150 years ago: Battle of Big Black River Bridge, and I have nothing for you!

Looking back 150 years ago, in the aftermath of the battle of Champion Hill Federal troops in Major-General John McClernand’s Thirteenth Army Corps pursued Confederates west towards Vicksburg. A little over half way to Vicksburg, McClernand’s lead elements ran into a Confederate defense setup along the Big Black River, covering the railroad bridge.

This is one of my favorite battles in the Vicksburg campaign. Not for any particular reason. I’ve simply found it fascinating. I wanted to post something proper for the battle. But this morning the combination of pollen blooms and the hot-cold-hot spring weather has withered my ability to focus on writing. I don’t even want to dig out my 1990s photos of the battlefield.

So let me offer up instead an excellent set of photos from Bruce’s Civil War Album showing the landscape as it appears today. Big Black River Bridge was fought in the bottom lands with meander scars, bayous, and cypress stands factoring into the troop movements. The critical moment of this battle occurred on the Federal right where Brigadier-General Michael K. Lawler mounted a brigade assault.

photo of Michael Kelly Lawler (1814-1882)

Brig. Gen. Michael K. Lawler

Lawler’s assault – with the 21st Iowa, 23rd Iowa, and 11th Wisconsin with the 22nd Iowa the reserve – is a good example of a successful brigade level attack. Artillery support was ample. And reinforcements arrived where needed, at the time needed. All in contrast to some other brigade level attacks that we might consider.

Recalling the success, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant later wrote “I heard great cheering to the right of our line and, looking in that direction, saw Lawler in his shirt sleeves leading a charge upon the enemy. I immediately mounted my horse and rode in the direction of the charge.” Grant was too often the beneficiary of such unexpected success on the battlefield. Seems to me there was more than just luck and happenstance at work.

Some Confederates made their way over the river and back to Vicksburg, but about 1,700 were captured. In addition to the troops, Lawler’s men captured six 12-pdr howitzers, three 12-pdr Napoleons, three 6-pdr guns, and six 10-pdr Parrotts. Eighteen guns at the Big Black. Just days earlier at Raymond, Federals captured a similar number of guns. Add to that Confederate artillery losses at Jackson and Champon Hill. Yes, out west the Confederates were shedding an Army’s worth of artillery in the course of a campaign.

Sorry for a non-substantial post today. If I feel better this evening, I’ll do Lawler’s assault the justice it deserves. Until then, you might consider this “alternative” version of the Battle of Big Black River Bridge:

Oh, I long for the simple days where a pair of dice and an Avalon-Hill box were sufficient.

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2 responses to “150 years ago: Battle of Big Black River Bridge, and I have nothing for you!

  1. Lots of Galvanized Yankees (4th USV) because of BBRB… many from E. Tennessee regiments.

  2. … and I concur on the longing for the days of Avalon Hill and a pair of dice!

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