Category Archives: Mississippi

The C.S.S. Arkansas on the Mississippi

July 15, 1862 – A new Confederate ironclad blasted through Federal ships and threatened to turn the tide of the war on the Mississippi River.

During the first half of July, the freshwater Federal Western Flotilla under Commodore Charles H. Davis joined forces with Admiral David G. Farragut’s saltwater Federal squadron on the Mississippi River above Vicksburg, Mississippi. The combined fleet now totaled 37 ships. Reuniting with Davis, Farragut wrote:

“The iron-clads are curious looking things to us salt-water gentlemen; but no doubt they are better calculated for this river than our ships… They look like great turtles. Davis came on board… We have made the circuit (since we met at Port Royal) around half the United States and met on the Mississippi.”

Farragut contacted Major General Henry W. Halleck, stationed at the time at Corinth, Mississippi, and requested army troops to launch a joint land-water attack on Vicksburg. But Halleck refused: “The scattered and weakened condition of my forces renders it impossible for me to detach any troops to cooperate with you at Vicksburg.” For the next week, the Federals pondered their next move while sporadically bombarding Vicksburg. Diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and malaria continued afflicting the men.

Meanwhile, Confederates launched a makeshift ironclad ram called the C.S.S. Arkansas to wreak havoc on enemy ships. The Arkansas was commanded by Lieutenant Isaac N. Brown, who had overseen the ship’s construction. Workers had rescued the partially built vessel before the fall of Memphis and completed her at Yazoo City, on the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg.

The C.S.S. Arkansas | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

This “hermaphrodite ironclad” was 165 feet long and armed with 10 guns. The crew consisted of artillerists and Missouri infantry. The Arkansas was not quite ready for combat, but the water levels on the Yazoo were falling so she had to be launched or destroyed. The ram started down the river on the 12th.

Farragut learned that the Arkansas was being built on the Yazoo and dispatched the timber-clad U.S.S. Tyler, the ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet, and the ram U.S.S. Queen of the West to move up that river and confirm the rumor. Expecting to find a half-built ship in dry dock, the Federal commanders were surprised to see the ram approaching them on the 15th.

The Federal ships quickly turned and fled with the Arkansas in pursuit. The Carondelet, the slowest of the three Federal vessels, was forced aground. Brown reported:

“The Benton, or whatever ironclad we disabled, was left with colors down, evidently aground to prevent sinking, about one mile and a half above the mouth of the Yazoo, on the right-hand bank, or bank across from Vicksburg. I wish it to be remembered that we whipped this vessel, made it run out of the fight and haul down colors, with two less guns than they had; and at the same time fought two rams, which were firing at us with great guns and small-arms; this, too, with our miscellaneous crew, who had never, for the most part, been on board a ship, or at big guns.”

The Arkansas then fired into the wooden hulls of the Tyler and Queen. The Tyler turned back and returned fire, knocking off the Arkansas’s smokestack, which reduced her speed. The Queen escaped into the Mississippi, with the Tyler hurrying behind. The Federals of the Tyler and Carondelet sustained 60 casualties (16 killed, 36 wounded, and eight missing and presumed drowned).

As the ships entered the Mississippi, the Arkansas found her way to Vicksburg blocked by both Farragut’s and Davis’s squadrons. Fortunately for the Arkansas, the Federals were conserving coal and did not have their steam up to give chase. The Arkansas steamed past them, taking broadsides from each ship that cracked her armor in some places but did no substantial damage.

Despite enduring temperatures exceeding 120 degrees inside the ironclad, Brown reported that his crew returned fire “to every point of the circumference, without the fear of hitting a friend or missing an enemy.” The ship ultimately made it to the bluffs below Vicksburg, under the cover of the city’s batteries.

The Confederates lost 53 men (25 killed and 28 wounded). A master’s mate wrote, “The scene around the gun deck upon our arrival was ghastly in the extreme. Blood and brains bespattered everything, whilst arms, legs, and several headless trunks were strewn about.” Nevertheless, Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg, boasted that the Arkansas’s achievement was “the most brilliant ever recorded in naval annals.” Brown later received the thanks of both President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress, along with a promotion to naval commander.

