Category Archives: Mississippi

Confederates Confront the Indianola

February 15, 1863 – The steam ram C.S.S. William H. Webb hurried into action after Confederates learned of the Federal attack on Fort Taylor on the Red River, joining a fleet to confront the U.S.S. Indianola.

Lieutenant Colonel William S. Lovell, commanding the Webb, hurried his vessel into action from Alexandria to take on the enemy, even though his ship was not entirely ready for combat. Lovell learned of the Federal retreat and steamed down the Red River to the Mississippi, stopping there for the night.

Colonel Charles R. Ellet, whose steam ram U.S.S. Queen of the West had been captured by Confederates, struggled up the Mississippi aboard his damaged Confederate prize, the New Era No. 5. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Indianola under Lieutenant Commander George Brown moved downstream, and the two ships met near Natchez, Mississippi. As Ellet used the Indianola’s coal barges to refuel, the two commanders resolved to destroy the Webb and try taking Fort Taylor again.

The U.S.S. Indianola | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lovell learned from the prisoners taken from the Queen of the West that another Federal warship was coming downriver to support Ellet. Lovell hoped to destroy the New Era before this new ship arrived. However, he soon found both the New Era and the Indianola coming toward him and pulled back. The Federals pursued the Confederates to the mouth of the Red River, where the Indianola took up blockading duty between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Brown kept the Indianola anchored at the mouth of the Red from the 17th to the 21st. During that time, Ellet and the New Era returned to Vicksburg, and Brown learned the Webb was planning to return with support from the captured Queen of the West and two “cotton-clad” vessels.

On the morning of the 22nd, the Indianola continued up the Mississippi, slowed by two coal barges lashed to her sides. A Confederate flotilla led by Major Joseph L. Brent began its pursuit 90 miles from the plantation landing that the Indianola had left from. Brent’s fleet included the Webb, Grand Era, and newly repaired Queen. They picked up the Dr. Beatty on the way. The Grand Era and Beatty were loaded with Confederate infantry to board the enemy ships.

After receiving Ellet’s official report, Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that his plans had been “disarranged by the capture of the Queen of the West.” Porter blamed Ellet, who “foolishly engaged” the batteries at Fort Taylor. Porter complained that Ellet offered no explanation as to why he went up the Red River against orders, and, “Had the commander of the Queen of the West waited patiently, he would, in less than 24 hours, have been joined by the Indianola, which he knew.”

Porter called the Queen’s capture “a loss without any excuse, and if not destroyed by the Indianola she will fall into rebel hands.” He told Welles, “We are sadly in want of a good class of fast ironclad rams on this river,” as the vessels currently operating were “fit for nothing but tow boats.” Until he could get better ships, he would have to depend on the Indianola “alone for carrying out my cherished plan of cutting off supplies from Port Hudson and Vicksburg.”

Porter concluded, “My plans were well laid, only badly executed. I can give orders, but I can not give officers good judgment. Whether the commander (of the Indianola) will have the good sense not to be surprised, remains to be seen. He should return for the present.”

Brent’s Confederate fleet caught up to the Indianola just below Vicksburg on the 24th. Brent waited to attack at night to offset the Indianola’s superior firepower. The Queen tried ramming the Indianola but rammed one of her accompanying coal barges instead. The Queen and the Webb then rammed the Indianola, with the Queen flooding both the Indianola’s starboard engines and the Webb hitting the port wheelhouse. The Queen and the Webb sustained heavy damage, but the Indianola suffered worse.

As the other two Confederate ships neared, Brown ran the Indianola into the west bank and lowered his colors. The “partially sunken vessel” had sustained seven collisions. He allowed the ship to fill with water and directed his men to hurry ashore. Once there, Brown surrendered to Colonel Frederick B. Brand, commanding the Beatty. The Confederates eagerly prepared to raise the Indianola and attach her to their growing fleet.

