I do not say, nor have I ever said, that General Johnston ordered me to make precisely the movement I did make. He did, however, order a movement, the consequences of which would, in my judgment, have been utterly disastrous had I attempted literally to execute it. But when it was known that General Johnston had ordered an advance, the weight of his name made the pressure upon me too heavy to bear, and a movement became necessary. The council was, I think, nearly equally divided in opinion as to the respective advantages of the two movements. Among others, those of most experience and of highest rank advocated that which was ultimately adopted by my accepting what I declared to be in my judgment only the lesser of two evils.
When, on April 28, General Bowen informed me by telegraph that "transports and barges loaded down with troops were landing at Hard Times, on the WEST bank," I made the best arrangements I could, if it became necessary to forward to his assistance as rapidly as possible all the troops not, in my opinion, absolutely indispensable to prevent a coup de main, should it be attempted against Vicksburg. It was indispensable to maintain a sufficient force to hold Snyder's Mill, Chickasaw Bayou, the city front, and Warrenton, a line of over 20 miles in length.
In addition to his troops at Young's Point (whose strength I had no means of ascertaining), which constantly threatened my upper positions, the enemy had, as has already been shown, a large force at Hard Times and afloat on transports between Vicksburg and Grand Gulf, which threatened the latter as well as Warrenton, where a landing under cover of his gunboats might have been easily effected, and his whole army concentrated there instead of at Bruinsburg; and this movement would have placed him at once WEST of the Big Black. It was imto form an estimate of his absolute or relative strength at the two points named.
To concentrate my whole force south and east of Big Black for the
support of General Bowen against a landing at Grand Gulf, or any point south of it not yet apparently even threatened, would, I think, have been unwise, to say the least of it. To show that I was not alone in my opinion, I add a telegram from General Stevenson, then commanding the troops in and about Vicksburg:
The men will be ready to move promptly. To cross the Mississippi, both gunboats and transports must pass he batteries at Grand Gulf. An army large enough to defend itself on this side would consume much time in crossing. As it is not known what force has been withdrawn from this from, it is not improbable that the force opposite Grand Gulf is there to lay waste the country on that side and a feint withdraw troops from a main attack here. I venture to express the hope that the troops will not be removed far until further developments below render it certain that they will cross in force.
On April 30, I received by telegraph from General Bowen the first information of the landing of the enemy at Bruinsburg, and on the following day (May 1) the battle of Port Gibson was lost by us.
In corroboration of the statements made with regard to the threatening aspect of affairs toward Vicksburg and its flank defenses, I beg leave to draw attention to the following dispatches from General Stevenson:
Vicksburg, May 29.
Eight boats loaded with troops from our front are now moving up Yazoo. The display made in moving them showed a desire to attract our attention.
The enemy have been shelling Snyder's at long range most of the day. Forney thinks that five regiments have landed at Blake's lower quarters.