Tag Archives: Army of the Mississippi

The Fall of Fort Hindman: Grant Disapproves

January 16, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant disapproved of Major General John A. McClernand’s unauthorized capture of Fort Hindman, and McClernand tried going over Grant’s head to justify his actions.

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

Grant did not receive notice that McClernand’s “Army of the Mississippi” was moving up the Arkansas River to attack Fort Hindman (also known as Arkansas Post) until the day the Federals captured the fort. Grant, who was McClernand’s immediate superior, quickly responded:

“I do not approve of your move on the Post of Arkansas while the other is in abeyance. It will lead to the loss of men without a result… It might answer for some of the purposes you suggest, but certainly not as a military movement looking to the accomplishment of the one great result, the capture of Vicksburg… From the best information I have, Milliken’s Bend is the proper place for you to be…”

Grant then reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “General McClernand has fallen back to White River, and gone on a wild-goose chase to the Post of Arkansas. I am ready to reinforce, but must await further information before knowing what to do.”

Halleck responded the next day: “You are hereby authorized to relieve General McClernand from command of the expedition against Vicksburg, giving it to the next in rank or taking it yourself.” Grant had initially planned to send his army south to take Vicksburg while he remained at headquarters in Memphis. But this would mean that McClernand, the ranking commander under Grant, would be in charge in the field. Grant therefore opted to lead the army himself to prevent McClernand from making any more unauthorized movements.

Meanwhile, McClernand submitted his report on the victory at Fort Hindman. When it reached the northern press and public, it was met with great enthusiasm because it was a much needed Federal victory after a series of military failures (including Grant’s own failure to take Vicksburg in December). With McClernand now hailed as a hero, Grant did not act upon Halleck’s authorization to relieve him.

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

Grant also held back on relieving McClernand because he learned that his close friend Major General William T. Sherman, not McClernand, had proposed capturing Fort Hindman in the first place. And pressure from Washington to send reinforcements to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in Louisiana slackened, thus giving Grant more autonomy.

Grant began planning to attack Vicksburg from the water since Sherman had been repelled from land. However, a waterborne approach seemed just as difficult because of the countless “bends” in the Mississippi River above the city. Moreover, as Grant learned on the 16th, the navy would not be able to support him for another 10 days due to their participation in capturing Fort Hindman. He ordered McClernand to meet him at Milliken’s Bend to discuss the situation personally.

McClernand responded that he would “immediately return with my command” to the Mississippi, even though “I would sail from here to Little Rock, and reduce that place but for want of sufficient water in the channel of the Arkansas River.” Then he shirked Grant’s order and informed the Federal commander at Helena, “I shall delay a day or two in order to threaten Little Rock and Pine Bluff as a diversion in your favor.”

As Grant prepared to leave Memphis for Milliken’s Bend, Confederate prisoners from Fort Hindman began arriving on transports. Since McClernand sent no word on what should be done with these men, Grant appealed to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri (which included Fort Hindman): “As I am leaving Memphis and can take no orders for the disposal of these prisoners, I hope that you will have the kindness to take charge of them…”

Meanwhile, McClernand received Grant’s message refusing to authorize the Fort Hindman expedition and admonishing him for capturing the fort without permission. McClernand angrily responded that he had expected “approval of the complete and signal success which crowned it rather than your condemnation.” Responding to Grant’s claim that the expedition detracted from the goal to capture Vicksburg, McClernand shot back, “From the moment you fell back from Oxford, and the purpose of a front attack upon the enemy’s works near Vicksburg was thus deprived of co-operation, the Mississippi River Expedition was doomed to eventuate in a failure.”

McClernand then wrote directly to President Abraham Lincoln, who had authorized him to conduct an independent operation against Vicksburg last fall. McClernand complained, “I believe my success here is gall and wormwood to the clique of West Pointers who have been persecuting me for months,” and these West Pointers (such as Grant) were “chagrined at the success of your volunteer officers (i.e., McClernand).”

