The Army of Tennessee: Resentment Toward Bragg

January 21, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis learned that the army’s top commanders no longer had confidence in General Braxton Bragg as their leader.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As the Confederates took up winter quarters at Tullahoma, several of Bragg’s subordinates expressed doubts about his generalship. These doubts reached the southern press, with a Chattanooga newspaper reporting that Bragg had lost the army’s confidence, particularly because he had allegedly ignored his commanders’ advice by retreating from the Battle of Stones River.

On the 11th, Bragg wrote a letter to his top five commanders to defend himself against such rumors and allegations. He began, “It becomes necessary for me to save my fair name,” and “stop the deluge of abuse which destroy my usefulness and demoralize this army.” Bragg continued:

“Unanimous as you were in council in verbally advising a retrograde movement, I cannot doubt that you will cheerfully attest the same in writing. I desire that you will consult your subordinate commanders and be candid with me. I shall retire without a regret if I find I have lost the good opinion of my generals, upon whom I have ever relied as upon a foundation of rock.”

All five commanders acknowledged in writing that the newspaper article claiming Bragg retreated against their advice was false. But one of Bragg’s corps commanders, General William J. Hardee, added another statement on the others’ behalf: “Frankness compels me to say that the general officers whose judgment you have invoked are unanimous in their opinion that a change in the command of this army is necessary. In this opinion I concur.”

Bragg’s other corps commander, General Leonidas Polk, joined Hardee in asking President Davis to replace Bragg with General Joseph E. Johnston, currently heading the entire Department of the West. Generals Benjamin F. Cheatham and John C. Breckinridge despised Bragg to the point that Cheatham refused to serve under him any longer and Breckinridge wanted to fight him in a duel. When Davis learned of this, he wrote to Johnston:

“Why General Bragg should have selected that tribunal and have invited its judgments upon him is to me unexplained. It manifests, however, a condition of things which seems to me to require your presence. Although my confidence in General Bragg is unshaken, it cannot be doubted that if he is distrusted by his officers and troops, a disaster may result.”

Davis directed Johnston to inspect the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma and determine if he “had so far lost the confidence of the army as to impair his usefulness in his present position…” Davis added:

“You will, I trust, be able, by conversation with General Bragg and others of his command, to decide what the best interests of the service require, and to give me the advice which I need at this juncture. As that army is part of your command, no order will be necessary to give you authority there, as, whether present or absent, you have a right to direct its operations and do whatever else belongs to the general commanding.”

Davis’s vague instructions authorized Johnston to take over the Army of Tennessee, which seemed to be what most of the army’s officers wanted. But even though Johnston personally disliked Bragg (like most others), he respected Bragg’s abilities as commander and did not want to take his job from him. This did not stop Confederate politicians in Richmond from lobbying to replace Bragg with Johnston.

As January ended, Johnston was on his way from inspecting defenses at Mobile to visit the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 254, 257; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 170, 172; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 256; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 313-14; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 582-83; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 159-61

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The “Mud March”

January 20, 1863 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside prepared to launch another offensive intended to restore his reputation and revitalize the demoralized Army of the Potomac.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Burnside made final preparations for his Federals to move out of Falmouth on the 19th. A recent report stated that General Robert E. Lee had sent Confederate troops to North Carolina and Tennessee, thus weakening his Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg. The weather had been unseasonably warm in Virginia, making the roads dry and the river fordable. If Burnside was to atone for the disaster at Fredericksburg, now was the time.

While his superiors at Washington were cautiously optimistic, Burnside’s subordinates believed this operation would fail miserably. An officer wrote, “The general demoralization that had come upon us made two or three months of rest a necessity,” and he “came to the conclusion that Burnside was fast losing his mind.”

Major General William B. Franklin, one of Burnside’s Grand Division commanders, loudly opposed the plan, along with his subordinate, General William “Baldy” Smith. Franklin and Smith argued that Lee’s army had not been weakened enough to be defeated, especially by the dispirited men in this army. An artillery colonel claimed that Franklin “has talked so much and so loudly to this effect that he has completely demoralized his whole command.”

