Northern Virginia: Hooker’s Alternate Plan

April 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck met with Major General Joseph Hooker to discuss a new plan of attack against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

Hooker had relied on Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry to initiate his grand plan of attack. When Stoneman’s excursion failed, Lincoln felt compelled to visit Hooker in person to discuss future strategy. On the night of the 18th, Stanton wrote Hooker, “The President will leave here for Aquia to see you to-morrow morning at 7 o’clock, expecting to reach there about 10 a. m. Can you meet him there?”

Lincoln left as planned, joined by Stanton and Halleck. Lincoln did not tell anyone where he was going; all his secretary John Hay knew was, as he wrote to fellow secretary John Nicolay (currently in North Carolina), that the “President and the Secretary of War went off on a reconnaissance yesterday, I suppose to Aquia Creek, but returned in the evening. What they did or saw has not transpired.”

At the meeting, Hooker explained that Stoneman was still in a good position to disrupt Confederate communication and supply lines, so all was not lost. Lincoln noted that Lee had detached part of one corps under Lieutenant General James Longstreet to take Suffolk, leaving his army with 15,000 fewer men. Lincoln wanted Hooker to attack before those men returned.

Stanton offered to give Hooker authority over Major General John A. Dix, commanding the department over Suffolk, so Hooker and Dix could coordinate their movements. Hooker declined. When Halleck asked where Dix’s troops should be placed to best help Hooker, Hooker said they should remain at Suffolk to prevent Longstreet from returning to Lee.

Hooker then modified his original plan by transferring the task of moving around Lee’s flank from Stoneman’s cavalry to the infantry. The Federals would begin moving as soon as the rains stopped and the river level lowered. Lincoln and his advisors returned to Washington that night.

Meanwhile, Major General John J. Peck, commanding the Federal garrison at Suffolk (within Dix’s department), urged Hooker to do something to force Longstreet to lift his siege of the city. But Hooker wanted Longstreet to stay put so he could not reinforce Lee. When Peck asked Hooker to hurry along with his plan, Hooker replied, “You must be patient with me. I must play with these devils before I can spring. Remember that my army is at the bottom of a well, and the enemy holds the top.”

Two days passed, and still neither Stoneman nor the infantry could cross the flooded Rappahannock River. Hooker wrote Lincoln about Stoneman’s unsuccessful excursion:

“His failure to accomplish speedily the objects of his expedition is a source of deep regret to me, but I can find nothing in his conduct of it requiring my animadversion or censure. We cannot control the elements. I do not regard him out of position. We have no reason to suppose that the enemy have any knowledge of the design of General Stoneman’s movement.”

Hooker added, “The weather appears to continue averse to the execution of my plans as first formed. I feel that I must modify them to conform to the condition of things as they are.” Hooker had been “attached to the movement as first projected, as it promised unusual success.” An alternate plan would also “secure us success, but not to so great an extent…”

Hooker wrote, “As I can only cross the river by stratagem, it may be a few days before I make it.” He planned to advance from several different points “and be in readiness to spring when a suitable opportunity presents itself.” His clear initial plan had now become a vague alternate plan.

On the Confederate side, Lee reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon that his men were surviving on just a quarter-pound of meat and a pound of flour per day, and a tenth of a pound of rice two or three times per week. Scurvy and typhoid were afflicting the men as a result. Lee himself was ailing physically; he contracted a severe throat infection, and sharp pains in his arm, chest, and back may have led to a heart attack.

Seddon had asked Lee to send Longstreet to reinforce the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma. This would enable General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, to better defend against the advancing Federals. It could also divert Federal attention from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates at Charleston Harbor. Lee proposed a different idea:

“Should Hooker’s army assume the defensive, the readiest method of relieving the pressure upon General Johnston and General Beauregard would be for the army (of Northern Virginia) to cross into Maryland. This cannot be done, however, in the present condition of the roads, nor unless I can obtain a certain amount of provisions and transportation. But this is what I would recommend, if practicable.”

