Tag Archives: Army of the Tennessee

Sherman Targets Meridian

January 10, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, the new commander of the Federal Army of the Tennessee, arrived at Memphis to discuss his upcoming campaign against Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate Army of Mississippi.

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

In December, Sherman had proposed clearing Confederate guerrillas from the Yazoo and Red rivers in Mississippi and Louisiana. But as the new year began, that plan changed. At Memphis, Sherman shared his new plan with Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding XVI Corps. Sherman’s army, consisting of two corps (Hurlbut’s and Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII) garrisoned throughout the region, would move across central Mississippi from the Mississippi River to confront Polk, whose 10,000-man army was stationed near Meridian.

Sherman next wrote McPherson, “Now is the time to strike inland at Meridian and Selma. I think Vicksburg is the point of departure from the (Mississippi) river.” Sherman would pull 20,000 white troops from the garrisons at Fort Pillow, Memphis, Corinth, and other posts, and replace them with black troops. Sherman wrote, “Keep this to yourself, and make preparations.” Sherman demanded strict secrecy or else the Confederates might hurry reinforcements to Polk. This included severely restricting the number of newspaper correspondents in his military department.

Sherman then met with Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, who commanded 2,500 Federal cavalry troopers clearing “the country of the bands of guerrillas that infested” Middle Tennessee. Smith’s force would be expanded and assigned to confront Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 3,500 Confederate horsemen, which were currently heading into Mississippi to gather new recruits and join Polk.

Within two weeks, Smith’s force had been bolstered to 7,000 troopers in two divisions. They would advance southeast from Memphis, plundering along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad line from Okolona to Meridian while looking to confront Forrest.

Sherman arrived at Vicksburg aboard the gunboat Juliet on the 29th. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck explaining his plan to launch Smith against Forrest and the railroad while the main force moved east from Vicksburg to Meridian. A third force would move up the Yazoo River and threaten Grenada as a diversion.

Sherman wrote Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, “All things favorable thus far for movement on Meridian.” The official Federal mission was to inflict so much destruction on the railroads in Mississippi “that the enemy will not attempt to rebuild them during the rebellion.”

To McPherson, Sherman made it clear that he intended to wage war on civilians: “Let the commanding officer impress on the people that we shall periodically visit that country and destroy property or take it, as long as parties of Confederate troops or guerrillas infest the river banks.” Sherman directed his men to seize farmers’ cotton and give it to Federal ships that had been fired upon by Confederate partisans.

Sherman stated that civilians along the Yazoo must know “that we intend to hold them responsible for all acts of hostility to the river commerce,” because they now must–

“… feel that war may reach their doors. If the enemy burns cotton we don’t care. It is their property and not ours, but so long as they have cotton, corn, horses, or anything, we will appropriate it or destroy it so long as the confederates in war act in violence to us and our lawful commerce. They must be active friends or enemies. They cannot be silent or neutral.”

The Federals were not to bring any provisions with them on the march, “for the enemy must not only pay for damages inflicted on our commerce but for the expenses incurred in the suppression.”

To divert attention from Sherman’s expedition, Grant directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, to advance on General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia. Thomas was not to bring on a general battle, but rather just keep Johnston occupied so he could not reinforce Polk.

Sherman learned that keeping his plans secret would be more difficult than anticipated. Forrest reported to Polk on the 31st, “A gentleman just from Memphis says the enemy design moving a large force from Vicksburg on Jackson and contemplate rebuilding the railroad between those points and moving from Jackson on Mobile and Meridian.” Nevertheless, Sherman’s campaign of destruction began as scheduled in February.

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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. 358, 362; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 923; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 457-58

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Grant Takes Western Command

October 16, 1863 – The Lincoln administration ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant to travel to Louisville, where he would take command of the new Military Division of the Mississippi.

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

As Confederates tightened their siege on the Federal Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, Federal officials at Washington grew increasingly concerned that the army commander, Major General William S. Rosecrans, could not break his men out. The army had been reinforced, but more troops could not help now that the Confederates had cut the supply lines into the city. Reports from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana in Chattanooga had been increasingly critical of Rosecrans’s leadership, and President Abraham Lincoln began considering a command change.