Although no threat of dismissal had been given yet, McClernand pleaded, “Do not let me be clandestinely destroyed, or, what is worse, dishonored, without a hearing.” He then argued that Grant could not effectively command his (McClernand’s) force: “The Mississippi River being the only channel of communication, and that being infested with guerrillas, how can General Grant at a distance of 400 miles intelligently command the army with me? He cannot do it.”

McClernand’s response to Grant and his letter to Lincoln indicated that he considered himself Grant’s equal, even though the War Department order of late December clearly stated that McClernand would merely command a corps within Grant’s army. But McClernand hoped that Lincoln would override that order, writing that his “army” “should be made an independent command, as both you and the Secretary of War, as I believe, originally intended.”

Lincoln did not respond to McClernand’s request for independence, but he did respond to a prior letter from McClernand complaining about Halleck micromanaging his affairs:

“I have too many family controversies, (so to speak) already on my hands to voluntarily, or so long as I can avoid it, take up another. You are now doing well–well for the country, and well for yourself–much better than you could possibly be, if engaged in open war with Gen. Halleck. Allow me to beg, that for your sake, for my sake, & for the country’s sake, you give your whole attention to the better work.”

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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. 341-42; 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. 137

The Fall of Fort Hindman

January 11, 1863 – Major General John A. McClernand reorganized his Federal forces and acted upon Major General William T. Sherman’s recommendation to attack a Confederate fort on the Arkansas River.

As the new year began, Sherman’s 30,000-man XIII Corps remained at Chickasaw Bayou. He learned that the Confederates on the bluffs were being reinforced, and his men could hear trains continuously rolling in and out of Vicksburg, indicating that even more troops were on the way. He therefore abandoned his plan to take the bluffs, loaded his troops back onto their transports, and headed back down the Yazoo River to the Mississippi.

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

McClernand, who had arrived at Memphis too late to join the Chickasaw Bayou expedition, met up with the Federals at Milliken’s Bend, on the west bank of the Mississippi, to take command of the corps. Apparently disregarding the War Department order placing him under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, McClernand split his four divisions into two corps and renamed XIII Corps the Army of the Mississippi.

When Sherman passed command to McClernand on the 4th, he shared an idea to avenge the Chickasaw Bayou defeat by capturing Fort Hindman, also known as Arkansas Post, about 120 miles northwest of Vicksburg on the Arkansas River. Some 5,000 Confederates garrisoned the fort, which threatened Federal communications on the Mississippi. McClernand was reluctant but finally agreed to conduct the expedition when Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter assured him that his Mississippi River Squadron would provide gunboat support.

However, McClernand never asked Grant for permission to proceed, and nobody in the Federal high command knew that such an action was even being considered. Moreover, Arkansas was part of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, outside the jurisdiction of McClernand or even Grant. However, McClernand had discussed the threat Fort Hindman posed with Curtis late last year, so Curtis at least had an idea that McClernand might attack the fort when he told Curtis that he was proceeding on the 5th.

McClernand’s force headed out by water on the 8th. The fleet consisted of three ironclads, 10 rams and gunboats, and 50 transports conveying 30,000 soldiers. McClernand finally informed Grant about the expedition, explaining that one of the objectives was “the counteraction of the moral effect of the failure of the attack near Vicksburg and the reinspiration of the forces repulsed by making them the champions of new, important, and successful enterprises.” Grant did not receive this message until the 11th, long after the Federals had gone up the Arkansas.

Fort Hindman sat atop a hill overlooking a bend in the Arkansas, about 120 miles below Little Rock. It was a strong but unfinished Confederate work used to disrupt Federal navigation on the nearby Mississippi. Three Confederate brigades of mostly Texans manned the garrison and its outlying area; the one brigade in the fort was led by Colonel John W. Dunnington, and Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill commanded the other two outside the fort. They numbered about 3,300 effectives, or one-tenth of the enemy force heading their way.

The Federal fleet arrived within gun range of Fort Hindman on the afternoon of the 9th, and the troops began landing under cover of Porter’s warships. The next day, the Federals finished landing and McClernand deployed his artillery, which joined with Porter’s vessels to bombard the fort as the flotilla slowly made its way up the river.