Confederate scouts reported Hooker’s movements, but Lee could not guess his true intentions. The Federals had sent out a fake message that Stoneman was headed for the Shenandoah Valley, and while Lee believed it, Major General Jeb Stuart (commanding the Confederate cavalry) thought it was just a diversion from a main attack elsewhere. Lee correctly guessed that Hooker was trying to get the Confederates out of their entrenchments and expose Fredericksburg.

Responding to rumors that Hooker might try moving up the Virginia Peninsula as George B. McClellan had done last year, Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis, “I do not think General Hooker will venture to uncover Washington City, by transferring his army to James River.” However, “Owing to the condition of our horses and the scarcity of forage and provisions,” the Army of Northern Virginia could not take the offensive.

Even so, Lee stated it was “all-important that we should assume the aggressive by the 1st of May, when we may expect General Hooker’s army to be weakened by the expiration of the term of service of many of his regiments, and before new recruits can be received.” Davis granted Lee permission to pull cavalry from western Virginia and North Carolina to counter Stoneman’s threat to his flank on the Rappahannock.

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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. 274, 277; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 249, 256-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279-81, 283, 287; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5290-302; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 337; 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. 638-39; 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. 197; Power, J. Tracy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 127-29, 534

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Vicksburg: Grierson’s Raid

April 17, 1863 – Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson set out with 1,700 Federal cavalrymen to divert Confederate attention from Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s landing below Vicksburg.

Col Benjamin H. Grierson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grierson, a former music teacher, had been in the military for just 18 months before this assignment. He led the 2nd Iowa, the 6th and 7th Illinois cavalry regiments, and a battery of horse artillery from Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s division based at Memphis. Grierson’s main objective was to ride between the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads and cut the vital Southern Mississippi Railroad, which connected Vicksburg to Jackson and Meridian, and eventually Mobile, Alabama.

Grierson also had instructions to disrupt as many enemy communication lines and destroy as many enemy supplies as possible. This would not only cripple the Confederates’ ability to defend Mississippi, but it would draw their attention away from Grant’s plan to march his army down the west bank of the Mississippi River and cross below Vicksburg.

The troopers left La Grange, Tennessee, and headed south, with only Grierson knowing the true object of their mission. They quickly entered northern Mississippi and clashed with Confederates at New Albany before reaching the vicinity of Pontotoc by Sunday the 19th.

Grierson sent over 150 wounded and ill troopers back north; their comrades called them the “Quinine Brigade.” These men returned on the same tracks they used to move south, deceiving Lieutenant Colonel Clark R. Barteau’s Confederate cavalry into thinking Grierson’s entire force was going back north. This gave Grierson more time to widen the distance between he and Barteau.

Grierson divided his force near West Point on the 21st, sending Colonel Edward Hatch’s 2nd Iowa east to threaten the Mobile & Ohio Railroad at Columbus before returning to La Grange, 175 miles north. Barteau’s Confederates pursued Hatch, giving Grierson freedom to attack the Southern Mississippi Railroad with his two Illinois regiments.

Two days later, the main Federal force reached the Southern Mississippi at Newton Station, about 100 miles east of Vicksburg in the heart of enemy territory. The troopers captured two locomotives pulling 36 railcars filled with Confederate supplies and ammunition. They destroyed the locomotives and the railcars, cut the telegraph lines, wrecked the railroad tracks, and burned nearby bridges. They also burned a government building that housed a large quantity of small arms and Confederate uniforms.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, was aware of Grant’s attempts to move below Vicksburg, but he considered Grierson the greater threat and dispatched valuable resources to stop him. Grierson, having achieved his main objective, decided not to return to La Grange, but to instead join Grant’s main force crossing the Mississippi at Grand Gulf.

Meanwhile, 35 Federals of the 7th Illinois/Company B under Captain Henry C. Forbes arrived at Enterprise. Grierson had detached them to ride along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and cut the telegraph lines at Macon. Grierson also released a report stating that the main Federal force would be heading for Enterprise. This was intended to fool the Confederates, but it fooled Forbes as well, who had gone to Enterprise to meet up with the main force.