The Indianola grounded | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

With the loss of his most valuable ship, Porter wrote Welles, “There is no use to conceal the fact, but this has… been the most humiliating affair that has occurred during this rebellion.” Porter decided not to try sending individual vessels past Vicksburg to intercept supplies headed for Port Hudson. Soon the Port Hudson campaign became separate from that of Vicksburg, handled by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks and Admiral David G. Farragut while Major General Ulysses S. Grant and Porter focused solely on Vicksburg.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15881-90; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 262-63; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 196-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 264-66; 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. 78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 321-23; 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. 159; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 572-73

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The Yazoo Pass Expedition

February 7, 1863 – A Federal army-navy expedition began in an effort to capture Vicksburg by entering Yazoo Pass and approaching the city by water from the north.

Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal Mississippi River Squadron, had lost all hope that Vicksburg could be taken by naval force alone. Confederates now had 50 guns overlooking the river, atop bluffs so steep that 10,000 troops could not climb up to them. Porter wrote, “We can, perhaps, destroy the city and public buildings, but that would bring us no nearer the desired point than we are now, and would likely put out the little spark of Union feeling still existing in Vicksburg.”

Yazoo Pass Expedition Map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

He then came upon the idea of destroying a Mississippi River levee to flood Yazoo Pass. This would allow his gunboats to move to the Coldwater River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie, and then on to the Yazoo River in Vicksburg’s rear. Grant could then “follow with his army and Vicksburg attacked in the rear in a manner not likely dreamed of.”

Major General Ulysses S. Grant was not confident that such an operation would work. But he would not be ready to launch an all-out offensive against Vicksburg until spring, and he could not afford to appear idle until then. He therefore approved this and other minor operations, standing ready to exploit them in the slim chance that they succeeded.

The expedition would include elements of the army headed by Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross of XIII Corps, and the navy led by Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith. Seven gunboats, led by the ironclads U.S.S. Baron de Kalb and Chillicothe, would escort 5,000 troops aboard army transports.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, chief Federal topographical engineer, devised the plan to open the levee sealing Yazoo Pass. Federal soldiers and engineers mined and detonated explosives that blew a 75-foot-wide hole in the levee and flooded the pass. The water swept away everything in its path, running too fast to guarantee safe navigation. This delayed the start of the expedition for several days.

The flotilla finally moved out on the 7th, riding the fast current onto Moon Lake. Obstructions such as underwater tree stumps and low hanging tree branches damaged the tinclad U.S.S. Forest Rose and generally hindered the Federal advance.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, knew that Yazoo Pass could be a weak point and directed his troops to obstruct the area with felled trees even before the Federal expedition began. The natural impediments combined with the Confederate obstructions to slow the Federal advance to about 10 miles per day.

As the flotilla struggled ahead, the Confederates quickly installed a garrison at Fort Pemberton, also known as Fort Greenwood, near Greenwood, Mississippi. The small work stood on the neck of land between the Tallahatchie to the north and the Yazoo to the south, about 50 miles north of Yazoo City. The troops, led by Major General William W. Loring, built defenses out of cotton bales but had just 10 guns to defend against a Federal naval approach. Loring also scuttled the former Star of the West to obstruct the waterway.

Meanwhile, the Federals continued pushing through the obstructions using “picks, spades, and wheelbarrows.” Smith insisted that the entire flotilla move together, rejecting Ross’s pleas to allow the ironclads to go ahead. This delayed the advance and gave the Confederates more time to build their defenses.

Two weeks after the Federals blew up the levee, Pemberton received a report from a Confederate naval lieutenant:

“The enemy have driven us off from the works on the Pass, and are coming through. Hasty obstructions with fortifications may save Yazoo City. I have done my best; worked under their noses, till their pickets came in 100 yards of me.”

Captain Isaac Brown, commanding Confederate naval forces at Yazoo City, also wrote Pemberton:

“I regret that we have so little time to make preparations, so little, in fact, that I cannot be answerable for what may happen, in other words, I can give no assurance that we shall be able to stop the enemy, as we cannot tell with what amount or description of force he is coming through. We will do all we can.”

Pemberton in turn wrote President Jefferson Davis:

“Many believe that the enemy will get through the Yazoo Pass, and I am informed that, by the use of steam saw-mills, three quarters of a mile of solid obstructions were removed in two days. I do not apprehend anything serious from this demonstration, still, if it be the enemy’s purpose to lay siege to Vicksburg, this is doubtless part of his plan to cut off our supplies, and would materially assist the investment of the place.”