The Federal troops blocked the road to Little Rock to prevent the garrison from escaping or reinforcements from arriving. Churchill’s Confederates returned fire from their entrenchments until about 4 p.m., when the Federal guns cleared them out. McClernand’s troops seized high ground north of the fort and began positioning guns to fire down into the work.

Meanwhile, Porter’s ships continued pounding the enemy works, with the ironclads in the lead. A soldier on the U.S.S. Montauk described the bombardment:

“Such a terrific scene I have never witnessed. The fort was riddled and torn to pieces with the shells. The ironclads, which could venture up closer, shot into their portholes and into the mouths of their cannon, bursting their cannon and dismounting them. When most of their batteries were silenced, two of the light draft boats and our boat was ordered to run the blockade to cut off the retreat of the rebels above the F(or)t.”

The Confederates tried answering with their 11 cannon but were outgunned. Also, Porter had ordered his men to grease their ships with tallow so that enemy shots hitting them at an angle would slide off. This practice was soon adopted throughout the Federal navy.

McClernand planned a ground attack the next day. That night, Churchill received a message from General Theophilus Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department at Little Rock, directing him “to hold out till help arrived or until all dead.”

Federal troops assumed their positions at noon on the 11th, and a ferocious artillery barrage began an hour later. It took the Federals three hours to silence all the Confederate guns except one. The Confederates continued firing from the trenches and rifle pits, but they were surrounded by infantry on three sides and the gunboats on the river. The white flag went up.

The Federals sustained 1,061 casualties (134 killed, 898 wounded and 29 missing), while the Confederates lost 4,900 (28 killed, 81 wounded and 4,791 mostly captured). The Federals captured the most men since taking New Madrid in the spring of last year. They also seized seven stands of colors, all the Confederate guns, and large amounts of commissary, ordinance, and other supplies. Porter later wrote:

“The fight at Ft. Hindman was one of the prettiest little affairs of the war, not so little either, for a very important post fell into our hands with 6,500 prisoners, and the destruction of a powerful ram at Little Rock, which could have caused the Federal Navy in the west a great deal of trouble…”

He added, “No fort ever received a worse battering, and the highest compliment I can pay to those engaged is to repeat what the rebels said: ‘You can’t expect men to stand up against the fire of those gunboats.’”

While this victory did little to affect any of the major campaigns at the time, northerners celebrated it as a rare success following a string of failures. It also stopped Confederate commerce between the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, it cleared the way for Federal ships to continue on to Little Rock, and it served as the preface to a new campaign against Vicksburg.

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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. 252-53, 255; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 77-78, 133-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248, 250-51, 253; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 307-08, 310-11; 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. 156-57; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 569-70; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39

Vicksburg: The Chickasaw Bayou Campaign

December 28, 1862 – Confederate forces hurried to defend Chickasaw Bluffs as Federal troops under Major General William T. Sherman struggled to reach them.

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

On the day that Confederates destroyed the main Federal supply depot at Holly Springs, Sherman prepared to head down the Mississippi River from Memphis to Walnut Hills, also known as Chickasaw Bluffs, on the Yazoo River. This was the water phase of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s land-water advance on the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.

Seizing Chickasaw Bluffs would put the Federals on the northern flank of Confederates defending Vicksburg, forcing them to either fight or flee. Sherman would be supported by Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron, along with Grant’s Federals moving overland to keep Confederates at Grenada from reinforcing those defending Vicksburg. Unaware that the Holly Springs raid prevented Grant from supporting him, Sherman wrote Grant:

“You may calculate on our being at Vicksburg by Christmas. River has risen some feet, and all is now good navigation. Gunboats are at mouth of Yazoo now, and there will be no difficulty in effecting a landing up Yazoo within 12 miles of Vicksburg.”

The next day, Sherman began loading three divisions of XIII Corps onto transports. This corps technically belonged to Major General John A. McClernand, but he was still in Illinois recruiting volunteers. Grant, being the department commander, did not trust McClernand to lead this operation, so he directed Sherman to lead it before McClernand arrived. Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate raiders indirectly helped Grant by cutting telegraph wires and preventing McClernand from getting Grant’s message that the expedition was starting without him.