The Arkansas’s escape embarrassed the Federals and left them, as the fleet surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford wrote, “Caught with our breeches down!” Farragut delivered the bad news to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles with “deep mortification,” adding, “I shall leave no stone unturned to destroy her.” Welles responded, “It is an absolute necessity that the neglect or apparent neglect of the squadron should be wiped out by the destruction of the Arkansas.” Farragut called the Arkansas’s run past 37 Federal ships “Damnable neglect, or worse!”

One Federal ship had been disabled, and every wooden ship in the Federal fleet sustained at least one hit. The presence of an enemy ironclad on the Mississippi threatened to allow Confederates to regain momentum after a long string of defeats on the river.

At dusk, Farragut prepared his squadron for a night attack on the Arkansas below the Vicksburg bluffs. Charles Davis refused to commit his vessels, fearing the operation was too dangerous. Farragut’s ships advanced and managed to hit the Arkansas a few times before the Confederate batteries drove them off; the Arkansas was not destroyed as Farragut hoped.

Farragut vowed to “try to destroy her until my squadron is destroyed or she is… There is no rest for the wicked until she is destroyed.” Charles Davis was later replaced by Admiral David D. Porter due to his role in this incident.

A week later, the U.S.S. Essex and the Queen of the West again tried attacking the Arkansas, hitting the ship with glancing blows and one broadside while taking heavy punishment from the Vicksburg batteries. Most of the Arkansas’s crew was on shore, but the remaining Confederates fought back as best they could. Dabney M. Scales, a crewman aboard the Arkansas, wrote his father:

“At 4 o’clock on the morning of the 22nd, I was awakened by the call to quarters. Hurrying to our stations, with not even a full complement of men for 3 guns, our soldiers having left just the night before, we discovered the enemy coming right down on us… We did not have men enough to heave the anchor up and get underway, before the enemy got to us, even if we had steam ready…”

The Essex eventually disengaged and moved downriver to join Farragut’s fleet. The Queen returned upriver in desperate need of repairs. Brown steamed the Arkansas back and forth in front of the bluffs, defying the Federals to attack again while the Vicksburg batteries covered him.

The attack seemed to cause minimal damage to the Arkansas at first, but it was later discovered that a shot had cracked the connecting rods, making the ship’s already deficient engines potentially even more so. Meanwhile, President Davis called on Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus for help in getting more crewmen for the ironclad:

“Captain Brown of the Arkansas requires boatmen, and reports himself doomed to inactivity by the inability to get them. We have a large class of river boatmen and some ordinary seamen on our Gulf Coast who must now be unemployed. Can you help Captain Brown to get an adequate crew?”

Two days later, Farragut led his Federal naval squadron back down the Mississippi River to New Orleans due to falling waters and rampant illness among his men. The remaining gunboats patrolled the area between Vicksburg and Helena, Arkansas. This gave the Confederates control of the Mississippi from Vicksburg 200 river miles down to Port Hudson, Louisiana. Farragut firmly believed that naval forces alone could not capture the mighty stronghold of Vicksburg. Welles later wrote:

“The most disreputable naval affair of the war was the descent of the steam ram Arkansas through both squadrons, until she hauled into the batteries of Vicksburg, and there the two Flag Officers abandoned the place and the ironclad ram, Farragut and his force going down to New Orleans, and Davis proceeding with his flotilla up the river.”

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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 15899-907; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 635; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 188, 193-94, 196-98; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 556; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178, 182, 184-85; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607, 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 26-32; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 240; 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. 421; 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. 89, 92-94; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 22; 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), Q362

Bragg Takes Command in Mississippi

June 23, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg announced that he would lead his new army from Tupelo, Mississippi, into eastern Tennessee to join forces with Major General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates defending Chattanooga.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Bragg had 34,000 men in his Army of Mississippi, which he inherited from General P.G.T. Beauregard. If he linked with Smith, the combined forces would total 54,000. This, along with the effective cavalry commands under Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan, would make the Confederates strong enough to confront Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio threatening Chattanooga from northern Alabama.

Smith had pleaded for reinforcements ever since Federals began approaching Chattanooga, notifying the Confederate War Department, “If the Government wishes Chattanooga secured, a reinforcement of at least 2,000 armed men must be immediately sent there and an officer of ability assigned to the command.” President Jefferson Davis responded by sending 6,000 reinforcements under Brigadier General Henry Heth.

