Hooker Reorganizes the Army of the Potomac

February 5, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker worked to reorganize and revitalize the demoralized Federal Army of the Potomac.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hooker began the main part of his reorganization with General Order No. 6, which declared that former commander Ambrose E. Burnside’s “Grand Division” structure was “impeding rather than facilitating the dispatch of its current business.” He therefore replaced it with a traditional nine-corps organization:

  • Major General John F. Reynolds commanded I Corps
  • Major General Darius N. Couch commanded II Corps
  • Major General Daniel E. Sickles commanded III Corps
  • Major General George G. Meade commanded V Corps
  • Major General John Sedgwick commanded VI Corps
  • Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith commanded IX Corps
  • Major General Franz Sigel commanded XI Corps
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum commanded XII Corps
  • Major General George Stoneman commanded the new Cavalry Corps

IV Corps was stationed at Fort Monroe, on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers, detached from the Army of the Potomac. The VII, VIII, and X corps were also detached. Hooker arranged for IX Corps, which had been Burnside’s, to be transferred to Fort Monroe along with IV Corps. He also arranged for Smith to command that corps, knowing that Smith had been one of the conspirators against Burnside and not wanting him around to conspire against himself (Hooker).

For the first time, the army’s cavalry would be combined into a single unit; previously it had been scattered among the various divisions, brigades, and regiments, making it difficult for commanders to concentrate their horsemen against the swarming Confederate troopers. Hooker envisioned using Stoneman just as Robert E. Lee used Jeb Stuart in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker did the opposite for the artillery, dispersing the batteries throughout the corps, divisions, and brigades as needed.

Hooker’s new chief of staff was General Daniel Butterfield, who had composed the song “Taps,” by slightly modifying the “Tattoo” composed by General Winfield Scott in 1835. His father had formed the Butterfield Overland Mail Company.

Army morale sank to a new low in early February, as 10 percent of the troops deserted. Hooker worked to change this by improving army sanitation, health care, food, clothing, shelter, and discipline. He cracked down on corruption in the quartermaster’s department, saw to it that soldiers received their back pay, and granted homesick soldiers furloughs.

Hooker also directed all troops to wear badges signifying the corps to which they belonged. This was similar to the “Kearny” patches that General Philip Kearny had his men wear to better identify them during the Peninsula campaign. Each corps had its own badge shape, and the colors indicated the division numbers (i.e., red was the first division of the corps, white was the second, blue was the third, etc.). The badges were sewn onto the men’s caps, and they helped instill a new sense of pride in their fighting units.

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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. 260; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 233; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 262; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-19; 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. 585

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The Queen of the West on the Mississippi

February 3, 1863 – The U.S.S. Queen of the West continued down the Mississippi River on her mission to stop the flow of Confederate supplies from the Red River between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

The Queen of the West | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The day after running the Vicksburg batteries and mortally damaging the C.S.S. City of Vicksburg, the U.S.S. Queen of the West, commanded by 19-year-old Colonel Charles R. Ellet, chugged down to below the mouth of the Red. There she seized the Confederate steamer A.W. Baker, which had just delivered supplies to the Port Hudson garrison about 30 miles south. The Federals captured several Confederate officers and their passengers, including the ladies.

The Queen next captured the steamer Moro, which carried over 100,000 pounds of pork, nearly 500 hogs, and a large quantity of salt. When the Queen turned away to get more coal, Ellet burned nearly 25,000 pounds of cornmeal at a nearby landing. He docked at a plantation and released the civilians from the A.W. Baker as another Confederate steamer approached.

The approaching steamer was the Berwick Bay, carrying about 30,000 pounds of flour, 40 bales of cotton, 10 hogsheads of sugar, and 200 barrels of molasses. After capturing this steamer, Ellet burned all the ships; the property destroyed had an estimated worth of $200,000. Ellet then ran out of coal and docked at Gordon’s Point, about 85 miles up the Red River.

During this time, Major General William T. Sherman visited Ellet and congratulated him on his successful mission. Ellet explained that he planned to have Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter send a coal barge downstream, past the Vicksburg batteries at night, to refuel the Queen. Ellet claimed the De Soto, captured at Fort Pillow and renamed the General Lyon, could tow the barge, since the De Soto was “very small, tolerably fast, and of little intrinsic value.” Ellet would then send part of his crew to attach the barge to the Queen. Ellet said, “I will only take eight or nine men, and if sunk, we can all escape in a boat.”

