Category Archives: Mississippi

Vicksburg: The Coffeeville Engagement

December 5, 1862 – Federal Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s overland advance toward Vicksburg included a cavalry engagement in central Mississippi.

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

By the beginning of the month, Grant had established his main supply base at Holly Springs, along the Mississippi Central Railroad. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederates had entrenched along the Tallahatchie River, north of Oxford.

Grant directed Colonel Theophilus L. Dickey to lead four cavalry regiments from XIII Corps to push the Confederates from their trenches and pursue them across the Tallahatchie toward Oxford. Grant’s remaining force began moving south out of Tennessee, along the Mississippi Central line. Skirmishing occurred north of Abbeville.

Assembling near the Tallahatchie River on the 2nd, Dickey’s troopers clashed with Major General Earl Van Dorn’s rear guard as it withdrew through the town and on through Oxford. Grant’s Federals soon occupied that town, and Grant directed Dickey to continue pursuing the enemy as far as possible.

Dickey split up his four regiments, but some accidentally met at Water Valley, below the Yocknapatalfa River, where they met heavy Confederate resistance on the 4th. Unaware of the enemy’s strength, Dickey decided to press on toward Coffeeville the next day.

The Federal troopers crossed the Otuckalofa River south of Water Valley on the morning of the 5th and moved down the Coffeeville road. Encountering Confederate skirmishers around 2 p.m., the Federals deployed in battle formation while firing their two cannon. The Confederates, consisting of Van Dorn’s rear guard, answered with six guns of their own and advanced to meet the enemy.

Dickey ordered a withdrawal, with his Federals stopping occasionally to exchange fire with the pursuing Confederates. The chase ended that evening, as night fell and the Federals took up strong defensive positions. The Federals sustained 116 casualties (10 killed, 63 wounded, and 43 captured), and the Confederates lost 50 (seven killed and 43 wounded).

The Federals returned to Oxford, but their overall expedition from the Tallahatchie River to Coffeeville resulted in the capture of 750 Confederates, 200 horses, four supply wagons, and $7,000 in Confederate currency. Federal forces continued probing southward this month.

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References

Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 234-35; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 148-49, 781

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Vicksburg: Grant Takes Holly Springs

November 13, 1862 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant began his drive on the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, securing an important town for his supply base.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As Grant assembled his attack force at Grand Junction, Tennessee, Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton held the important railroad junction at Holly Springs, Mississippi, 25 miles southwest. When Pemberton learned of the size of Grant’s force being prepared, he directed his troops to fall back toward Abbeville, across the Tallahatchie River. He was soon joined by Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates. Pemberton left just a cavalry force and soldiers convalescing in the hospital at Holly Springs.

The 7th Kansas Cavalry, led by Colonel Albert Lee, rode into Holly Springs near dawn on the 13th. After a brief skirmish, the Federals drove the Confederate troops out of town and took the sick and wounded soldiers prisoner. The Confederates briefly tried taking Holly Springs back, but the Federals secured the town by nightfall. This gave Grant control of the rail center there, which he would use to supply his army’s drive on Vicksburg.

As the Federals advanced from Grand Junction into northern Mississippi, Grant ordered Major General William T. Sherman’s division to begin moving out of Memphis; Grant and Sherman were to unite at Holly Springs on the 30th. Major General Frederick Steele, commanding Federals across the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas, was to lead his force east and advance on Grenada, Mississippi, about 80 miles behind enemy lines. Rear Admiral David D. Porter was to lead his Western Flotilla down the Mississippi to the Yazoo River.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck threatened to ruin Grant’s plan when he ordered Grant on the 23rd to send as many troops as possible directly to Vicksburg without confronting Pemberton. Grant disagreed with this because it would leave Pemberton’s army intact and able to counterattack in the future. He urged Halleck to reconsider because orders had already been issued. Halleck responded, “Proposed movement approved. Do not go too far.”

The movement would begin when Steele’s cavalry, led by General Cadwallader Washburn, raided the railroad near Grenada. Washburn’s troopers destroyed track and cut telegraph wires in the vicinity, clashing with Confederates around Charleston, Penola, and Oakland. Pemberton countered by falling back and reconcentrating most of his forces at Oxford.