Pemberton requested a “full supply of ammunition to be furnished for the defense of Vicksburg.” On the 23rd, Pemberton received word that the Federal flotilla had reached the Coldwater, en route to the Tallahatchie. He sent more troops to bolster Loring at Fort Pemberton. However, the Federals turned back when Colonel Wilson advised them to clear more obstructions before continuing forward. By the end of February, the Federals had finally cleared Yazoo Pass and entered the Coldwater River.

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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. 259, 264; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 202; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 260-62, 265-67; Grant, Ulysses S., Memoirs and Selected Letters: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Selected Letters 1839–1865 (New York: Library of America, 1990), p. 267; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-76; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 321; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

Naval Operations Between Vicksburg and Port Hudson

February 2, 1863 – Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter directed Federal naval forces to stop the flow of supplies on the Red River in the continuing Federal effort to capture both Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron, selected Colonel Charles R. Ellet to head this mission. Ellet was the 19-year-old son of Charles Ellet, who had created the fleet of Federal rams on the Mississippi. Porter explained to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles why he chose the young Ellet to lead:

“I can not speak too highly of this gallant and daring officer. The only trouble I have is to hold him in and keep him out of danger. He will undertake anything I wish him to without asking questions, and these are the kind of men I like to command.”

Col C.R. Ellet | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Ellet was to command the U.S.S. Queen of the West, a sidewheel ram once commanded by his father, who died in the attack on Memphis last June. The vessel had undergone extensive repairs after sustaining heavy damage from the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Arkansas. A New York Tribune correspondent reported that the Queen had a “most dismantled and forlorn appearance.”

Porter directed Ellet to take the Queen downriver and attack the C.S.S. City of Vicksburg. Hoping to avenge the Federal naval defeat at Galveston last month, Porter instructed:

“It will not be part of your duty to save the lives of those on board; they must look out for themselves, and may think themselves lucky if they do not meet the same fate meted out to the Harriet Lane. Then think of the fate of that vessel while performing your duty, and shout ‘Harriet Lane’ into the ears of the rebels. If you can fire turpentine balls from your bow field pieces into the light upper works, it will make a fine finish to the sinking part.”

Ellet was then to “proceed down as low as Red River to capture and destroy all the rebel property she may meet with.” Porter would reinforce Ellet in forcing the enemy “to evacuate its other points on the river for want of supplies and transportation.” The Queen was to serve as a sort of blockading vessel, disrupting the flow of supplies from the Red River between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Early on the 2nd, Ellet loaded the Queen’s decks with cotton to absorb enemy fire and covered the paddle wheels with protective planks. Although the work took longer than expected and the Queen would be visible in the daylight, Ellet proceeded anyway. The vessel steamed into Confederate gun range and sustained three hits before reaching the City of Vicksburg. Ellet reported:

“Her position was such that if we had run obliquely into her as we came down, the bow of the Queen would inevitably have glanced. We were compelled to partially round to in order to strike. The consequence was that at the very moment of collision the current, very strong and rapid at this point, caught the stern of my boat, and, acting on her bow as a pivot, swung her around so rapidly that nearly all momentum was lost.”

The Federals set the City of Vicksburg on fire with the turpentine balls, but the Confederates quickly put out the flames. They responded by firing into the Queen and setting her cotton bales on fire, which forced Ellet to stop his ramming efforts and move downriver, out of enemy gun range, to push the bales overboard.

The Queen took 12 hits but did not sustain any substantial damage before continuing to the Red River. The City of Vicksburg suffered too much damage to be salvaged, and Confederates later sunk her.

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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. 259; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 195; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 260-61; 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. 77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318; 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. 158

Vicksburg: Grant’s Command Confirmed

February 1, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant finally received confirmation from Washington that Major General John A. McClernand was his subordinate, though Grant did not want McClernand in his army at all.

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

McClernand responded to Grant’s message from the 31st stating that Grant would issue orders through his corps commanders from this point forward and not through McClernand. McClernand still insisted that he commanded an independent “Army of the Mississippi,” and not just a corps within Grant’s Army of the Tennessee as ordered by the War Department in December.

