Tag Archives: Army of Mississippi

The Fall of Meridian

February 14, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the Tennessee completed its destructive march through central Mississippi by arriving at the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in the state.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

As the Federals resumed their eastward march on the 14th, Sherman issued orders to his commanders on what their men should do once they reached Meridian:

“The destruction of the railroads intersecting at Meridian is of great importance, and should be done most effectually. Every tie and rail of iron for many miles in each direction should be absolutely destroyed or injured, and every bridge and culvert completely destroyed… The troops should be impressed with the importance of this work, and also that time is material, and therefore it should be begun at once and prosecuted with all the energy possible. The destruction of the buildings must be deferred until the last moment, when a special detail will be made for that purpose.”

Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi, had ordered his troops to abandon Meridian, but before they left, they dumped felled trees on the roads to slow the Federal advance. They also destroyed the bridges over Tallahatta Creek and the Oktibbeha River. Federal engineers and laborers rebuilt the bridge over the Tallahatta that morning. Then, as Sherman reported:

“At the Tallahatta, 20 miles from Meridian, we found the road obstructed with fallen timber, and satisfied the enemy was trying to save time to cover the removal of railroad property from Meridian, I dropped our trains with good escorts and pushed on over all obstructions straight for the Oktibbeha, where we found the bridge burning.”

Colonel Edward Winslow’s Federal cavalry led the advance across the Oktibbeha, where they pushed the small Confederate rear guard through Meridian. A Federal infantry division led by Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith came up, with Winslow and Smith arguing over whether the cavalry or the infantry should be the first to enter the town. Winslow won, telling Smith, “I believe this cavalry would charge the Gates of Hell if I tell them,” and leading his troopers into Meridian. Smith’s infantry followed, as a soldier named John Ritland recalled:

“Again we marched on with the firm resolution in our hearts to do or die; and again we were halted, this time to receive orders not to fire a shot, meanwhile, continuing our interminable marching, as if there was no end. Almost unaware we found ourselves marching through a deserted town with here and there some negroes reported, but not a sign of the enemy. Upon asking where they might be, the negroes reported, ‘They’re all gone. They began going yesterday. Some went last night, and the rest this morning.’ They had divided and their destinations were Mobile and Richmond. We occupied the city without a shot.”

Sherman entered the town that night. The next morning, he issued a proclamation to his troops, congratulating them for–

“… their most successful accomplishment of one of the great problems of the war. Meridian, the great railway center of the Southwest, is now in our possession, and by industry and hard work can be rendered useless to the enemy and deprive him of the chief source of supply to his armies. Secrecy in plan and rapidity of execution accomplish the best results in war, and the general commanding assures all, by following their leaders fearlessly and with confidence, they will in time reap the reward so dear to us all–a peace that will never again be disturbed in our country by a discontented minority.”

The Confederates fell back to the east side of the Tombigbee River. Polk’s ultimate destination was Demopolis, Alabama, while he moved about $12 million worth of supplies to Selma and Mobile. His cavalry, led by Major General Stephen D. Lee, did its best to harass Sherman’s Federals but could do little in the face of such overwhelming numbers.

The next day, the Federals began destroying the town in earnest, wrecking railroad tracks, locomotives, factories, sawmills, machine shops, public buildings, and private homes, while the Confederates were powerless to save the civilians from such devastation. Sherman reported on the 20th: “For five days 10,000 men worked hard and with a will in that work of destruction… Meridian, with its depots, store-houses, arsenals, hospitals, offices, hotels and cantonments no longer exists.”

In the 11-day, 140-mile campaign from Vicksburg to Meridian, the Federals obliterated 115 miles of railroad track, 61 bridges, and 20 locomotives in pursuit of Sherman’s goal to ensure that the Mississippi railroads could not function for the rest of the war.

Sherman informed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that his troops had taken “some 500 prisoners, a good many refugee families, and about 10 miles of negroes,” while inflicting so much damage that it was “simply impossible for the enemy to risk anything but light cavalry this side of Pearl River…” He also wrote:

“My movement to Meridian stampeded all Alabama. Polk retreated across Tombigbee and left me to smash things at pleasure, and I think it is well done… We broke absolutely and effectually a full hundred miles of railroad… and made a swath of desolation 50 miles broad across the State of Mississippi which the present generation will not forget.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 374; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 925-26, 934; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 397-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 464; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488

Advertisements

Meridian: Federals Continue Moving East

February 11, 1864 – Federal cavalry finally began moving out of Tennessee to support Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals moving east through central Mississippi.

