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1863-05-17 Big Black River Bridge

Mississippi

Start: 1863-05-17

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Introduction

The Battle of Big Black River Bridge, or Big Black, fought May 17, 1863, was part of the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War. Union commander Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Tennessee pursued the retreating Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton following the Battle of Champion Hill, in the final battle before the Siege of Vicksburg.

Background

Reeling from their defeat at Champion Hill, the Confederates reached Big Black River Bridge, the night of May 16–17. Pemberton ordered Brig. Gen. John S. Bowen, with three brigades, to man the fortifications on the east bank of the river and impede any Union pursuit. The Bridge its self is 1250 ft. long and 150 ft. tall.

Order of Battle

Battle

Three divisions of Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps moved out from Edwards Station (now the town of Edwards, Mississippi) on the morning of May 17. The corps encountered the Confederates behind breastworks of cotton bales fronted by a bayou and abatis. They took cover as enemy artillery began firing. Union Brig. Gen. Michael K. Lawler formed his 2nd Brigade, Eugene A. Carr’s 14th Division, which surged out of a meander scar, across the front of the Confederate forces, through waist-deep water, and into the enemy’s breastworks, held by Brig. Gen. John C. Vaughn’s East Tennessee Brigade, which had little combat experience and was composed of men from pro-Union East Tennessee. The entire charge lasted 3 minutes.

Confused and panicked, the Confederates began to withdraw across the Big Black River by two routes: the railroad bridge and three tied steamboats Dot, Charm and Paul Jones, used as a bridge across the river. As soon as they had crossed, the Confederates set fire to the bridge and steamboat, preventing close Union pursuit. The fleeing Confederates who arrived in Vicksburg later that day were disorganized.

Sergeant William Wesley Kendall of the 49th Indiana was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in the charge.

Aftermath

The Union forces captured approximately 1,700 troops at Big Black and many drowned, a loss that the Confederates could ill afford. Fewer than half of the Confederates who had fought at Champion Hill made it into the defenses at Vicksburg. This battle sealed Vicksburg’s fate: the Confederate force was bottled up at Vicksburg.

Casualties

Total Killed Wounded Missing Captured
USA Battle Flag 276
CSA Battle Flag small 1,751
Combined Forces

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Big_Black_River_Bridge

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