Meanwhile, complaints about northern merchants seeking profit in the occupied areas continued. General Alvin Hovey, commanding the lead brigade under Steele, reported, “I cannot refrain from stating to you the effects of the great evil growing out of our commercial intercourse with the rebels. Unprincipled sharpers and Jews are supplying the enemy with all they want… War and commerce with the same people! What a Utopian dream!”

Like many Federal commanders in the department, Hovey accused the Jews of leading the profiteering craze: “Every secret of our camps is carried by the same men that formerly sold their God for thirty pieces of silver, to our worst enemies for a few pounds of cotton.” Hovey stated that his troops had regularly encountered “the blighting effects of their cupidity. No expedition has ever been dreamed of at Helena that these bloodhounds of commerce have not scented out and carried to our enemies days in advance.”

By month’s end, Grant was headquartered at Holly Springs while most of his army had continued south toward Abbeville. Sherman’s Federals reached Wyatt, downriver from Abbeville, where they had to repair a bridge destroyed by retreating Confederates. Steele’s lead brigade landed at the mouth of the Coldwater River, about 50 miles west of Holly Springs. Grant’s advance toward Vicksburg continued into December.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813

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

Federals and Confederates Maneuver in Mississippi

October 16, 1862 – Confederates reorganized their command structure in Mississippi, Major General Ulysses S. Grant was given new Federal responsibilities, and a secret mission to capture Vicksburg was concocted.

Following the Battle of Corinth, Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Army of the West, was brought before a court of inquiry to answer charges that he had been responsible for the defeat. The charges were later dropped, but the Confederate high command no longer entrusted Van Dorn to lead an army.

Under Adjutant General Samuel Cooper’s Special Orders No. 73, “The State of Mississippi and that part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River is constituted a separate military department.” This disbanded Van Dorn’s District of Mississippi under General Braxton Bragg and created a new department independent from Bragg’s.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The new commander was Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, a Pennsylvanian who married a Virginian. Pemberton was to “consider the successful defense of those States as the first and chief object of your command.” This especially included Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the Confederacy’s last two major strongholds on the Mississippi River. Other points included New Orleans and Corinth (under Federal occupation), Baton Rouge, and all contested areas in Mississippi.

Pemberton set up headquarters at Jackson, Mississippi, where he divided the department into three districts:

  • Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles commanded District 1 from Jackson
  • Brigadier General Martin L. Smith commanded District 2 from Vicksburg
  • Brigadier General William N.R. Beall commanded District 3 from Port Hudson

General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

On the Federal side, Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas announced that Major General Ulysses S. Grant would command the new Department of the Tennessee. General Order No. 168 designated all Federal troops within this new department as Federal XIII Corps. This included not only the Armies of the Tennessee and the Mississippi already under his command, but the area from Cairo, Illinois, to northern Mississippi west of the Tennessee River.

Grant soon concentrated all Federal troops in his jurisdiction into a revised Army of the Tennessee. He then urged General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to allow him to go beyond just guarding railroads and supply depots by launching an offensive against Vicksburg.

The problem with moving on Vicksburg was that it required support from Federals on the west bank of the Mississippi, which was outside Grant’s jurisdiction. Grant would have to cooperate with Major General Samuel R. Curtis, who commanded the west side, but Grant cited instances in which Curtis had refused. Therefore, Grant wrote, “I would respectfully suggest that both banks of the river be under one command.”

Unbeknownst to Grant, a campaign to capture Vicksburg had already been clandestinely approved. Major General John A. McClernand, Grant’s former subordinate, had lobbied his friend President Abraham Lincoln for an independent command. McClernand had been an influential Democratic politician in Illinois before the war, and he assured Lincoln that he could persuade fellow Democrats to support a campaign against Vicksburg because it would open the Mississippi for Illinois shipping to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Lincoln approved, with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issuing secret orders for McClernand “to proceed to the States of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and to organize the troops remaining in those States and to be raised by volunteering or draft… to the end that, when a sufficient force not required by the operations of General Grant’s command shall be raised, an expedition may be organized under General McClernand’s command against Vicksburg and to clear the Mississippi River and open navigation to New Orleans.”