Brig Gen W.S. Smith | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brigadier General William Sooy Smith moved his Federal horsemen out of Collierville, Tennessee, to strike into Mississippi. Smith’s mission was to wreak havoc on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, defeat Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry, and link with Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee headed for Meridian. Smith had 7,000 troopers, 20 guns, and a train of supply and ambulance wagons.

As Smith’s Federals moved south toward Pontotoc, their advance was hindered by winter rain and mud, along with the swamps of northern Mississippi. Forrest was informed of the Federal approach and prepared his 2,500 troopers. He responded to his superiors warning that Smith might target the railroad: “Am preparing to meet that move as best I can.” Forrest estimated the enemy force to consist of “about 10,000 cavalry and mounted infantry.”

Meanwhile, Sherman’s 27,000 Federals continued their methodical eastward advance toward Meridian, the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in Mississippi. Opposing them was Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s 10,000-man Army of Mississippi, which had fallen back until it was outside Meridian. Polk still believed that Sherman’s ultimate target was not Meridian but the vital port city of Mobile, Alabama.

Advised of the threat that Sherman posed, President Jefferson Davis contacted General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia:

“Keep in communication with General Polk, and do what you can to assist him, either by sending him re-enforcements or joining him with what force you can. If possible the enemy should be met before he reaches the Gulf and establishes a base to which supplies and re-enforcements may be sent by sea.”

There was little that Johnston could do because he was being held in check by the Federal Army of the Cumberland around Chattanooga. He wired Polk, “I have no doubt that your cavalry, under its active commanders, will make the march to Mobile impossible to the enemy with such wagon trains as they must require.” But neither Johnston nor Polk knew that the Federals were mostly living off the land and therefore had few wagons to slow their march.

News that Sherman had stopped at Decatur on the night of the 11th contradicted Polk’s assumption that the Federals were headed to Mobile. Polk wrote Major General William W. Loring, one of his division commanders, “If this is true, then Sherman must be looking to move on Meridian and make a junction with the cavalry force (of Smith) moving on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.” Polk had directed his other division under Major General Samuel G. French to go to Mobile, but now he ordered those troops to wait at Meridian.

Major General Stephen D. Lee’s Confederate cavalry was supposed to try harassing Sherman’s flanks while keeping between the Federals and Polk’s Confederates. Lee reported, “I have burned all bridges, which I find retard their advancing very much.” Freezing temperatures also slowed the Federal advance. But none of this stopped the troops from laying waste to the railroad depot at Lake Station, which included destroying two locomotives, 35 railcars, over a mile of track, and all nearby factories, sawmills, and machine shops.

Back in northern Mississippi, W.S. Smith’s Federal troopers drove off 600 Mississippi militia on the 12th and continued southward. The Federals burned cotton and corn, and destroyed track on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad along the way. About 1,000 local slaves joined Smith’s cavalry on their journey.

Meanwhile, Sherman continued east, encountering light resistance along the way, before stopping on the night of the 12th about 30 miles west of Meridian. Confederate cavalry raided the small Federal wagon train near the cabin that served as Sherman’s headquarters and nearly captured the Federal commander before infantry rushed up to drive the raiders off.

Polk sent a message to Davis and Johnston: “He (Sherman) is to-night near Decatur, I am near Meridian. My cavalry under Lee has skirmished with him in front, flank and rear from the Big Black, and, Lee reports, with little effect. He moves very compactly… I see nothing left me but to fall back on Alabama and take advantage of events.”

The Federal advance resumed on the morning of the 13th. Loring, whose Confederates were stationed just west of Meridian, informed Polk, “I have examined carefully the position in front, and I do not regard any of them as tenable with the force under my command. Will you please inform me as soon as you are able to move, so that I may know what to do in any emergency.” Polk responded:

“I am inclined to doubt the correctness of the report as to the near approach of the enemy to-night, yet I see no reason why you may not act upon it. As I understand the matter, the enemy has to pass across Oktibbeha River at the place where there is a long bridge now prepared to be burned. The burning of the bridge ought to retard his progress at least a day.”

