Grant Begins Moving Against Vicksburg

November 1, 1862 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant experienced various problems while trying to move south toward the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, while a separate Federal force prepared to attack the same city.

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

As the month began, Grant’s army consisted of six divisions totaling about 37,000 men. Five divisions were about to advance to Grand Junction, Tennessee, the first stop on an overland march against Vicksburg. The sixth division under Major General William T. Sherman was to stay behind at Memphis and guard supply lines.

The advance was delayed when it was discovered that Major General William S. Rosecrans, who had gone north to take command of the new Army of the Cumberland, had taken all the vital maps of northern Mississippi with him. Rosecrans’s successor, General Charles Hamilton, wrote Grant, “Please give some instructions about the route to be followed. Rosecrans carried off the maps that were most needed.”

Despite the delays, Grant managed to secure important rail and road routes into northern Mississippi at Grand Junction and a few miles west at La Grange, Tennessee. The forces at these two points were to coordinate their southward movements.

Using a supply line running north all the way to Columbus, Kentucky, Grant planned to march his army in three columns along the Mississippi Central Railroad line to Vicksburg. On the way, the Federals needed to secure the important rail junction at Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Grant’s advance was delayed again while he awaited reinforcements from Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, west of the Mississippi River. Grant had argued that any operation against Vicksburg required command of both sides of the river, but the Lincoln administration would only give Grant some of Curtis’s troops, not Curtis’s whole department.

Not wanting to wait any longer for Curtis’s troops, Grant wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on the 9th, “Reinforcements are arriving very slowly. If they do not come on more rapidly I will attack as I am.” Halleck assured him that the troops were being transferred as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, Major General John A. McClernand continued preparing a separate offensive against Vicksburg, seemingly without Grant’s knowledge. By November, the “secret” mission had become known when McClernand began sending recruits for his new “Army of the Mississippi” to Memphis, Grant’s base of operations. Rumors were also circulating that Sherman’s division would be pulled from Grant’s army to join McClernand.

Grant finally asked Halleck on the 10th, “Am I to understand that I lie still here while an expedition is fitted out from Memphis, or do you want me to push as far south as possible? Am I to have Sherman under my orders, or is he reserved for some special service?”

Halleck responded the next day: “You have command of all troops sent to your department, and have permission to fight the enemy where you please.” This reflected the rift in the Lincoln administration regarding the situation: President Abraham Lincoln had personally approved McClernand’s operation, but Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton resented McClernand for going over their heads to get the president’s approval.

Grant experienced other problems besides delays and a rival force. As his men moved into newly conquered territory in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, northern merchants and speculators rushed there to buy and trade confiscated goods, especially cotton. They then colluded with army officers to sell these goods in northern markets at inflated prices and reaped enormous profits. Some of these businessmen had been referred to the area by Grant’s own father.

Such activity threatened to breed vast corruption and demoralize the army; as Sherman pointed out, “The great profit now made is converting everybody into rascals…” Since many of the businessmen were Jewish, they were particularly singled out. Sherman had complained the past summer about “flocks of Jews” moving into the department, and Curtis had reported that his department in Missouri had become “infested with Jews.”

Grant responded by ordering one of his district commanders to “refuse all permits to come south of Jackson (Tennessee) for the present. The Israelites especially should be kept out.” He then instructed General Joseph Webster, his railroad manager, that “no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward at any point.” They should instead be sent back north because they “are such an intolerable nuisance that the department must be purged of them.”

Meanwhile, the Confederates in Mississippi awaited Grant’s impending advance. They consisted of Major General Earl Van Dorn’s recently defeated Confederates, now under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, as well as Major General Sterling Price’s small army, and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raiders harassing Grant’s supply lines.

Pemberton’s army held Holly Springs, with Pemberton planning to fall back to the Tallahatchie River if Federal pressure became too great. Knowing that Vicksburg was the prime Federal target, Pemberton directed his officers to commandeer as many local slaves as possible to strengthen the city’s fortifications.

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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. 228, 232; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 764; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 227-29; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 56-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 284; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 320-21; 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. 577; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781

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