. 

 

Dr. Thomas J. Blackwell of the 31st Mississippi Infantry, gave this account of their passage through Water Valley and on towards Coffeeville:  

 

"December 4th: During the time the Infantry and Artillery were engaged in crossing the swamp of Tush-pany Creek, our Cavalry had quite a little skirmish with the enemy at Water Valley, driving them off with some loss to both parties. Our road during the greater part of the day’s march lay to the east of the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad, and nearly parallel with it. After the skirmish with the Calvary of the enemy, our Division Commander, Genl. Rush, who by the bye is a most excellent wagon Master, seemed to be somewhat panic stricken, so much so, that in the distance of seven or eight miles, I counted forty seven tents, thrown out of the wagons and several wagons and ambulances that had gotten out of repair were set on fire and burned up, while the road was strewed with boxes, mess chests, knapsacks and clothing of all kinds."  

 

Mary Loughborough, author of "My Cave Life in Vicksburg," was also on this retreat, traveling with CSA General Price’s rear guard, and wrote:  

 

"How incessantly the rain poured down! Now and then the ambulance would drive on the side of the road, stopping to let the infantry pass. Poor fellows! Wet and begrimed with mud, plodding with blankets and knapsacks strapped to the backs, and guns on their shoulders; troublesome accompaniments at any time – far more so now in the driving rain. At the foot of the hills we would frequently be obliged to halt, sometimes for an hour, awaiting the passage of the artillery over the brow of the ascent. The Federal troops were close in the rear. The horses strained and pulled, but the mud was so deep and heavy that the wheels became clogged, and I looked anxiously up, expecting to see some huge cannon, impelled by its weight, return to the base of the hill. Frequently the soldiers would be obliged to wade through the deep ruts of mud and the hillside, and give a new impulse to some wavering pieces, assisting the horses, and pushing the weighty gun carriage with united strength."  (Leaving Water Valley today, on old highway 7, one mile south of town, look east, and you will see the hills where Mary and Dr. Blackwell traveled.)

 

Thomas Dabney Wier, 14th Mississippi infantry also wrote of the terrible conditions:  

 

"December 4, 1862. Thursday. A little after sunrise we take up in the line of march. (At) 12 M (midday) we stop to cook. Get our fires kindled (and) a runner comes and says “you must push (because) the Yanks are cutting off our wagon train.” So we pushed off to the main road and the Army filed by us as we stood in line. (At) 3 pm we close in and start for Coffeeville. It rains all day (and) night but we press through the mud which in many place(s) is over our boot tops and (with) no way to pass round, but we press on (with) very little murmuring. We are wet to the skin. (We) Bivouac 3 miles from town on the (railroad) in the rain. All we could do was make fires and keep warm until day. No sleep. No provisions."  

 

***

 

Not only were the travel conditions nearly impossible for both armies, Grant was also stretching his army dangerously thin. His main supply base was at Holly Springs, and thirty miles south his main army and infantry support was based in Oxford. And now, twenty miles below Oxford his advance cavalry had pushed to Water Valley. Grant's army was now stretched over fifty miles, at three key points, with huge gaps in between.  

 

Grant and his Chief of Cavalry, Colonel Theophilus Lyle Dickey, a fellow Illinoisan, unwisely ignored everything but the relentless pursuit of Price and Tilghman. The Confederate rear guard, only concerned with reaching Grenada, offered little gain for Grant. And it would be impossible for him to capture or cripple any significant amount of the Confederate force in these conditions with the Rebels now within ten miles of Grenada and getting near their re-enforcements. But Grant and Dickey kept pressing.

 

However, the Union forces were now practically mired to a halt in Water Valley. The roads were virtually impassable, the O'Tuckalofa Creek was running swift and nearly full, the wagon bridge was burned, the railroad trestle was damaged, and most of the men had no tents. Despite this, Dickey rationalized that it would be good for the men to press ahead one more day. He wrote in his war diary:  

 

"While here it was reliably ascertained that Federal forces from Helena had been at or near Grenada and on the northwest -— infantry at Charleston, cavalry at Oakland -— and that some cavalry fighting had taken place at the latter point on Tuesday and Wednesday. The desire to communicate with these forces, relying somewhat upon the moral effect of their presence at this point, determined me to press the enemy one day longer." 

 

Dickey also received the following dispatch from Grant, which now made another day's advance a certainty.

 

 

Hd Qrs, Army in the Field

Oxford, December 4th 1862

 

Col. T. Lyle Dickey

Commdg Cavalry Division  

 

Col:  

 

Tilghman was left in command of troops at Rocky Ford and must now be working his way south, some distance east of the RR. He will be easily confused and routed. Lookout for him and if a chance occurs attack him with your full force….”  

 

Yours Truly

 

U. S. Grant

Maj Genl.

 

 

Dickey, obviously wanting to rendezvous with General’s Washburn and Hovey near Coffeeville, now had a direct order from Grant to keep pressing.   But the advance cavalry was battle tired from days of pursuit through terrible weather, and they needed rest.  Many of the officers and enlisted men in Dickey's command felt the decision to keep pressing was a bad one, and their judgment would prove correct.




 

March forward to:

Part Three:
The Battle of Coffeeville

 

 

 

Retreat to:

Part One:
Vicksburg is the Key

 

 

 

Return to Headquarters at:

The Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign Home Page

 



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