Despite this, Smith called on the governor of Georgia to provide militia because “My force is not sufficient to defend this department.” Smith also wired General Robert E. Lee on the Virginia Peninsula, informing him that reinforcements had to be rushed to Chattanooga to save the city from Federal conquest. Then Smith notified Bragg that Buell’s Federals were coming, and “I have no force to repel such an attack.”

Bragg, still in the process of reorganizing his army, dispatched Major General John P. McCown’s 3,000-man division by railroad. Bragg noted the quickness and efficiency of sending troops by rail for future operations. Meanwhile, Smith wrote the War Department again: “Large reinforcements speedily forwarded can alone save Chattanooga.”

Secretary of War George W. Randolph informed Bragg his department had been “extended so as to embrace that part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi, the entire states of Mississippi and Alabama, and the portion of Georgia and Florida west of the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers.” Randolph added, “Strike the moment an opportunity offers.”

Bragg planned to do so. But first he issued a proclamation to his men as their new commander:

“I enter hopefully on my duties. But, soldiers, to secure the legitimate results of all your heavy sacrifices which have brought this army together, to infuse that unity and cohesion essential for a resolute resistance to the wicked invasion of our country, and to give to serried ranks force, impetus, and direction for driving the invader beyond our borders, be assured discipline at all times and obedience to the orders of your officers on all points, as a sacred duty, an act of patriotism, is an absolute necessity. A few more days of needful preparation and organization and I shall give your banners to the breeze… with the confident trust that you will gain additional honors to those you have already won on other fields. But be prepared to undergo privation and labor with cheerfulness and alacrity.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 231-32; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 567-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 174; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15, 41

Running the Vicksburg Batteries

June 18, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut began assembling a Federal naval squadron to run past Vicksburg, one of the last major Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut received orders from Washington to assemble a flotilla of gunboats and mortars that could bypass the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg and link with the Federal Western Flotilla at Memphis. Although he doubted that ships could get past Vicksburg’s heavy guns without being destroyed, he began organizing a squadron downriver at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

By this time, Major General Earl Van Dorn, the new Confederate commander in the region, had assembled 10,000 troops to defend Vicksburg. Recent Federal successes on the Mississippi had prompted soldiers and residents to strengthen the city’s defenses, which included building fortifications and placing more batteries on the bluffs overlooking the river to prevent Federal naval passage.

On June 20, a 3,000-man Federal detachment from Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s New Orleans occupation force under Brigadier General Thomas Williams boarded transports to join Farragut’s fleet upriver to Vicksburg. Their mission was to set up a base across the river from the city at Swampy Toe, and then dig a canal to allow Federal vessels to bypass a bend in the river and move upriver, beyond Vicksburg’s cannon range.

As the Federals approached, the Confederates’ rush to finish Vicksburg’s defenses accelerated. The steep bluffs on the riverbank, along with Van Dorn’s superior numbers, made an infantry attack impossible. But many worried that the Federals’ naval firepower could overwhelm the defenders. President Jefferson Davis wrote to Van Dorn, “The people will sustain you in your heroic determination, and may God bless you with success.”

The Federal troops began landing on the 24th. Unaccustomed to the southern climate, they fell ill from diseases such as dysentery, malaria, and typhoid, and many died as a result. In addition, Farragut worried that the summer drought would lower the river and strand his deep-draft vessels. Nevertheless, the mortar boats began firing on the Vicksburg defenses as the Federal troops started digging the canal.

After two days of bombardment, Farragut resolved to try moving his gunboats past Vicksburg, just as he had bypassed Forts Jackson and St. Philip in April. Nighttime navigation on the river was too difficult, so Farragut had to make the attempt at dawn. As Commander David D. Porter’s mortar fleet continued shelling the town, the gunboats began upriver. The Confederates immediately began firing down on them from the bluffs, with the ships answering with broadsides. A sailor aboard Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, wrote:

“The whole fleet moved up to the attack. The shells from the mortars were being hurled right over our heads, and as (enemy) battery after battery was unmasked from every conceivable position, the ridge of the bluff was one sheet of fire. The big ships sent in their broadsides, the mortars scores of shells, and all combined to make up a grand display and terrible conflict.”