When Forbes learned that the town was heavily garrisoned by Confederate troops, he demanded their surrender and then rode off while they debated what to do. A Confederate report stated that Grierson’s main force was east of Newton Station, but most of Grierson’s men were actually moving west toward Grand Gulf. Forbes’s men hurried to join Grierson’s main force, which was difficult because the Federals had burned so many bridges. Forbes finally reached Grierson on the Pearl River on the 27th.

Meanwhile, news of Grierson’s raid reached Richmond, Virginia, and caused anxiety among the Confederate high command. Pemberton continued focusing mainly on the cavalry raids of not only Grierson, but also a smaller force east of Grierson under General Grenville Dodge, which had captured Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Pemberton frantically tried raising a cavalry force of his own to track down these raiders. He wrote Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus on the 25th, “I have the honor to call upon you to exercise the right vested in you by the Legislature of Mississippi, and to seize or impress the requisite number of animals–587–with trappings when possible.”

Pemberton continued, “The people residing in the immediate vicinity of each important depot of supplies and manufactures, and each railroad connection can easily render the Government an essential service and greatly relieve the army and increase its efficiency in protecting the country from the raids of the enemy.” For this, he asked Pettus “to organize all the citizens within a radius of 10 miles of each locality, not now in the Confederate or State service, into companies, battalions, and regiments, as the number at each place may justify.”

Both Pemberton and General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Department from Tullahoma, advised the Confederate commanders at Meridian and Newton Station on how best to track down Grierson’s troopers, which were headed southwest toward Grand Gulf. Pemberton next warned General Franklin Gardner, commanding Confederates at Port Hudson, that Grierson may be riding to join Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf at Baton Rouge. Pemberton then explained to Johnston that “these raids cannot be prevented unless I can have more mounted men.”

Grierson’s Federals continued west toward the Mississippi, burning a line of boxcars on the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad at Hazelhurst. They also clashed with Confederates near Union Church before learning that large numbers of Confederates were closing in from all directions. Realizing that he was cut off from Grand Gulf, Grierson resolved that he had to press on to Baton Rouge, another 150 miles away.

Pemberton notified Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding the Confederates at Vicksburg, that he may need to pull troops to deal with the raiders:

“It is indispensable that you keep in your lines only such force as is absolutely needed to hold them, and organize the remainder, if there are any of your troops as a movable force available for any point where it may be most required.”

Grierson’s raid succeeded beyond all Federal expectations. While Pemberton sent messages to various commanders to focus on the Federal troopers, Grant’s 45,000-man army continued its movement across the river from Vicksburg, soon to land in the city’s vulnerable rear.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 326; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 275, 277-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 334, 336-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 282-85; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 87-94; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 339; 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. 627; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

Vicksburg: Porter Runs the Batteries

April 16, 1863 – Rear Admiral David D. Porter successfully passed the Confederate batteries guarding Vicksburg. This marked a successful start to Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to capture Vicksburg from below.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Porter prepared eight gunboats (seven ironclads and one timber-clad), and three transports to pass the Vicksburg batteries on the dark, moonless night of the 16th (and into the 17th). Their mission was to transport supplies to the Federal troops at New Carthage, below Vicksburg, and bring those troops to the east bank of the Mississippi. This was a daring gamble that threatened to ruin Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron if it failed.

Federals placed heavy logs, wet cotton bales and haystacks on the ship decks to absorb Confederate cannon fire. Coal barges were lashed to the ships, with each barge carrying 10,000 bushels of coal to refuel the ships once they got below Vicksburg. All lights were extinguished, portholes were closed, and engine noises were muffled.

The fleet began moving from the mouth of the Yazoo River around 9:30 p.m., with Porter’s flagship, the U.S.S. Benton, in the lead. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana observed the movement and wrote:

“It was a strange scene. First a mass of black things detached itself from the shore, and we saw it float out toward the middle of the stream. There was nothing to see but this big mass, which dropped slowly down the river. Soon another black mass detached itself, and another, then another. It was Admiral Porter’s fleet of ironclad turtles, steamboats, and barges. They floated down the Mississippi darkly and silently, showing neither steam nor light, save occasionally a signal astern, where the enemy could not see it.”