By day’s end, Sherman’s Federals reached Tallahatta Creek, about 20 miles from Meridian. Many of the troops expected to fight a major battle for the town the next day, but Polk had other ideas.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 373; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 397; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 463; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488, 702

The Holly Springs Raid

December 20, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn led a Confederate cavalry raid that temporarily stopped Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal drive on Vicksburg.

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates could not match Grant’s numerical superiority in Mississippi, so they had to rely on attacking his lines of communication and supply. As such, Van Dorn led 3,500 Confederate cavalry troopers out of Grenada on a mission to destroy Holly Springs, Grant’s principal supply base and the largest Federal depot west of the Alleghenies.

Van Dorn headed northeast through Pontotoc, where Federal cavalry spotted his troopers but did not relay the news to Grant for a day. During that time, Van Dorn rode through New Albany toward Ripley, around Grant’s eastern flank. He drove off Federal scouts along the way before turning west toward Holly Springs.

Grant had been busy trying to suppress Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raids in western Tennessee, but now he had Van Dorn to deal with as well. He notified Colonel Robert C. Murphy, commanding the 1,500-man Federal garrison at Holly Springs, to be on alert for approaching Confederates. Other Federal commands along the Mississippi Central Railroad line received the same warning.

On the night of the 19th, Van Dorn arrived within five miles of Holly Springs. He sent disguised troopers into the Federal base with forged passes to scout the area; they reported that the base was lightly defended and therefore vulnerable. In fact, the Federals were preoccupied with planning a ball for the following night. Van Dorn split his forces so they would advance on Holly Springs along two different roads.

The Confederates attacked the unsuspecting Federals the next day, sending most of them fleeing in panic. Major John J. Mudd’s 2nd Illinois Cavalry tried making a stand but was forced to withdraw after losing 100 of 350 men. Van Dorn had Holly Springs by 8 a.m. He posted troopers south of town to prevent the arrival of Federal reinforcements, and the Confederates spent the next 10 hours destroying supplies, cutting telegraph wire, and wrecking railroad tracks. This included burning a new 2,000-bed Federal hospital to the ground.

Van Dorn captured nearly the entire garrison, including Colonel Murphy, and destroyed supplies worth $1.5 million according to Van Dorn, or $400,000 according to Grant. These included enormous amounts of commissary, medical, and ordnance supplies for the Federals. Grant’s wife Julia, who had been staying at Holly Springs, narrowly escaped capture when she received a message from her husband to come see him at Oxford; she left just before the raid started.

Murphy reported after being paroled, “My fate is most mortifying. I have wished a hundred times to-day that I had been killed. I have done all in my power–in truth, my force was inadequate.” Mudd countered, “I cannot doubt but that the place could have been successfully defended by even half the force here had suitable precautions been taken and the infantry been concentrated, their officers in camp with them and prepared to fight.”

Grant reported that Murphy, who had almost been court-martialed for abandoning supplies during the Battle of Iuka, “took no steps to protect the place, not having notified a single officer of his command of the approaching danger, although he himself had received warning, as hereinbefore stated.” He later dismissed Murphy from the army, retroactive to “the date of his cowardly and disgraceful conduct.”

This disaster, along with Forrest’s raids to the north, forced Grant to halt his overland advance toward Vicksburg. It also left him unable to communicate with Major General William T. Sherman, who proceeded as planned to the Yazoo River expecting Grant to reinforce him. The northern press soon began revisiting charges of Grant’s incompetence for failing to adequately defend his supply base.

The next day, Grant began pulling his troops out of Oxford and returning to Memphis. The Federals lived off the land as they withdrew, prompting Grant to note that he was “amazed at the quantity of supplies the country afforded. It showed that we could have subsisted off the country for two months… This taught me a lesson.”

Meanwhile, Van Dorn’s troopers headed north and attacked a Federal garrison at Davis’ Mill, near the Tennessee border. The Federals repelled the assault and then refused Van Dorn’s demand to surrender. Van Dorn abandoned efforts to take the place, instead continuing on to wreck rails on the Mississippi Central. He sustained 52 casualties (22 killed and 30 wounded), while the Federals lost just three.

