Category Archives: Tennessee

Confederates Reinforce Chattanooga

July 29, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Mississippi arrived at Chattanooga, while the Federal high command in the West scrambled to learn Bragg’s intentions.

Gen Don Carlos Buell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio from Huntsville, Alabama, received word on the 31st that Bragg had arrived at Chattanooga two days before, and “On the same evening two trains came in with soldiers. Railroad agent says he has orders to furnish cars for 30,000 as fast as he can.” Buell had been moving sluggishly through northern Alabama due to Confederate raiders disrupting his supply lines. He just recently restored his line from Nashville to Stevenson and finally returned his men to full allowances with the arrival of 210,000 rations.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal armies farther west, was unaware of Bragg’s intentions. He received varying reports from Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Army of the Mississippi at Corinth, that Bragg was headed to Vicksburg, or Mobile, or Chattanooga. This left Grant to report that “nothing absolutely certain of the movements of the enemy has been learned,” except “a movement has taken place from Tupelo, in what direction or for what purpose is not so certain.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Brigadier General Philip Sheridan, commanding Rosecrans’s cavalry, learned from a captured Confederate officer that Bragg was heading to Chattanooga. Sheridan reported, “The enemy have been and still are moving in large numbers to Chattanooga, via Mobile and Montgomery, concentrating at Rome, Ga. A large number of troops are at Saltillo (10 miles north of Tupelo), not less than 10,000.” The Confederate troops near Saltillo belonged to Major General Sterling Price, who was moving north from Tupelo.

Bragg arrived at Chattanooga on July 30. The next day, Major General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Army of East Tennessee, came down from Knoxville to meet with him. Bragg sought to liberate Nashville from Federal occupation, but Smith wanted Bragg to hold off Buell while he led his army into Kentucky.

The men agreed to coordinate their movements with each other, with Smith telling Bragg that he would “not only co-operate with you, but will cheerfully place my command under you subject to your orders.” Although Bragg was the ranking officer, his army was operating in Smith’s department, so the men would act as equals. This virtually doomed the offensive before it even began.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Smith would initiate the action by moving against Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s Federals at Cumberland Gap. If Bragg’s cavalry was available, Bragg and Smith would combine their forces and cut Buell’s supply lines in Middle Tennessee. Without developing any specifics, Bragg would confront Buell while Smith invaded Kentucky. The two Confederate forces in Mississippi under Price at Saltillo and Major General Earl Van Dorn at Vicksburg would prevent Grant from reinforcing Buell.

Bragg informed Richmond that he and Smith had “arranged measures for material support and effective cooperation.” Bragg explained that Smith would advance on Cumberland Gap:

“Should he be successful, and our well-grounded hopes be fulfilled, our entire force will then be thrown into Middle Tennessee with the fairest prospect of cutting off General Buell, should that commander continue in his present position.”

Bragg made no mention of a Kentucky incursion, instead emphasizing Middle Tennessee as the main objective. He stated that if Grant reinforced Buell, “Van Dorn and Price can strike and clear West Tennessee of any force that can be left to hold it.”

Timing and coordination were essential for this plan to succeed. This would prove very difficult for Bragg, who not only had to coordinate his army’s movements with Smith’s, but he had to keep command over Van Dorn and Price as well. The first move was Smith’s, as he tried taking Cumberland Gap while calling for reinforcements from western Virginia.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 562, 575; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 186-87; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 576-77; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 43

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Confederates on the Move in the West

July 23, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg mobilized his Confederate Army of Mississippi to move from Tupelo to Chattanooga and ultimately join forces with Major General Edmund Kirby Smith.