Ultimately, eight vessels made it past the batteries and three had to turn back. The Hartford made it through, even though she was “riddled from stem to stern.” A shot nearly killed Farragut, hitting the ship’s rigging just above where he stood. He wrote his wife, “The same shot cut the halyard that hoisted my flag, which dropped to half-mast without being perceived by us. This circumstance caused the other vessels to think that I was killed.”

Federal fire killed 22 soldiers and two civilians (a man and a woman). The Federals suffered 10 killed. Farragut succeeded in getting most of his fleet past Vicksburg, thus demonstrating the ability of gunboats to bypass stationary batteries. But the Confederate defenders still commanded the river, and Farragut noted that as soon as Federal fire drove Confederate artillerists from their guns, they “return to them as soon as we have passed and rake us.”

Vicksburg could not be captured by naval firepower alone, leading Farragut to write to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, “I am satisfied that it is not possible for us to take Vicksburg without an army force of twelve to fifteen thousand men.” A long, brutal campaign to take this Confederate bastion had just begun.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169-72, 174-75; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-26; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 228-33; 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. 420-21; 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. 89-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 429; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

The Fall of Corinth

May 29, 1862 – As Major General Henry W. Halleck finally prepared to attack the vital railroad town of Corinth, Mississippi, the Confederates pulled out to fight another day.

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Halleck positioned heavy guns on his right, planning to begin bombarding the Confederate defenders at Corinth the next day. In the center, Major General Don Carlos Buell reported increased enemy activity and requested to attack. On the left, Major General John Pope posted field artillery and began shelling the town; he also planned to attack on the 30th.

Halleck had originally believed that General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederates in Corinth, was simply waiting for the Federals to attack his strong defenses. But now Halleck agreed with Pope that Beauregard was preparing to attack the Federal left. In reality, Beauregard was doing neither; he was preparing to abandon Corinth.

Beauregard had just 53,000 men against over 120,000. The Confederates could not attack, and if Halleck put Corinth under siege, they would be starved into submission. Moreover, a lack of adequate drinking water plagued the Confederates, as did rampant illness. Nearly a third of the army was on the sick list, with dysentery so prevalent that soldiers called it “the evacuation of Corinth.” Thus, Beauregard opted to withdraw and keep his army intact.

Orders were issued to fall back to Tupelo, Mississippi. Major General Braxton Bragg directed the trains, which made off with the Confederates’ ammunition, supplies, and infirmed troops who could not travel on their own. Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates protected the trains as they headed south. Major General William Hardee’s troops led the withdrawal, marching 20 miles south to Booneville by day’s end.

Throughout the night, Beauregard had a train of empty cars move back and forth as close to Pope’s lines as possible, with whistles blowing and soldiers cheering every time it stopped near the Federals. This not only covered the Confederate withdrawal, but it fooled Pope into thinking that Beauregard was being reinforced. He wired Halleck at 1 a.m. on the 30th:

“The enemy is re-enforcing heavily, by trains, in my front and on my left. The cars are running and the cheering is immense every time they unload in front of me. I have no doubt, from all appearances, that I shall be attacked in heavy force at daylight.”

Federal soldiers who had previously worked on railroads could tell by putting their ears to the rails that empty trains were coming into Corinth while full trains were moving out. But their commanders would not take heed.

By dawn on May 30, both Halleck and Pope were certain that the Confederates would attack Pope’s (left) sector of the Federal line. However, Federals heard “a succession of loud explosions” from inside the town and realized that the enemy was retreating. He deployed skirmishers at 6 a.m., and they took control of the abandoned Confederate defenses by 7:30.

Entering Corinth, the Federals settled into an empty town. Halleck ordered no pursuit (except for Pope’s tentative scouting) because he believed the Confederates would soon return to try taking the town back. He directed part of the army to build defense works south of town, while other Federals took over the abandoned Confederate trenches.

Illness played a role not only in Beauregard’s withdrawal, but also in Halleck’s decision not to pursue. About a third of Halleck’s army was also sick, with Halleck and Pope afflicted with diarrhea and Brigadier General William T. Sherman suffering from malaria. Nearly 30 other generals in the army also reported sick.

