Tag Archives: Earl Van Dorn

Vicksburg: Grant Changes Strategy

April 1, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant finally conceded the impossibility of capturing Vicksburg from the north and began devising another, more daring, plan.

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

By this time, Grant had failed or was on the verge of failing in five efforts to reach Vicksburg:

  • Overland via the Mississippi Central Railroad
  • On water via Chickasaw Bayou
  • On water via various canal projects
  • On water via Steele’s Bayou
  • On water via Yazoo Pass

Rear Admiral David D. Porter brought Grant and Major General William T. Sherman, Grant’s most trusted subordinate, on a reconnaissance mission. They boarded the U.S.S. Tuscumbia and steamed up the Yazoo River to Haynes’s Bluff, where Confederates had placed batteries north of Vicksburg. Grant went on this mission figuring he would have “to collect all my strength and attack Haynes’ Bluff.” Understanding that such an effort would involve heavy loss, Grant nonetheless stated, “I think it can be done.”

As the Tuscumbia approached, Grant observed the enemy batteries in the heights above. He also noted the natural obstacles and enemy torpedoes that could sink naval vessels. Grant wrote Porter the next day, “After the reconnaissance of yesterday, I am satisfied that an attack upon Haynes’ Bluff would be attended with immense sacrifice of life, if not with defeat. This, then, closes out the last hope of turning the enemy by the right (north).”

Grant had been working on another plan to operate on the other side of the Mississippi River from Vicksburg. This involved moving Federal troops from Milliken’s Bend, above Vicksburg, to New Carthage below. But Grant meant for this operation to support Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s advance on Port Hudson, not to take Vicksburg. Grant feared that this operation could take months or until the Lincoln administration lost patience and called it off.

After seeing that attacking Haynes’s Bluff would be futile, Grant started reworking the Milliken’s Bend plan to take Vicksburg rather than support Banks. Grant wrote, “I have sent troops through from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, to garrison and hold the whole route and make the wagon road good.”

From New Carthage, Federals could cross the Mississippi and attack either Grand Gulf or Warrenton, which guarded the back door to Vicksburg from the south. Grant wrote, “It is important to prevent the enemy from further fortifying either of these places. I am satisfied that one army corps, with the aid of two gunboats, can take and hold Grand Gulf until such time as I might be able to get my whole army there and make provision for supplying them.”

The troops currently at Milliken’s Bend belonged to XIII Corps under Major General John A. McClernand. They were in the process of clearing the path for men and supplies to move to New Carthage. McClernand reported to Grant, “I am now repairing the roads and bridges between here and Richmond, a distance of 12 miles, including a floating bridge of 200 feet in length, and will soon commence repairing the road from that place to (New) Carthage, and constructing barges to ply between the same places, unless stopped by unknown obstacles.”

Grant and McClernand had never gotten along; Grant was a West Pointer and McClernand was a former politician with connections going all the way up to President Abraham Lincoln. When Grant asked McClernand to detach some of his troops to dig a levee, McClernand replied:

“I think it probable that you would not have ordered it with a fuller knowledge of my operations… the prospect so far is quite encouraging… and I hope you will find it consistent with your general views to leave me to prosecute my present undertaking with all the resources at my disposal.”

Porter disagreed with Grant’s plan to march the army down the west bank of the Mississippi. He believed Grant should pull his army back to Memphis and march overland along the Mississippi Central Railroad to Vicksburg as he had tried in December. But the northern public and the administration would view this as yet another defeat, which could be detrimental to the careers of all involved.

Grant met with Porter on the 2nd and described the plan in greater detail:

  • Sherman’s corps would feign an attack on Haynes’s Bluff as a diversion
  • Grant’s remaining two corps would move from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, building roads during the march
  • Porter’s fleet would pass the Vicksburg batteries with gunboats, transports, and supply vessels, and meet Grant’s troops at Hard Times, 30 miles south of the city
  • The ships would ferry the troops to the east bank of the Mississippi, where Grant would advance on Vicksburg from the south

Porter still expressed reluctance, warning Grant that “when these gunboats once go below we give up all hopes of ever getting them up again.” But Navy Secretary Gideon Welles urged Porter to cooperate, writing that if the operation succeeded, it would be “the severest blow that can be struck upon the enemy,” and thus “worth all the risk.”