The plan called for the two Grand Divisions under Franklin and Major General Joseph Hooker to march north and cross the Rappahannock at the fords above Fredericksburg. Meanwhile, Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Grand Division would feint toward Fredericksburg as a diversion, and Major General Franz Sigel’s reserve Grand Division would take the place of Franklin and Hooker on the original line. After crossing the river, Franklin and Hooker would move south against the Confederates’ left flank and force them into an open fight.

As the Federal troops prepared to move on the morning of the 20th, their officers read them a general order from Burnside:

“The commanding general announces to the Army of the Potomac that they are about to meet the enemy once more. The movements of our troops in N.C. and the Southwest had drawn off and divided the Rebel forces on the Rappahannock. The auspicious moment seems to have arrived to strike a great and mortal blow to the rebellion, and to gain that decisive victory which is due to the country… a fame the most glorious awaits.”

Burnside urged “the firm and united action of officers and men, and, under the providence of God, the Army of the Potomac will have taken a great step toward restoring peace to the country and the Government to its rightful authority.”

Around 11 a.m., the Grand Divisions of Hooker and Franklin formed into columns and headed out of Falmouth as bands played “Yankee Doodle.” They marched up the north bank of the Rappahannock, arriving near Banks Ford that night. They would use pontoons to cross the Rappahannock at points above and below the ford the next day.

Meanwhile, the Confederates had conducted a two-day inspection and reported to Lee that Burnside would likely move upriver and try attacking their left. Lee dispatched a division from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps under Major General George Pickett to occupy positions around Salem Church. These overlooked the fords and enabled the Confederates to oppose a crossing.

Rain began falling late that afternoon, which fell heavier as the night went on. A strong, icy wind blew in, and the previously beautiful weather quickly gave way to a harsh winter storm. A Pennsylvania soldier wrote that “it rained as if the world was coming to an end.” Burnside later said, “From that moment we felt that the winter campaign had ended.” The rain turned to snow farther north, blanketing Washington.

The rain continued into the next morning, and the roads were turning into quagmires. In some places, soldiers sank knee-deep in mud. Artillery wagons sank to their axles, as teams of men and horses struggled to pull them out. Many horses and mules died of exhaustion as the pontoon train fell two miles behind the army. The troops could advance no further until the pontoons could be brought to the front.

The Federal “mud march” | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Pickett’s Confederates could see the Federals struggling across the river. They jeered their counterparts and held up signs reading, “This Way to Richmond,” and “Yanks, If You Can’t Place Your Pontoons Yourself, We Will Send Help.” The day ended with the Federal army hopelessly tangled and neutralized in the rain and muck. An officer wrote:

“An indescribable chaos of pontoons, vehicles, and artillery encumbered all the roads. Supply wagons upset by the roadside, guns stalled in the mud, ammunition trains ruined by the war, and hundreds of horses and mules buried in the liquid mud. The army, in fact, was embargoed; it was no longer a question of how to go forward–it was a question of how to get back.”

The troops bivouacked in the brutal cold that night, as Burnside relentlessly ordered the advance to resume the next morning. The incessant rain had made everything so wet that the troops could not even start fires to cook their dinners. The next day, Burnside tried lifting morale by issuing whiskey, but this only led to arguing and brawling among the frustrated, exhausted men.

Burnside finally saw he could advance no further in these conditions and, around noon on the 22nd, he ordered the army to return to its original camps at Falmouth. But Burnside issued the order from Aquia Creek, 15 miles away, where he expected to meet with General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. The order to fall back did not reach the Grand Division commanders until that night, so the troops had to bivouac in the cold, wet mud one more night before turning back.