Sherman collected a fourth division at Helena, Arkansas, on the 21st, giving him 32,000 men. After receiving word that the supply depot at Holly Springs had been destroyed, Sherman wrote Grant, “I hardly know what faith to put in such a report, but suppose whatever may be the case you will attend to it.” The cut telegraph lines prevented Grant from warning Sherman that he could expect no land support.

The Federals encountered little resistance as their flotilla steamed from Helena downriver toward the Yazoo. Sherman later wrote, “What few inhabitants remained at the plantations on the river-bank were unfriendly, except the slaves, some few guerrilla-parties infested the banks, but did not dare to molest so strong a force as I then commanded.”

The flotilla steamed to within 50 miles of Vicksburg on Christmas Eve, where Confederates guarding an outpost on Lake Providence, west of the Mississippi, spotted them. Using a private telegraph line the Federals did not know about, the guards sent a wire around midnight, “Great God, Phil, 81 gunboats and transports have passed here tonight.”

A messenger hurried across the river to relay the message to the Vicksburg commander. He cut a Christmas ball short and ordered his troops to man the defenses. Sherman’s hope to surprise the Confederates had been dashed. On Christmas Day, Federal forces began landing at Milliken’s Bend, on the Mississippi’s west bank about 10 miles above the mouth of the Yazoo. Sherman dispatched a division to wreck the railroad connecting Vicksburg to Monroe, Louisiana, while the rest of the 64-vessel flotilla continued downriver.

The Federals entered the Yazoo near Steele’s Bayou the next day. They were about four miles northwest of Chickasaw Bluffs, which were another six miles northeast of Vicksburg. Federal troops began landing at Johnson’s Plantation, with Porter’s gunboats bombarding nearby Haynes’ Bluff to cover them.

Initially, just 6,000 Confederates defended the bluffs, led by General Martin L. Smith. But now that the Confederates at Vicksburg knew of Sherman’s advance, they rushed another 8,000 men there. General Stephen D. Lee superseded Smith as Confederate commander until Lee was superseded by the arrival of General Carter L. Stevenson.

Sherman still had twice as many men, but the defenders held the high ground overlooking approaches from both the Yazoo and Chickasaw Bayou. Also, the marshes and swamps would force the attackers to funnel toward the center of the Confederate defenses, enabling the defenders to concentrate their fire. And the Confederates had cleared the woods in their front, giving them a clear view of any approach.

Sherman considered this a terrible place to attack, but he dispatched units to search for any exploitable weaknesses. The Federals advanced under heavy fire, slogging through the swampy terrain. Porter’s gunboats tried covering them as they took up positions along the water barriers in front of the Confederate defenses. Sherman was informed that just four approaches could be used to reach the bluffs, and each was guarded by heavy artillery.

The Federals spent the next few days probing to determine the Confederate positions, with heavy skirmishing breaking out at several points. On the 28th, McClernand arrived at Memphis to learn that the expedition had started without him. The cut telegraph lines had prevented Grant from informing McClernand; they also prevented Grant from urging Sherman to abort his mission.

That day, Brigadier General Frederick Steele’s division tried crossing Blake’s Levee to reach the bluffs, but they could not overcome the Confederate guns and abatis in their path. Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s division tried approaching on a causeway north of Chickasaw Bayou but was repelled with heavy loss. Nevertheless, Sherman resolved to launch an all-out attack on the bluffs 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 18299; 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. 64, 71, 73-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 241-45; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 62-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 300-01; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 577-78; 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. 132; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170-71; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39

Grant Begins Moving Against Vicksburg

November 1, 1862 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant experienced various problems while trying to move south toward the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, while a separate Federal force prepared to attack the same city.

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

As the month began, Grant’s army consisted of six divisions totaling about 37,000 men. Five divisions were about to advance to Grand Junction, Tennessee, the first stop on an overland march against Vicksburg. The sixth division under Major General William T. Sherman was to stay behind at Memphis and guard supply lines.