McClernand told Grant that he would go along with the new arrangement “for the purpose of avoiding a conflict of authority in the presence of the enemy.” However, he would officially protest Grant’s move, and from now on, all correspondence between he and Grant should “be forwarded to the General-in-Chief, and through him to the Secretary of War and the President.” McClernand asked this “in justice to myself as its (the Vicksburg expedition’s) author and actual promoter.”

Grant sent McClernand’s dispatches to Washington, along with his reply. He stated that he merely acted upon General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck’s recommendation to leave his Memphis headquarters and take personal command of the Vicksburg operation. Reminding them that Major General William T. Sherman had originally been tasked with the job, Grant wrote, “If General Sherman had been left in command here, such is my confidence in him that I would not have thought my presence necessary.”

Grant then offered his opinion on McClernand’s generalship: “But whether I do General McClernand injustice or not, I have not confidence in his ability as a soldier to conduct an expedition of the magnitude of this one successfully.”

Meanwhile, McClernand appealed directly to President Abraham Lincoln, who had originally authorized him to lead an independent expedition against Vicksburg in October: “Please cause it to be signified to me whether Genl. Grant or myself will have immediate command of the Miss. River Expedition.” Lincoln did not respond, leaving prior War Department orders that Grant take command in effect.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18307

Vicksburg: Grant’s Third Attempt

January 28, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant arrived at Young’s Point to begin his third attempt to capture the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Since his overland advance and thrust via Chickasaw Bayou had failed, Grant sought to try taking Vicksburg with a river expedition. He initially planned to manage the operation from his Memphis headquarters, but that would mean his ranking subordinate, Major General John A. McClernand, would be the field commander. Not trusting McClernand with such an important responsibility, Grant informed one of his corps commanders, Major General James B. McPherson, “It is my present intention to command the expedition down the river in person.”

Grant boarded a steamer to meet McClernand and Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter at Napoleon, Mississippi. By that time, McClernand’s Federals had returned from Fort Hindman and taken control of Napoleon, partially destroying the town. Major General William T. Sherman, commanding a corps under McClernand, later wrote that he was “free to admit we all deserve to be killed unless we can produce a state of discipline when such disgraceful acts cannot be committed unpunished.”

Upon arriving at Napoleon on the 18th, Grant directed McClernand to return his forces from Arkansas to Milliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River to prepare for a renewed drive on Vicksburg. Porter agreed to support the mission with his Mississippi River Squadron; he halted all naval operations on the White River in Arkansas and ordered all available gunboats to assemble at Milliken’s Bend.

Grant returned to Memphis and informed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he intended to finish digging the canal across the base of the river bend in front of Vicksburg. Federal warships would use the canal to bypass Young’s Point, which was covered by Confederate artillery, and allow the vessels to get below Vicksburg and take the city from behind. Federal troops and contrabands had begun the project last summer, but it ended when the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Arkansas drove off two Federal naval fleets.

Grant also reiterated his opinion that a mission to capture Vicksburg could not succeed unless its commander controlled both banks of the Mississippi. Currently, the west bank north of Louisiana was part of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, and Louisiana belonged to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Department of the Gulf.

Grant proposed combining the four Western Theater military departments (his own, Curtis’s, Banks’s, and Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Department of the Cumberland) into one, with himself as overall commander. This would ensure more effective cooperation. Grant wrote, “As I am the senior department commander in the West, (even though Banks outranked him) I will state that I have no desire whatever for such combined command, but would prefer the command I now have to any other than can be given.”

The Lincoln administration would not go so far as give Grant all of the Western Theater, but Halleck replied, “The President has directed that so much of Arkansas as you may desire to control be temporarily attached to your department. This will give you control of both banks of the river.”

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

This confirmed that McClernand, who had tried to operate independently, was subordinate to Grant. However, Grant still had doubts about McClernand’s ability, as he wrote Halleck, “I regard it as my duty to state that I found there was not sufficient confidence felt in General McClernand as a commander, either by the Army or Navy, to insure him success.”