The return march proved just as exhausting as the advance, as troops struggled to pull themselves and their animals and equipment out of the deepening muck. The “mud march” ended in miserable failure, dropping the already low Federal morale even lower.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 123-25; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cullen, Joseph P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 97-98; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 256-57; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8691-8701; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 128-30; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 255-57; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5241; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 93, 95-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 312-14; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 583-84; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 184

The Fall of Fort Hindman: Grant Disapproves

January 16, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant disapproved of Major General John A. McClernand’s unauthorized capture of Fort Hindman, and McClernand tried going over Grant’s head to justify his actions.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Grant did not receive notice that McClernand’s “Army of the Mississippi” was moving up the Arkansas River to attack Fort Hindman (also known as Arkansas Post) until the day the Federals captured the fort. Grant, who was McClernand’s immediate superior, quickly responded:

“I do not approve of your move on the Post of Arkansas while the other is in abeyance. It will lead to the loss of men without a result… It might answer for some of the purposes you suggest, but certainly not as a military movement looking to the accomplishment of the one great result, the capture of Vicksburg… From the best information I have, Milliken’s Bend is the proper place for you to be…”

Grant then reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “General McClernand has fallen back to White River, and gone on a wild-goose chase to the Post of Arkansas. I am ready to reinforce, but must await further information before knowing what to do.”

Halleck responded the next day: “You are hereby authorized to relieve General McClernand from command of the expedition against Vicksburg, giving it to the next in rank or taking it yourself.” Grant had initially planned to send his army south to take Vicksburg while he remained at headquarters in Memphis. But this would mean that McClernand, the ranking commander under Grant, would be in charge in the field. Grant therefore opted to lead the army himself to prevent McClernand from making any more unauthorized movements.

Meanwhile, McClernand submitted his report on the victory at Fort Hindman. When it reached the northern press and public, it was met with great enthusiasm because it was a much needed Federal victory after a series of military failures (including Grant’s own failure to take Vicksburg in December). With McClernand now hailed as a hero, Grant did not act upon Halleck’s authorization to relieve him.

Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant also held back on relieving McClernand because he learned that his close friend Major General William T. Sherman, not McClernand, had proposed capturing Fort Hindman in the first place. And pressure from Washington to send reinforcements to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in Louisiana slackened, thus giving Grant more autonomy.

Grant began planning to attack Vicksburg from the water since Sherman had been repelled from land. However, a waterborne approach seemed just as difficult because of the countless “bends” in the Mississippi River above the city. Moreover, as Grant learned on the 16th, the navy would not be able to support him for another 10 days due to their participation in capturing Fort Hindman. He ordered McClernand to meet him at Milliken’s Bend to discuss the situation personally.

McClernand responded that he would “immediately return with my command” to the Mississippi, even though “I would sail from here to Little Rock, and reduce that place but for want of sufficient water in the channel of the Arkansas River.” Then he shirked Grant’s order and informed the Federal commander at Helena, “I shall delay a day or two in order to threaten Little Rock and Pine Bluff as a diversion in your favor.”

As Grant prepared to leave Memphis for Milliken’s Bend, Confederate prisoners from Fort Hindman began arriving on transports. Since McClernand sent no word on what should be done with these men, Grant appealed to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri (which included Fort Hindman): “As I am leaving Memphis and can take no orders for the disposal of these prisoners, I hope that you will have the kindness to take charge of them…”

Meanwhile, McClernand received Grant’s message refusing to authorize the Fort Hindman expedition and admonishing him for capturing the fort without permission. McClernand angrily responded that he had expected “approval of the complete and signal success which crowned it rather than your condemnation.” Responding to Grant’s claim that the expedition detracted from the goal to capture Vicksburg, McClernand shot back, “From the moment you fell back from Oxford, and the purpose of a front attack upon the enemy’s works near Vicksburg was thus deprived of co-operation, the Mississippi River Expedition was doomed to eventuate in a failure.”

McClernand then wrote directly to President Abraham Lincoln, who had authorized him to conduct an independent operation against Vicksburg last fall. McClernand complained, “I believe my success here is gall and wormwood to the clique of West Pointers who have been persecuting me for months,” and these West Pointers (such as Grant) were “chagrined at the success of your volunteer officers (i.e., McClernand).”

Although no threat of dismissal had been given yet, McClernand pleaded, “Do not let me be clandestinely destroyed, or, what is worse, dishonored, without a hearing.” He then argued that Grant could not effectively command his (McClernand’s) force: “The Mississippi River being the only channel of communication, and that being infested with guerrillas, how can General Grant at a distance of 400 miles intelligently command the army with me? He cannot do it.”