The advance was delayed when it was discovered that Major General William S. Rosecrans, who had gone north to take command of the new Army of the Cumberland, had taken all the vital maps of northern Mississippi with him. Rosecrans’s successor, General Charles Hamilton, wrote Grant, “Please give some instructions about the route to be followed. Rosecrans carried off the maps that were most needed.”

Despite the delays, Grant managed to secure important rail and road routes into northern Mississippi at Grand Junction and a few miles west at La Grange, Tennessee. The forces at these two points were to coordinate their southward movements.

Using a supply line running north all the way to Columbus, Kentucky, Grant planned to march his army in three columns along the Mississippi Central Railroad line to Vicksburg. On the way, the Federals needed to secure the important rail junction at Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Grant’s advance was delayed again while he awaited reinforcements from Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, west of the Mississippi River. Grant had argued that any operation against Vicksburg required command of both sides of the river, but the Lincoln administration would only give Grant some of Curtis’s troops, not Curtis’s whole department.

Not wanting to wait any longer for Curtis’s troops, Grant wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on the 9th, “Reinforcements are arriving very slowly. If they do not come on more rapidly I will attack as I am.” Halleck assured him that the troops were being transferred as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, Major General John A. McClernand continued preparing a separate offensive against Vicksburg, seemingly without Grant’s knowledge. By November, the “secret” mission had become known when McClernand began sending recruits for his new “Army of the Mississippi” to Memphis, Grant’s base of operations. Rumors were also circulating that Sherman’s division would be pulled from Grant’s army to join McClernand.

Grant finally asked Halleck on the 10th, “Am I to understand that I lie still here while an expedition is fitted out from Memphis, or do you want me to push as far south as possible? Am I to have Sherman under my orders, or is he reserved for some special service?”

Halleck responded the next day: “You have command of all troops sent to your department, and have permission to fight the enemy where you please.” This reflected the rift in the Lincoln administration regarding the situation: President Abraham Lincoln had personally approved McClernand’s operation, but Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton resented McClernand for going over their heads to get the president’s approval.

Grant experienced other problems besides delays and a rival force. As his men moved into newly conquered territory in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, northern merchants and speculators rushed there to buy and trade confiscated goods, especially cotton. They then colluded with army officers to sell these goods in northern markets at inflated prices and reaped enormous profits. Some of these businessmen had been referred to the area by Grant’s own father.

Such activity threatened to breed vast corruption and demoralize the army; as Sherman pointed out, “The great profit now made is converting everybody into rascals…” Since many of the businessmen were Jewish, they were particularly singled out. Sherman had complained the past summer about “flocks of Jews” moving into the department, and Curtis had reported that his department in Missouri had become “infested with Jews.”

Grant responded by ordering one of his district commanders to “refuse all permits to come south of Jackson (Tennessee) for the present. The Israelites especially should be kept out.” He then instructed General Joseph Webster, his railroad manager, that “no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward at any point.” They should instead be sent back north because they “are such an intolerable nuisance that the department must be purged of them.”

Meanwhile, the Confederates in Mississippi awaited Grant’s impending advance. They consisted of Major General Earl Van Dorn’s recently defeated Confederates, now under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, as well as Major General Sterling Price’s small army, and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raiders harassing Grant’s supply lines.

Pemberton’s army held Holly Springs, with Pemberton planning to fall back to the Tallahatchie River if Federal pressure became too great. Knowing that Vicksburg was the prime Federal target, Pemberton directed his officers to commandeer as many local slaves as possible to strengthen the city’s fortifications.

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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. 228, 232; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 764; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 227-29; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 56-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 284; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 320-21; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 577; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781

The Battle of Iuka

September 19, 1862 – Federal forces attacked Confederates in northern Mississippi but could not prevent them from escaping to join with another force.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By the 19th, Major General Sterling Price’s 14,000 Confederates were at Iuka, east of Corinth, Mississippi. Knowing that General E.O.C. Ord’s 8,000 Federals were approaching from the northwest, Price prepared to move his force south to join the Confederate army led by Major General Earl Van Dorn. However, Price did not know that another Federal force of 9,000 men under Major General William S. Rosecrans was moving from the southwest to attack his left flank.

