Friday, July 12, 2013

1st, 3rd & 4th Florida Infantries in Action at Jackson, Mississippi (July 12, 1863)

Colors of the 4th Florida Infantry
During their return at Marianna, Florida on Sept. 27, 1864.
150 years ago today, the 1st & 3rd Florida Infantry (Consolidated) and the 4th Florida Infantry played a key role in a fierce fight on the lines at Jackson, Mississippi.

Part of Brig. Gen. Marcellus A. Stovall's Brigade of Breckenridge's Division, the Florida units were part of General Joseph E. Johnston's "Army of Relief" that had formed at Jackson as part of a plan to break the Union siege of Vicksburg. Johnston had advanced as far as the Big Black River between Jackson and Vicksburg when news came that the Mississippi River city had fallen to the Union army of Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

Having received this news, Johnston fell back to the fortifications of Jackson. Grant ordered Major General William Tecumseh Sherman to pursue him. Sherman closed in around Jackson on July 11, 1863. Then, on July 12 (150 years ago today), Union forces had a disastrous run in with a section of the Confederate lines:

Brig. Gen. Jacob G. Lauman (US)
General Lauman, in taking position to-day, got his line uncovered by skirmishers too close to the enemy's lines, and suffered considerably; loss not yet ascertained. Colonel Gresham is reported killed...The ground to the right is so wooded that General Ord has been unable to ascertain Lauman's loss. - Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA (July 12, 1863).

The fighting took place on Sherman's right, (the Confederate left) where the Corps of Major General E.O.C. Ord was positioned on the Union side and Breckenridge's Division - including the Florida units - on the Confederate side. The site of the battle was in section of Jackson stretching from what was then the Great Central Railroad and the Pearl River on the southwest side of the city.

As Sherman was moving into position around the fortifications of Jackson, which he deemed "too good to be assaulted," he ordered his forces to form lines about 1,500 yards from the Confederate lines and to push skirmishers up to within 500 yards. The corps commanders were instructed to have their men begin digging trenches and preparing earthworks for battery positions.  It was as this operation was underway that Brig. Gen. Jacob G. Lauman moved in too close:

Lt. Col. Edward Badger, 4th Florida
Florida Memory Collection: Florida State Archives
All the troops took up their positions with comparative ease and little loss, save the division commanded by General Lauman, of Ord's corps, which, by the obscure character of the ground, its trees and bushes, advanced too near the enemy's parapet, without proper skirmishers deployed, and received the cross-fire of his artillery and infantry, causing considerable loss of life. The exact extend of this lass has not been reported, but will not fall much short of 400. General Ord has relieved Geneeral Lauman of command of the division, and I deem it so important to support corps commanders in their authority that I must sustain General Ord for the time being. - Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA (July 14, 1863).

Subsequent reports placed the losses in the First Brigade of Lauman's Fourth Division, the unit most heavily engaged in the fight, at 61 killed, 241 wounded and 129 missing in action for a total loss of 441. Adjacent units also experienced losses.

The best account of the fight was written by General Ord:

War-time map of the scene of the July 12th fight.
...The point of attack was not selected by any reconnaissance or previous examination. The attack itself was unsupported and unknown by other division commanders. The ground to be passed was defended (I was satisfied at the time) by several thousand of the enemy, and was open to an artillery front and flank fire for 600 yards in front of their works. Of the 880 men in Pugh's brigade, the loss by this attack was 465 in killed, wounded and missing, besides nearly all the men and horses of a section of artillery, which the Fifty-third Indiana Infantry brought off by hand, and three stand of colors; after which he had to retreat in haste, leaving all his dead and most of the wounded under the enemy's guns. - Maj. Gen. E.O.C. Ord, USA (July 27, 1863).

War-time sketch of the Siege of Jacskon
It was the bloodiest day of the Siege of Jackson. The Confederate line that Lauman had stumbled into was held by the 1st and 3rd Florida (Consolidated), the 4th Florida and the 47th Georgia. General Johnston specifically mentioned the regiments in a congratulatory dispatch to Major General Breckridge on the day of the fight:

Some of these men fought at Jackson.
I have learned with high satisfaction the success of your troops this morning; it increases my confidence in your gallant division. I beg you to say so to it for me. Do me the kindness, also, to express to the First and Third Florida, Forty-seventh Georgia, and Fourth Florida Regiments the pride and pleasure with which I have accepted the splendid trophies they have presented me. Assure them that I equally appreciate the soldierly courage and kindly feelings to myself which have gained me these noble compliments. - Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, CSA (July 12, 1863).

Two days later, the bodies of the Union dead still lay on the battlefield and Confederate litter bearers were fired on by Federal soldiers each time they tried to go out and bury the dead or help the wounded.

The stench of the decomposing bodies in front of the position of the Florida troops became so bad that General Breckinridge reported that his men were becoming ill. He appealed to General Johnston to send out a flag of truce to General Sherman asking that burial parties not be fired on. Johnston did so and Sherman agreed to a brief truce so that his own men could be buried, after two days beneath the hot Mississippi sun on the battlefield at Jackson, Mississippi.

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