The order also directed McClernand to show this document “to Governors, and even others, when in his discretion he believes so doing to be indispensable to the progress of the expedition.” Based on these orders, McClernand considered himself leading a command fully autonomous from Grant.

Thus, McClernand began recruiting a new “Army of the Mississippi” while Grant began assembling a force of 30,000 Federals at Grand Junction, Tennessee. Both forces had the same objective, which would seriously complicate upcoming Federal operations.

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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. 220, 225-26; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 763, 778; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 217, 222-24, 226; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 273, 278-81; 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, 593; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178, 746-47; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707, 781; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501, 705-06, 747, 781, 816

The Battle of Corinth

October 3, 1862 – Confederates under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price lost the element of surprise and with it the chance to reclaim a key city in northern Mississippi.

After their defeat at Iuka last month, Price’s Confederate Army of the West had joined with the Van Dorn, the ranking officer, who named his new force the “Army of West Tennessee.” As the force advanced on Pocahontas, Tennessee, Federals under Major General Ulysses S. Grant patrolled the region from four key points: Memphis, Jackson, and Bolivar in Tennessee, and Corinth, Mississippi.

Grant’s largest force, the 23,000-man Army of the Mississippi under Major General William S. Rosecrans, held Corinth. This town was a vital railroad center and the region’s strongest point. Unaware that the combined Confederate force was moving toward Corinth, Grant incorrectly reported from his Jackson headquarters that Price had moved south of Corinth while Van Dorn moved west toward the Mississippi River.

Van Dorn planned to feint against Bolivar and then launch a surprise attack on Corinth in the hope that the unsuspecting Federals would have no time to call for reinforcements from the other points. He dismissed suggestions from subordinates to instead push into Tennessee to cut Rosecrans’s supply lines, which could have forced him to abandon Corinth without a fight. After reclaiming Corinth, Van Dorn would use the town’s railroads to supply an advance into Middle Tennessee. This would at least prevent Grant from sending Federal reinforcements to oppose the Confederate invasion of Kentucky taking place at that time.

Grant realized that the Confederates were in fact targeting Corinth when they reached Chewalla, 10 miles northwest of the town, on the 2nd. Ruining the Confederate element of surprise, Grant notified Rosecrans to be on alert and began directing troops from other points to head toward Corinth. Grant hoped these troops could cut off Van Dorn’s communication and supply lines and destroy his army.

Rosecrans’s defenses consisted of two lines of fortifications west of Corinth, a half-mile apart. Being less certain of an attack than Grant, Rosecrans placed a small force on the outer line and most of his other men in defense of the railroads and in the second, stronger line. The Confederate troops, moving along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, slept on their arms during the night of the 2nd, intending to launch their surprise attack the next day.

Van Dorn advanced on the morning of October 3 with 22,000 troops in three divisions. They marched the 10 miles from Chewalla without water and attacked the outer Federal lines northwest of Corinth around 10 a.m. The massive onslaught overwhelmed the unprepared Federals, and the Confederates seized the line within 30 minutes despite sustaining heavy casualties. As the Federals fled to their interior lines, Van Dorn called a halt for his thirsty men to rest in the 90-degree heat. This allowed the Federals to strengthen their positions.

The Federals’ second, more compact, defense line proved much stronger, and they repelled a series of piecemeal assaults. Near sundown, Van Dorn consulted with Price and agreed to suspend the attack. Van Dorn reported:

“I saw with regret the sun sink behind the horizon as the last shot of our sharpshooters followed the retreating foe into their innermost lines. One hour more of daylight, and victory would have soothed our grief for the loss of the gallant dead who sleep on that lost but not dishonored field.”

Despite sustaining heavy casualties, Van Dorn resolved to attack again the next day. He planned for his three divisions to launch coordinated attacks on the Federal right, center, and left. Rosecrans anticipated this renewal of hostilities and informed his commanders at a council of war that night. The Federals concentrated in the defenses closest to Corinth.