Grant, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee at Vicksburg, Mississippi, was recovering from a dislocated hip and possible skull fracture after falling from his horse in September. Since his capture of Vicksburg, his army had been scattered among the garrisons in the region, and he had dispatched three divisions under Major General William T. Sherman to reinforce the Federals at Chattanooga.

In response to the critical situation, Grant received orders on October 10 (but dated the 3rd) from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to proceed at once to Cairo, Illinois. Halleck gave no explanation for this order, instead directing Grant to simply contact Washington upon arriving at Cairo. When he got there, Grant received another directive:

“You will immediately proceed to the Galt House, Louisville, Kentucky, where you will meet an officer of the War Department with your orders and instructions. You will take with you your staff, etc., for immediate operations in the field.”

Lincoln had been reluctant to replace Rosecrans because he was an Ohioan, and the Ohio elections were crucial to the war effort. But now that pro-administration candidates had scored major victories, Lincoln decided to make the change. On the 16th, he approved creating a new Military Division of the Mississippi, which placed all the major military departments between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River under one command.

Grant left Cairo the next day. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton traveled west to meet Grant personally, marking the first time that Stanton had ever left Washington to meet a general. Stanton boarded Grant’s train during a stopover in Indianapolis and approached Grant and his staff. Having never met Grant before, Stanton shook hands with Dr. Edward Kittoe, Grant’s staff surgeon, and said, “How are you, General Grant? I knew you at sight from your pictures.”

Stanton quickly met the real Grant and presented him with two sets of War Department orders. They both began the same:

“By direction of the President of the United States, the Departments of the Ohio, of the Cumberland, and of the Tennessee, will constitute the Military Division of the Mississippi. Major General U.S. Grant, United States Army, is placed in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, with his headquarters in the field.”

This directive did not include any troops east of the Mississippi belonging to the Department of the Gulf because Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, that department’s commander, still outranked Grant.

The two orders differed on the second clause. One version left all department commanders in place under him, and the other replaced Rosecrans with Major General George H. Thomas. Grant, who had been unimpressed with Rosecrans during the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, quickly chose the latter version. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside would stay as head of the Department of the Ohio, while Major General William T. Sherman would replace Grant over the Department of the Tennessee.

Grant and Stanton spent the next day discussing strategy at the Galt House in Louisville. That evening, Stanton received word from Charles Dana that Rosecrans planned to abandon Chattanooga, which would result in Federal disaster. Stanton informed Grant of this news and told him that the Federals could not withdraw under any circumstances.

Grant quickly sent two messages: one informed Rosecrans that he had been relieved, and one ordered Thomas to “Hold Chattanooga at all hazards.” The next day, Rosecrans received General Order No. 337 removing him from command. Hiding his shock and bitterness, Rosecrans summoned Thomas and passed the army command to him. Thomas replied to Grant’s message, “We will hold the town till we starve.”

Dana was wrong–Rosecrans was not planning to evacuate; rather, he was working with engineers to open a new supply line to feed his men so they could renew the offensive, just as the administration hoped he would do. But he had not done so fast enough.

Before leaving, Rosecrans discussed the military situation with Thomas. He decided not to issue a farewell order to avoid demoralizing the troops. Instead, he issued a brief statement urging the troops to follow their new commander. It was to be read after Rosecrans left: “He has led you often in battle. To his known prudence, dauntless courage, and true patriotism, you may look with confidence that under God he will lead you to victory.”

Grant left Louisville on October 20 and headed for Chattanooga to take personal command of the situation. It would be a harder journey than expected.

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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. 428-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 334; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 767, 784-85, 802-03; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 559; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 420, 423-24; 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. 675; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500-01, 542-43; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642

Post-Vicksburg: Grant’s Army Reduced

August 3, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee underwent vast reductions following its capture of Vicksburg.