On the Confederate side, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, endured not only mounting Federal threats to Vicksburg, but mounting criticism of his abilities as well. President Jefferson Davis defended Pemberton, writing that “by his judicious imposition of his forces and skillful selection of the best points of defence he has repulsed the enemy at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, on the Tallahatchie and at Deer Creek, and has thus far foiled his every attempt to get possession of the Mississippi river and the vast section of country which it controls.”

Pemberton had requested reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department. Pemberton specifically wanted Major General Earl Van Dorn’s cavalry operating in western Tennessee. But Johnston replied:

“In the present aspect of affairs, General Van Dorn’s cavalry is much more needed in this department than in that of Mississippi and East Louisiana, and can not be sent back as long as this state of things exists. You have now in your department five brigades of the troops you most require, viz., infantry, belonging to the Army of Tennessee. This is more than a compensation for the absence of General Van Dorn’s cavalry command.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18429; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 270-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 217; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 276-77; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334; 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. 164-65

Middle Tennessee: The Spring Hill Engagement

March 5, 1863 – As the Armies of Tennessee and the Cumberland remained relatively stationary in Middle Tennessee, smaller forces clashed in an engagement at nearby Spring Hill.

Major General William S. Rosecrans had not moved his Federal Army of the Cumberland since taking Murfreesboro after the Battle of Stones River in January. To coax him into action, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wired him on the 1st: “There is a vacant major generalcy in the Regular Army, and I am authorized to say that it will be given to the general in the field who first wins an important and decisive victory.”

This did not have the intended effect, as Rosecrans replied, “As an officer and a citizen, I feel degraded to see such auctioneering of honor. Have we a general who would fight for his own personal benefit, when he would not for honor and country? He would come by his commission basely in that case, and deserve to be despised by men of honor.”

Though the main armies in Middle Tennessee showed little movement, detachments on both sides were active. This included a clash at Milton, about 15 miles northeast of Murfreesboro, in which a Federal force severely repelled an attack from Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Also, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry (now part of Major General Earl Van Dorn’s 6,000-man cavalry force) rode north on the Columbia Pike, across the Duck River toward Franklin, south of Nashville. By the 4th, Forrest had reached Thompson’s Point, just before Spring Hill.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans dispatched about 3,000 Federal troops under Colonel John Coburn to join General Philip Sheridan at Spring Hill and reconnoiter General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. As Coburn moved south on the Columbia Pike, his men discovered “a considerable force of cavalry,” near Spring Hill, which was Van Dorn’s vanguard.

Both sides began trading artillery fire, and when the Confederates tried flanking Coburn, the Federals fell back under cover of their guns. A scout informed Coburn that no more than 1,000 troopers opposed him, so Coburn decided to hold his ground. During the night, the rest of Van Dorn’s 6,000 troopers came up, outnumbering the Federals two-to-one.

The next morning, Coburn was told that Van Dorn’s whole force now opposed him, but his scouts found nothing in the Federal front. So Coburn continued moving south on the Columbia Pike toward Spring Hill in accordance with orders. Van Dorn’s troopers met him around 10 a.m. at Thompson’s Station, about 10 miles south of Franklin.

The two forces traded rifle fire until Confederate artillerists began enfilading the Federal cannoneers, forcing them to withdraw. The Federal cavalry then fled back to Franklin along with the infantry regiment guarding the supply train. This left the remaining infantry to fend for themselves.