The ships rounded the toe of De Soto Point near 11 p.m. Confederate pickets immediately spotted the fleet and lit bonfires to expose the ships to the artillerists. Some Confederates ignited barrels of pitch, and others on the west bank set fire to a frame house. The four-mile line of Confederate batteries opened fire.

The people of Vicksburg were unaware of the fleet’s approach. The Confederate department commander, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, had told his superiors that Grant gave up trying to take the city and returned to Memphis. The Vicksburg Whig stated the Federal gunboats “are all more or less damaged, the men dissatisfied and demoralized… There is no immediate danger here.” Officers and citizens held a festive ball in the city that night, which turned into “confusion and alarm” when the guests heard the gunfire opening on the river.

Many of the Confederate guns were slow to respond because the artillery officers had left their posts to attend the ball. The Confederates ultimately fired 525 rounds but scored only 68 hits. A master’s mate wrote that “we ran the Vicksburg shore so close that they overshot us most of the time.”

Running the Vicksburg batteries | Image Credit: figures.boundless.com

The run took two and a half hours, during which time nearly every Federal vessel was hit at least once. Each ship endured about 30 minutes of fire while passing the batteries, and a few minutes more while passing Warrenton. The transport Henry Clay sank, but Federals rescued the crew. Another tried turning back, but the U.S.S. Tuscumbia brought up the rear to stop her. Two coal barges had to be cut loose, but the rest made it through. The Federals sustained 14 wounded and none killed.

The 10 remaining ships continued downriver to Hard Times, their mission successfully completed. Porter minimized the damage he sustained in his official report, explaining privately to Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox that “as it will not do to let the enemy know how often they hit us, and show how vulnerable we are. Their heavy shot walked right through us, as if we were made of putty.”

With the naval part of the plan completed, it was now up to Grant to lead the troops across the river and exploit the back door to Vicksburg. Grant heard the firing from Milliken’s Bend, but when it stopped he did not know whether the ships made it through. Before dawn, he rode 17 miles through the swamps and bayous to New Carthage, where he saw that the fleet had arrived mostly intact. This was just the first of many gambles Grant would take in this campaign. The next step would be to ferry the troops to the east bank of the Mississippi, which would cut them off from their supply base in enemy territory.

Pemberton had speculated that Grant was returning to Memphis and returned 8,000 troops on loan from the Army of Tennessee. He quickly asked General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Department, to send them back, wiring that Grant’s “movement up the river was a ruse. Certainly no more troops should leave this department.” Pemberton also reported that 64 steamers had left Memphis, “loaded with troops and negroes, apparently with intention of making an assault on Vicksburg.”

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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. 351-52; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 66-68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 275; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 329, 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 282; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 338-39; 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. 626-27; 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. 165; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

Vicksburg: Grant and Porter Assemble

April 15, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant assembled his Federal troops at Milliken’s Bend as Rear Admiral David D. Porter prepared to pass the Vicksburg batteries with his Mississippi River Squadron.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant and Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant’s plan to bypass Vicksburg on the west bank of the Mississippi and then threaten the city from below was about to be implemented. As Grant explained to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on the 4th:

“My expectation is for a portion of the naval fleet to run the batteries of Vicksburg, whilst the army moves through by this new route (to New Carthage). Once there, I will move either to Warrenton or Grand Gulf; most probably the latter. From either of these points there are good roads to Vicksburg, and from Grand Gulf there is a good road to Jackson and the Black River Bridge without crossing the Black River.”

Richmond was on the road from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage. The Federals needed this town to keep the road open. The Confederates needed the town to get supplies across the river to Vicksburg. Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps, led by General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division, secured the town and the road on the 4th, with help from slaves escaping from nearby plantations. McClernand’s troops spent the next few days assembling at and fortifying New Carthage.

A meeting took place on the 8th between Grant, Major Generals William T. Sherman (commanding XV Corps), James B. McPherson (commanding XVII Corps), Francis P. Blair, Jr. (commanding a division), and Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana. Sherman wanted to take the army back to Memphis and retry the overland route to Vicksburg from the north. Grant refused to make any movement that could be construed as a retreat, especially since it was becoming apparent that McClernand was leading a group of officers pushing for Grant’s removal as commander.