One of Rosecrans’s divisions got lost along the way, so Rosecrans spent the morning waiting for those troops to countermarch and join the rest of his men. The Federals were to advance on the two roads leading to Iuka, but Rosecrans chose to only use the Jacinto road and keep his force united in case of a Confederate attack. The Federals encountered Confederate pickets about a mile and a half south of Iuka. They deployed across the road and drove the Confederates north toward the main army.

When Price learned of the attack from the south, he guessed that Ord’s presence to the north was just a diversion and pulled his Confederates from that sector to turn toward Rosecrans. Price instructed his division commander and close friend, Brigadier General Henry Little, to bring up the rest of his men. Before Little could comply, he was killed by a shot to the head. Price “wept over him as if a son” before he was replaced by General Louis Hebert.

Map of the Battle of Iuka | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Price quickly composed himself and directed Hebert to counterattack. The Federals, unable to fully deploy due to the rough terrain, were driven back. The 11th Ohio Battery suffered the worst casualty percentage of any artillery battery in the war, losing 54 (19 killed and 35 wounded) of its 80 men. The Confederates captured nine guns.

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

Rosecrans sent a dispatch to Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the department commander, reporting that a battle was underway, but it did not arrive at Grant’s headquarters until the next day. Meanwhile, the Federals established a new defensive position that the Confederates could not break. As the sun set, Price disengaged and fell back.

Ord was supposed to attack upon hearing the sound of battle to the south. He advanced along the northern road to within four miles of Iuka, but an atmospheric phenomenon called an “acoustic shadow” prevented him from hearing the fighting. Thus, he never ordered his assault, and just a small Confederate cavalry unit held him at bay.

Rosecrans sustained 790 casualties (141 killed, 613 wounded, and 36 missing), while Price lost 1,516 (263 killed, 692 wounded, and 561 captured or missing). The Federals claimed victory because they drove the enemy from the field and inflicted nearly twice as many casualties as they incurred.

Price planned to renew the fight the next day, but Hebert and his other division commander, Brigadier General Dabney H. Maury, argued that Ord might get involved, which could be disastrous for the Confederates. Price relented and led his men south on the road that Rosecrans had opted not to use. Rosecrans inexplicably left it unguarded, enabling Price to get away with his supply train in front and a large rear guard to face any pursuers.

Before Grant found out about Price’s escape, he submitted a complimentary official report: “I cannot speak too highly of the energy and skill displayed by General Rosecrans in the attack, and of the endurance of the troops under him. General Ord’s command showed untiring zeal, but the direction taken by the enemy prevented them from taking the active part they desired.”

When Rosecrans learned that the Confederates were gone the next day, he tried pursuing them but could not due to the muddy road and harsh terrain. Price may have been defeated, but he got away to join forces with Van Dorn as planned. This caused resentment among the Federal high command. Grant later conceded that Rosecrans had correctly used the one road instead of both, but he questioned Rosecrans’s failure to guard the unused road. Rosecrans questioned Ord’s claim that he could not hear the fighting.

Ultimately, the Federals had succeeded in preventing Price from joining General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates in Kentucky, whether he had planned to do so or not. Grant quickly turned his attention to Corinth, fearing the Confederates might try retaking this important railroad town. Ord arrived at Corinth on the 21st, while Grant pulled Federals from Bolivar and Jackson in Tennessee to reinforce the town’s defenses.

Price joined with Van Dorn at Ripley a week later, but the eight-day march had turned Price’s army into a disorganized mob. Meanwhile, Van Dorn reported: “Field returns showed my strength to be about 22,000. Rosecrans at Corinth had about 15,000, with about 8,000 additional men at outposts from 12 to 15 miles distant.” There were also 6,000 Federals at Memphis, 8,000 at Bolivar, and 3,000 at Jackson, Tennessee.

All told, the Federals could muster 40,000 men to defend Corinth, but Van Dorn wanted to try retaking the town nonetheless. To succeed, he needed the elements of surprise and speed. He resolved to head toward Pocahontas, hoping to trick the Federals into thinking he intended to attack Bolivar, 40 miles northwest of Corinth.