Beauregard’s men crossed the Tuscumbia River, six miles south of Corinth, and halted. When no Federal attack came, they burned the bridge and continued falling back along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad line toward Baldwyn, 30 miles south. The lone setback in Beauregard’s otherwise seamless withdrawal came when Federal cavalry rode ahead to Booneville, destroying large amounts of supplies and equipment, and taking 500 prisoners.

Beauregard got away with almost all his men, supplies, equipment, and provisions intact. He only left behind some “Quaker” guns, or logs painted black to resemble cannon. For this, Beauregard declared that the withdrawal was “equivalent to a brilliant victory.”

But President Jefferson Davis saw it differently; he was very upset about losing such an important town as Corinth. To Davis and many top Confederate military leaders, the loss of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad broke the “vertebrae of the Confederacy.”

With victories at Pea Ridge, New Madrid, Island No. 10, Shiloh, and now at Corinth, the Federals controlled the entire Mississippi River Valley from Missouri to northern Mississippi. From this point, Halleck now had several options. He could pursue Beauregard, threaten Memphis to the northwest, threaten Vicksburg to the southwest, threaten northern Alabama to the east, threaten Chattanooga to the northeast, or set up an occupation force to deal with supply transport, trading, contrabands, and guerrillas. Halleck chose the last two options.

Although capturing Corinth was a great Federal achievement, the Lincoln administration noted that it took Halleck over a month to get there, and Beauregard’s army remained fully intact.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 116; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13251-60; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 177; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 384; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 159-60; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 197-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 217-18; 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. 416, 488, 511; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 427-28; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 12

Federals Slowly Approach Corinth

May 21, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck’s “Grand Army” inched its way toward Confederates under General P.G.T. Beauregard at Corinth, forcing Beauregard to decide whether to fight or flee.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this time, Halleck’s army of over 120,000 men had taken nearly three weeks to advance less than 25 miles from Pittsburg Landing in southwestern Tennessee to the vital railroad town of Corinth in northern Mississippi. Halleck was being very careful to avoid another near-disaster like Shiloh. Every time the Federals halted their advance for the day, they were required to build entrenchments and earthworks in case of a Confederate attack. Bad weather and heavily wooded country also slowed the advance.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who had been “promoted” to Halleck’s second in command, officially headed Halleck’s right wing and reserve. But Halleck maintained his headquarters with the right wing, so he had direct control over its movements and did not consult Grant on military matters. Brigadier General William T. Sherman, Grant’s close friend, wrote after the war:

“General Grant was substantially left out, and was named ‘second-in-command’ according to some French notion, with no clear, well-defined command or authority… he felt deeply the indignity, if not insult, heaped upon him.”

Halleck’s advance, if not already slow enough, was slowed even more by northern politicians worried about the dangerous Confederate army awaiting the Federals. Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton inspected troops from his state and then wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

“The enemy are in great force at Corinth, and have recently received reinforcements. They evidently intend to make a desperate struggle at that point, and from all I can learn their leaders have utmost confidence in the result… It is fearful to contemplate the consequences of a defeat at Corinth.”

Halleck responded by dispatching even more scouting parties to reconnoiter the areas around nearby Iuka and Burnsville.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Meanwhile, Beauregard notified his superiors in Richmond that he intended to hold Corinth as long as possible. But if retreat became necessary, he would fall back to the southeast, closer to Richmond and farther from vital points on the Mississippi River such as Memphis and Vicksburg. Beauregard wrote that it was “essential to hold Corinth to the last extremity, if the odds are not too great against us, even at the risk of a defeat.”

That “last extremity” came on May 25 when Beauregard called his top commanders (Generals Braxton Bragg, Earl Van Dorn, Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, John C. Breckinridge, and Sterling Price) to a council of war. Beauregard explained that Halleck would not attack frontally, which the Confederates could repel, but would rather put Corinth under siege, thus trapping and starving the army into surrender. The number of effective soldiers was rapidly dropping due to illness and a lack of drinking water. The only viable options were either to preëmptively attack or abandon the town.

When Beauregard asked for advice, Hardee opined that attacking the huge Federal army “would probably inflict on us and the Confederacy a fatal blow.” The officers agreed that it was best to evacuate Corinth, fall back along the Memphis & Ohio Railroad, and live to fight another day.

Beauregard directed his commanders to begin preparations but keep the plan secret so he could fool Halleck into thinking that the Confederates intended to fight. The next day, Beauregard issued orders for evacuating Corinth. He began by sending supplies and the sick troops to Baldwin and Tupelo.