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

By this month, Grant’s Federals were performing occupation duty at Vicksburg and other points in Mississippi and western Tennessee. After borrowing IX Corps to help conquer Vicksburg, Grant returned those troops to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Army of the Ohio, which was poised to invade eastern Tennessee.

Grant proposed joining forces with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf to capture Mobile, Alabama. This plan was backed by both Banks and Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, whose naval force would be needed to attack the city from the Gulf of Mexico. But General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck rejected the idea and instead urged Banks to invade eastern Texas while Grant continued managing occupation forces.

Halleck informed Grant on the 6th, “There are important reasons why our flag should be restored to some part of Texas with the least possible delay.” Halleck did not explain those reasons, but President Abraham Lincoln did in a letter to Grant three days later:

“I see by a dispatch of yours that you incline strongly toward an expedition against Mobile. This would appear tempting to me also, were it not that, in view of recent events in Mexico, I am greatly impressed with the importance of re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible.”

Lincoln was referring to Mexico falling under the rule of Maximilian I, a puppet dictator installed by Emperor Napoleon III of France. European interference in the affairs of a Western Hemisphere nation violated the Monroe Doctrine. Even worse, Napoleon had hinted at the possibility of allying with the Confederacy, and the administration feared that the Confederates could start receiving military and financial support from French-occupied Mexico.

Thus, much of Grant’s army was broken up, with Major General E.O.C. Ord’s XIII Corps going to reinforce Banks at New Orleans and Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps performing garrison duty in Louisiana. The rest of Grant’s forces held points along the Mississippi River in western Tennessee and Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Lincoln tried convincing Grant of the effectiveness of black troops. Lincoln wrote on the 9th that black troops were “a resource which, if vigorously applied now, will soon close the contest.” However, Sherman wrote his wife Ellen doubting the ability of blacks in the military and stating, “… I cannot trust them yet.” Consequently, Sherman did little to alleviate the problem of freed slaves scouring the region and resorting to robbery for food and shelter.

Major General John A. McClernand, who had caused Grant so much trouble until Grant relieved him of corps command during the Vicksburg campaign, had his military career effectively ended when Lincoln declined assigning him to a new command.

On the 17th, elements of Sherman’s infantry from Vicksburg and Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s cavalry from Memphis raided Grenada, Mississippi, south of the Yalobusha River, where Confederates had gathered supplies from the Mississippi Central Railroad. Those supplies were guarded by a token force while the main body of Confederates evacuated Jackson and burned the bridge over the Pearl River in May.

The Federal forces drove the Confederate guards off and seized 57 locomotives, destroyed over 400 railcars, and burned buildings containing vast amounts of commissary and ordnance supplies. This was one of the most destructive raids of the war, with damage estimated at $4 million.

In late August, Grant attended a banquet in his honor at the Gayoso House in Memphis. A pyramid in front of his place at the table listed all his battles, beginning with Belmont. He was toasted as “your Grant and my Grant,” and his feat of opening the Mississippi River was compared to the feats of Hernando de Soto and Robert Fulton. Grant delivered a two-sentence speech to the 200 guests, thanking them and pledging to do what he could to maintain their prosperity.

On the water, Rear Admiral David D. Porter formally took command of all Federal naval forces and operations on the Mississippi River, replacing Farragut. Porter’s main goal was to suppress Confederate raids on Federal shipping while promoting river commerce.

Recalling the terrible problems the navy had in trying to navigate the Yazoo River before the fall of Vicksburg, Porter reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “There are no more steamers on the Yazoo. The large fleet that sought refuge there, as the safest place in rebeldom, have all been destroyed.”

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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. 314-16; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 770-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 339, 345; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 393-94, 396-97; 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. 167, 170-71; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178

Confederates Starving in Vicksburg

July 3, 1863 – The Confederate soldiers and residents under siege in Vicksburg were on the verge of being starved into submission.

Shelters dug into the hills during the siege of Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By this time, Vicksburg had been under siege for nearly six grueling weeks. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee surrounded the land side of the city, while Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron sealed Vicksburg from the water. Both Grant and Porter continuously bombarded the Confederates with heavy guns and mortars.

