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Grant passes through Clinton: May 1863

By Dr. Walter G. Howell

The Civil War came to Clinton while the Union army was fighting Confederates in the Battle of Raymond. General Grant sent four divisions towards Clinton under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman, Grant’s most trusted general. Sherman camped with two divisions at Mississippi Springs, five miles south of Clinton, while the other two divisions occupied the area around Clinton on May 12 – 13.
Confederate Generals Pemberton and Gregg were at Clinton and Mississippi Springs on the morning of May 12, but both pulled to the west as Sherman’s army corps approached. Pemberton had more troops under his command than Sherman, but seemed to have little interest in a confrontation with the Union army. Pemberton’s orders from President Jefferson were to defend Vicksburg. His immediate commander, General Joseph Johnston, wanted him to attack Sherman in the Clinton area first. When Pemberton missed that opportunity, Johnston directed him to attack the rear of the Union advance on Jackson.
On May 13, Sherman’s divisions in Clinton and Mississippi Springs joined Grant’s major thrust towards Jackson. A company size force remained in Clinton to search and seize any food supplies, livestock and equipment the Union army could use. As the army advanced on Jackson, small Confederate units attempted to disrupt the Union army. There was fighting east of Clinton and on the Clinton to Raymond Road. General Johnston fought a delaying action before withdrawing from Jackson on May 14.
After one night in Jackson, General Grant moved westward on the Jackson to Vicksburg Road and stopped in Clinton around 4:30 in the afternoon. He sent several messages and orders to his subordinates that night and early on the morning of May 16. Grant moved west, where a battle was about to start at Champion Hill.
Grant spent approximately fourteen hours in Clinton, according to his official correspondence. When he left the town, he never came back. He pushed westward after Champion Hill, fought the Confederates at the Big Black River and then moved on towards Vicksburg. Grant was fond of saying his headquarters were where his saddle was, so Grant’s headquarters were in Clinton for fourteen hours.
After occupying Raymond on May 12, the Union army used the county courthouse as a hospital; and, when the 6th Missouri Cavalry reached Clinton on May 12, they recognized the Chapel building on the Mississippi College campus as a possible hospital site. The bottom floor had classrooms and offices, which could easily be converted to wardrooms and surgeries. The top floor had a number of potential uses, i.e., quarters for the medical staff or even storage. The Confederate army used the Chapel as a hospital in 1862.
The Union forces occupying Clinton during Grant’s brief stay followed him westward, and the town was free of soldiers for a couple of days. General Johnston reoccupied Jackson after Grant’s move westward towards Vicksburg and sent Confederate scouts to Clinton to reconnoiter and search for food.
The Union army concentrated on the capture of Vicksburg after the Battle of Champion Hill, but Grant kept an eye eastward, aware of Johnston’s reoccupation of Jackson; so he periodically sent patrols to Clinton, Raymond and other towns to check on Confederate movements. Union and Confederate patrols clashed with each other in brief skirmishes until Vicksburg fell and Grant turned his attention back to Jackson and General Johnston.
Both Union and Confederate armies in Mississippi lived off the land in 1863. The state experienced two consecutive years of drought, so food supplies were scarce. Civilians in Clinton hid what food supplies they had from soldiers, Union and Confederate.

Editor’s note: 2011 marked the beginning of the sesquicentennial observation of the American Civil War. This is the sixteenth in a series of pieces by Dr. Walter Howell that will follow the movements of the Mississippi College Rifles, the fate of Clintonians involved in the fighting and other events on the home front.

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