Van Dorn’s subordinate, General Mansfield Lovell, opposed this plan and suggested that the Confederates simply attack Bolivar, which would force the Federals to abandon Corinth to save their supply line. Price wanted to wait for the upcoming release of 15,000 exchanged Confederate prisoners at Jackson, Mississippi. Price argued that Van Dorn could not hold Corinth if these men did not rejoin the ranks.

Van Dorn overruled both Lovell and Price, ordering them to prepare three days’ rations for their men. This new Confederate Army of the West began marching out of Ripley the next day, and Corinth was the ultimate destination.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18207-16, 18226; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 721; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 213, 216; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 36-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 269, 272; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 522; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 515; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386-87

Confederates on the Move in Mississippi

September 18, 1862 – With Confederate forces moving into Maryland and Kentucky, the third prong of the overall Confederate offensive began moving in Mississippi.

When General Braxton Bragg led his Confederate Army of Mississippi into Kentucky, he left behind two forces in Mississippi under Major Generals Sterling Price near Tupelo and Earl Van Dorn at Vicksburg. They were assigned to watch the Federals at Memphis and Corinth, and prevent them from trying to reinforce Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio pursuing Bragg.

Gens Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federals at Memphis and Corinth operated within Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s military department, with the troops at Iuka directly under Major General William S. Rosecrans. On the 5th, the Confederates learned that Rosecrans was poised to head north, possibly to reinforce Buell’s Federals at Nashville. Bragg responded by ordering Price to stop Rosecrans.

Gens Ulysses S. Grant and William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Price’s 14,000 Confederates moved out on the 11th, reaching Marietta, about eight miles east of Baldwyn. Meanwhile, Van Dorn left Vicksburg hoping to occupy Holly Springs, between Memphis and Corinth. Dissatisfied with Bragg’s plan, Van Dorn complained to President Jefferson Davis. In response, Davis gave Van Dorn command of all Confederates in Mississippi, apparently without notifying Price that Van Dorn was now his superior.

Grant monitored Price’s movements but did not know what they meant. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “With all the vigilance I can bring to bear I cannot determine the objects of the enemy. Everything threatens an attack here, but my fear is that it is to cover some other movement.” After reviewing the information, Grant finally concluded that the Confederates would try taking back Corinth. He directed Rosecrans to concentrate his forces and prepare to meet an attack, but Rosecrans replied, “I see nothing in this to alarm us.”

Price entered Iuka, a resort town 20 miles down the Memphis & Charleston Railroad from Corinth, on the 14th. Iuka was a Federal supply depot, but strangely it was only guarded by a small force, which fled upon seeing the Confederates approaching. The Federals left tons of supplies and cotton behind; the Confederates took the former and burned the latter.

When Grant learned of this, he saw a chance to preemptively attack Price before he threatened the main Federal supply center at Corinth. He directed two divisions of 8,000 men under General E.O.C. Ord to move from Burnsville, seven miles northwest of Iuka, and confront Price from the north. At the same time, Rosecrans was to lead two divisions of 9,000 men from Jacinto, 14 miles east of Iuka, to confront Price from the south. Ord would attack first, driving Price into Rosecrans’s men, which would destroy him.

The Federals were within striking distance by the 18th, with Price largely unaware of the forces bearing down upon him until that night. Soon after, Van Dorn instructed Price to join forces with him at Rienzi, south of Iuka. From there, they would move north and threaten Federals in western Tennessee. Van Dorn was unaware of the two Federal forces approaching Iuka.

Price prepared to comply, unaware that Rosecrans’s Federals were approaching from the south. However, part of Rosecrans’s force got lost, leaving him unprepared to engage the enemy. Grant then reversed his plan and directed Rosecrans to attack and push Price north into Ord.

Later that day, Grant received news that the Federals had won decisively at Antietam yesterday: “Longstreet and his entire division prisoners. General Hill killed. Entire rebel army of Virginia destroyed, Burnside having reoccupied Harper’s Ferry and cut off retreat.” Grant sent this message to Ord, intending him to forward it to Price. Since Lee’s alleged destruction meant the virtual end of the war, Grant instructed Ord to demand that Price “avoid useless bloodshed and lay down his arms.”