Bragg wrote his predecessor, General P.G.T. Beauregard, explaining there were four options for his Confederates:

  • They could remain at Tupelo
  • They could attack Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals at either Corinth or Memphis
  • They could attack Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals advancing on Chattanooga
  • They could advance into Middle Tennessee, disrupting both Grant’s and Buell’s supply lines

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Only advancing on Chattanooga would enable Bragg to join forces with E.K. Smith, whose 18,000-man army was poised to threaten Cumberland Gap and Kentucky. Bragg wrote to President Jefferson Davis:

“Obstacles in front connected with danger to Chattanooga induce a change of base. Fully impressed with great importance of that line, am moving to East Tennessee. Produce rapid offensive from there following the consternation now being produced by our cavalry. Leave this State amply protected by (Major General Earl) Van Dorn at Vicksburg and (Major General Sterling) Price here (at Tupelo).”

Bragg’s cavalry moved out on the 22nd, with Bragg writing Beauregard, “Our cavalry is paving the way for me in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky.” Bragg’s 30,000 Confederate infantry began boarding trains the next day. The trip stretched 776-miles and involved transferring onto six different railroads and a steamboat along a route south to Mobile, north to Montgomery, east to Atlanta, then northwest to Chattanooga.

Once at Chattanooga, Bragg planned to join forces with E.K. Smith’s army and invade Kentucky, much like Colonel John Hunt Morgan was doing. Bragg guessed that Buell’s Federals would abandon efforts to capture Chattanooga and instead pursue the Confederates northward. And if Grant reinforced Buell, Van Dorn and Price could join forces in Mississippi to attack Grant’s diminished force.

Certain that Kentuckians would eagerly join his army, Bragg brought 15,000 extra rifles with him. This certainty seemed to be confirmed the next day when E.K. Smith forwarded a message from J.H. Morgan in Kentucky, stating that the bridges between Cincinnati and Lexington had been destroyed and at least 30,000 secessionists would gladly join the Confederate cause.

Smith contacted Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson, who was opposing the Federal force at Cumberland Gap under Brigadier General George W. Morgan. Smith told Stevenson that if G.W. Morgan detached troops to deal with J.H. Morgan, it could “present the most favorable opportunity of pushing forward your operations, and probably enable you to enter Kentucky.”

Bragg reported to the Confederate adjutant general on the 24th:

“Major General Van Dorn, with about 16,000 effectives, will hold the line of the Mississippi. Major General Price, with a similar force, will face the enemy on this frontier (central Mississippi), and a sufficient garrison will be left for Mobile and the Gulf. With the balance of the forces, some 35,000 effectives, I hope, in conjunction with Major General Smith, to strike an effective blow through Middle Tennessee, gaining the enemy’s rear, cutting off his supplies and dividing his forces, so as to encounter him in detail. In any event much will be accomplished in simply preserving our line and preventing a descent into Georgia, than which no greater disaster could befall us.”

Advance Confederate units from Bragg’s army arrived at Chattanooga on July 27, just two days before the last train left Tupelo. This was the largest Confederate railroad movement of the war, and it was completed in record time, despite the poor condition and different track gauges of southern railroads.

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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. 198; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 571, 573; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 184-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 243; 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. 515-16; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 42-43

Nathan Bedford Forrest Raids Middle Tennessee

July 13, 1862 – Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate horsemen captured the key city of Murfreesboro as part of a raid to disrupt Federal communication and supply lines in Middle Tennessee.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest, who had been assigned to lead a cavalry regiment guarding Chattanooga, rode out of town with about 1,000 troopers on the 6th. Major General Edmund Kirby Smith assigned them to operate against Federal movements in the area, with their main objective being the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad at Murfreesboro. A small Federal garrison protected that line as it supplied Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federal Army of the Ohio in northern Alabama.

Over the next week, the Confederates rode across the Cumberland Mountains to McMinnville, picking up another five companies to increase their strength to 1,400 men. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Thomas L. Crittenden took command of the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro, which consisted of about 1,400 scattered troops. Crittenden began reorganizing the force, erroneously thinking that there were no enemy forces closer than Chattanooga.