The troops took positions on two hills and fended off several attacks until Forrest’s men flanked them and landed in their rear. The Federals were quickly surrounded. Coburn later wrote, “I was convinced that a massacre would ensue, to little purpose, that a few might escape, but that many would fall in a vain struggle for life with unequal weapons. I ordered a surrender. I believe it was justified by the circumstances.” Coburn further explained:

“The contest had raged nearly five hours. No re-enforcements were in sight; none had been heard from. The enemy held the road far in our rear. The cavalry and artillery had gone two hours. We had no ammunition. The enemy was mounted. His batteries raked the road, and his men, in thousands, hung upon every advantageous post in our rear. We had exhausted all means of destruction, except our bayonets; beyond their reach, we were powerless.”

The Federals sustained 1,594 casualties (88 killed, 206 wounded, and nearly 1,300 captured), and the Confederates lost 357 (56 killed and 301 wounded or missing). Bragg issued a general order expressing “pride and gratification” in the “affairs recently achieved by the forces of the cavalry of Major General Van Dorn.”

Van Dorn’s troopers encamped at Spring Hill, where he and Forrest got into a heated dispute after Van Dorn accused Forrest of hoarding the captured Federal supplies. When Rosecrans learned of the engagement, he reported to Halleck, “I am not, as you know, an alarmist, but I do not think it will do to risk as we did before.”

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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 18777-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 169, 176-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 268; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 575

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.

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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. 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

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.”

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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. 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

Federals and Confederates Maneuver in Mississippi

October 16, 1862 – Confederates reorganized their command structure in Mississippi, Major General Ulysses S. Grant was given new Federal responsibilities, and a secret mission to capture Vicksburg was concocted.

Following the Battle of Corinth, Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Army of the West, was brought before a court of inquiry to answer charges that he had been responsible for the defeat. The charges were later dropped, but the Confederate high command no longer entrusted Van Dorn to lead an army.

Under Adjutant General Samuel Cooper’s Special Orders No. 73, “The State of Mississippi and that part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River is constituted a separate military department.” This disbanded Van Dorn’s District of Mississippi under General Braxton Bragg and created a new department independent from Bragg’s.

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

The new commander was Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, a Pennsylvanian who married a Virginian. Pemberton was to “consider the successful defense of those States as the first and chief object of your command.” This especially included Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the Confederacy’s last two major strongholds on the Mississippi River. Other points included New Orleans and Corinth (under Federal occupation), Baton Rouge, and all contested areas in Mississippi.

Pemberton set up headquarters at Jackson, Mississippi, where he divided the department into three districts:

  • Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles commanded District 1 from Jackson
  • Brigadier General Martin L. Smith commanded District 2 from Vicksburg
  • Brigadier General William N.R. Beall commanded District 3 from Port Hudson

General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

On the Federal side, Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas announced that Major General Ulysses S. Grant would command the new Department of the Tennessee. General Order No. 168 designated all Federal troops within this new department as Federal XIII Corps. This included not only the Armies of the Tennessee and the Mississippi already under his command, but the area from Cairo, Illinois, to northern Mississippi west of the Tennessee River.

Grant soon concentrated all Federal troops in his jurisdiction into a revised Army of the Tennessee. He then urged General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to allow him to go beyond just guarding railroads and supply depots by launching an offensive against Vicksburg.

The problem with moving on Vicksburg was that it required support from Federals on the west bank of the Mississippi, which was outside Grant’s jurisdiction. Grant would have to cooperate with Major General Samuel R. Curtis, who commanded the west side, but Grant cited instances in which Curtis had refused. Therefore, Grant wrote, “I would respectfully suggest that both banks of the river be under one command.”

Unbeknownst to Grant, a campaign to capture Vicksburg had already been clandestinely approved. Major General John A. McClernand, Grant’s former subordinate, had lobbied his friend President Abraham Lincoln for an independent command. McClernand had been an influential Democratic politician in Illinois before the war, and he assured Lincoln that he could persuade fellow Democrats to support a campaign against Vicksburg because it would open the Mississippi for Illinois shipping to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Lincoln approved, with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issuing secret orders for McClernand “to proceed to the States of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and to organize the troops remaining in those States and to be raised by volunteering or draft… to the end that, when a sufficient force not required by the operations of General Grant’s command shall be raised, an expedition may be organized under General McClernand’s command against Vicksburg and to clear the Mississippi River and open navigation to New Orleans.”