A few miles away, Halleck continued assembling his heavy guns to place Corinth under siege. The end of the Federal right wing was within four miles of the Confederate defenses outside the town. By the morning of the 28th, Halleck’s three wings under Generals George H. Thomas, Don Carlos Buell, and John Pope (right to left) were all finally within gun range of Confederate defenses outside Corinth. Halleck initiated an artillery bombardment from dawn to dusk, pausing intermittently for the infantry to probe for weaknesses in the defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13227, 13251; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 375-77, 383; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 155, 157; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 196-97; 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. 416; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157

Farragut Moves up the Mississippi

May 18, 1862 – The Federal naval squadron led by Flag Officer David G. Farragut tried following up its capture of New Orleans by pushing further up the Mississippi River. However, they met unexpected resistance.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As May began, Farragut sought to move upriver and ultimately join forces with the Federal Western Flotilla stationed above Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Farragut’s greatest obstacle would be Vicksburg, Mississippi, which was protected by batteries atop steep bluffs along the river. If the Federals captured Vicksburg, they would essentially cut the Confederacy off from the Trans-Mississippi and split it in two.

Before Farragut could take on the stronghold, he had to repair the ships that had been damaged in the operation against Forts Jackson and St. Philip. This gave the Confederates more time to strengthen their defenses. Farragut would be further handicapped by having a naval fleet more suited for the sea than a river. Nevertheless, he resolved to push as far upriver as he could.

The U.S.S. Iroquois, one of Farragut’s leading vessels headed by Commander James S. Palmer, steamed up the Mississippi and captured the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge on the 8th. Baton Rouge was defenseless against the Iroquois’s firepower, which would soon be backed by the rest of Farragut’s fleet. Federals also seized the local arsenal after a tense exchange with the city mayor.

Four days later, the Federal squadron captured Natchez, Mississippi, 280 river miles from New Orleans. The Iroquois along with the U.S.S. Oneida under Commander Samuel P. Lee remained at Natchez while Farragut led the rest of the fleet 80 miles upriver to Vicksburg. (Confederates later regained control of Natchez and nearly executed the man who had offered to deliver the mayor’s surrender. Only General P.G.T. Beauregard’s personal intervention saved the man’s life.)

The Federal vessels reconnoitered the Mississippi between Natchez and Vicksburg over the next week. The crew of the U.S.S. Calhoun captured the Confederate gunboat Corypheus at Bayou Bonfuca, Louisiana, and the Oneida bombarded Confederates stationed at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, before the fleet continued upriver.

The Federals approached Vicksburg around 11 a.m. on May 18. The stronghold was protected by artillery atop 200-foot-high bluffs, 8,000 Confederate troops, and a gunboat fleet. Commander Lee of the Oneida, acting on Farragut’s behalf for the navy and Major General Benjamin F. Butler for the army, dropped anchor at a bend in the river and dispatched a small boat under a flag of truce.

A Confederate boat met the Federals and received their message, which demanded “the surrender of Vicksburg and its defenses to the lawful authority of the United States, under which, private property and personal rights will be respected.” A Confederate gunner fired a cannonball across the bow of the ship that had delivered the surrender demand.

A messenger returned with military and civilian responses about five hours later. Brigadier General Martin L. Smith, commanding the Vicksburg garrison, wrote, “Regarding the surrender of the defenses, I have to reply that having been ordered here to hold these defenses, it is my intention to do so as long as in my power.” Vicksburg’s mayor explained that even though the military, and not city officials, had built the defenses, “neither the municipal authorities nor the citizens will ever consent to a surrender of the city.”

Colonel James L. Autrey, Vicksburg’s military governor, offered an even stronger response: “I have to state that Mississippians don’t know, and refuse to learn, how to surrender to any enemy. If Commodore Farragut or Brigadier-General Butler can teach them, let them come and try.” (Autrey added further inadvertent insult because Farragut was a captain and Butler was a major general.)