McClernand had urged the administration to give him an independent command separate from Grant’s since last year. According to Sherman, the men feared that McClernand “was still intriguing against General Grant, in hopes to regain the command of the whole expedition, and that others were raising a clamor against General Grant in the newspapers of the North.”

McClernand was indeed using his political connections to get Grant ousted. He wrote President Abraham Lincoln that “on the 13th of March, 1863, Genl. Grant I am informed was gloriously drunk and in bed sick all next day. If you (are) averse to drunken Genl’s I can furnish the name of officers of high standing to substantiate the above.” Next, McClernand wrote Illinois Governor Richard Yates, calling the situation “intolerable” because Grant did “nothing decisive,” while “time is passing and the Republic is dying of inertia. Can’t you prevail upon the President to send some competent commander? For our country’s sake do.”

Grant did not directly address the situation at this time. He ordered McClernand to stay put at New Carthage and rejected the urgings of both Porter and Sherman to return to Memphis and start over. However, the administration continued pushing Grant to provide some support for Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s advance on Port Hudson. They envisioned Grant joining forces with Banks to take the fort, and then move together upriver to take Vicksburg.

Grant responded by informing Halleck on the 11th: “Grand Gulf is the point at which I expect to strike, and send an army corps to Port Hudson to co-operate with General Banks.” He then directed McClernand, who was sending the rest of his corps to New Carthage, to “get possession of Grand Gulf at the earliest practicable moment… From there you can operate on the rear of Port Hudson, in conjunction with Banks from Baton Rouge.”

Porter would support McClernand by sending a naval fleet past Vicksburg carrying rations and supplies for the troops. Porter wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles on the 12th that Grant “proposes to embark his army at (New) Carthage, seize Grand Gulf under fire of the gunboats, and make it the base of his operations… The squadron will pass the batteries and engage them while the transports go by in the smoke, passing down, of course, at night…” Running short on manpower, Porter reported that he employed 600 local contrabands, and Grant furnished 800 troops.

By the 15th, Grant had 45,000 troops at Milliken’s Bend, in addition to McClernand’s corps now at New Carthage. Grant directed McPherson to begin moving his corps down to join McClernand, as Sherman’s corps got into position to feint against Haynes’s Bluff north of Vicksburg.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, was so confused by Grant’s movements that he thought Grant was abandoning the Vicksburg operation. Pemberton reported to General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, “Grant’s forces are being withdrawn to Memphis.” Confident that Vicksburg was safe for now, Pemberton prepared to return 8,000 Confederate troops on loan from the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma. He would soon need them back.

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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. 271, 273-75; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 325, 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 281; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 86; 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. 626

Port Hudson: Ancillary Operations

April 14, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks avoided attacking the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson by instead targeting objectives in western Louisiana.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf, was assigned to capture the Confederate stronghold of Port Hudson, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. But Banks did not want to attack such a strong position directly. So, like Major General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, he sought indirect ways to get to his objective. These included finding a way to get to the Red River, a vital waterway for transporting goods to the Confederacy from Mexico and the west.

Federal Rear Admiral David G. Farragut had tried running past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson to get to the Red via the Mississippi, but his fleet suffered heavy damage, proving that it would be very costly to try again. Banks therefore sent an expedition to see if the Red could be accessed by going up the Teche River, west of Port Hudson. The force consisted of about 15,000 men in three divisions led by Brigadier Generals William Emory, Godfrey Weitzel, and Cuvier Grover.

The plan called for Emory and Weitzel to lead 10,000 men from their camp at Brasher City across Berwick Bay and up the Teche to face a Confederate force in the region. Meanwhile, Grover’s 5,000 Federals would move up the Atchafalaya River, which ran roughly parallel to the Teche, and land at Indian Bend to attack the Confederates from behind.