But McClernand’s conquest of Fort Hindman made him popular in the North, so Grant was not prepared to remove him from command yet. He instead directed McClernand’s troops to resume digging the canal at Swampy Toe Peninsula. Grant then ordered Sherman’s corps to start digging a canal at Duckport, northwest of Vicksburg. If completed, the Duckport canal would bring Federal gunboats 20 miles below Vicksburg.

Meanwhile, McPherson’s corps scouted the area around Lake Providence and Bayou Macon to find any viable approaches to Vicksburg from the south. Also, Porter’s squadron reconnoitered the Yazoo River above Vicksburg, clearing out Confederates and using confiscated bales of cotton as “armor” against Confederate artillery. After seizing 11 Confederate steamers carrying supplies for the garrison at Port Hudson, Louisiana, Porter wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“The army is landing on the neck of land opposite Vicksburg. What they expect to do I don’t know, but presume it is a temporary arrangement. I am covering their landing and guarding the Yazoo River. The front of Vicksburg is heavily fortified, and unless we can get troops in the rear of the city I see no chance of taking it at present, though we cut off all their supplies from Texas and Louisiana.”

Halleck notified Grant on the 25th, “Direct your attention particularly to the canal proposed across the point. The President attaches much importance to this.” Grant responded, “I leave for the fleet… tomorrow.” Grant traveled 400 river miles from Memphis to Young’s Point, on the Mississippi’s west bank, below Milliken’s Bend and a few miles above Vicksburg.

When Grant arrived at Young’s Point, he assigned 62,000 of his 103,000-man Department of the Tennessee to the Vicksburg campaign:

  • 32,000 men in McClernand’s “Army of the Mississippi” (i.e., two corps under McClernand and Sherman)
  • 15,000 men of McPherson’s corps
  • 15,000 men of Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s corps

Grant’s main effort to take Vicksburg involved the canal construction. A secondary effort began on the 29th when Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson of the Federal army corps of engineers received orders to open a levee on Yazoo Pass. This inland waterway connected the Mississippi to Moon Lake and Coldwater River. Opening this route could allow the Federal navy to steam around Vicksburg’s flank and cover an army landing from the north.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was already aware that the Federals could target this area, as he wrote to Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, “Has anything or can anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?”

As the primary and secondary Federal efforts got under way, Grant met with McClernand on the 29th and assured him that no changes would be made to the army’s command structure. However, now that it had been clarified that Grant was in charge in the field, many of McClernand’s subordinates who distrusted his leadership began bypassing him and going to Grant for instructions.

McClernand protested this and Grant’s practice of sending orders directly to Sherman. Sherman had commanded a “corps” in McClernand’s unsanctioned “Army of the Mississippi” that captured Fort Hindman, and McClernand therefore felt that the chain of command between Grant and Sherman should run through him. McClernand told Grant that if he had an issue with this, “the question should be immediately referred to Washington, and one or other, or both of us relieved.”

Grant responded by issuing General Orders No. 13, announcing that he was taking official field command of the expedition. All army corps commanders would “resume the immediate command of their respective corps, and will report to and receive orders direct from these headquarters.” He then assigned McClernand and his XIII Corps to “garrisoning the post of Helena, Ark., and any other point on the west bank of the river it may be necessary to hold south of that place.”

The notion of going to Helena, some 200 miles north, enraged McClernand because he had been promised an independent command to capture Vicksburg. He immediately wrote Grant about the order, “I hasten to inquire whether its purpose is to relieve me from the command of all or any portion of the forces composing the Mississippi River expedition, or, in other words, whether its purpose is to limit my command to the Thirteenth Army Corps.”

McClernand then reminded Grant of his political connections and protested that “while having projected the Mississippi River expedition, and having been by a series of orders assigned to the command of it, I may be entirely withdrawn from it.”

Grant replied that he had the right to issue orders to anyone within his army, and reminded McClernand that, according to Halleck, he (McClernand) merely commanded a corps within Grant’s army. While Grant initially thought it might be easier to issue orders through McClernand to other corps commanders, now that he had taken the field he “saw it would be much more convenient to issue orders direct to corps commanders whilst present with the command than through another commander.” This disagreement continued into February.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 138, 144-45, 189-90; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18307; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 257-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 255, 257, 259-60; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68-69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 314; 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. 586; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou

December 29, 1862 – Major General William T. Sherman launched a costly attack on fortified Confederate defenses northeast of Vicksburg.

