Jackson, Mississippi, was the third Confederate state capital to fall to Union forces. When Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured the important rail junction in May 1863, however, he did so almost as an afterthought. Drawing on dozens of primary sources, contextualized by the latest scholarship on Grant’s Vicksburg campaign, The Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863, offers the most comprehensive account ever published on the fall of the Magnolia State’s capital during Grant’s inexorable march on Vicksburg.
General Grant had his eyes set not on Jackson but on Vicksburg, the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy,” the invaluable prize that had eluded him for the better part of a year. He finally marched south on the far side of the Mississippi River and crossed onto Mississippi soil to approach Vicksburg by land from the east. As he drove through the interior of the state, a chance encounter with Confederates at Raymond alerted him to a potential threat massing farther east in Jackson under the leadership of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, one of the Confederacy’s most respected field officers. Jackson was a vital transportation and communications hub and a major Confederate industrial center, and its fall removed vital logistical support for the Southern army holding Vicksburg.
Grant turned on a dime and made for Jackson to confront the growing danger. He had no way of knowing that Johnston was already planning to abandon the vital state capital. The Southern general’s behavior has long puzzled historians, and some believe his stint in Jackson was the nadir of his long career.
The loss of Jackson isolated Vicksburg and helped set up a major confrontation between Federal and Confederate forces a few days later at Champion Hill in one of the most decisive battles of the war. The capital’s fall demonstrated that Grant could march into Jefferson Davis’ home state and move about with impunity, and not even a war hero like Joe Johnston could stop him. Students of Vicksburg will welcome this outstanding addition to the campaign literature.
Chris Mackowski, Ph.D., is the editor in chief and a co-founder of Emerging Civil War, and he’s the managing editor of the Emerging Civil War Series published by Savas Beatie. Chris is a writing professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University, where he also serves as the associate dean for undergraduate programs, and is the historian-in-residence at Stevenson Ridge, a historic property on the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield.