Battle of Big Black River Bridge

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Battle of Big Black River Bridge
Part of the American Civil War
Battle of Big Black River Bridge map.jpg
A map of the battle
DateMay 17, 1863 (1863-05-17)
Result Union victory
 United States  Confederate States
Commanders and leaders
United States John McClernand Confederate States of America John Bowen
Confederate States of America John Vaughn
Units involved
United States XIII Army Corps Confederate States of America Bowen's Division
Confederate States of America Vaughn's Brigade
Casualties and losses
276[1] 1,751[1]

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.


Grant's operations against Vicksburg

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 was 1250 ft. long and 150 ft. tall.


Ruins of the bridge after the battle
Ruins of the bridge after the 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 largely 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 Medal of Honor for heroism in the charge.


Map of Big Black River Bridge Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program

The Union forces captured approximately 1,700 troops at Big Black and many others drowned trying to cross the river,[1] 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.

Battlefield preservation[edit]

The Civil War Trust (a division of the American Battlefield Trust) and its partners have acquired and preserved 28 acres of the Big Black River battlefield.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d Kennedy, pp. 170-71.
  2. ^ [1] American Battlefield Trust "Saved Land" webpage. Accessed May 22, 2018.


  • National Park Service battle description.
  • Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
  • Massey, Steve "Unlocked: The Battle of the Big Black River Bridge" Createspace Publishing, 2015. ISBN 978-1514605165

Further reading[edit]

  • Ballard, Michael B. Vicksburg, The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8078-2893-9.
  • Bearss, Edwin C. The Campaign for Vicksburg. Vol. 2, Grant Strikes a Fatal Blow. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1986. ISBN 0-89029-313-9.
  • Fullenkamp, Leonard, Stephen Bowman, and Jay Luvaas. Guide to the Vicksburg Campaign. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998. ISBN 0-7006-0922-9.
  • Grabau, Warren E. Ninety-Eighty Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000. ISBN 1-57233-068-6.
  • Korn, Jerry, and the Editors of Time-Life Books. War on the Mississippi: Grant's Vicksburg Campaign. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1985. ISBN 0-8094-4744-4.
  • Winschel, Terrence J. Triumph & Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign. Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing Company, 1999. ISBN 1-882810-31-7.
  • Woodworth, Steven E., ed. Grant's Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001. ISBN 0-7006-1127-4.
  • CWSAC Report Update

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°20′50″N 90°42′15″W / 32.3471°N 90.7043°W / 32.3471; -90.7043