McClernand’s response to Grant and his letter to Lincoln indicated that he considered himself Grant’s equal, even though the War Department order of late December clearly stated that McClernand would merely command a corps within Grant’s army. But McClernand hoped that Lincoln would override that order, writing that his “army” “should be made an independent command, as both you and the Secretary of War, as I believe, originally intended.”

Lincoln did not respond to McClernand’s request for independence, but he did respond to a prior letter from McClernand complaining about Halleck micromanaging his affairs:

“I have too many family controversies, (so to speak) already on my hands to voluntarily, or so long as I can avoid it, take up another. You are now doing well–well for the country, and well for yourself–much better than you could possibly be, if engaged in open war with Gen. Halleck. Allow me to beg, that for your sake, for my sake, & for the country’s sake, you give your whole attention to the better work.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 341-42; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 137

Burnside Plans a New Offensive

January 15, 1863 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside moved forward with plans to launch another offensive in northern Virginia, despite reservations by his officers and men.

By mid-January, morale had sunk to an all-time low in the Army of the Potomac. Soldiers huddled in their freezing camps at Falmouth, as rampant sickness from the bitter cold and poor sanitation added to the general depression afflicting the rank and file. Some men had not been paid in months due to paymaster inefficiency. Most had no confidence in their superiors, especially Burnside, and desertions soared.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Despite this, Burnside still insisted on resuming the offensive as soon as possible. He personally reconnoitered the area around Falmouth to determine where best to advance his army. President Abraham Lincoln had been reluctant to allow him to put the troops in motion so soon after the defeat at Fredericksburg, but intelligence indicated that General Robert E. Lee had sent some of his Confederate troops to North Carolina and to General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, making the Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg vulnerable to a renewed attack.

Burnside resolved to advance north and cross the Rappahannock River at Banks and United States fords. The army would then turn south, moving along the Rappahannock, and attack Lee’s left flank. Burnside dispatched troops on the 15th to begin building corduroy roads strong enough to haul the artillery and other equipment needed to sustain a 120,000-man army.

The plan called for Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Grand Division to divert the Confederates’ attention by threatening to cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg and attack that town once more. Meanwhile, the other two Grand Divisions under Major Generals Joseph Hooker and William B. Franklin would move north and cross the Rappahannock at the two fords as soon as the corduroy roads were ready.

Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck approved the plan, leaving the specifics on how to execute it to Burnside. But most army officers believed this was another disaster in the making. On the 17th, the day before the movement was scheduled to begin, Sumner protested the move to Burnside. Sumner doubted the roads would be ready by the 19th, the day the army would reach them. Franklin voiced an even stronger doubt, declaring that there was no way the roads could be ready so soon.

When Sumner asked for a written assurance they would be ready, Burnside agreed to postpone the launch for a day. Sumner and Franklin then questioned the viability of the fords, which Burnside had personally scouted. Burnside proceeded regardless, directing Provost Marshal Marsena Patrick to strengthen guard units in the camps, “In view of the alarming frequency of desertion from this army of late.”

During the march, cavalrymen would ride along the infantry columns to ensure that nobody dropped out. The troopers were to “drive up every loiterer, straggler, and skulker to his company, or placing him under guard.” Once combat operations began, the provost marshals were to stay out of enemy fire range but stay close enough so that “stragglers and skulkers may be gathered and forced to return to their regiments.”

Burnside then dispatched cavalrymen to scout the marching route and determine whether the Confederates had any idea of what the Federals were planning. On the 18th, cavalry commander General Alfred Pleasonton informed Burnside, “My pickets at United States Ford report the enemy throwing up a great many rockets at that place last night, also the moving of their artillery wagons nearly the whole night, evidently expecting a move on our part.”

United States Ford had been the focal point of Burnside’s plan because it would allow the Federals to land on the Confederate flank. The only alternative was Banks Ford, which would place the Federals in between the Confederates rather than on their flank. The Grand Division commanders opposed using Banks Ford, prompting Burnside to change his plan: “If any movement is made in the direction of United States Ford, it will be simply a feint, with a view to an actual move in another direction.”