Sherman encouraged Ellet to share the plan with Porter. Ellet told Porter, “The De Soto is worth nothing anyhow, and the importance of getting coal at once to the Queen justifies, I think, the risk.” Porter replied, “You can do as you like about the De Soto, though I fear a failure.”

On the night of the 6th, Porter sent the De Soto and a barge filled with 20,000 bushels of coal down the Mississippi undetected by the Confederates manning the Vicksburg batteries. Porter notified Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “This gives the ram (Queen of the West) nearly coal enough to last a month, in which time she can commit great havoc, if no accident happens to her.”

The De Soto and the coal barge made it past the Vicksburg batteries and reached Ellet on the 7th. Porter directed Ellet to take the Queen and the De Soto to a point just north of the Red River’s mouth to “destroy all small boats… met with on the river; also wharf boats and barges.”

Porter wrote, “When you capture them, do not burn them until you have broken all the machinery, then let go the anchors and let them burn, under your own eye, at their anchors. There will be no danger then of any part of them floating down to the enemy.”

Porter also warned Ellet that a formidable Confederate steam ram named the C.S.S. William H. Webb may be nearby: “If you get the first crack at her, you will sink her, and if she gets the first crack at you she will sink you.” If boarded by Confederates, “do not open any doors or ports to board in return, but act on the defensive, giving the enemy steam and shell. Do not forget to wet your cotton before going into action.”

The De Soto, which Porter and Ellet considered expendable, was not to fall into enemy hands. If it appeared that she might, Ellet was to “destroy her at once.” But since she was a “government vessel,” Porter stated that she “should be brought back if possible.” Porter also directed Ellet to observe Port Hudson from a safe distance.

On the night of the 10th, the Queen and the De Soto steamed past the batteries at Warrenton, Mississippi, undetected and destroyed Confederate skiffs and flatboats on the banks of both the Mississippi and the Red rivers. Meanwhile, Porter worked to alleviate his chronic coal shortage by writing the Federal commander at Cairo, Illinois:

“As circumstances occur I have to change the quantity of coal required here… I want a stock of 160,000 bushels sent to the Yazoo River, besides the monthly allowance already required, viz, 70,000 bushels here, 40,000 at White River, and 20,000 at Memphis… You will also have the Abraham filled up with three months’ provisions and stores for the squadron, or as much as she can carry, and keep her ready at all times… to move at a moment’s notice to such point as I may designate.”

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, could not figure out the Queen’s intentions. He wrote, “Unless the enemy designs landing below Vicksburg and a protracted investment, I can see no purpose in his arrangements.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259-60; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 195-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 263; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77-78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-19; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 158

Naval Operations Between Vicksburg and Port Hudson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 195; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 260-61; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 158

Vicksburg: Grant’s Command Confirmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Confederates Break the Charleston Blockade

January 31, 1863 – Two new Confederate ironclad rams attempted to break the Federal blockade of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, by attacking a portion of the blockading fleet.

Confederates had continuously sought ways to break the Charleston blockade as soon as it had begun. The Federals had captured several blockade runners, including the British merchant steamer Princess Royal on the 29th, which was run aground near Rattlesnake Channel by the Federal gunboat U.S.S. Unadilla. Federals confiscated six rifled cannons, 930 armor-piercing shells, 600 barrels of gunpowder, and two engines for ironclad vessels. The cargo totaled nearly $500,000 and was the blockading fleet’s largest capture of the war.

The next day, Confederate shore batteries opened a crossfire on the Federal gunboat U.S.S. Isaac Smith as she tried reconnoitering up the Stono River. The fire ran the ship aground, and the captain surrendered after losing 25 men (eight killed and 17 wounded). Confederates later renamed the Isaac Smith the Stono.

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

General P.G.T. Beauregard, now commanding the Confederate defenses in South Carolina after recovering from illness, directed Flag Officer Duncan N. Ingraham, the Confederate naval commander at Charleston, to confront the Federal blockading vessels with his two new rams, the C.S.S. Chicora under Commander John R. Tucker and Palmetto State under Lieutenant John Rutledge, along with three tenders.