Forrest left McMinnville on the 12th and rode northwest, arriving at Woodbury around 11 p.m. that night. Pro-Confederate residents cheered the troopers’ arrival and informed them of the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro. Residents said the Federals had come into Woodbury the night before, seized most of the men for allegedly having Confederate sympathies, and brought them to Murfreesboro to execute them the next morning. Forrest assured residents that he would save the men.

The Confederates reconnoitered outside Murfreesboro before dawn on the 13th, having rode 50 miles in less than 15 hours. They learned from captured pickets that the Federals had no idea they were there. As the day’s first supply train headed out from Nashville to Stevenson via Murfreesboro, Forrest’s men attacked. Part of his force rode into town to free the prisoners, and part attacked the Federal camp outside town. The Confederates in town saved the prisoners after fleeing Federals tried to burn the jail. They also captured Crittenden and his staff.

Outside town, Forrest’s troopers sent the unsuspecting Federals running, but they eventually regrouped and put up a fight. Colonel Henry C. Lester brought up his Federals from Stones River, who pushed the Confederates back. But then Forrest moved around Lester’s force and destroyed his camp. Keeping Lester’s men occupied, Forrest captured another portion of the Federal garrison by claiming that he had already taken Lester’s command prisoner.

Meanwhile, Forrest continuously rode his men in and out of a clearing to make Lester’s Federals think that they faced overwhelming numbers. Forrest sent a message to Lester:

“Colonel, I must demand an unconditional surrender of your force as prisoners of war or I will have every man put to the sword. You are aware of the overpowering force I have at my command, and this demand is made to prevent the effusion of blood.”

Lester surrendered his 450 men and four guns. All told, Forrest took 1,200 prisoners, 50 supply wagons, an artillery battery, and about $250,000 worth of supplies. The Federals lost 29 killed and 120 wounded besides those captured. Forrest lost 25 killed and about 50 wounded.

Forrest’s troopers eventually returned to McMinnville with their captured men and supplies. By the time a detachment of Buell’s army under Major General William “Bull” Nelson reached Murfreesboro to reinforce the Federal garrison, it had already been captured and Forrest was already gone.

The Confederates moved out of McMinnville again on the 18th, this time riding toward Nashville to divert the attention of Nelson’s new garrison at Murfreesboro. The Federal commander at Nashville learned of Forrest’s advance and dispatched a force to Lebanon, northeast of town. Noting Forrest’s recent victory at Murfreesboro, the commander estimated Forrest’s strength at 7,000 men.

After two days of riding, Forrest’s troopers entered Lebanon and learned that the Federals stationed there had withdrawn the day before to avoid capture. The next day, Forrest (newly promoted to brigadier general) rode through the Hermitage of former President Andrew Jackson and scattered Federal pickets within five miles of Nashville. The Federals in the city telegraphed Nelson to send part of his force northwest from Murfreesboro to help stop Forrest.

The Confederates destroyed telegraph wires, railroad equipment, and three railroad bridges leading to Buell’s army; they also took 97 prisoners. It took the Federals over a week to restore the supply line. Forrest’s men then rode south, avoiding Nelson’s advancing infantry.

Returning to the McMinnville area, the Confederates attacked Federals under Brigadier General William S. Smith as they guarded a secondary railroad line from McMinnville to Tullahoma. Forrest’s raid, along with Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate incursion into Kentucky, not only slowed Buell’s advance on Chattanooga, but it also compelled General Braxton Bragg to lead his Confederates out of Tupelo to try taking back Middle Tennessee.

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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. 193; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 562, 571; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 179, 181, 183; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 239; 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. 513; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 270; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 31

The Fall of Memphis

June 6, 1862 – After capturing Fort Pillow, the Federal Western Flotilla immediately targeted Memphis, the Confederacy’s fifth largest city, further down the Mississippi River.

The flotilla consisted of five ironclad gunboats led by Flag Officer Charles H. Davis (the U.S.S. Cairo, Carondelet, Louisville, St. Louis, and Davis’s flagship the U.S.S. Benton), and four rams led by Colonel Charles Ellet (featuring the U.S.S. Queen of the West and Monarch). Bearing 68 total guns, the fleet pulled out of Island No. 45, two miles north of Memphis, at 4:20 a.m. to take the city.

At Memphis, residents held a mass meeting to gather support for the city’s defenses, which were very weak. Most Confederate troops had already abandoned the city, but the eight “cotton-clad” steamers of the Confederate River Defense Fleet remained. Bearing 28 guns, they were jointly commanded by Commodore James E. Montgomery and Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson.

When a picket boat notified Montgomery of the Federal advance, he opted to move his fleet up the Mississippi to preemptively attack the enemy vessels before they could approach Memphis. Thompson’s army troops boarded the steamers to man the guns and lend small arms support.

Montgomery invited Memphis residents to “come down at sunrise” to watch him “sink the Yankee fleet.” He proclaimed, “I have come here that you may see Lincoln’s gunboats sent to the bottom by the fleet which you have built and manned.” Thousands of people answered his call, gathering on the bluffs overlooking the river to watch the action. They hoped to see a repeat of the Battle of Plum Run Bend last month, but an important change since then was that the Federals now had rams.

As a precaution, the Confederates sent one of their ironclads under construction at Memphis, the C.S.S. Arkansas, down the Mississippi to the Yazoo River. Another ironclad, the C.S.S. Tennessee, was destroyed to avoid capture.

Davis spotted the Confederate steamers approaching and ordered his flotilla to advance and meet them. Separated by two miles, the fleets formed battle lines on the water and began firing at each other in front of Memphis at around 5:40 a.m. The exchange lasted about 15 minutes until Ellet, heading the Queen of the West, shouted to his brother Alfred, commanding the Monarch, “Round out and follow me! Now is our chance!” The two rams steamed through the line of five ironclads at 13 knots to engage the Confederates.

The Battle of Memphis | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Battle of Memphis | Image Credit: Flickr.com

A wild fight ensued in which ships fired and rammed from all directions. The Queen slammed into the C.S.S. Colonel Lovell and nearly cut her in two; the collision’s vibration could be felt by the spectators on the bluffs overlooking the fight. The Lovell quickly sank, killing 68 of the 86 men on board.

The Queen was then disabled by the C.S.S. General Beauregard. The Beauregard and the C.S.S. General Price then tried ramming the Monarch, but the faster Federal ram slipped between them and they collided with each other, knocking off the Price’s wheel. The Monarch then rammed the Beauregard and sent her limping to the Arkansas shore.

The Federal gunboats then joined the fray, exploding the Beauregard’s boilers with a shot. The Monarch grounded Montgomery’s flagship, the C.S.S. Little Rebel, and the gunboats fired on her until Montgomery and his crew abandoned ship on the Arkansas shore. They fled into the woods.

The five remaining Confederate vessels then turned and tried to escape in what became a running, 10-mile fight. As the ships drew closer to each other, the troops on board exchanged small arms fire. Nobody was hit except for Ellet aboard the Queen; he was shot through the kneecap.

The gunboats bombarded the C.S.S. Sumter and General Bragg until they both ran aground. The Benton pounded the C.S.S. General Thompson with artillery fire until she exploded. The Beauregard, disabled from earlier fighting, drifted downriver and sank. Only the C.S.S. General Van Dorn was fast enough to get away, making it to the Yazoo River ahead of her pursuers. But the Van Dorn’s damage was so extensive that Confederates later scuttled her.

By 7:30 a.m., the entire Confederate Defense Fleet had been destroyed, as the converted steamboats proved no match for the powerful Federal ironclads and rams. The Federals took over 70 prisoners, as well as several transports and other vessels under construction on the Memphis docks. Four of the eight Confederate ships were later repaired and added to the Federal fleet.

Although Davis had a tense rivalry with Ellet and his rams, he credited the victory to Ellet’s “bold and successful attack on the enemy rams” and called him “conspicuous for his gallantry.” In what became the war’s last “fleet action” on the rivers, Ellet was the only Federal casualty. His leg wound was considered superficial, but he died of blood poisoning 12 days later. His brother Alfred replaced him as commander of the Ellet-class ram fleet.

Spectators on the bluffs returned to their homes in tears after seeing their River Defense Fleet annihilated. Thompson, watching the action from the shore, called it “one of the grandest, yet saddest scenes of my life.” He reported that “the enemy’s rams did most of the execution and were handled more adroitly than ours.” Thompson rode off with his remaining army troops to avoid capture. He later disbanded the fleet and reassigned the survivors to other posts.

The mayor of Memphis, who had also watched the destruction, raised a white flag. Charles Ellet’s son, Lieutenant Charles R. Ellet, and two others went ashore, walked through the incensed crowd, and accepted the surrender of Memphis at 11 a.m. An angry mob surrounded them as they hauled down the Confederate flag from City Hall and raised the U.S. flag over the post office, but they came away unharmed.

Two infantry regiments arrived later on the 6th to formally occupy the city. The next day, Federal forces toured Memphis, particularly the saloons and brothels below the bluffs along the river. Residents deeply resented the new military occupation.

The owner and staff of the Memphis Appeal, one of Tennessee’s most influential papers, refused to surrender. They escaped the city with their printing press and resumed publication from Grenada, Mississippi. One of its editorials declared that the owner would rather dump the equipment into the Mississippi “than continue publication under Union occupation.”

The loss of Memphis was a devastating blow to the Confederacy. The city became a supply base for the Federal armies moving into the Deep South. It not only had facilities to receive supplies from the river, but it had a railhead on the important Memphis & Charleston Railroad as well. The Federals now controlled the Mobile & Ohio Railroad from Columbus, Kentucky, to Corinth, Mississippi; Forts Henry and Donelson, Nashville, Clarksville, and all points on the Tennessee River up to Eastport, Mississippi.

Federals also controlled the entire Mississippi River except for the powerful Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. This would be the next target, as Davis began planning to move his fleet downriver and Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s fleet tried coming upriver from New Orleans.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (6 Jun 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 612, 635; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 180-81; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 388; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 163-64; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 198-99; 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. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 221-23; 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. 417-18; 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. 88-89; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 428-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 156-57, 486-87

The Fall of Fort Pillow

June 5, 1862 – Confederates abandoned an important garrison on the Mississippi River, opening a path for Federal naval forces to move downstream and threaten Memphis, Tennessee.

General P.G.T. Beauregard’s withdrawal from Corinth, Mississippi, doomed many Confederates stationed on the Mississippi west of that town. First in line from north to south were the 3,600 men at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. These troops had been under bombardment from the Federal Western Flotilla since April 13. But with Corinth abandoned, their supply line on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad was lost, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

Fort Pillow | Image Credit: FortWiki.com

Fort Pillow | Image Credit: FortWiki.com

General John B. Villepigue, commanding at Fort Pillow, received orders from Beauregard to “immediately evacuate Fort Pillow for Grenada (150 miles south in Mississippi) by the best and shortest route. Whenever you shall be about to abandon the fort you will telegraph the commanding officer at Memphis to burn all the cotton, sugar, &c, in the vicinity of that city.” The troops were to leave behind anything they could not carry; “arms will be furnished you from the depot at Columbus, Miss., should there be any there.”

Despite protests from Memphis residents and Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson, Villepigue’s Confederates began withdrawing from Fort Pillow and arriving at Memphis on June 3. It was a foregone conclusion among many that without the fort’s protection, Memphis would soon fall. The last of the troops and ammunition were taken by steamer to Vicksburg; the ship fired off one last shot at the Federal vessels before abandoning Fort Pillow. Villepigue reported:

“First we set fire to the quartermaster’s stores; next, the commissary, and then every ‘shanty’ on the ‘hill.’ We blew up all the guns, except two which would not burst. It was a terrific sight–the rain pouring down, the thunder rolling midst the lightning flashes, while the Yankees were pouring a stream of fire, making the sight sublime, though terrible.”