Burnside offered no specifics on what “another direction” would be. He ordered the troops to discard their knapsacks, and then instructed the commanders receiving this order, after passing it along, to “please make this entirely confidential, and burn it.” Burnside then postponed the advance for another day.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Vallandigham’s Constitution-Peace-Reunion Speech

January 14, 1863 – Outgoing Democratic Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio delivered a speech excoriating President Abraham Lincoln’s war policies and calling for peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy.

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Vallandigham had been one of the Lincoln administration’s most vocal critics since the war began. He led the “Copperheads,” or anti-war northerners who denounced the administration’s abuse of civil liberties and called for negotiating peace with the Confederacy.

He narrowly lost reelection for his U.S. House seat when Republicans re-zoned his district to exclude many of those who had voted for him two years before. Vallandigham delivered a farewell speech in the lame duck session of Congress on the 14th, titled “Constitution-Peace-Reunion.”

Vallandigham declared, “You have not conquered the South. You never will.” The Confederacy could not be forced back into the Union just as someone could not “force the wife to sleep with the husband.” Lincoln “confessed it on September 22 (when he issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation), war for the Union was abandoned; war for the Negro openly begun and with stronger battalions than before. With what success? Let the dead at Fredericksburg and Vicksburg answer… But ought this war to continue? I answer no–not a day, not an hour.”

Vallandigham next attacked the business and financial leaders who backed the war in the North:

“And let not Wall street, or any other great interest, mercantile, manufacturing, or commercial, imagine that it shall have power enough or wealth enough to stand in the way of reunion through peace. Money you have expended without limit, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, and sepulchers–these are your only trophies. The war for the Union is… a most bloody and costly failure.”

Vallandigham then turned to the unconstitutional measures the administration had employed to wage war. He referred to “repeated and persistent arbitrary arrests, the suspension of habeas corpus, the violation of freedom of the mails, of the private house, of the press and of speech, and all the other multiplied wrongs and outrages upon public liberty and private right.” To Vallandigham, all this “have made this country one of the worst despotisms on earth for the past 20 months.”

He argued that the only sensible solution to the crisis was to “Stop fighting. Make an armistice… Withdraw your army from the seceded States.” Vallandigham urged the administration to invoke the aid of a foreign nation to mediate “an informal, practical recognition of the Confederacy.”

Denouncing the “fanaticism and hypocrisy” of the notion that ending the war would preserve slavery, Vallandigham said, “I see more of barbarism and sin, a thousand times, in the continuance of this war… and the enslavement of the white race by debt and taxes and arbitrary power.” He closed by declaring, “In considering terms of settlement we (should) look only to the welfare, peace, and safety of the white race, without reference to the effect that settlement may have on the African.”

Vallandigham soon became a key figure in the growing anti-war movement, as more and more northerners became disenchanted with the mounting costs of war in both men and money.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 497; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 107; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 591-92; Vallandigham, Clement Laird, “The Constitution – Peace – Reunion,” Appendix to the Congressional Globe: Containing the Speeches, Important State Papers and the Laws of the Third Session Thirty-seventh Congress (Washington, DC: Globe Office, 1863), edited by John C. Rives, 52-60; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 188-89; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q163

President Davis’s 1863 Message to Congress

January 12, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis submitted his message on the state of the Confederacy to the Confederate Congress as it assembled for its third session at Richmond.

By this time, inflation plagued the South, as the printing of paper money without backing by precious metals sent the cost of living skyrocketing. The Confederate military still held firm against the Federals, but resources were dwindling and there was little hope for foreign aid.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis declared that the first two years of the new nation “affords ample cause for congratulation and demands the most fervent expression of our thankfulness to the Almighty Father, who has blessed our cause.” He cited recent Confederate military successes as “another example of the impossibility of subjugating a people determined to be free; and have demonstrated that no superiority of numbers or available resources can overcome the resistance offered by such valor in combat, such constancy under suffering, and such cheerful endurance of privation as have been conspicuously displayed by this people in the defense of their rights and liberties.”

Davis still held out hope that foreign nations would recognize Confederate independence, but he acknowledged that such an opportunity was quickly vanishing due to increased Federal aggression, both on land and at sea.