As the Federals approached, the Confederates fell back to a work called Fort Bisland near the mouth of the Teche. Brigadier General Alfred Mouton directed local slaves to build defenses on both riverbanks and was soon joined by Major General Richard Taylor, son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor and overall Confederate commander. The fort was defended by 4,000 Confederates and two steamers.

Grover’s Federals landed on the 11th and engaged the Confederates in a three-hour artillery duel that ended at nightfall. Taylor prepared to attack Grover’s left flank the next day with Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s Texas brigade; Sibley had the unsuccessful campaign to conquer the New Mexico Territory last year. All that remained of his Army of New Mexico was his Texas brigade and a cavalry regiment under General Thomas Green. Due to either illness or drunkenness, Sibley did not put his men in motion as ordered.

The Federals under Emory and Weitzel soon came up from the south, erecting earthworks within 400 yards of Fort Bisland. This put Taylor’s Confederates between them and Grover to the north. Combat began at daybreak on the 12th, as Federals both north and south advanced. Taylor held his ground, using the captured gunboat Diana until a Federal shell put her engine out of action. Federal artillery drove the Confederates into their earthworks, and the Federals planned an all-out assault on the fort the next morning. This gave Taylor time to withdraw his men upstream during the night.

The next day, the Federals under Emory and Weitzel cautiously advanced and discovered the fort abandoned. Meanwhile, Taylor confronted Grover at a curve in the Teche called Irish Bend, also known as Nerson’s Woods. After an artillery exchange, the Confederates knocked the Federals back as the crippled Diana came up from Franklin.

Taylor took advantage of Grover’s indecisiveness by disengaging and continuing his withdrawal toward the Red River. He burned all the bridges behind him and scuttled the Diana to prevent her capture. Grover did not pursue. Taylor’s force remained relatively intact to fight another day, though he lost about a third of his men to desertion during the retreat. Taylor later charged Sibley with disobedience and conduct unbecoming an officer for failing to attack as ordered.

That same day, the U.S.S. Queen of the West, which had been captured by Confederates and was now employed a Confederate steam ram, encountered the U.S.S. Arizona, Calhoun, and Estrella on the Atchafalaya River. As the Federal vessels closed within three miles, the Calhoun sank the Queen with the first shot from her 30-pound Parrott rifle.

Federals captured the town of Franklin on the 15th, and five days later, they took Opelousas and Washington. Opelousas had been the site of the Louisiana state government ever since Admiral Farragut’s ships seized Baton Rouge last year. Banks’s Federals could now link the Red River to New Orleans. During this offshoot of the Port Hudson campaign, they seized 5,000 cotton bales, several hogshead of sugar, vast amounts of salt and lumber, and some 20,000 heads of cattle, horses, and mules. Meanwhile, Taylor’s Confederates fell back toward Alexandria.

Around this time, Banks received a message from Grant regretting that he could offer Banks no reinforcements because he did not have enough transports. Grant, who was in the process of executing his daring gamble against Vicksburg, had been prodded by Washington to reinforce Banks. In his message, Grant asked Banks to furnish the transports if he wanted the men.

Banks replied that because he expected Grant’s reinforcements, “we pushed with vigor the expedition upon which we were then engaged.” He then informed Grant of his latest expedition: “Our success has been complete. We have utterly destroyed the army and navy of this part of the Confederacy, and made it impossible for the enemy to reorganize his forces for some months to come.”

Banks claimed that he “completely dispersed” the Confederate forces, having “captured 2,000 prisoners, 1,000 stand of arms, ammunition and ordnance stores, etc., 20 heavy guns, demolished his foundries at Franklin and New Iberia, and the salt-works below Iberia.”

Regarding Grant’s request for transports, Banks wrote, “It is a grief on my part that I cannot aid you in this respect. Our transportation is lamentably deficient. I had but one steamer with which to pass two divisions of my corps over Berwick Bay in this campaign.” Banks believed that controlling the Atchafalaya River was vital to capturing Port Hudson, and since the supply line for his army was tentative at best, “by the Atchafalaya all difficulties of this kind are obviated.”