The Federal commanders, Commodore Charles H. Davis leading the gunboats and Colonel Charles R. Ellet leading the rams, had planned to attack Fort Pillow on the 4th, unaware it had been abandoned earlier that morning. Colonel Graham Fitch, commanding 1,000 Federal infantry slated to land and attack, wanted to launch his assault on this day, “but a foolish movement of Colonel Ellet prevented it in a way that could not be foreseen.” So it was scheduled to take place tomorrow.

That afternoon, massive explosions could be heard from the fort, and that night the Federals could see intense fires burning. The fires revealed that the Confederates were gone. Fort Randolph, about 12 miles below Fort Pillow, was abandoned by that evening. Confederates had held firm against Federal bombardment for nearly two months before withdrawing.

Fitch called off his assault and prepared to land and take the works the next day. Federal troops went ashore on the 5th and confirmed Fort Pillow was empty. Ellet came ashore and raised the U.S. flag over the fort. Davis did not acknowledge this in his report due to the heated rivalry between his gunboats and Ellet’s rams within the fleet.

The explosions from yesterday had been casemates and magazines “blown to atoms.” Fitch reported that the Confederates “had destroyed or carried away nearly all the property of the fort; the gun-carriages were burned and burning, and many of the guns that could not be removed were burst.” He did not consider the works valuable enough to occupy, so he left a company behind while Davis left a gunboat, and both men began planning to take Memphis.

The fall of Fort Pillow exposed Memphis as a virtually defenseless city, ripe for Federal conquest. The inadequate Confederate River Defense Fleet on the Mississippi under Captain James E. Montgomery and Thompson’s small force at Memphis were now all that stood between the powerful Federal Western Flotilla and the vital river city. News of the Confederate withdrawal panicked cotton planters along the Mississippi, and they began burning their crops to prevent them from falling into Federal hands.

Davis pledged to advance on the city “with the least possible delay.” The two Federal naval commands began moving down the Mississippi toward Memphis, 40 miles away. Davis commanded the ironclads and mortar boats, and even though they were manned by naval personnel, Davis reported to Major General Henry W. Halleck. Colonel Ellet commanded the rams and reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, with army soldiers comprising his crews. The fleet also escorted transports for Fitch’s troops.

The Federals chased down a Confederate transport steamer, capturing her before the crew could burn her. The ships spent the night assembling north of Memphis, preparing to attack 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 13298; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 180; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 221-22; 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. 417; 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. 87; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 486

The Battle of Shiloh: Aftermath

April 8, 1862 – Both Federals and Confederates claimed victory after a terrible two-day battle, while the shock of such enormous human loss began sinking in.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee, considered pursuing the Confederate Army of Mississippi as it withdrew back toward Corinth on April 7. But Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio that reinforced Grant, was not amenable to the idea. Grant, unwilling to pull rank, did not order Buell to help pursue.

Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest led 350 Confederate cavalry in guarding the retreating wagon train. On the 8th, two Federal brigades advanced in a probing action led by Brigadier General William T. Sherman. A skirmish ensued in which Forrest was shot in the side and nearly captured. Using a Federal soldier as a shield, he rode off and survived the wound.

Sherman also escaped potential death. As Forrest’s troopers advanced toward him, the Federals held firm and drove them off. Sherman later contended that had Forrest not emptied his pistols before reaching him, “My career would have ended right there.” This was the last skirmish in the Battle of Shiloh, with Forrest becoming one of the last casualties.

Back on the battlefield, it took several days for Federal officers and men to regroup their units and reorganize themselves. During that time, troops tended to the incomprehensible number of dead and wounded strewn for miles. A soldier on burial detail recalled:

“When the grave was ready we placed the bodies therein, two deep. All the monument reared to those brave men was a board upon which I cut with my pocket knife the words ‘125 rebels.’ We buried our Union boys in a separate trench and on another board cut ’35 Union.'”