He denounced the Emancipation Proclamation:

“We may well leave it to the instincts of common humanity which a beneficent Creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellowmen of all countries to pass judgment on a measure by which several millions of human beings of an inferior race, peaceful and contented laborers in their sphere, are doomed to extermination, while at the same time they are encouraged to a general assassination of their masters by the insidious recommendation ‘to abstain from violence unless in necessary self-defense.’”

To Davis, the proclamation was “complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the (Republican) party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington.” He cited President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address of March 1861 (in which Lincoln pledged not to interfere with slavery where it already existed) as evidence that the party had lied about its intentions all along.

Calling the proclamation “the most execrable measure in the history of guilty man,” Davis announced that he would turn over any commissioned Federal officers enforcing it to the appropriate state government for punishment as “criminals engaged in inciting servile insurrection.” In most southern states, that punishment was death.

Davis asserted that Lincoln’s decree proved his “inability to subjugate the South by force of arms,” and its appeal to morality provided foreign nations the “justification in withholding our just claims to formal recognition.” Ultimately, the proclamation meant that “restoration of the Union has been rendered forever impossible by the adoption of a measure which from its very nature neither admits of retraction nor can coexist with union.”

Regarding the Treasury Department, Davis asked members of Congress to approve legislation improving the Confederacy’s financial structure to pay down the national debt:

“Among the subjects to which your attention will be specially devoted during the present session you will no doubt deem the adoption of some comprehensive system of finance as being of paramount importance.”

Regarding the War Department, Davis requested “some revision of the exemption law (i.e., the amended Conscription Act) of last session. Serious complaints have reached me of the inequality of its operation,” and Davis recommended exempting enough men to form local police squads that would keep law and order at home while the rest of the men fought the war.

Davis also stated:

“I recommend to the Congress to devise a proper mode of relief to those of our citizens whose property has been destroyed by order of the Government, in pursuance of a policy adopted as a means of national defense. It is true that full indemnity cannot now be made, but some measure of relief is due to those patriotic citizens who have borne private loss for the public good, whose property in effect has been taken for public use, though not directly appropriated.”

Davis reminded Congress:

“Our Government, born of the spirit of freedom and of the equality and independence of the States, could not have survived a selfish or jealous disposition, making each only careful of its own interest or safety. The fate of the Confederacy, under the blessing of Divine Providence, depends upon the harmony, energy, and unity of the States.”

He concluded, “With hearts swelling with gratitude let us, then, join in returning thanks to God, and in beseeching the continuance of his protecting care over our cause and the restoration of peace with its manifold blessings to our beloved country.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 165; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 253-54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 311; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 565; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 576-77, 583; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q163

The Fall of Fort Hindman

January 11, 1863 – Major General John A. McClernand reorganized his Federal forces and acted upon Major General William T. Sherman’s recommendation to attack a Confederate fort on the Arkansas River.

As the new year began, Sherman’s 30,000-man XIII Corps remained at Chickasaw Bayou. He learned that the Confederates on the bluffs were being reinforced, and his men could hear trains continuously rolling in and out of Vicksburg, indicating that even more troops were on the way. He therefore abandoned his plan to take the bluffs, loaded his troops back onto their transports, and headed back down the Yazoo River to the Mississippi.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

McClernand, who had arrived at Memphis too late to join the Chickasaw Bayou expedition, met up with the Federals at Milliken’s Bend, on the west bank of the Mississippi, to take command of the corps. Apparently disregarding the War Department order placing him under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, McClernand split his four divisions into two corps and renamed XIII Corps the Army of the Mississippi.

When Sherman passed command to McClernand on the 4th, he shared an idea to avenge the Chickasaw Bayou defeat by capturing Fort Hindman, also known as Arkansas Post, about 120 miles northwest of Vicksburg on the Arkansas River. Some 5,000 Confederates garrisoned the fort, which threatened Federal communications on the Mississippi. McClernand was reluctant but finally agreed to conduct the expedition when Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter assured him that his Mississippi River Squadron would provide gunboat support.