The next day began with an artillery duel before the Confederates advanced. Brigadier General Louis Hebert, leading the division slated to attack the Federal right, reported sick. He was replaced by Brigadier General Martin E. Green, who led the troops in taking Battery Powell. However, Green refused to advance any further, prompting a subordinate to say that he seemed “hopelessly bewildered, as well as ignorant of what ought to be done.” This allowed the Federals to reinforce their line and regain their guns in a counterattack.

The Battle of Corinth, Second Day, by Currier and Ives | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the far Confederate right, Major General Mansfield Lovell refused to advance his division after surveying the strong Federal works in his front. Lovell’s brigade commanders feared that attacking such a line would be suicidal. When one of Lovell’s staffers asked a brigade commander, “Suppose General Lovell orders you to take it?” the officer replied, “My brigade will march up and be killed.”

This left Brigadier General Dabney H. Maury to attack the Federal center unsupported. Maury’s Confederates managed to seize the vital Battery Robinett, but Federal units laying prone 30 yards behind the earthwork suddenly stood and fired, driving the enemy off. By then, some Confederates between Green and Maury had pierced the Federal right and entered Corinth, but they too were driven off around 11:30 a.m. after ferocious hand-to-hand combat.

With the Confederates exhausted in the intense heat, Van Dorn ordered a withdrawal back toward Chewalla around 12 p.m. Lovell’s division served as the rear guard. An hour later, Rosecrans rode among his men at Battery Robinett to dispel rumors he had been killed. He removed his hat and announced, “I stand in the presence of brave men, and I take my hat off to you.” Rosecrans specifically praised the 5th Minnesota for having “saved the day.”

Grant ordered Rosecrans to pursue and destroy the Confederate army, but to Grant’s dismay, Rosecrans stated that his men were too exhausted and shaken to pursue until the next day. As Rosecrans conducted an uninspiring chase from behind, Grant dispatched a force under General E.O.C. Ord to meet Van Dorn in front, cut his supply lines, and possibly destroy his army.

Ord confronted Van Dorn along the Hatchie River near Pocahontas on the 5th. A brief but intense fight ensued that became known as the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge. It ended when Van Dorn’s men used another bridge to cross the river and slipped away to Holly Springs, Mississippi. Van Dorn lost another 600 men, but his army had not been destroyed as Grant hoped.

In the fighting since October 3rd, the Federals sustained 2,839 killed, wounded, or missing. Grant initially praised Rosecrans’s performance at Iuka and Corinth, but he later criticized the general for allowing the Confederates to escape destruction after both battles. The Confederates lost 4,838, or more than a fifth of their total force. Van Dorn blamed the defeat on Hebert for calling out sick and Lovell for refusing to move; he soon relieved them both from command.

This battle outraged many southerners because it had produced such high casualties for almost no gain. The Confederates successfully prevented Federal reinforcements from being sent to Kentucky, but they failed to either regain Corinth or knock the Federals out of northern Mississippi. In fact, they did not even alter Grant’s plan to push deeper into Mississippi.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 213; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18226-35, 18245-62; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 221; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 722, 725; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 217-19; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 40-43; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 274-75; 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. 522-23; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 516-21; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 498; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 166-67, 196, 323; Wikipedia: Battle of Corinth

The Battle of Iuka

September 19, 1862 – Federal forces attacked Confederates in northern Mississippi but could not prevent them from escaping to join with another force.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By the 19th, Major General Sterling Price’s 14,000 Confederates were at Iuka, east of Corinth, Mississippi. Knowing that General E.O.C. Ord’s 8,000 Federals were approaching from the northwest, Price prepared to move his force south to join the Confederate army led by Major General Earl Van Dorn. However, Price did not know that another Federal force of 9,000 men under Major General William S. Rosecrans was moving from the southwest to attack his left flank.

One of Rosecrans’s divisions got lost along the way, so Rosecrans spent the morning waiting for those troops to countermarch and join the rest of his men. The Federals were to advance on the two roads leading to Iuka, but Rosecrans chose to only use the Jacinto road and keep his force united in case of a Confederate attack. The Federals encountered Confederate pickets about a mile and a half south of Iuka. They deployed across the road and drove the Confederates north toward the main army.