The Confederates continued riding and wrecking rails on both the Mississippi Central and the Memphis & Charleston railroads. They entered Tennessee, circling Middleburg and approaching Bolivar before moving through Saulsbury on their way back to their starting point at Grenada.

Van Dorn’s troopers covered 500 miles in two weeks and successfully destroyed Grant’s reserve of food and supplies, which thwarted his plans to advance on Vicksburg. Moreover, Van Dorn regained a portion of his reputation that had been damaged by his defeat at Corinth in October. Federal cavalry led by Colonel Benjamin Grierson rode hard but failed to stop the Confederates after they destroyed Holly Springs.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 336-37; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 365-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18281-90, 18307; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 246; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 70-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 242, 245; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 60-62; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 298-99; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 578; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781

Vicksburg: Grant’s Two-Pronged Advance

December 18, 1862 – Confederate forces prepared to defend against Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s advance on Vicksburg from both water and land.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Confederate Army of Mississippi, the main force within Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, was mainly stationed around Grenada, Mississippi. There they awaited an overland approach by Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, which advanced near Oxford along the Mississippi Central Railroad line. Grant’s objective was Vicksburg, the stronghold on the Mississippi River facilitating the flow of Confederate supplies from the west.

Grant directed Major General William T. Sherman to join forces with Major General John A. McClernand at Memphis and launch a second drive on Vicksburg via the Mississippi. The Federals of Sherman and McClernand would move downriver to Helena, Arkansas, where they would pick up reinforcements. Then, supported by Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron, they would advance through Chickasaw Bluffs on the Yazoo River and threaten Vicksburg from the north.

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

Sherman left for Memphis on the 9th, wiring Porter, “Time now is the great object. We must not give time for new combinations.” Porter’s first task was to clear the Yazoo of obstructions and Confederate torpedoes (i.e., mines). He dispatched a squadron of four gunboats, with two shallow-draft vessels sweeping for mines and the ironclads U.S.S. Cairo and Pittsburgh bombarding Confederate batteries and sharpshooters on the shores.

As the squadron approached Haynes’ Bluff, Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge moved the Cairo farther up the main channel, where a torpedo detonated under her hull at 11:55 a.m. The crew abandoned ship, and Selfridge later reported, “The Cairo sunk in about 12 minutes after the explosion, going totally out of sight, except for the top of her chimneys, in 6 fathoms of water.”

The Cairo was the first Federal vessel destroyed by a Confederate torpedo in the war. Prior to this, Porter had reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that “these torpedoes have proved so harmless… that officers have not felt that respect for them to which they are entitled.” Federal naval commanders quickly became much more cautious in dealing with torpedoes.

As Porter’s ships resumed clearing the Yazoo, Grant continued voicing concern about McClernand’s separate, supposedly secret mission to capture Vicksburg. Grant believed that not only should the operation be left to one overall commander, but, as he explained to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, he did not want McClernand involved at all because he was “unmanageable and incompetent.”

Grant had sent Sherman to Memphis to join forces with McClernand, knowing that McClernand was still in Illinois recruiting volunteers for the operation. Grant hoped to send Sherman’s Federals downriver with McClernand’s recruits before McClernand could come down to take charge. Grant reasoned that he had authority over McClernand’s men because they were being sent to Memphis, which was part of Grant’s military department.

Meanwhile, McClernand awaited authorization from the War Department to proceed, notifying Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he was “anxiously awaiting your order sending me forward for duty in connection with the Mississippi expedition.” When Stanton referred him to Halleck, McClernand wrote the general-in-chief, “I beg to be sent forward in accordance with the order of the Secretary of War … giving me command of the Mississippi expedition.”

McClernand soon realized that neither Stanton nor Halleck wanted him to lead the expedition, so he went to President Abraham Lincoln, who had authorized him to proceed in the first place: “I believe I am superseded. Please inquire and let me know whether it is or shall be true.” The War Department tried clearing up the confusion by issuing General Order No. 210, which formally organized Grant’s army into a corps structure:

  • XIII Corps under Major General John A. McClernand
  • XV Corps under Major General William T. Sherman (formerly troops from the District of Memphis and the command at Helena, Arkansas)
  • XVI Corps under Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut (formerly troops from the Districts of Memphis, Jackson, and Columbia)
  • XVII Corps under Major General James B. McPherson (formerly troops from the District of Corinth)

Grant was to see that McClernand’s corps “constituted part of the river expedition and that he shall have the immediate command under your direction.” Grant did not want McClernand at all, but at least now McClernand would be reporting to him and not leading his own operation.