In the predawn fog of the 31st, the Chicora fired on the U.S.S. Keystone State, hitting the ship’s boilers several times. Twenty-five Federals were killed; many were scalded to death. Meanwhile, the Palmetto State rammed the converted merchant ship U.S.S. Mercedita and left her when the Federals reported that she would soon sink. The rams returned to their base, where the Confederate crewmen reported destroying two Federal vessels and burning four others.

However, the Confederates had not destroyed any vessels; the U.S.S. Memphis rescued the Keystone State, and the Mercedita was not sinking as the Federals claimed. Both ships were towed to Port Royal for repairs and were soon back on active duty. All other Federal ships continued their blockade as normal, unharmed.

Even so, Beauregard interpreted the exaggerated news of the Isaac Smith’s capture and the destruction of blockaders to announce that the blockade of Charleston had been broken. Beauregard escorted the French and Spanish consuls to the waterfront to show them that “the outer harbor remained in the full possession of the two Confederate rams. Not a Federal sail was visible, even with spyglasses.”

Beauregard argued that since the blockade had been broken, the Federals could not reinstate it without first giving the Confederates a 60-day notice in accordance with international law. Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, ignored Beauregard’s claim and resumed the blockade immediately.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 113; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 139, 555-56; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 258; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 222-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 316-17; 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. 124-25; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 571

Vicksburg: Grant’s Third Attempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 138, 144-45, 189-90; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18307; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 257-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 255, 257, 259-60; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68-69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 314; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 586; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

The Army of the Potomac: Hooker Takes Command

January 26, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker assumed command of the Federal Army of the Potomac, and he received a stern letter of advice from President Abraham Lincoln.

Nobody in the army seemed surprised about Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s removal and Hooker’s appointment as army commander. Unlike Burnside, Hooker had openly campaigned for the job, and he was as brash as Burnside was modest. As Lincoln predicted, northerners reacted positively to Hooker’s promotion, despite his past insubordination. Lincoln hoped that giving command to Hooker would allow the president to tend to other pressing matters besides the Army of the Potomac.

When Burnside returned to his headquarters to pack and leave, several visitors came to bid him farewell, including Hooker, despite their dislike for each other. Burnside confided to an officer, “There are no pleasant reminiscences for me connected with the Army of the Potomac.” He issued a farewell address to the troops, assuring them that they “under more favorable circumstances would have accomplished great results.” He urged them to be loyal to Hooker, a “brave and skillful general.”

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hooker’s promotion, along with the removal of Major Generals Edwin V. Sumner and William B. Franklin, left all three of the army’s Grand Divisions without commanders. On the day that Hooker took command, Lincoln authorized the appointment of Major Generals Darius N. Couch, George G. Meade, and Oliver O. Howard to head the Right, Center, and Left Grand Divisions respectively. Lincoln then summoned Hooker to the White House and handed him a long letter of advice:

“General, I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you.

“I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during Gen. Burnside’s command of the Army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.

“I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.

“The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander, and withholding confidences from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army, while such a spirit prevails in it.

“And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.”

While most officers in the army felt that Hooker had the fighting spirit needed to destroy the enemy, some doubted his ability to lead such a massive force. Some noted Hooker’s reputation for immorality; Charles Francis Adams, Jr. wrote that Hooker’s headquarters was “a place which no self-respecting man liked to go, and no decent woman could go. It was a combination of barroom and brothel.” Prostitutes became known as “Hooker” girls, or “hookers,” due to their frequent visits to his headquarters.

Couch had no confidence in Hooker’s abilities. William “Baldy” Smith, who had condemned Burnside, also did not trust Hooker. The new commander was described as “inordinately vain,” “entirely unscrupulous,” and a “doubtful chief.” Hooker quickly set about trying to quiet the criticisms by placing Smith at the head of Burnside’s old IX Corps, which was still loyal to Burnside, and detaching it from his command.

In dealing with his superiors, Hooker insisted on bypassing the chain of command and communicating directly with Lincoln. This did not sit well with General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who already despised Hooker because he had borrowed money from Halleck before the war and never paid it back.

Hooker immediately set about reorganizing the army for a spring offensive. This included improving army discipline, sanitation, ration distribution, and seeing that soldiers received their back pay. Hooker recalled soldiers on furlough and offered amnesty to those absent without leave if they returned voluntarily. He also oversaw the issuance of new uniforms, equipment, and supplies, all of which worked to improve army morale.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 125; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8712-23, 9308; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 132; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 258; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 101; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 482-83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 315-16; 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. 585; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598-99