Ord forwarded the message and the demand. Responding in third person, Price stated that he did not believe the report was true. And even if “the facts were as stated in those dispatches they would only move him and his soldiers to greater exertions in behalf of their country, and that neither he nor they will ever lay down their arms–as humanely suggested by General Ord–until the independence of the Confederate States shall have been acknowledged by the United States.”

As Price worked to move away from Ord’s advancing Federals, he was inadvertently planning to march straight into Rosecrans’s men trying to organize themselves to the southwest.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 212; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 717-19; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 208-09, 212; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-36; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 266; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 522; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386-87

Reorganizing the Department of the Mississippi

July 15, 1862 – As Major General Henry W. Halleck prepared to go to Washington to become general-in-chief, he reorganized the armies within his Department of the Mississippi.

Generals H.W. Halleck and U.S. Grant

Halleck summoned his second-in-command, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, from Memphis: “You will immediately repair to this place and report to these headquarters.” Grant, unaware why Halleck was summoning him, asked if he should come alone. Halleck replied, “This place will be your headquarters, you can judge for yourself.”

The relationship between Halleck and Grant had been strained ever since Halleck removed Grant from command for alleged dereliction of duty, only to reinstate him shortly after. Grant was “promoted” to a meaningless job as second in command after the terrible Battle of Shiloh, and Halleck had recently admonished Grant for allowing press leaks within his command: “The Cincinnati Gazette contains the substance of your demanding reinforcements and my refusing them. You either have a newspaper correspondent on your staff or your staff is very leaky.”

Halleck also issued orders directly to officers within Grant’s army and not through Grant himself. When Grant complained, Halleck explained that it was too awkward for Grant to directly communicate with his own army because he was headquartered about 100 miles east. Halleck then wrote, “I will further add that from your position at Memphis, it is impossible for you to exercise the immediate command in this direction (i.e., Corinth).”

Grant arrived at Corinth on the 15th and received orders notifying him that Halleck would be going to Washington to become general-in-chief. Grant’s District of West Tennessee (consisting of the Army of the Tennessee) was expanded to include the District of the Mississippi (consisting of the Army of the Mississippi), and the District of Cairo.

Grant’s jurisdiction would include northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, and Kentucky west of the Cumberland River. Halleck directed Grant to “take up all active (Confederate) sympathizers, and either hold them as prisoners or put them beyond our lines. Handle that class without gloves, and take their property for public use… It is time that they should begin to feel the presence of the war.”

He also transferred many of Grant’s troops to Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, currently advancing on Chattanooga. This indicated that Halleck intended Buell, not Grant, to conduct offensive operations. Grant was expected to protect railroads and occupy towns in the region currently under Federal occupation. He had just 53,000 men divided into two armies and spread throughout the occupation zone.

Major General William T. Sherman would replace Grant as commander of the District of West Tennessee, headquartered at Memphis. He quickly issued threats to impose strict rule on civilians, but he was generally lenient in reinstating their freedom to move and buy liquor. Sherman also acted against northern speculators and Federal troops who treated civilians disrespectfully.

At Corinth, Major General William S. Rosecrans replaced John Pope in command of the Army of the Mississippi. Rosecrans’s main objectives were to maintain the extensive defensive works that Halleck had established around the town and improve the poor sanitation that had forced over 30 percent of the army onto the sick list.

Things remained relatively quiet in northern Mississippi through July. The largest action occurred on the 1st, when Federal forces under Brigadier General Philip Sheridan clashed with General James R. Chalmers’s 4,700 Confederates 20 miles south of Corinth at Booneville. Chalmers outnumbered Sheridan, but the Federals had modern Colt revolving rifles. Sheridan directed two regiments to penetrate the Confederate rear around 3:30 p.m., prompting them to withdraw under close pursuit. Sheridan reported losing one man killed, 24 wounded, and 16 missing while killing 63 Confederates. The Federal high command noted Sheridan’s aggressiveness.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 146-47; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 189; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 544; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178, 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 240-41; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 766; 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. 501