Reorganizing the Department of the Mississippi

As Major General Henry W. Halleck prepared to go to Washington to become general-in-chief, he reorganized the armies within his Department of the Mississippi. Halleck summoned his second-in-command, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, from Memphis: “You will immediately repair to this place (Corinth, Mississippi) and report to these headquarters.” Grant, unaware why Halleck was summoning him, asked if he should come alone. Halleck replied, “This place will be your headquarters, you can judge for yourself.”

The relationship between Halleck and Grant had been strained ever since Halleck removed Grant from command for alleged dereliction of duty, only to reinstate him shortly after. Grant was “promoted” to a meaningless job as second in command after the terrible Battle of Shiloh, and Halleck had recently admonished Grant for allowing press leaks within his command: “The Cincinnati Gazette contains the substance of your demanding reinforcements and my refusing them. You either have a newspaper correspondent on your staff or your staff is very leaky.”

Halleck also issued orders directly to officers within Grant’s army and not through Grant himself. When Grant complained, Halleck explained that it was too awkward for Grant to directly communicate with his own army because he was headquartered about 100 miles east. Halleck then wrote, “I will further add that from your position at Memphis, it is impossible for you to exercise the immediate command in this direction (i.e., Corinth).”

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit:

Grant arrived at Corinth on July 15 and received orders notifying him that Halleck would be going to Washington to become general-in-chief. Grant’s District of West Tennessee (consisting of the Army of the Tennessee) was expanded to include the District of the Mississippi (consisting of the Army of the Mississippi), and the District of Cairo. It was still classified as a “military district,” but in reality it was a department because Grant would be reporting directly to the general-in-chief going forward.

Grant’s jurisdiction would include northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, and Kentucky west of the Cumberland River. Halleck directed Grant to “take up all active (Confederate) sympathizers, and either hold them as prisoners or put them beyond our lines. Handle that class without gloves, and take their property for public use… It is time that they should begin to feel the presence of the war.”

He also transferred many of Grant’s troops to Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which was currently advancing on Chattanooga. Buell’s Federals would remain separate from Grant’s jurisdiction, and the troop transfer indicated that Halleck intended for Buell, not Grant, to conduct the offensive operations in the Western Theater. Grant had less than 54,000 men divided into two armies that were spread throughout the occupation zone of western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.

Major General William T. Sherman would replace Grant in command of the Army of the Tennessee, with headquarters at Memphis. Sherman quickly threatened to impose strict rule on civilians, but he was generally lenient in reinstating their freedom to move and buy liquor. Sherman also acted against northern speculators and Federal troops who treated civilians disrespectfully. The army numbered 38,485 men scattered among the various garrisons and forts that guarded the long lines of communication and supply.

Major General William S. Rosecrans replaced John Pope in command of the Army of the Mississippi. This army, posted at Camp Clear Creek outside Corinth, numbered just 25,224 effectives. Rosecrans’s main objectives were to maintain the extensive defensive works that Halleck had established around the town and improve the poor sanitation that had forced over 30 percent of the army onto the sick list. Unsanitary conditions and oppressive heat had severely damaged army morale.

Things remained relatively quiet in northern Mississippi through July. The largest action occurred on the 1st, when Federal forces under Brigadier General Philip Sheridan clashed with Brigadier General James R. Chalmers’s 4,700 Confederates 20 miles south of Corinth at Booneville. Chalmers outnumbered Sheridan, but the Federals offset this disadvantage with modern Colt revolving rifles. Sheridan directed two regiments to penetrate the Confederate rear around 3:30 p.m., prompting Chalmers to withdraw under close pursuit. Sheridan reported losing one man killed, 24 wounded, and 16 missing while killing 63 Confederates. The Federal high command noted Sheridan’s aggressiveness.


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