Continuous rain made the work of collecting the wounded and burying the dead even more miserable. In addition, thousands of dead horses littered the field, with camps damaged and destroyed throughout. When the rain stopped and the weather warmed, the air filled with the stench of rotting flesh.

Members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission came to help bury the dead and ship the wounded northward down the Tennessee River to Federal hospitals. The commission ultimately distributed clothing and bedding for thousands of soldiers, as well as foodstuffs needed not only to feed the men but to make brandy and whiskey for medicinal purposes.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate army, claimed victory, even though he did not accomplish his mission of destroying Grant’s army before Buell’s arrived. Moreover, the Confederates had been forced to return to their original base at Corinth, Mississippi, while Grant remained where he had been before the battle. While Beauregard remained optimistic, southerners were horrified by the losses, especially that of the revered Albert Sidney Johnston. Confederate soldier and novelist George Washington Cable wrote, “The South never smiled again after Shiloh.”

Grant wrote his wife also declaring victory in the “terrible battle” that “has no equal on this continent.” He went on:

“The best troops of the rebels were engaged to the number of 162 regiments as stated by a deserter from their camp, and their ablest generals… I got through all safe having but one shot which struck my sword but did not touch me. I am detaining a steamer to carry this and must cut short. Give my love to all at home. Kiss the children for me. The same for yourself.”

Northerners celebrated what they believed to be a glorious triumph. But when reports of the tremendous casualties began spreading, the celebrations turned to shock, as nothing like the magnitude of this battle had ever happened in America before. The press harshly criticized Grant and Sherman for being unprepared on the first day, thus allowing such a slaughter to take place.

Had Grant decided to retreat and not counterattack after the first day, his career would have probably been ruined. But President Abraham Lincoln, desperate for aggressive commanders, supported him. When urged to remove Grant from command, Lincoln said, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

Major General Henry W. Halleck, Grant’s superior, was among those most critical of Grant’s generalship. Halleck resolved to leave his headquarters at St. Louis and take command of the Federal troops at Pittsburg Landing himself. This would greatly diminish Grant’s authority in the upcoming campaign against Corinth.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 293; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (8 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 157-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 135; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 184-85; 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. 413

The Battle of Shiloh: Day Two

April 7, 1862 – Federal forces counterattacked, driving the Confederates back to Corinth and ending a horrific two-day struggle.

Heavy storms raged through the night following a terrible day of fighting in southwestern Tennessee. Men on both sides suffered, as one Federal officer wrote that his troops, “lying in the water and mud, were as weary in the morning as they had been the evening before.” Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the battered Army of the Tennessee, slept under a tree after his headquarters had been commandeered by surgeons amputating hundreds of arms and legs.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi, slept in the abandoned tent of Brigadier General William T. Sherman near Shiloh Church. Beauregard planned to renew his attack on the Federal lines in the morning, unaware that men of Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federal Army of the Ohio were reinforcing Grant’s weary men throughout the night. Beauregard took no defensive precautions in case the Federals counterattacked.

Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, commanding the Confederate cavalry, was one of the few officers concerned about Buell reinforcing Grant. He directed his men to put on captured Federal uniforms and sneak behind the lines to observe activity at Pittsburg Landing. Sure enough, they saw thousands of fresh Federal soldiers being ferried across the Tennessee River.

Forrest reported to General James Chalmers that the Federals “are receiving reinforcements by the thousands, and if this army does not move and attack them between this and daylight, it will be whipped like hell by 10 o’clock tomorrow.” Forrest then went to Major General William J. Hardee, who told him to tell Beauregard. When Forrest could not find Beauregard, he returned to Hardee, who seemed unconcerned. Forrest was enraged.