When Price learned of the attack from the south, he guessed that Ord’s presence to the north was just a diversion and pulled his Confederates from that sector to turn toward Rosecrans. Price instructed his division commander and close friend, Brigadier General Henry Little, to bring up the rest of his men. Before Little could comply, he was killed by a shot to the head. Price “wept over him as if a son” before he was replaced by General Louis Hebert.

Map of the Battle of Iuka | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Price quickly composed himself and directed Hebert to counterattack. The Federals, unable to fully deploy due to the rough terrain, were driven back. The 11th Ohio Battery suffered the worst casualty percentage of any artillery battery in the war, losing 54 (19 killed and 35 wounded) of its 80 men. The Confederates captured nine guns.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Rosecrans sent a dispatch to Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the department commander, reporting that a battle was underway, but it did not arrive at Grant’s headquarters until the next day. Meanwhile, the Federals established a new defensive position that the Confederates could not break. As the sun set, Price disengaged and fell back.

Ord was supposed to attack upon hearing the sound of battle to the south. He advanced along the northern road to within four miles of Iuka, but an atmospheric phenomenon called an “acoustic shadow” prevented him from hearing the fighting. Thus, he never ordered his assault, and just a small Confederate cavalry unit held him at bay.

Rosecrans sustained 790 casualties (141 killed, 613 wounded, and 36 missing), while Price lost 1,516 (263 killed, 692 wounded, and 561 captured or missing). The Federals claimed victory because they drove the enemy from the field and inflicted nearly twice as many casualties as they incurred.

Price planned to renew the fight the next day, but Hebert and his other division commander, Brigadier General Dabney H. Maury, argued that Ord might get involved, which could be disastrous for the Confederates. Price relented and led his men south on the road that Rosecrans had opted not to use. Rosecrans inexplicably left it unguarded, enabling Price to get away with his supply train in front and a large rear guard to face any pursuers.

Before Grant found out about Price’s escape, he submitted a complimentary official report: “I cannot speak too highly of the energy and skill displayed by General Rosecrans in the attack, and of the endurance of the troops under him. General Ord’s command showed untiring zeal, but the direction taken by the enemy prevented them from taking the active part they desired.”

When Rosecrans learned that the Confederates were gone the next day, he tried pursuing them but could not due to the muddy road and harsh terrain. Price may have been defeated, but he got away to join forces with Van Dorn as planned. This caused resentment among the Federal high command. Grant later conceded that Rosecrans had correctly used the one road instead of both, but he questioned Rosecrans’s failure to guard the unused road. Rosecrans questioned Ord’s claim that he could not hear the fighting.

Ultimately, the Federals had succeeded in preventing Price from joining General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates in Kentucky, whether he had planned to do so or not. Grant quickly turned his attention to Corinth, fearing the Confederates might try retaking this important railroad town. Ord arrived at Corinth on the 21st, while Grant pulled Federals from Bolivar and Jackson in Tennessee to reinforce the town’s defenses.

Price joined with Van Dorn at Ripley a week later, but the eight-day march had turned Price’s army into a disorganized mob. Meanwhile, Van Dorn reported: “Field returns showed my strength to be about 22,000. Rosecrans at Corinth had about 15,000, with about 8,000 additional men at outposts from 12 to 15 miles distant.” There were also 6,000 Federals at Memphis, 8,000 at Bolivar, and 3,000 at Jackson, Tennessee.

All told, the Federals could muster 40,000 men to defend Corinth, but Van Dorn wanted to try retaking the town nonetheless. To succeed, he needed the elements of surprise and speed. He resolved to head toward Pocahontas, hoping to trick the Federals into thinking he intended to attack Bolivar, 40 miles northwest of Corinth.

Van Dorn’s subordinate, General Mansfield Lovell, opposed this plan and suggested that the Confederates simply attack Bolivar, which would force the Federals to abandon Corinth to save their supply line. Price wanted to wait for the upcoming release of 15,000 exchanged Confederate prisoners at Jackson, Mississippi. Price argued that Van Dorn could not hold Corinth if these men did not rejoin the ranks.

