Birdsong Ferry, Mississippi, Near Vicksburg, Mississippi
General Johnston has been scouting our lines for a place to cross the Big Black RIver. The River is low and can be forded in many places north of the railroad bridge which is due east of Vicksburg. I have positioned force from Haynes and Snyder’s Bluff on the Yazoo north of Vicksburg to the railroad bridge. If we are to do battle, Grant wants to meet Johnston far enough away that Pemberton’s Vicksburg force cannot aid him. I am to slow his progress, and if Johnston does attack, then Grant will break the siege and destroy Johnston’s army.
We are guarding the high ground on the Bluffs overlooking the Big Black River. We are not guarding the crossings; that would be a less favorable place to do battle. Any movement toward VIcksburg would necessarily be on the ridge roads. If Johnston tries to cross, we can delay him from reaching the ridge until we can mass our forces and potentially trap a part of his force on this side of the River. I have given instructions to build entrenchments at all our outposts. In addition, I have ordered crews to block all roads leading from the river, except the ones where we are well fortified. If Johnston crosses the River to attack us, he will have a difficult time succeeding.
General Osterhaus is guarding the main railroad bridge across the Big Black. I have sent orders through General Grant to immediately blockade all roads leading from the Big Black toward Vicksburg, between Clear Creek and the Birdsong Ferry road. Osterhaus is to send competent and reliable officers in command of the blockading parties, who will see that the work is speedily and effectually done. Osterhaus must also watch for attempts to cross the Big Black down river from the bridge. We must have the utmost vigilance to prevent a surprise attack.
There has been some skirmishing at several of the crossing, leading to suspicion that Johnston might try to cross soon or already have a force across the river. At Birdsong Ferry, there are no enemy on this side of the river.
I received the following communication from General Parke who is guarding the Big Black River near Big Bear Creek. There was a small skirmish with a scouting party of rebels there.
NEILY’S, June 23, 1863; 4. 30 p. m.
Major General WILLIAM T. SHERMAN, Commanding, &c.:
On arriving here I found that Colonel Stephens had returned from his reconnaissance (with 170 cavalry). He crossed Bear Creek at the bridge. At the works of the road, a mile beyond, he met several small parties, who fired upon him. He drove them all off, and then proceeded to the Big Black, capturing 1 man of Colonel D. W. Jones’ Texas Rangers, Whitfield’s brigade. Jackson’s DIVISION headquarters is about a mile from the railroad north of Jackson. Johnston’s headquarters is at Brownsville. Two wounded men in yesterday’s fight were paroled. Breckinridge is at Jackson. I will send the prisoners in to the Bluff.
JNO. G. PARKE
General Grant has sent orders that allow me to call on reinforcements if needed.
NEAR Vicksburg, MISSISSIPPI, June 23, 1863
Major General WILLIAM T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Fifteenth Army Corps:
In addition to the troops with you and at Snyder’s, I have notified Herron’s and A. J. Smith’s DIVISIONS to be in readiness to move at a moment’s notice. In addition to this, two more brigades can be taken from your corps without breaking the line investing Vicksburg. Should Johnston come, we want to whip him, if the siege has to be raised to do it.
Use all the forces indicated above as you deem most advantageous; and should more be required, call on me, and they will be furnished, to the last man here and at Young’s Point.
U. S. GRANT
I sent the following to General Grant:
AT McCALL’S, June 23, 1863–11 a.m.
DEAR GENERAL: Parke, with Smith’s division and one brigade of his Yankee troops, is on the river road from Neily’s to Post Oak Ridge, with orders to feel forward to the bridge across Bear Creek, 6 miles beyond Post Oak Ridge. My cavalry is now down at Little Bear Creek, on the Birdsong road. Tuttle’s division is close up to the cavalry, and McArthur’s is near here, and we are waiting for his troops to come up. I will put them on the Birdsong road. Parke and I can communicate by the ridge from McCall’s to Neily’s. After nooning I propose to go forward to the Big Black. I hear nothing of Johnston at all; no trace of him or signs of his approach. The country is ill-adapted to large masses. It is cut up by impracticable ravines, and all the roads are on narrow ridges, where a regiment will find difficulty in forming a front. A small force can oppose a large one, and as to getting at Johnston unless he crosses to this side of Big Black, I think it cannot be done. If he crosses Big Black and comes by any road, I shall, of course, meet him and oppose him, calling for all the help I may deem necessary. If he crosses Big Black, I think this is the place to fight him. Order Osterhaus to be certain to blockade all roads from Big Black toward Vicksburg, between Clear Creek and this road. After satisfying myself that there is, or is not, a purpose on his part to cross over, I will communicate the fact; but, no matter what his strength, he must come by narrow roads, and I have as many men as can be handled on such grounds. If I conclude he does not design to come in by Birdsong Ferry or the ford above, I will blockade it, so as to force him to come on the main ridge within striking distance of Haynes’ Bluff, so that we won’t care if he comes or not.
Yesterday four companies of my cavalry (Fourth Iowa) had gone to Big Black River on the road to obstruct it. They had felled many trees, and must have been off their guard when their pickets came in from three directions, giving notice of the approach of the enemy. Quite a fight ensued, in which our men got the worst, and were forced to fly. As soon as the news reached camp, Colonel Swan went to the ground with his regiment, and found 8 dead, 12 wounded, and about 20 missing. From the people he heard the attack came from Wirt Adams’ cavalry, which had gone off in the direction of Mechanicsburg. Colonel Swan buried the dead, and brought off all the wounded except one, who was left well cared for at a house. He could hear of but about 12 prisoners in the hands of the enemy, so that he expects some 8 more will have gone down to Osterhaus, and will come in today.
The party lost that 2-pounder gun we captured at Jackson, but before abandoning it they disabled it by taking out the breech-pin. The fact of our coming out today is attributed by the secesh to our purpose to punish the perpetrators of this action.
I will send you positive intelligence tonight if Johnston be coming or not this side of Big Black River. On the best evidence now procurable, he is not coming this way, or at this time.
I take it for granted you do not want me to attempt to follow him across that river unless after a defeat. If he comes to this side, I can hold him till re-enforced, and then I know we can whip him. In the mean time look out toward Baldwin’s and Hankinson’s, though I do not believe he will put himself in such a pocket.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding Expedition