Both Banks and Grant continued conducting their independent operations without cooperating as their superiors had urged.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 383-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 274; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 391-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279-81, 283; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 110; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 337-38; 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. 162; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

Dissension on the Northern Home Front

April 13, 1863 – Calls for peace grew louder in the North, especially among Democrats known as “Copperheads.” The military responded with draconian orders against civilian protest.

The military Department of the Ohio, which included the region west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio River, was heavily populated by Copperheads, or northerners who opposed the war. Their nickname was derived from their practice of wearing copper pennies in their lapels. Copperheads were also known as “Peace Democrats” or “Butternuts” for the color of some Confederate uniforms.

Copperheads owned many influential newspapers such as the Chicago Times, the New York Journal of Commerce, and the Metropolitan Record, the official Catholic newspaper in New York City. They often used these newspapers to publish articles criticizing the Lincoln administration, the war, and emancipation.

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

Copperheads often held massive rallies to oppose the Lincoln administration’s disregard for civil liberties; some even supported Federal defeat in the war. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio, sought to silence the Copperheads by issuing General Order No. 38:

“That, hereafter, all persons found within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country will be tried as spies or traitors, and, if convicted, will suffer death. The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will no longer be tolerated in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested, with a view to being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be distinctly understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department.”

Burnside’s order was based on President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which sanctioned arresting suspected Copperheads and holding them in military prisons without trial. While Burnside hoped to stop opposition, he actually galvanized the opposition into taking more forceful action against the war.

In contrast, Republicans and Unionists encouraged supporters to join the various “Union Leagues” forming throughout the North. The Union League of America (ULA) had been formed in 1862 to instill patriotism and offset the growing dissent among northerners. By this month, pro-Republican editor Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune claimed there were more than 75,000 Union League members in Illinois alone.

The Union Leagues had secret rituals, oaths, and signals, and they were often financed by the Republican Party. In turn, they worked to persuade voters to support Republican candidates and policies. Copperheads accused them of brainwashing the public and joked that “ULA” stood for “Uncle Lincoln’s Asses.”

The Copperhead influence was put to the test in state elections held this month. In Connecticut, former Governor Thomas H. Seymour, a Copperhead sympathizer, challenged the incumbent, William A. Buckingham, on a platform opposed to suppression of civil liberties, emancipation, and conscription. New Hampshire Democrats also nominated a Copperhead sympathizer for governor.

Lincoln arranged for Republican political boss Thurlow Weed to raise $15,000 among New York financiers to back Republican campaigns in both states, as well as Rhode Island. The War Department also gave furloughs to troops from these states so they could go home and vote, ostensibly for Republicans. Consequently, the Republicans won all three states, but not by landslides. Buckingham won only 52 percent of the vote, and only the presence of a third-party War Democrat tipped the New Hampshire election to the Republican candidate.

The Copperhead influence would become stronger as people gradually tired of the ongoing war.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19957-66; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 772; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 632; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 280; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 505; Lindsey, David, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 159; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334-35, 337-38; 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. 599; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; 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), Q263

Northern Virginia: Hooker’s Grand Plan

April 13, 1863 – Major General George Stoneman’s new Federal Cavalry Corps left Falmouth to cut the Confederate supply lines preparatory to a main attack on General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

By this time, Major General Joseph Hooker had over 133,000 polished troops in his new and improved Army of the Potomac on the heights across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Lee had about 60,000 Confederates defending a line from Fredericksburg south along the Rappahannock to Port Royal.

Hooker received word that the Confederates were short of food and supplies, so he wanted to coax them out of their earthworks into an open fight, where his superior numbers could overwhelm them. To do this, Hooker developed a plan to cut Lee’s supply lines by sending Stoneman’s cavalry around Lee’s flank to get between the Confederates and Richmond.

Maj Gen George Stoneman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Stoneman was to ride west, spreading rumors that his troopers were heading for the Shenandoah Valley. The Federals would move through Culpeper Court House and Gordonsville, following the Virginia Central Railroad to Hanover Junction. They were to destroy “the railroad bridges, trains, cars, depots of provisions, lines of telegraphic communication, etc.” along the way.