With no supply flow, the Confederate defenders and the residents under siege were on the brink of starvation. In addition, Federals were tunneling under the defenses in hopes of detonating explosives and blowing holes in the siege line, adding yet another threat to the suffering defenders. One tunnel was exploded on the 1st, but the Federal commanders determined that it did not cause enough damage to facilitate a successful breakthrough.

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the 32,000-man Confederate “Army of Relief” east of Vicksburg, began moving out of Jackson to break through Grant’s siege lines and rescue the trapped Confederates. The movement was quickly halted by Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps blocking their path and all crossings at the Big Black River.

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

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate army in Vicksburg, hoped his men had enough strength to break out themselves. He sent a confidential message to each of his four division commanders (Generals Carter L. Stevenson, Martin L. Smith, John H. Forney and John S. Bowen):

“Unless the siege of Vicksburg is raised or supplies are thrown in, it will become necessary very shortly to evacuate the place. I see no prospect of the former, and there are many great, if not insuperable, obstacles in the way of the latter. You are, therefore, requested to inform me with as little delay as possible as to the condition of your troops, and their ability to make the marches and undergo the fatigues necessary to accomplish a successful evacuation.”

The commanders unanimously agreed that their exhausted and starving troops could not break out of Vicksburg and defeat such a superior Federal army. This prompted Pemberton to ask Grant for surrender terms. Meanwhile, Johnston held his forces back, unaware that Grant had already begun planning to confront him after capturing Vicksburg.

At 10 a.m. on the 3rd, Confederates in a sector of the defense line raised white flags to allow two officers to cross over and deliver a message from Pemberton to Grant: “General, I have the honor to propose to you an armistice for several hours, with a view to arranging terms for the capitulation of Vicksburg.”

Pemberton had learned (after breaking the Federal signal code) that Porter did not want to deal with shipping 30,000 Confederate prisoners to northern prison camps. He therefore hoped to get the most favorable surrender terms possible by sending Bowen, Grant’s old neighbor from St. Louis, to deliver the surrender offer. Pemberton also tried appealing to the Federals’ patriotism by offering to give up Vicksburg on Independence Day.

If that did not work, Pemberton tried bluffing that he was making this offer only “to save the further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fully able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period.” As such, he proposed appointing commissioners to negotiate a settlement. Pemberton was disappointed by Grant’s stern reply:

“Your note of this date is just received, proposing an armistice for several hours for the purpose of arranging terms of capitulation through commissioners to be appointed, & c. The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose, by an unconditional surrender of the city and the garrison. Men who have shown so much endurance and courage as those now in Vicksburg will always challenge the respect of an adversary, and I can assure you will be treated with all the respect due to prisoners of war. I do not favor the proposition of appointing commissioners to arrange terms of capitulation, because I have no terms other than those indicated above.”

Bowen then played both sides to end the siege; Grant agreed to meet with Pemberton after Bowen said that Pemberton wanted to meet; Bowen then returned to Pemberton and told him that Grant wanted to meet with him. The two commanders and their staffs met under an oak tree at 3 p.m., but Pemberton angrily rejected Grant’s demand for unconditional surrender, saying that “you will bury many more of your men before you will enter Vicksburg.”

The men separated, leaving their staffs to discuss the matter without them. Both staffs favored paroling the prisoners, even though Grant did not. Grant left the meeting agreeing to send his final surrender terms to Pemberton by 10 p.m. This gave Grant’s staff time to persuade him to ease his unconditional surrender demand. After taking time for reflection, Grant sent his final terms:

“In conformity with the agreement of this afternoon, I will submit the following proposition for the surrender of the city of Vicksburg, public stores, & c. On your accepting the terms propo(sed) I will march in one Division as a guard and take possession at 8 a.m. to-morrow. As soon as rolls can be made out and paroles signed by officers and men you will be allowed to march out of our lines the officers taking with them their side arms and clothing, and the Field, Staff & Cavalry officers one horse each. The rank & file will be allowed all their clothing but no other property.”