This ostensibly ended McClernand’s ambition to form an independent “Army of the Mississippi” to capture Vicksburg. But McClernand, who outranked Sherman, would take command of the river expedition as soon as he got to Memphis. To prevent this, Grant directed Sherman to lead the Federals downriver before McClernand arrived.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 241, 245; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 63-64, 74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 236, 238, 240-41; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 293-95, 298; 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. 131-32; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178-79

Jefferson Davis Travels to Mississippi

December 16, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis continued his tour of the Western Theater, moving from Tennessee to his home state of Mississippi.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis left Chattanooga late on the afternoon of the 16th, accompanied by General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Theater. The train had to take a detour because Federal troops held the Memphis & Charleston Railroad on the Tennessee-Mississippi border. This reinforced Johnston’s argument that General Braxton Bragg at Murfreesboro could not adequately reinforce Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg.

The train stopped for the night at Atlanta, where Davis responded to a citizens’ serenade. The next day, Davis and Johnston traveled to the first Confederate capital at Montgomery, Alabama. At midday, Davis delivered a speech from the portico of the Alabama state capitol, just as he had done for his inaugural address in February 1861. The men continued on and arrived at Mobile that evening.

At Mobile on the 18th, Davis delivered the second formal speech of his western trip. He then reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon that morale was good in Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, and he hoped that the cavalry raids by Brigadier Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan would destroy Federal communications. He also expressed concern about pessimism among the people of eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama: “There is some hostility and much want of confidence in our strength.”

Davis and Johnston arrived at the Mississippi state capital of Jackson on the morning of the 19th. They agreed to return to appear together before the state legislature on the 26th, and after eating lunch, they traveled on to Vicksburg. Upon arriving, Davis and Johnston inspected the city’s new and improved defenses on both land and water.

The men next headed for Pemberton’s headquarters at Grenada, 60 miles south of Oxford. Davis and Pemberton supported pulling the Confederate forces into Vicksburg, turning the city into an impregnable fortress, and defending it to the end. Johnston instead favored defending Vicksburg with a small, compact force while sending the main Confederate army out to meet the Federals before they reached the city. The army might have to give up Vicksburg if defeated, but at least it could retreat and stay intact to fight again.

Johnston also continued urging Davis to pull reinforcements from Arkansas to aid in the defense of Mississippi. He argued that if the Mississippi River was so important, then it should be held even if most of Arkansas was lost. Davis finally agreed and wrote to General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department at Little Rock.

Davis explained that it was “clearly developed that the enemy has two principal objects in view, one to get control of the Missi. River, and the other to capture the capital of the Confederate States.” Richmond was secure for now, especially after the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, but the Mississippi was in serious danger. Major General Ulysses S. Grant was preparing an overland thrust to Vicksburg, Major General John A. McClernand was preparing a river drive toward the same town, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was about to begin a move upriver from Louisiana.

Davis had urged Holmes to seize Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi, but he guessed “that it has heretofore been impractical.” To stop the Federals from “dismembering the Confederacy, we must mainly depend upon maintaining the points already occupied by defensive works: to-wit, Vicksburg and Port Hudson (Louisiana).” Davis wrote:

“From the best information at hand, a large force is now ready to descend the Mississippi and co-operate with army advancing from Memphis to make an attack upon Vicksburg… It seems to be, then, unquestionably best that you should re-enforce General Johnston, so as to enable you successfully to meet the enemy, and by his defeat to destroy his power for such future operations against you as would be irresistible by your isolated force, and by the same means to place the army here in such condition as would enable it in turn to re-enforce you when the season will make it practicable for you by active operations to expel the enemy from Arkansas, and having secured your rear, to advance to the deliverance of Missouri.”

Davis speculated that the Federals would not threaten northwestern Arkansas until spring, and so he relied on Holmes and Johnston to provide the “security of concentration and rapid movement of troops. Nothing will so certainly conduce to peace as the conclusive exhibition of our power to hold the Mississippi River, and nothing so diminish our capacity to defend the Trans-Mississippi States as the loss of communication between the States on the eastern and western sides of the river.”