Sherman’s Federals had advanced downriver from the Mississippi to the Yazoo to threaten Walnut Hills, also known as Chickasaw Bluffs. They numbered 32,000 men in four divisions, and they held positions in the swamps and bayous below the bluffs, most notably Chickasaw Bayou. About 14,000 Confederates under Generals Carter L. Stevenson, Stephen D. Lee, and Martin L. Smith defended the bluffs. They were aided by high ground, a clear view of any attackers, and heavy artillery guarding all viable approaches.

Sherman planned to send Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s division across the swampland to penetrate the Confederate center, with support from Brigadier General Frederick Steele’s division and Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron. Brigadier General A.J. Smith’s division would launch a separate attack as a diversion.

Sherman expected support from Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal department commander who was to lead an overland advance to prevent Confederates at Grenada, Mississippi, from reinforcing the bluffs. However, the Confederate destruction of the Federal supply depot at Holly Springs prevented Grant from supporting Sherman. Grant also could not notify Sherman because Confederates had cut the telegraph lines.

Action began with a four-hour artillery duel that caused little damage on either side. During that time, Morgan’s assault was delayed when engineers had problems bridging a stream. Morgan then repositioned his men in fear of a Confederate attack. Sherman rode to the front and showed Morgan exactly where he was to advance, deploying two brigades in front with the rest of his division and Steele’s in support. Sherman said, “We will lose 5,000 men before we take Vicksburg, and may as well lose them here as anywhere else.”

Battle Map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The two Federal brigades charged at noon, running to the base of the bluffs where they were easily shot down and repulsed by heavy Confederate artillery and rifle fire. The swampy terrain prevented the Federals from answering with artillery of their own. A.J. Smith’s diversion was also beaten back without any gains. Sherman planned to attack again, but heavy fog rolled in, preventing another repulse and more deaths.

The Federals sustained 1,776 casualties (208 killed, 1,005 wounded, and 563 missing), while the Confederates lost just 207 (63 killed, 134 wounded, and 10 missing). Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, singled out several regiments from Georgia (the 40th, 42nd, and 52nd), Tennessee (3rd, 30th, and 80th), and Louisiana (the 17th, 26th, and 28th) for their valor in this engagement.

Sherman blamed Morgan for the failure. He planned another attack the next day but realized it would be futile and called it off. He then looked to continue moving up the Yazoo to attack the Confederate left, but reinforcements arrived to strengthen the defenses on the bluffs. The Federals remained positioned in front of the bluffs until New Year’s Eve, when Sherman finally conceded defeat and asked for a truce to bury his dead.

When northerners learned of the defeat, they likened it to Fredericksburg and mourned yet more lost men. Both Grant and Sherman endured heavy criticism for the battle and the destruction of the Federal supply base at Holly Springs, which turned Grant’s overland effort to capture Vicksburg into more of a disaster than Admiral David G. Farragut’s attempt to take the city in July.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 91, 127; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18299-307; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 247-49; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8646; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 510; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 245-46; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 301-02; 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. 578-79; 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. 132; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170-71; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39; 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), Q462

Vicksburg: The Chickasaw Bayou Campaign

December 28, 1862 – Confederate forces hurried to defend Chickasaw Bluffs as Federal troops under Major General William T. Sherman struggled to reach them.

Federal Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

On the day that Confederates destroyed the main Federal supply depot at Holly Springs, Sherman prepared to head down the Mississippi River from Memphis to Walnut Hills, also known as Chickasaw Bluffs, on the Yazoo River. This was the water phase of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s land-water advance on the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.

Seizing Chickasaw Bluffs would put the Federals on the northern flank of Confederates defending Vicksburg, forcing them to either fight or flee. Sherman would be supported by Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron, along with Grant’s Federals moving overland to keep Confederates at Grenada from reinforcing those defending Vicksburg. Unaware that the Holly Springs raid prevented Grant from supporting him, Sherman wrote Grant:

“You may calculate on our being at Vicksburg by Christmas. River has risen some feet, and all is now good navigation. Gunboats are at mouth of Yazoo now, and there will be no difficulty in effecting a landing up Yazoo within 12 miles of Vicksburg.”

