Friday, July 17, 1863

The weather has been fearfully hot, but we continued to press the siege day and night, using our artillery pretty freely, sending shot and shell into the city from all directions. This morning, we found the place evacuated. Johnston’s army snuck out of Jackson and across the river in the night. My first order of business is to secure the city and guard the crossings. We will try to cut off any cavalry still on the West side of the Pearl River. The enemy cavalry cut my telegraph connections with Vicksburg so I must communicate with Grant by courier to our railroad bridge over the Big Black River where they can send a message.

I have ordered Blair’s Division into the city to serve as a guard. Some of our soldiers have been in the town and caused some destruction. However Johnston’s army was not kind. He burned his stores and warehouses along the railroad track before he left town. That fire consumed a city block and several homes.

One of the prisoners complained of the damage done by Johnston’s troops:

The city is a perfect waste.  All the citizens gone.  Their fine fences have been torn down for shelters and all the gardens is our common pasture.  A great many houses have been broken open & ransacked by our men & everything that is valuable taken away.  I am perfectly disgusted with such conduct.  The citizens say they were not ½ so much damaged by the federals while they stayed here. 

I will not damage any houses that are occupied by citizens, but I will destroy everything in the town of use to an occupying army. I do not intend to maintain vulnerable supply lines to Jackson. We will destroy Jackson so it can be of no use to their army and let them keep it.

This afternoon I received the following messages from General Grant who has heard that Johnston has retreated.

Vicksburg, MISSISSIPPI, July 17, 1863
General SHERMAN:

Don’t destroy any cars at Jackson nor the road east near Jackson whilst you occupy the place. Destroy it far off to the east if you can. If Johnston is pursued, would it not have the effect to make him abandon much of his train, and many of his men to desert? I do not favor marching our men much, but if the cavalry can do anything they might do it. I leave this to your judgment, with the superior opportunities you have of knowing what should be done.

Make such pursuit after Johnston as you deem advisable, and, when you cease the pursuit, return the NINTH and Thirteenth Corps, the former to near your old position, the latter to its old position. With your corps and Smith’s DIVISION, which I will add to it, hold Jackson and such healthy points as you deem advisable between Black River and there. Keep all the cavalry with you except that belonging to Ord. Grierson will be here in a day or two, and I will then add him to your command.

I will ask what he means about the railroad cars. My cavalry is off destroying the railroad and trying to intercept Johnston’s cavalry before they can cross the river. It will take time to organize a pursuit. General Grant wants me to return Parke’s NINTH to Vicksburg as soon as possible

Vicksburg, MISSISSIPPI, July 17, 1863
You can return slowly to Black River. Let Parke come into the city so that he can be sent back today.

I have sent the following letter to my commanders, Parke, Ord and Steele regarding pursuit of Johnston


The weather is too hot and the country too destitute of water to attempt to follow Johnston toward Meridian and Selma. That must be deferred to October. I want, however, to do everything to give us the advantage when the next campaign opens against Mobile and the Alabama country. I may destroy the railroad east toward Meridian, but I shall not attempt to pursue Johnston. It would be foreign to our present enterprise, but I beg you will use your greatest exertions to break up, absolutely and effectually, 10 miles of railroad below Jackson. Parke will do the same above, and I may order a special force to do the same east.

When the expedition sent to Canton and the cavalry sent to Brookhaven are back, I hope to have telegraphic communication with General Grant, when I will advise the Thirteenth’s return to Clear Creek, the Fifteenth Army Corps to Bear Creek, and the NINTH to Milldale, to reorganize and reconstruct for the summer.

I am,&c.,

I will have Parke send a division to intercept enemy cavalry and to help Wood’s destroy the railroad. More men will complete the task more thoroughly and rapidly.

Major General J. G. PARKE, Commanding, NINTH Army Corps:

GENERAL: The general commanding desires you to order one of your DIVISIONS to march north along Pearl River to Grant’s Mills, to intercept the enemy’s cavalry, now WEST of the river, and prevent them from crossing. From that point the commanding officer of the DIVISION will communicate forward with Colonel Woods at Canton, advising him of the evacuation of Jackson and instructing him to do his work well and rapidly. The commanding officer of the DIVISION will also make his dispositions for crossing at the mills, but will not cross until he receives further orders. The general also desires you to keep on destroying the railroad from Jackson north.

By order of Major General W. T. Sherman:
M. SAWYER, Assistant Adjutant-General

I have made my plans and orders for the next few days:


The enemy having evacuated the town of Jackson and retreated eastward, the following disposition will be observed:

I. General Steele, commanding Fifteenth Army Corps, will, in pursuance of previous orders, occupy the town with one DIVISION (Blair’s), and will maintain order and good discipline within the limits of the place, repressing all pillage, plundering, and rowdyism, to which end he will be authorized to collect all stragglers and men on horseback having no orders or business from proper authority, taking the horses for the use of the quartermaster’s department, and putting the men to work on the destruction of the railroad. General Steele will make details, and cause the railroad and bridges to be thoroughly destroyed, with all cars, machinery, and appliances of the railroad within the limits of the entrenchments.

II. General Ord, commanding Thirteenth Army Corps, will group his corps convenient to water and the Raymond road, prepared for any event that may arise. He will keep one brigade steadily at work destroying railroad to the south.

III. General Parke will group his corps convenient to the Lunatic Asylum and water, and will dispatch one DIVISION up the Canton road, to the vicinity of Grant’s Mills, with a good detachment at the crossing of Pearl River. If a bridge be there, it will be kept; if destroyed, the materials for another should be collected, with a view to cross eastward; also a brigade continuously engaged in destroying railroad track northward. The detached DIVISION will be instructed to keep a bright lookout for cavalry to the rear, and will also destroy a section of railroad near their camp.

IV. All batteries will fill their chests with ammunition, and the infantry will refill their cartridge-boxes. Provisions and wagons on hand will be distributed equally, retaining in the hands of the chief commissary a small reserve supply for contingencies and to relieve starving people. Roll calls will be carefully made at retreat today, and all men properly accounted for. Each corps commander will see that his corps is provided in all respects for five days, and will report any causes of inability to march. All the ambulances and empty wagons of the army must be held in readiness to carry the sick and wounded back to Black River.

V. General McArthur will hold his DIVISION on the road at Clinton and Champion’s Hill, to cover the road against incursions of guerrillas or cavalry, and will cause the repair of the telegraph to these headquarters.

VI. All parties entrusted with destroying the railroad should be impressed with the vast importance of the work. One day’s work of the Fifteenth Army Corps at Jackson in May prevented Johnston handling his troops and material in the campaign, now made complete by the retreat from Jackson.
Let us now so destroy this railroad that it cannot be used “during the war. ”

By order of Major General W. T. Sherman:
R. M. SAWYER, Assistant Adjutant-General

I sent these orders to the troops at the Big Black River Bridge:
JACKSON, July 17, 1863-8 p. m.

Colonel HUBBARD, Black River Bridge:
We are in possession of Jackson, and Johnston is in full retreat eastward. There is no necessity of your keeping any force east of Black River, unless General Grant wishes me to push on to Meridian. Keep things as they are till I consult further by telegraph with General Grant. The cavalry force that cut our lines has swung round to the south, but will get east as fast as they can. My cavalry is up at Canton and beyond.

We have had a busy day.

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