Category Archives: Mississippi

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

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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

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