The next day, Sherman began loading three divisions of XIII Corps onto transports. This corps technically belonged to Major General John A. McClernand, but he was still in Illinois recruiting volunteers. Grant, being the department commander, did not trust McClernand to lead this operation, so he directed Sherman to lead it before McClernand arrived. Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate raiders indirectly helped Grant by cutting telegraph wires and preventing McClernand from getting Grant’s message that the expedition was starting without him.

Sherman collected a fourth division at Helena, Arkansas, on the 21st, giving him 32,000 men. After receiving word that the supply depot at Holly Springs had been destroyed, Sherman wrote Grant, “I hardly know what faith to put in such a report, but suppose whatever may be the case you will attend to it.” The cut telegraph lines prevented Grant from warning Sherman that he could expect no land support.

The Federals encountered little resistance as their flotilla steamed from Helena downriver toward the Yazoo. Sherman later wrote, “What few inhabitants remained at the plantations on the river-bank were unfriendly, except the slaves, some few guerrilla-parties infested the banks, but did not dare to molest so strong a force as I then commanded.”

The flotilla steamed to within 50 miles of Vicksburg on Christmas Eve, where Confederates guarding an outpost on Lake Providence, west of the Mississippi, spotted them. Using a private telegraph line the Federals did not know about, the guards sent a wire around midnight, “Great God, Phil, 81 gunboats and transports have passed here tonight.”

A messenger hurried across the river to relay the message to the Vicksburg commander. He cut a Christmas ball short and ordered his troops to man the defenses. Sherman’s hope to surprise the Confederates had been dashed. On Christmas Day, Federal forces began landing at Milliken’s Bend, on the Mississippi’s west bank about 10 miles above the mouth of the Yazoo. Sherman dispatched a division to wreck the railroad connecting Vicksburg to Monroe, Louisiana, while the rest of the 64-vessel flotilla continued downriver.

The Federals entered the Yazoo near Steele’s Bayou the next day. They were about four miles northwest of Chickasaw Bluffs, which were another six miles northeast of Vicksburg. Federal troops began landing at Johnson’s Plantation, with Porter’s gunboats bombarding nearby Haynes’ Bluff to cover them.

Initially, just 6,000 Confederates defended the bluffs, led by General Martin L. Smith. But now that the Confederates at Vicksburg knew of Sherman’s advance, they rushed another 8,000 men there. General Stephen D. Lee superseded Smith as Confederate commander until Lee was superseded by the arrival of General Carter L. Stevenson.

Sherman still had twice as many men, but the defenders held the high ground overlooking approaches from both the Yazoo and Chickasaw Bayou. Also, the marshes and swamps would force the attackers to funnel toward the center of the Confederate defenses, enabling the defenders to concentrate their fire. And the Confederates had cleared the woods in their front, giving them a clear view of any approach.

Sherman considered this a terrible place to attack, but he dispatched units to search for any exploitable weaknesses. The Federals advanced under heavy fire, slogging through the swampy terrain. Porter’s gunboats tried covering them as they took up positions along the water barriers in front of the Confederate defenses. Sherman was informed that just four approaches could be used to reach the bluffs, and each was guarded by heavy artillery.

The Federals spent the next few days probing to determine the Confederate positions, with heavy skirmishing breaking out at several points. On the 28th, McClernand arrived at Memphis to learn that the expedition had started without him. The cut telegraph lines had prevented Grant from informing McClernand; they also prevented Grant from urging Sherman to abort his mission.

That day, Brigadier General Frederick Steele’s division tried crossing Blake’s Levee to reach the bluffs, but they could not overcome the Confederate guns and abatis in their path. Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s division tried approaching on a causeway north of Chickasaw Bayou but was repelled with heavy loss. Nevertheless, Sherman resolved to launch an all-out attack on the bluffs the next day.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18299; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 246; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 64, 71, 73-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 241-45; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 62-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 300-01; 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. 577-78; 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. 132; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170-71; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39