On May 14, 1863, two corps of the Army of the Tennessee converged on Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. They confronted the lead elements of Confederate forces gathered by Joseph E. Johnston to oppose Ulysses S. Grant’s invasion of the state. From the west James McPherson, commander of the Seventeenth Corps, drove eastward, while from the south and southwest William T. Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps, seeing its first significant combat action of the campaign, pierced the Confederate line before him, taking advantage of a gap on the Confederate lines. The gap had appeared when Johnston decided that it was time to withdraw rather than do battle (some would say this was rather typical of Johnston, and it gave Sherman what amounted to his most successful battlefield tactical triumph).
Let Grant’s son Fred, just shy of his thirteenth birthday, tell you what happened next:
Thinking the battle was ended, I rode off toward the State House, where the Confederate troops passed me in their retreat. Though I wore a blue uniform, I was so splashed with mud, and looked generally so unattractive, that the Confederates paid no attention to me. I have since realized that even had I been captured, it would not have ended the war.
At this time I saw a mounted officer with a Union flag advancing toward the Capitol. I followed him into the building and entered the Governor’s room, which had been hastily abandoned. Finding what I supposed to be the Governor’s pipe lying on the table, I confiscated it, primarily and ostensibly for the National service, but secondarily and actually for my own private and individual use. It had the advantage of being still loaded and lighted.
Returning to the street, I saw the officer whom I had followed in the act of raising the Union flag over the building. He proved to be Captain, afterwards Colonel, Cornelius Cadle.
Father and his staff, advancing at the head of the army, soon reached the State House, where I joined them, and went with them to the Bowen House, the best hotel in Jackson, where we took the room in which General Joseph E. Johnston had slept the night before.
The work of Grant’s army had only begun. The army commander reaped the benefit of intelligence operations when a spy pretending to be a loyal Confederate courier delivered an order from Johnston to Pemberton directing him to leave Vicksburg, march east, and confront Grant while Johnston came down from the north. Grant made preparations to give Pemberton a warm greeting. Meanwhile, it was necessary to tear up as much railroad track as possible so that Johnston would find it difficult to concentrate at Jackson and supply whatever force he was able to gather. He tasked Sherman with that job. As Grant recalled:
Sherman and I went together into a manufactory which had not ceased work on account of the battle nor for the entrance of Yankee troops. Our presence did not seem to attract the attention of either the manager or the operatives, most of whom were girls. We looked on for a while to see the tent cloth which they were making roll out of the looms, with “C. S. A.” woven in each bolt. There was an immense amount of cotton, in bales, stacked outside. Finally I told Sherman I thought they had done work enough. The operatives were told they could leave and take with them what cloth they could carry. In a few minutes cotton and factory were in a blaze. The proprietor visited Washington while I was President to get his pay for this property, claiming that it was private. He asked me to give him a statement of the fact that his property had been destroyed by National troops, so that he might use it with Congress where he was pressing, or proposed to press, his claim. I declined.
With that done, Grant turned his attention westward and began planning his first meeting with John C. Pemberton.