These answers, along with the extensive armament ringing the bluffs, prompted Lee to wait for Farragut’s arrival. When Farragut arrived, he was surprised to learn of such strong Confederate defiance, and he knew that he could not destroy their defenses by himself. He opted to return to New Orleans, leaving behind some ships to watch the city for the time being. The Federals would threaten Vicksburg again soon.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (18 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 167, 169-72; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 371, 380; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 149, 151-54; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211, 213; 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. 67

The Corinth Campaign Finally Begins

May 2, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck was finally ready to lead his Federal “Grand Army” against the vital railroad center of Corinth, Mississippi.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Halleck, commanding what had formerly been three independent armies, had taken nearly a month to carefully prepare moving out from Pittsburg Landing into northern Mississippi. He sought to confront the Confederate Army of Mississippi (also known as the Army of the Mississippi) under General P.G.T. Beauregard defending Corinth. Halleck telegraphed his superiors at Washington on May 1: “The evidences are that Beauregard will fight at Corinth.”

The next day, Beauregard issued a proclamation to his men:

“We are about to meet once more in the shock of battle the invaders of our soil, the despoilers of our homes, the disturbers of our family ties. Face to face, hand to hand, we are to decide whether we are to be freemen or the vile slaves of those who are free only in name, and who but yesterday were vanquished, although in largely superior numbers, in their own encampments on the ever-memorable field of Shiloh. Let the impending battle decide our fate, and add one more illustrious page to the history of our Revolution, one to which our children will point with noble pride, saying, ‘Our fathers were at the battle of Corinth.’”

By this time, Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederate Army of the West had arrived from Arkansas via Memphis to make up Beauregard’s reserve. Beauregard also asked General Mansfield Lovell, who had recently abandoned New Orleans, to leave a regiment at Vicksburg and bring the rest of his force to Corinth. But Lovell resisted Beauregard’s request, asserting that Vicksburg needed extra protection from the Federal naval fleet heading up the Mississippi River.

At Pittsburg Landing, Halleck notified his superiors on May 3: “I leave here tomorrow morning, and our army will be before Corinth tomorrow night.” By that time, Federal advance elements under Major General John Pope, comprising Halleck’s left wing, were approaching Farmington, just four miles from Corinth. The Federals took Farmington after heavy skirmishing, but rather than order his center and right wings to move up beside Pope, Halleck ordered Pope to withdraw and form beside the center and right, which were 12 miles from Corinth near Monterey, Tennessee.

Halleck ordered a halt to the overall advance on the 4th so the troops could dig entrenchments; Halleck was determined to always be ready for an attack so as not to duplicate the carnage at Shiloh. Building defenses at each stop in forward progress turned the advance into a crawl. Halleck had planned to be outside Corinth by May 5, but increased skirmishing along with the weather and terrain compelled him to halt and concentrate solely on defense.

Still at Monterey on the 6th, Halleck explained to his superiors that heavy rain had slowed the march, and the surrounding “country was almost like a wilderness and very difficult to operate in.” Adding to Halleck’s slowness was intelligence that Confederates were reinforcing Corinth. This contradicted intelligence that Pope, whose wing of the army was closest to Corinth, had received stating that Beauregard was preparing to evacuate. Halleck opted to act on his intelligence, not Pope’s.

At Corinth, Beauregard expected an attack at any moment. He devised signals to notify the army where the impending assault would come from, the Confederate right (signaled by three artillery rounds fired), center (two rounds), or left (one round). Scouts informed Beauregard on the 6th that advance Federal elements had reached Farmington near the Tennessee-Mississippi border.

Over the next two days, the Federals made very little forward progress as Halleck deployed several scouting missions. The Federal left wing under Pope advanced again to Farmington, moving two divisions near the Confederate lines. However, Halleck again ordered Pope to withdraw his men to rejoin the rest of the army. To Washington, Halleck’s “advance” was looking more like a siege, much like George B. McClellan’s disappointingly slow advance against Yorktown in the East.

Skirmishing continued through the next week around Farmington and other points in northeastern Mississippi. By the 17th, the Federals were slowly inching their way toward Corinth, but they were halted by a fierce fight at Russell’s House. Halleck spent the next few days bringing up his heavy artillery, which required the construction of corduroy roads. Meanwhile, the Federals built extensive earthworks and trenches to guard against attacks that never came. The Federals were closing in on Corinth, but very slowly.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13227; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 166-67, 171; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 374; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 146, 149-51, 154; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 196; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 206-07, 209