Post-Vicksburg: Grant’s Army Reduced

Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee underwent vast reductions following its capture of Vicksburg. By this month, Grant’s Federals were performing occupation duty at Vicksburg and other points in Mississippi and western Tennessee. After borrowing the Ninth Corps to help conquer Vicksburg, Grant returned those troops to Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Army of the Ohio, which was poised to invade eastern Tennessee.

Grant proposed joining forces with Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf to capture Mobile, Alabama. This plan was backed by both Banks and Rear-Admiral David G. Farragut, whose naval force would be needed to attack the city from the Gulf of Mexico. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck initially supported this plan but told Grant that he could expect little help from the Navy because most of the warships were engaged at Charleston.

General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit:

Grant replied, “Mobile can be taken from the Gulf Department, with only one or two gunboats to protect the debarkation. With your leave, I would like to visit New Orleans, particularly if the movement against Mobile is organized.” Halleck approved Grant’s trip to New Orleans but informed Grant on August 6 that the Mobile operation would most likely have to wait because Banks was being tasked with conquering Texas. Halleck attached a message for Grant to forward to Banks:

“Major General Banks, New Orleans: there are important reasons why our flag should be restored in some part of Texas with the least possible delay. Do this by land, at Galveston, at Indianola or at any other point you may deem preferable. If by sea, Admiral Farragut will co-operate. There are reasons why the movement should be as prompt as possible.”

Halleck did not explain those reasons, but President Abraham Lincoln did in a letter to Grant three days later: “I see by a dispatch of yours that you incline strongly toward an expedition against Mobile. This would appear tempting to me also, were it not that, in view of recent events in Mexico, I am greatly impressed with the importance of re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible. I am not making an order, however; that I leave, for the present at least, to the General-in-Chief.”

Lincoln was referring to Mexico falling under the rule of Maximilian I, a puppet dictator installed by Emperor Napoleon III of France. European interference in the affairs of a Western Hemisphere nation violated the Monroe Doctrine. Even worse, Napoleon had hinted at the possibility of allying with the Confederacy, and the administration feared that the Confederates could start receiving military and financial support from French-occupied Mexico.

Thus, much of Grant’s army was broken up, with Major-General E.O.C. Ord’s Thirteenth Corps going to reinforce Banks at New Orleans and Major-General William T. Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps performing garrison duty in Louisiana. The rest of Grant’s forces held points along the Mississippi River in western Tennessee and Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Lincoln tried to convince Grant of the effectiveness of black troops. Lincoln wrote on the 9th that black troops were “a resource which, if vigorously applied now, will soon close the contest.” However, Sherman wrote his wife Ellen doubting the ability of blacks in the military and stating, “… I cannot trust them yet.” Consequently, Sherman did little to alleviate the problem of freed slaves scouring the region and resorting to robbery for food and shelter.

Major-General John A. McClernand, who had caused Grant so much trouble until Grant relieved him of corps command during the Vicksburg campaign, had his military career effectively ended when Lincoln declined to assign him to a new command. He would eventually regain command of his Thirteenth Corps, but by that time, it was attached to Banks’s army.

On the 17th, elements of Sherman’s infantry from Vicksburg and Major-General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s cavalry from Memphis raided Grenada, Mississippi, south of the Yalobusha River, where Confederates had gathered supplies from the Mississippi Central Railroad. Those supplies were guarded by a token force while the main body of Confederates evacuated Jackson and burned the bridge over the Pearl River in May.

The Federal forces drove the Confederate guards off and seized 57 locomotives, destroyed over 400 railcars, and burned buildings containing vast amounts of commissary and ordnance supplies. This was one of the most destructive raids of the war, with damage estimated at $4 million.

In late August, Grant attended a banquet in his honor at the Gayoso House in Memphis. A pyramid in front of his place at the table listed all his battles, beginning with Belmont. He was toasted as “your Grant and my Grant,” and his feat of opening the Mississippi River was compared to the feats of Hernando de Soto and Robert Fulton. Grant delivered a two-sentence speech to the 200 guests, thanking them and pledging to do what he could to maintain their prosperity.

On the water, Rear-Admiral David D. Porter formally took command of all Federal naval forces and operations on the Mississippi River, replacing Farragut. Porter’s main goal was to suppress Confederate raids on Federal shipping while promoting river commerce.

Recalling the terrible problems the navy had in trying to navigate the Yazoo River before the fall of Vicksburg, Porter reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “There are no more steamers on the Yazoo. The large fleet that sought refuge there, as the safest place in rebeldom, have all been destroyed.”


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