However, rather than ordering Holmes to work with Johnston, Davis merely left it to Holmes’s “patriotism and discretion” on whether to send troops east. Holmes would not, as he wired Davis near month’s end:

“My information from Helena is to the effect that a heavy force of the enemy has passed down the Mississippi on transports… Thus it seems very certain that any force I can now send from here would not be able to reach Vicksburg, while such a diversion would enable the enemy to… overrun the entire state (of Arkansas) and gradually reduce the people to… dependence.”

Davis and Johnston returned to Jackson, where Davis wired Seddon: “There is immediate and urgent necessity for heavy guns and long range field pieces at Vicksburg.” The men then took the train 100 miles north to Grenada, where Pemberton’s men were building defenses on the Yalobusha River. Pemberton’s cavalry, led by Major General Earl Van Dorn, harassed Grant’s rear and supply line, but Johnston urged Pemberton to withdraw farther south. Pemberton preferred to face the enemy at Grenada, and Davis agreed.

Returning to Jackson, Davis spent Christmas Day with relatives at the home of his niece, Mrs. Ellen Robinson. He prepared for the speech he would deliver to the Mississippi legislature tomorrow. In that speech, Davis began:

“After an absence of nearly two years, I again find myself among those who, from the days of my childhood, have ever been the trusted objects of my affection… The period which has elapsed since I left you is short; for the time which may appear long in the life of a man is short in the history of a nation. And in that short period remarkable changes have been wrought in all the circumstances by which we are surrounded.”

Davis expressed disappointment that neither Great Britain nor France had yet recognized Confederate independence, but he stated, “Put not your faith in Princes, and rest not your hopes on foreign nations. This war is ours; we must fight it out ourselves.” In this fight, he “looked on Mississippi soldiers with a pride and an emotion, such as no others inspired.”

He defended the Conscription Act, particularly its clause exempting owners of 20 or more slaves, because it would help discourage slave rebellions once President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1. He called on Mississippians to look after each other’s families while their men were off to war. He also called on the legislature to help fight “a power armed for conquest and subjugation.” In closing, Davis declared that there could never be reunion with the U.S., and to that end, “Vicksburg must not fall.”

Johnston, who attended the speech, was asked to rise and give a speech of his own. Johnston replied, “Fellow citizens, my only regret is that I have done so little to merit such a greeting. I promise you, however, that hereafter I shall be watchful, energetic, and indefatigable in your defense.” This gratified the legislators, who seemed more enamored with Johnston than their fellow Mississippian Davis.

The next day, Davis visited the new plantation of his oldest brother Joseph along the railroad west of Jackson near Bolton. From here, Davis was informed that Grant’s army was retreating, Van Dorn had destroyed Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs and captured the garrison, and Forrest was destroying Federal supplies and communications in western Tennessee. However, Davis was soon met with the bad news that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals were advancing on Chickasaw Bluffs with part of Grant’s command, supported by Admiral David D. Porter’s ironclads, in another effort to take Vicksburg.

Davis left Mississippi on New Year’s Eve, traveling to Mobile, Alabama. Upon his arrival, he addressed citizens from a balcony of the Battle House. Davis then telegraphed Seddon: “Guns and ammunition most effective against iron clads needed at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Very much depends upon prompt supply.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 245-46; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 3, 10, 12, 16-18, 51-52; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 298-300, 303; 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. 576-77; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462

Operations in Middle Tennessee

November 20, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg reorganized his Confederate army in Middle Tennessee, and Federal Major General William S. Rosecrans planned to confront him.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As November began, Rosecrans prepared to move his new Federal Army of the Cumberland (formerly Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio) to confront Bragg in Tennessee. Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had given Rosecrans two main objectives: “First, to drive the enemy from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee; second, to take and hold East Tennessee.”

The Federals had already driven the enemy from Kentucky by the time Rosecrans took command, but Confederates were still in Middle and East Tennessee. Major General John C. Breckinridge, commanding the Confederate Army of Middle Tennessee from Murfreesboro, issued orders for Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Colonel John Hunt Morgan to conduct cavalry raids on Federals between Murfreesboro and Nashville.

