May 17, 1863
---Battle of Big Black River, Mississippi – The day after Champion Hill, Pemberton pulls his divisions back to the crossing of the Big Black River on the road to Vicksburg: the last big obstacle to that city. He posts John Bowen’s division on the east bank, with his back to the river, with 5,000 men. Stevenson’s division had been badly hammered the day before, and so Pemberton retires Stevenson to the safe western bank of the river. Grant sends Sherman’s XV Corps on a flank march to the northwest, upstream from the Rebel position---mainly to prevent Pemberton from marching to unite with Johnston. He pushes McClernand’s XIII Corps forward directly at the Confederate line, and McPherson’s XVII Corps remains in reserve. McClernand’s hope is to capture the bridge across the Big Black before the Rebels can destroy it. The Federals probe the Rebel line, and find a shallow bayou in front of it; a reconnoitering attack by Carr’s division is repulsed. McClernand then orders Osterhaus to advance against the Rebels’ left flank. Osterhaus is wounded, and his division is taken over by Brig. Gen. Albert Lee. Under cover of artillery fire, Lawler’s brigade sprints forward to a protective depression in the ground, and finds that they are on the Rebel flank. Lawler advances, and they begin to roll up the Confederate line in a rolling assault. Bowen’s troops---especially the large number of East Tennesseeans, who are Unionists that were conscripted and are lukewarm at best---begin to break and flee. The Confederates crowd the bridge, and many dive into the swift-current Big Black, and many drown. The Confederates set fire to the turpentine-soaked bridge, so that many Rebels are unable to cross. The day ends in panic and rout for the Southerners, who lose nearly 400 killed and wounded, and another 1,700 captured, along with 18 cannon. Union Victory.
Losses: U.S. 276 C.S. 2,100
|Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA|
---Capt. J.N. Groves, a surgeon in the 98th Illinois Infantry, writes home to his wife about a wild raid amongst the “Secesh” in central Tennessee with Col. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade---a brigade of mounted infantry who carried repeating rifles. Groves is very frank about the stolen booty he acquired, some of which he is sending to his wife. This war sounds like a jolly holiday:
We have just returned from a grand thieving expedition; some may call it a scouting party but the most appropriate name is the former. We captured about a thousand horses, five hundred negroes, and two hundred prisoners. It was the first trip I had been on of the kind. We would go to the field where the negroes were plowing and make them unharness and get on the horses and strike out; enter the smoke houses and take all the house we could carry, and then burn the rest. The women would cry and beg, but to no purpose.–One of our men was shot, and Dr. Vertress and I amputated his leg, at a Mr. Anderson’s. We took all his horses but one. This belonged to a young lady, who gave me the mare, and told me she would sooner make me a present of her than to let the soldiers steal her. I have got her; she is the finest animal ever saw. –I could talk about incidents for a month that happened on this trip, but I will refrain. I have got a very fine silk dress for you and Nelly. I will send them as soon as possible.–The black one is for you and the green one for Nelly. Your dress pattern is worth thirty dollars; and also a fine scarf, red; you may do as you please with it. I do not know what the latter is for. Tom Cox, the man that took the coffee, stole the silks and gave them to me.–He run out of money going home and sold the coffee. I have got a shot gun for Walter; a nice carbine that will shoot a thousand yards for your father. If I get a chance I will send them home. Officers are resigning every week. I will send your dresses next week by Capt. Cox; he will express them from Olney. I am not caring whether I get home or not; I could only stay there a few weeks if I were to go, and it will not cost any more for you to come to see me than for me to go and see you. Get your clothing made and when you are ready to come let me know, I want you to travel some, and this will be a nice trip. Whenever you see Col. Winders [Wilder's] mounted brigade mentioned look out for breakers; they run the rebels into the mountains and catch them. It is the brigade that the bloody 98th belongs to. I love to go on these wild trips, but it is not often that I get the privilege of going. I have not received any word from your mother for a long time. I have gone up to the gallery to have my picture taken twice, and did not get one to suit me. I will not send one until it suits me; you don’t want an ugly picture. You can’t guess what we had for dinner. Eggs, biscuit, butter, ham, potatoes, molasses, pies, peaches and blackberries, and other articles too tedious to mention. I wish you would send me some stamps, they are very scarce here. I hope you have got that money by this time.–Answer soon, your affectionate husband.