However, McClernand never asked Grant for permission to proceed, and nobody in the Federal high command knew that such an action was even being considered. Moreover, Arkansas was part of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, outside the jurisdiction of McClernand or even Grant. However, McClernand had discussed the threat Fort Hindman posed with Curtis late last year, so Curtis at least had an idea that McClernand might attack the fort when he told Curtis that he was proceeding on the 5th.

McClernand’s force headed out by water on the 8th. The fleet consisted of three ironclads, 10 rams and gunboats, and 50 transports conveying 30,000 soldiers. McClernand finally informed Grant about the expedition, explaining that one of the objectives was “the counteraction of the moral effect of the failure of the attack near Vicksburg and the reinspiration of the forces repulsed by making them the champions of new, important, and successful enterprises.” Grant did not receive this message until the 11th, long after the Federals had gone up the Arkansas.

Fort Hindman sat atop a hill overlooking a bend in the Arkansas, about 120 miles below Little Rock. It was a strong but unfinished Confederate work used to disrupt Federal navigation on the nearby Mississippi. Three Confederate brigades of mostly Texans manned the garrison and its outlying area; the one brigade in the fort was led by Colonel John W. Dunnington, and Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill commanded the other two outside the fort. They numbered about 3,300 effectives, or one-tenth of the enemy force heading their way.

The Federal fleet arrived within gun range of Fort Hindman on the afternoon of the 9th, and the troops began landing under cover of Porter’s warships. The next day, the Federals finished landing and McClernand deployed his artillery, which joined with Porter’s vessels to bombard the fort as the flotilla slowly made its way up the river.

The Federal troops blocked the road to Little Rock to prevent the garrison from escaping or reinforcements from arriving. Churchill’s Confederates returned fire from their entrenchments until about 4 p.m., when the Federal guns cleared them out. McClernand’s troops seized high ground north of the fort and began positioning guns to fire down into the work.

Meanwhile, Porter’s ships continued pounding the enemy works, with the ironclads in the lead. A soldier on the U.S.S. Montauk described the bombardment:

“Such a terrific scene I have never witnessed. The fort was riddled and torn to pieces with the shells. The ironclads, which could venture up closer, shot into their portholes and into the mouths of their cannon, bursting their cannon and dismounting them. When most of their batteries were silenced, two of the light draft boats and our boat was ordered to run the blockade to cut off the retreat of the rebels above the F(or)t.”

The Confederates tried answering with their 11 cannon but were outgunned. Also, Porter had ordered his men to grease their ships with tallow so that enemy shots hitting them at an angle would slide off. This practice was soon adopted throughout the Federal navy.

McClernand planned a ground attack the next day. That night, Churchill received a message from General Theophilus Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department at Little Rock, directing him “to hold out till help arrived or until all dead.”

Federal troops assumed their positions at noon on the 11th, and a ferocious artillery barrage began an hour later. It took the Federals three hours to silence all the Confederate guns except one. The Confederates continued firing from the trenches and rifle pits, but they were surrounded by infantry on three sides and the gunboats on the river. The white flag went up.

The Federals sustained 1,061 casualties (134 killed, 898 wounded and 29 missing), while the Confederates lost 4,900 (28 killed, 81 wounded and 4,791 mostly captured). The Federals captured the most men since taking New Madrid in the spring of last year. They also seized seven stands of colors, all the Confederate guns, and large amounts of commissary, ordinance, and other supplies. Porter later wrote:

“The fight at Ft. Hindman was one of the prettiest little affairs of the war, not so little either, for a very important post fell into our hands with 6,500 prisoners, and the destruction of a powerful ram at Little Rock, which could have caused the Federal Navy in the west a great deal of trouble…”

He added, “No fort ever received a worse battering, and the highest compliment I can pay to those engaged is to repeat what the rebels said: ‘You can’t expect men to stand up against the fire of those gunboats.’”

While this victory did little to affect any of the major campaigns at the time, northerners celebrated it as a rare success following a string of failures. It also stopped Confederate commerce between the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, it cleared the way for Federal ships to continue on to Little Rock, and it served as the preface to a new campaign against Vicksburg.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 252-53, 255; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 77-78, 133-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248, 250-51, 253; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 307-08, 310-11; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 156-57; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 569-70; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39