Hooker believed this would force Lee out of Fredericksburg to restore his supply lines. When Lee moved, Stoneman was to “select the strongest positions, such as the banks of streams, commanding heights, etc., in order to check or prevent” Lee’s escape. If that was not possible, Stoneman was to “fall upon his flanks, attack his artillery and trains, and harass and delay him until he is exhausted and out of supplies.” If Lee moved toward Culpeper, Stoneman was to “harass him day and night on the march and in camp unceasingly.”

Hooker’s orders concluded, “Let your watchword be fight, and let your orders be fight, fight, fight, bearing in mind that time is as valuable to the general as the rebel carcasses.” As Stoneman moved, Hooker would mobilize the army and cross the Rappahannock at either United States Ford or Kelly’s Ford, depending on Stoneman’s progress. Hooker’s plan relied almost exclusively on the level of Stoneman’s success.

Hooker notified President Abraham Lincoln of his plan, somehow thinking that Lee might retreat before the Federals even gave battle: “I am apprehensive that he will retire from before me the moment I should succeed in crossing the river, and thus escape being seriously crippled.” If this happened, Stoneman would “hold him and check his retreat until I can fall on his rear.”

Stoneman headed out of Falmouth on the 13th, leading 10,000 cavalrymen in three divisions and an artillery brigade; this was nearly the entire Cavalry Corps. The men carried 10 days’ rations. Hooker directed Stoneman to communicate with him only when “necessary and practicable,” while Hooker would contact him “before your supplies are exhausted.”

As the Federals rode past Lee’s left flank, a detachment crossed the Rappahannock over 30 miles northwest of Fredericksburg, driving Confederate guards away from the fords. However, the rest of Stoneman’s force did not arrive as planned and rain began falling, compelling the detachment to re-cross the river before it flooded. The troopers spent the next day trying to find suitable river crossings in the heavy rain.

Stoneman informed Hooker that his force would be across the river by daylight on the 15th. That day, Hooker wired Lincoln predicting that Stoneman should reach Hanover Junction by the 17th “if he should meet with no unusual delay… I am rejoiced that Stoneman had two good days to go up the river, and was able to cross it before it had become too much swollen. If he can reach his position (deep in the enemy rear) the storm and mud will not damage our prospects.”

Stoneman then notified Hooker that he only had one division across the Rappahannock, and he would have to leave his artillery behind due to the deep mud. Hooker replied, “As you stated in your communication of yesterday that you would be over the river with your command at daylight this morning, it was so communicated to Washington, and it was hoped that the crossing had been made in advance of the rise in the river.”

Regarding the artillery, Hooker wrote that if the Federals could not “make use of that arm of the service, the enemy cannot.” On the threat of Confederate infantry once Stoneman crossed the river, Hooker wrote, “it is not probable, in the event of your being able to advance, that you will be troubled by the infantry of the enemy.”

Hooker then wired Lincoln, “His artillery has been brought to a halt by the mud, one division only having crossed the river. If practicable, he will proceed without it. All the streams are swimming.” Lincoln, troubled by the delay, quickly responded:

“The rain and mud, of course, were to be calculated upon. General S. is not moving rapidly enough to make the expedition come to anything. He has now been out three days, two of which were unusually fair weather, and all three without hindrance from the enemy, and yet he is not 25 miles from where he started. To reach his point he still has 60 to go, another river (the Rapidan) to cross, and will be hindered by the enemy. By arithmetic, how many days will it take him to do it?… I greatly fear it is another failure already. Write me often. I am very anxious.”

Stoneman provided an update to Hooker the next day:

“I cannot say what has been the state of affairs away from this vicinity, but here, at the hour of my last dispatch, the condition of things may be judged of when I tell you that almost every rivulet was swimming, and the roads next to impassable for horses or pack-mules… The river is out of its banks, and was still on the rise a few hours ago… The elements seem to have conspired to prevent the accomplishment of a brilliant cavalry operation.”

Hooker’s grand plan to cut the Confederates’ supply line and force them out into an open fight fizzled under the pouring rain.

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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. 274; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 263-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 280; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 519; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 118-19; Power, J. Tracy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721