Morgan advanced toward Nashville from the north while Forrest moved from the south, and both forces skirmished inconclusively against the enemy. Late this month, Morgan’s 1,300 Confederates attacked a strongly fortified Federal brigade on a hill at Hartsville. Morgan formed a line under fire, drove the enemy off, captured an artillery battery, and then forced the Federals to surrender. Some 2,100 prisoners were taken in the 90-minute clash.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, Bragg’s Army of Mississippi arrived at Murfreesboro and absorbed Breckinridge’s short-lived Army of Middle Tennessee. Following his meeting with President Jefferson Davis at Richmond, Bragg returned and took up headquarters at Tullahoma, about 70 miles southeast of Nashville.

Bragg’s army had lost about half its strength since launching the Kentucky campaign due to illness, desertions, and combat casualties. Those still in the army were either demoralized by the harsh campaign or disgusted with Bragg’s leadership. By mid-November, Rosecrans had learned that Bragg’s army was now in Middle Tennessee and notified Halleck:

“It seems pretty certain that four divisions of Bragg’s army have come to Middle Tennessee. They designed to take Nashville. They began winter quarters at Tullahoma, and are now at that place and McMinnville, with Breckinridge at Murfreesborough.”

Bragg had no definite plan of operation, except to hope that Rosecrans would come out of Nashville and attack him after he established strong defensive positions. But Rosecrans would not oblige.

Bragg’s force, formerly named the Army of Mississippi, was now designated the Army of Tennessee. Its nucleus had been formed by General Albert Sidney Johnston in late March, just prior to the Battle of Shiloh. In addition, the army now absorbed:

  • Breckinridge’s Army of Middle Tennessee;
  • Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Confederates at Bridgeport, Alabama; and
  • Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Department of East Tennessee.

Bragg reorganized the army into three corps under Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, and E.K. Smith, with Breckinridge heading a division under Hardee. Although Smith was relegated to commanding a corps within Bragg’s new army, he continued acting independently in eastern Tennessee.

As the rest of Bragg’s forces began gathering around Murfreesboro, they lived off the stockpile of supplies they had taken from Kentucky. Bragg issued general orders to his command:

“Much is expected by the army and its commander from the operations of these active and ever-successful leaders (i.e., Forrest and Morgan harassing Rosecrans’s front and rear). The foregoing dispositions are in anticipation of the great struggle which must soon settle the question of supremacy in Middle Tennessee. The enemy in heavy force is before us, with a determination, no doubt, to redeem the fruitful country we have wrested from him. With the remembrance of Richmond, Munfordville, and Perryville so fresh in our minds, let us make a name for the now Army of Tennessee as enviable as those enjoyed by the armies of Kentucky and the Mississippi.”

Bragg then issued orders offering amnesty to soldiers who were absent without leave: “If you come voluntarily, I will be proud to receive you. I will not have you, and you need not expect to join me, if brought as prisoners.”

Bragg called on Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to join his army from Chattanooga, which he united with Forrest’s command. Bragg continued using Forrest’s troopers for raiding and irregular operations; their primary mission was to divert Major General Ulysses S. Grant from his impending Federal drive on Vicksburg. On the 21st, Bragg directed Forrest to disrupt Federal communications between Rosecrans and Grant.

Rosecrans proposed moving out of Nashville to confront Bragg, but first he submitted a long list of supplies needed for the purpose. Halleck replied, “I must warn you against this piling up of impediments. Take a lesson from the enemy. Move light.” As November ended, Rosecrans was still preparing to move, and Bragg was still pondering what to do.

—–

References

Bell, Wiley I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 745-46; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18173; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 228, 232, 236; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 12; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 769, 775-76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 227-30, 232-33; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414, 492, 500; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 20-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 283-85, 287-88; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 168, 171; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85

Confederates Return to Tennessee

October 20, 1862 – The two Confederate armies left Kentucky, with one returning to eastern Tennessee and the other looking to threaten Middle Tennessee.

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

Edmund Kirby Smith, recently promoted to Confederate lieutenant general, led his troops through Barbourville on their way out of Kentucky. Smith, who had renamed his force the Army of Kentucky when he led it into that state, now returned it to its original name and resumed command of the Department of East Tennessee. Smith’s department operated independent of General Braxton Bragg’s, which included the area from eastern Tennessee to the Mississippi River.

