A short distance up Bayou Pierre from its mouth once stood the small settlement of Bruinsburg and its landing on the Mississippi River. The settlement was established by Peter Bryan Bruin, who arrived, along with several other families in 1788. An Irishman, Bruin immigrated to the United States in 1756 and began working as a merchant in the Virginia Colony. In 1775, he became a lieutenant of Virginia provincials and would fight for the United States in the American Revolution. When the fighting was over, he returned to Virginia to a poor economy and his father was forced to sell hundreds of acres of their land to settle debts. His father, Bryan Bruin, then petitioned Spanish Minister Don Diego María de Gardoqui, who then governed what would become Mississippi, for land grants for himself, his son, and other families from Virginia.
Peter Bryan Bruin’s land grant of 1,200 acres was very generous because he brought 12 families with him. Situated at the northernmost point of the Natchez District near the mouth of Bayou Pierre. Bruin and several other people established homes here in 1788. In exchange for the land grant, Bruin was required to pay the survey and recording fees and make improvements on the land including a cabin, planting crops, and clearing and fencing the Mississippi River frontage. Within three years, he owned the land outright, and soon the region was filled with tobacco, indigo, corn and cotton fields, fruit orchards, and large gardens growing all manner of vegetables.
He became a leading man in the Natchez District and was made an alcalde by the Spanish government. Later, when the territory was organized as an American possession, he was appointed one of the three territorial judges, entrusted with the making of laws and the administration of justice. In 1807, none other than Aaron Burr, who was wanted for crimes of treason, stopped at Judge Bruins for a visit. He was pursued by a detachment of militia, but when they arrived, Burr had fled downriver three miles. Bruin continued to hold the office of the judge until he resigned in 1809. He continued to live in Bruinsburg and also expanded across the Mississippi River, where he had another plantation in Concordia Parish, Louisiana. He died at Bruinsburg on January 27, 1827.
During the heydays of busy Mississippi River traffic, Bruinsburg became a lively port and cotton market and somewhere along the line, the future President Andrew Jackson set up a trading post here for a time. However, years later, the Civil War brought an end to Mississippi River commerce and ultimately, to Bruinsburg, itself.
In April 1863, Bruinsburg would become famous for another historical event when Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant utilized it’s landing to dispatch some 40,000 Union soldiers in his Campaign Against Vicksburg. With river traffic all but non-existent, the landing was nearly deserted. Only the nearby Windsor Plantation, testified to the area’s past prosperity.
On April 29, 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant’s objective was to force a crossing of the Mississippi River from Louisiana at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, and then move on to Vicksburg from the south. For five hours, a Union fleet of seven ironclads bombarded the Grand Gulf defenses in an attempt to silence the Confederate guns and prepare the way for a landing. The fleet, however, sustained heavy damage and failed to achieve its objective, resulting in Union Rear Admiral David D. Porter declaring: “Grand Gulf is the strongest place on the Mississippi.”
Though the Grand Gulf assault was disappointing, it did not end Grant’s ambitions to cross the river, and he began to move his troops south. While Admiral Porter provided cover for the movement of the transport vessels, Grant was busy with intelligence-gathering operations.
He dispatched reconnaissance parties across the river seeking information on possible landing sites and roads inland in the vicinity of Rodney, Mississippi. One of these parties returned with a fugitive slave from Louisiana, who would guide Grant and his troops on their path to Port Gibson. On April 30th the landing was made unopposed and, as the men came ashore, a band aboard the U.S.S. Benton struck up “The Red, White, and Blue.”
This first group was followed by the remainder of the XIII Union Army Corps and portions of the XVII Corps and by late afternoon of April 30, 17,000 soldiers were ashore and the march inland began. This landing was the largest amphibious operation in American military history until the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. Elements of the Union army pushed inland and took possession of the bluffs, thereby securing the landing area. Thousands more followed the next day.
Moving away from the landing area at Bruinsburg, the Federal soldiers rested in the shade of the trees on Windsor Plantation. Late that afternoon the decision was made to push on that night by a forced march in hopes of surprising the Confederates and preventing them from destroying the bridges over Bayou Pierre. The Union columns resumed the advance at 5:30 p.m., but, instead of taking the Bruinsburg Road — the most direct road from the landing area to Port Gibson — Grant’s columns swung onto the Rodney Road, passing Bethel Church and marching through the night.
Additional troops arrived at Bruinsburg Crossing the next day, following their comrades inland for the remaining battles of the campaign.
Battle of Port Gibson (May 1, 1863) – Once Union General John A. McClernand’s corps landed at Bruinsburg, their objective was to capture Grand Gulf, which was to be Grant’s base. From Grand Gulf, Port Gibson was the next target, as roads from there led to Vicksburg and Jackson. A road led directly from Bruinsburg to Port Gibson, and Bayou Pierre, a navigable stream, bisected the road. Once McClernand’s 14th Corps of 17,000 strong landed, the rebels abandoned Grand Gulf and moved toward Port Gibson. Hoping to capture the bridges over Bayou Pierre before the retreating Confederates destroyed them, McClernand ordered a forced march during the evening of April 30-May1.
In the meantime, Confederate General John C. Pemberton had been completely confused by Grant’s diversions and had widely dispersed his troops to defend Vicksburg. As a result, there were few Confederates present to contest Grant’s march inland from Bruinsburg.
On April 30, 1863, the Confederate brigades of Brigadier Generals Martin E. Green and Edward Tracy marched south along the Bruinsburg Road to contest the Union invasion of Mississippi and block both the Rodney and Bruinsburg Roads west of Port Gibson. At the point of deployment, an interval of 2,000 yards separated the roads. The brigades of Tracy, on the right, and Green, on the left, were separated by a deep cane-choked ravine which prevented one flank from reinforcing the other flank. To do so, the Confederates had to march back to the road junction. The “Y” intersection of the roads was thus the lateral avenue of movement for the Confederates.
Shortly after midnight, the crash of musketry shattered the stillness as the Federals stumbled upon Confederate outposts near the A. K. Shaifer house. Union troops immediately deployed for battle, and their artillery, which soon arrived, roared into action. A spirited skirmish ensued which lasted until 3:00 a.m, with the Confederates holding their ground. For the next several hours an uneasy calm settled over the woods and scattered fields as soldiers of both armies rested on their arms. Throughout the night the Federals gathered their forces in hand and both sides prepared for the battle which they knew would come with the rising sun.
At dawn, Union troops began to move in force along the Rodney Road toward Magnolia Church. One division was sent along a connecting plantation road toward the Bruinsburg Road and the Confederate right flank. With skirmishers well ahead, the Federals began a slow and deliberate advance around 5:30 a.m. The Confederates contested the thrust and the battle began in earnest.