Paroling Confederates exceeded Grant’s authority under War Department regulations. But Grant hoped to start a new offensive as soon as he cleared out Vicksburg, and both he and Porter knew it would take a while to ship so many prisoners north. Moreover, Grant figured that most of the parolees, who would be eligible to return to the ranks once exchanged for Federal prisoners, would instead choose to stay home after nearly starving in Vicksburg.

Pemberton accepted Grant’s terms in the early hours of Independence Day. He had just received a message from Johnston stating that he would try breaking Pemberton’s army out of Vicksburg on the 7th “by an attack on the enemy, to create a diversion which might enable Pemberton to cut his way out… if Vicksburg cannot be saved, the garrison must.” But it was too little, too late.

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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. 378-79; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 393; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18735; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298-300; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 606-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 320, 323; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 149, 152-56; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378; 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. 636

Vicksburg: Grant’s Command Confirmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Vicksburg: Grant’s Third Attempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou

December 29, 1862 – Major General William T. Sherman launched a costly attack on fortified Confederate defenses northeast of Vicksburg.

Sherman’s Federals had advanced downriver from the Mississippi to the Yazoo to threaten Walnut Hills, also known as Chickasaw Bluffs. They numbered 32,000 men in four divisions, and they held positions in the swamps and bayous below the bluffs, most notably Chickasaw Bayou. About 14,000 Confederates under Generals Carter L. Stevenson, Stephen D. Lee, and Martin L. Smith defended the bluffs. They were aided by high ground, a clear view of any attackers, and heavy artillery guarding all viable approaches.

Sherman planned to send Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s division across the swampland to penetrate the Confederate center, with support from Brigadier General Frederick Steele’s division and Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron. Brigadier General A.J. Smith’s division would launch a separate attack as a diversion.

Sherman expected support from Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal department commander who was to lead an overland advance to prevent Confederates at Grenada, Mississippi, from reinforcing the bluffs. However, the Confederate destruction of the Federal supply depot at Holly Springs prevented Grant from supporting Sherman. Grant also could not notify Sherman because Confederates had cut the telegraph lines.

Action began with a four-hour artillery duel that caused little damage on either side. During that time, Morgan’s assault was delayed when engineers had problems bridging a stream. Morgan then repositioned his men in fear of a Confederate attack. Sherman rode to the front and showed Morgan exactly where he was to advance, deploying two brigades in front with the rest of his division and Steele’s in support. Sherman said, “We will lose 5,000 men before we take Vicksburg, and may as well lose them here as anywhere else.”

Battle Map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The two Federal brigades charged at noon, running to the base of the bluffs where they were easily shot down and repulsed by heavy Confederate artillery and rifle fire. The swampy terrain prevented the Federals from answering with artillery of their own. A.J. Smith’s diversion was also beaten back without any gains. Sherman planned to attack again, but heavy fog rolled in, preventing another repulse and more deaths.

The Federals sustained 1,776 casualties (208 killed, 1,005 wounded, and 563 missing), while the Confederates lost just 207 (63 killed, 134 wounded, and 10 missing). Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, singled out several regiments from Georgia (the 40th, 42nd, and 52nd), Tennessee (3rd, 30th, and 80th), and Louisiana (the 17th, 26th, and 28th) for their valor in this engagement.

Sherman blamed Morgan for the failure. He planned another attack the next day but realized it would be futile and called it off. He then looked to continue moving up the Yazoo to attack the Confederate left, but reinforcements arrived to strengthen the defenses on the bluffs. The Federals remained positioned in front of the bluffs until New Year’s Eve, when Sherman finally conceded defeat and asked for a truce to bury his dead.

When northerners learned of the defeat, they likened it to Fredericksburg and mourned yet more lost men. Both Grant and Sherman endured heavy criticism for the battle and the destruction of the Federal supply base at Holly Springs, which turned Grant’s overland effort to capture Vicksburg into more of a disaster than Admiral David G. Farragut’s attempt to take the city in July.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 91, 127; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18299-307; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 247-49; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8646; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 510; 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; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 245-46; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 301-02; 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. 578-79; 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; 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