As Bragg’s Army of Mississippi withdrew from Kentucky, Bragg began formulating a plan to move into Middle Tennessee and regain Nashville. He asked Smith to leave 3,000 of his troops to guard Cumberland Gap and bring the rest to join with him and put this plan into motion.

Smith refused, as he explained to Bragg, “The men are worn down from exposure and want of food. They are much in want of shoes, clothing, and blankets… as soon as my command can be perfectly fitted out I will take the field with it.” Straggling had left Smith with just 6,000 effectives. He stated, “Having resumed the command of my department, I am directly responsible to the Government for the condition and safety of my army.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Bragg’s army was in no better shape. After retreating over 200 miles on rough roads in foul weather, nearly 15,000 Confederates contracted an illness of some kind, the most prevalent being pneumonia, typhoid, scurvy, and dysentery. Most of the officers and men disliked Bragg from the moment he took command, but now his harsh treatment of the army made them openly despise him.

The men’s hatred of Bragg was not eased by his idea to immediately launch a new offensive after they had endured such a grueling campaign in Kentucky. Bragg issued orders for his army to “proceed as soon as practicable to Murfreesborough, Tenn., and take such position in that vicinity as may seem advisable to its commander.”

“Its commander” would be Major General John C. Breckinridge, former vice president of the U.S. He arrived at Murfreesboro with a division that became known as the Army of Middle Tennessee. In addition, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry was already based there; his new “critter companies” had been harassing nearby Federals.

Bragg vaguely ordered Breckinridge to prepare “for the defense of Middle Tennessee or an attack on Nashville.” Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis received numerous reports condemning Bragg’s leadership. Davis initially thought this was the work of political enemies trying to get to Davis by tearing down his friend Bragg. But then Davis asked the opinions of the commanders who had served under Bragg in Kentucky.

E.K. Smith stated that Bragg handled the campaign badly, especially the later part, and asked to be transferred to a command far away from him. General Leonidas Polk respected Bragg’s organizational skills but felt he lacked “the higher elements of generalship” needed to lead an army. Even Bragg’s own wife criticized him: “Nashville strongly garrisoned by Yankees in your rear…” Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal army “will soon effect a junction with them, and thus place you between two enemies… I hoped you would have cleared Tennessee as you advanced.”

Davis decided to personally discuss these criticisms with Bragg. As Bragg’s demoralized troops passed through Cumberland Gap, Bragg received an order: “The President desires that you will lose no time in coming here.” Bragg, who was ahead of his men at Knoxville when he received the message, left just before E.K. Smith arrived, thus avoiding an awkward confrontation.

Bragg met with Davis on the 25th. Davis congratulated him because even though he did not bring Kentucky into the Confederacy as hoped, his offensive was more successful than those of Robert E. Lee in Maryland and Earl Van Dorn in northern Mississippi. Bragg had inflicted 14,000 Federal casualties and returned to Tennessee with tons of supplies for future operations. His offensive relieved Federal pressure on Chattanooga, cleared the Federals out of northern Alabama, and secured Cumberland Gap, all without substantial aid from the Confederate government.

Although Bragg’s army was about half the size it was when the campaign started, it remained the only force strong enough to stop Federal efforts to move further into the Deep South. As such, Bragg outlined his plan to divert the Federals by attacking Nashville from a new base at Murfreesboro in Middle Tennessee. At the time, the Confederates were already boarding train cars at Knoxville en route to Murfreesboro and Tullahoma.

It seemed to Davis that Bragg was willing to accept responsibility for any failures of the Kentucky campaign. He was also willing to make amends by moving immediately against Nashville, and he had a sound plan to do it. Thus, Davis retained Bragg as army commander and allowed him to proceed.

Davis then responded to E.K. Smith’s critical report on Bragg’s leadership. Davis would not transfer Smith as requested because he was too valuable where he was. Apparently taking Bragg’s side, Davis acknowledged that the campaign had been “a bitter disappointment” in some ways, but he urged Smith to not report on actions based on “knowledge acquired after they transpired.”

By month’s end, Bragg was heading west from Richmond to rejoin his troops as they moved toward Murfreesboro, the base for their upcoming offensive.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 227; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 741-43, 773-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 224-25; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 492; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 281-82; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82-84; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414-15