Van Dorn overruled both Lovell and Price, ordering them to prepare three days’ rations for their men. This new Confederate Army of the West began marching out of Ripley the next day, and Corinth was the ultimate destination.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18207-16, 18226; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 721; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 213, 216; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 36-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 269, 272; 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. 522; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 515; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386-87

Confederates on the Move in Mississippi

September 18, 1862 – With Confederate forces moving into Maryland and Kentucky, the third prong of the overall Confederate offensive began moving in Mississippi.

When General Braxton Bragg led his Confederate Army of Mississippi into Kentucky, he left behind two forces in Mississippi under Major Generals Sterling Price near Tupelo and Earl Van Dorn at Vicksburg. They were assigned to watch the Federals at Memphis and Corinth, and prevent them from trying to reinforce Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio pursuing Bragg.

Gens Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federals at Memphis and Corinth operated within Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s military department, with the troops at Iuka directly under Major General William S. Rosecrans. On the 5th, the Confederates learned that Rosecrans was poised to head north, possibly to reinforce Buell’s Federals at Nashville. Bragg responded by ordering Price to stop Rosecrans.

Gens Ulysses S. Grant and William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Price’s 14,000 Confederates moved out on the 11th, reaching Marietta, about eight miles east of Baldwyn. Meanwhile, Van Dorn left Vicksburg hoping to occupy Holly Springs, between Memphis and Corinth. Dissatisfied with Bragg’s plan, Van Dorn complained to President Jefferson Davis. In response, Davis gave Van Dorn command of all Confederates in Mississippi, apparently without notifying Price that Van Dorn was now his superior.

Grant monitored Price’s movements but did not know what they meant. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “With all the vigilance I can bring to bear I cannot determine the objects of the enemy. Everything threatens an attack here, but my fear is that it is to cover some other movement.” After reviewing the information, Grant finally concluded that the Confederates would try taking back Corinth. He directed Rosecrans to concentrate his forces and prepare to meet an attack, but Rosecrans replied, “I see nothing in this to alarm us.”

Price entered Iuka, a resort town 20 miles down the Memphis & Charleston Railroad from Corinth, on the 14th. Iuka was a Federal supply depot, but strangely it was only guarded by a small force, which fled upon seeing the Confederates approaching. The Federals left tons of supplies and cotton behind; the Confederates took the former and burned the latter.

When Grant learned of this, he saw a chance to preemptively attack Price before he threatened the main Federal supply center at Corinth. He directed two divisions of 8,000 men under General E.O.C. Ord to move from Burnsville, seven miles northwest of Iuka, and confront Price from the north. At the same time, Rosecrans was to lead two divisions of 9,000 men from Jacinto, 14 miles east of Iuka, to confront Price from the south. Ord would attack first, driving Price into Rosecrans’s men, which would destroy him.

The Federals were within striking distance by the 18th, with Price largely unaware of the forces bearing down upon him until that night. Soon after, Van Dorn instructed Price to join forces with him at Rienzi, south of Iuka. From there, they would move north and threaten Federals in western Tennessee. Van Dorn was unaware of the two Federal forces approaching Iuka.

Price prepared to comply, unaware that Rosecrans’s Federals were approaching from the south. However, part of Rosecrans’s force got lost, leaving him unprepared to engage the enemy. Grant then reversed his plan and directed Rosecrans to attack and push Price north into Ord.

Later that day, Grant received news that the Federals had won decisively at Antietam yesterday: “Longstreet and his entire division prisoners. General Hill killed. Entire rebel army of Virginia destroyed, Burnside having reoccupied Harper’s Ferry and cut off retreat.” Grant sent this message to Ord, intending him to forward it to Price. Since Lee’s alleged destruction meant the virtual end of the war, Grant instructed Ord to demand that Price “avoid useless bloodshed and lay down his arms.”

Ord forwarded the message and the demand. Responding in third person, Price stated that he did not believe the report was true. And even if “the facts were as stated in those dispatches they would only move him and his soldiers to greater exertions in behalf of their country, and that neither he nor they will ever lay down their arms–as humanely suggested by General Ord–until the independence of the Confederate States shall have been acknowledged by the United States.”

As Price worked to move away from Ord’s advancing Federals, he was inadvertently planning to march straight into Rosecrans’s men trying to organize themselves to the southwest.

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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. 212; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 717-19; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 208-09, 212; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-36; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 266; 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. 522; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386-87