By the morning of the 7th, three of Buell’s divisions totaling about 25,000 men had arrived at Pittsburg Landing. Since Grant and Buell were nearly equal in rank (Grant outranked Buell but Buell commanded an army department while Grant just commanded a district), they agreed to cooperate in launching a joint attack at dawn.

Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson’s division under Buell began the advance on the Federal left, with simple orders to “find the enemy and whip him.” The Federals came upon Major General John C. Breckinridge’s unsuspecting Confederates around 7:30 a.m., who soon faced a mile-long Federal line coming their way. The remnants of Grant’s divisions advanced on the right and easily retook a mile and a half of the previous day’s lost ground.

The Battle of Shiloh: Day 2 | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Battle of Shiloh: Day 2 | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federal advance was uncoordinated but steady through rain that fell all day. Troops passed dead and wounded men from the day before, noting that many Federals and Confederates had huddled together for warmth through the night. A Federal soldier later wrote:

“Many had died there, and others were in the last agonies as we passed. Their groans and cries were heart-rending… The gory corpses lying all about us, in every imaginable attitude, and slain by an inconceivable variety of wounds, were shocking to behold.”

Brigadier General W.H.L. Wallace was found lying on the field around 10 a.m. He was sent for medical care, but having been hit in the head with a shell fragment, the doctors could do little for him. His wife stayed at his side until he died on April 10, becoming the only Federal division commander to be killed in the battle.

Gen Don Carlos Buell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gen Don Carlos Buell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Buell’s men regained the Hornet’s Nest around noon. The Confederates launched stubborn but piecemeal counterattacks that momentarily halted the enemy, but being exhausted and outnumbered, they could not hold the Federals off for long. The Confederates viciously attacked around the peach orchard where General Albert Sidney Johnston had been killed, but lacking the stamina or numbers to sustain their advantage, they fell back.

Beauregard held out hope that Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of the West would arrive from Arkansas and shift the numerical edge to the Confederates. But Beauregard received word that morning that Van Dorn was still at Memphis, too far to reach the battlefield. As Beauregard considered his options, his chief of staff asked him:

“Do you not think our troops are very much in the condition of a lump of sugar thoroughly soaked with water, but yet preserving its original shape, though ready to dissolve? Would it not be judicious to get away with what we have?”

That afternoon, Beauregard ordered a general withdrawal back to his army’s original base at Corinth, Mississippi, about 22 miles away. Breckinridge’s Confederates took positions on high ground near Shiloh Church and served as the rear guard while the rest of the army fell back around 2:30 p.m. By 4 p.m., the Federals had regained all the ground they lost the day before. Glad to see the Confederates go, they were in no condition to pursue.

This shocking two-day battle cost the Federals 13,047 men (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing) out of about 42,000 engaged. The Confederates lost 10,694 (1,723 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing) out of about 40,000. Of the 2,750 Confederates in General Patrick Cleburne’s brigade, just 58 survived.

The casualty totals at Shiloh exceeded the total of Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson, and Pea Ridge combined. The total casualties sustained by both sides (23,741) were more than the War for Independence (10,623), the War of 1812 (6,765), and the Mexican War (5,885) combined (23,273). The number of killed and wounded exceeded the population of most American cities at that time.

Though he denied it the rest of his life, Grant had been taken by tactical surprise on the first day, almost resulting in Federal disaster. But Johnston’s death and Beauregard’s failure to press his advantage gave Grant a chance to hold the Confederates off until Buell’s men arrived to help reverse momentum on the second day.

In the end, both Grant and Beauregard ended back where they had started, but now Grant had Buell reinforcing him, and Beauregard’s army was severely depleted. With the Federals were poised to invade the Deep South, the Confederates would never have such a good opportunity to destroy the Federals in the Western Theater again.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 71-72; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 126-27; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (7 Apr 1862); Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 799; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 43-45; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 154-55; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 350; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 134-35; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 181-84; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 232; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 195-96; 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. 411-13; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144, 148, 155; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 308-09; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 799-800; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 121; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 684-85