The order also directed McClernand to show this document “to Governors, and even others, when in his discretion he believes so doing to be indispensable to the progress of the expedition.” Based on these orders, McClernand considered himself leading a command fully autonomous from Grant.

Thus, McClernand began recruiting a new “Army of the Mississippi” while Grant began assembling a force of 30,000 Federals at Grand Junction, Tennessee. Both forces had the same objective, which would seriously complicate upcoming Federal operations.

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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. 220, 225-26; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 763, 778; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 217, 222-24, 226; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 273, 278-81; 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, 593; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178, 746-47; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707, 781; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501, 705-06, 747, 781, 816

The Battle of Corinth

October 3, 1862 – Confederates under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price lost the element of surprise and with it the chance to reclaim a key city in northern Mississippi.

After their defeat at Iuka last month, Price’s Confederate Army of the West had joined with the Van Dorn, the ranking officer, who named his new force the “Army of West Tennessee.” As the force advanced on Pocahontas, Tennessee, Federals under Major General Ulysses S. Grant patrolled the region from four key points: Memphis, Jackson, and Bolivar in Tennessee, and Corinth, Mississippi.

Grant’s largest force, the 23,000-man Army of the Mississippi under Major General William S. Rosecrans, held Corinth. This town was a vital railroad center and the region’s strongest point. Unaware that the combined Confederate force was moving toward Corinth, Grant incorrectly reported from his Jackson headquarters that Price had moved south of Corinth while Van Dorn moved west toward the Mississippi River.

Van Dorn planned to feint against Bolivar and then launch a surprise attack on Corinth in the hope that the unsuspecting Federals would have no time to call for reinforcements from the other points. He dismissed suggestions from subordinates to instead push into Tennessee to cut Rosecrans’s supply lines, which could have forced him to abandon Corinth without a fight. After reclaiming Corinth, Van Dorn would use the town’s railroads to supply an advance into Middle Tennessee. This would at least prevent Grant from sending Federal reinforcements to oppose the Confederate invasion of Kentucky taking place at that time.

Grant realized that the Confederates were in fact targeting Corinth when they reached Chewalla, 10 miles northwest of the town, on the 2nd. Ruining the Confederate element of surprise, Grant notified Rosecrans to be on alert and began directing troops from other points to head toward Corinth. Grant hoped these troops could cut off Van Dorn’s communication and supply lines and destroy his army.

Rosecrans’s defenses consisted of two lines of fortifications west of Corinth, a half-mile apart. Being less certain of an attack than Grant, Rosecrans placed a small force on the outer line and most of his other men in defense of the railroads and in the second, stronger line. The Confederate troops, moving along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, slept on their arms during the night of the 2nd, intending to launch their surprise attack the next day.

Van Dorn advanced on the morning of October 3 with 22,000 troops in three divisions. They marched the 10 miles from Chewalla without water and attacked the outer Federal lines northwest of Corinth around 10 a.m. The massive onslaught overwhelmed the unprepared Federals, and the Confederates seized the line within 30 minutes despite sustaining heavy casualties. As the Federals fled to their interior lines, Van Dorn called a halt for his thirsty men to rest in the 90-degree heat. This allowed the Federals to strengthen their positions.

The Federals’ second, more compact, defense line proved much stronger, and they repelled a series of piecemeal assaults. Near sundown, Van Dorn consulted with Price and agreed to suspend the attack. Van Dorn reported:

“I saw with regret the sun sink behind the horizon as the last shot of our sharpshooters followed the retreating foe into their innermost lines. One hour more of daylight, and victory would have soothed our grief for the loss of the gallant dead who sleep on that lost but not dishonored field.”

Despite sustaining heavy casualties, Van Dorn resolved to attack again the next day. He planned for his three divisions to launch coordinated attacks on the Federal right, center, and left. Rosecrans anticipated this renewal of hostilities and informed his commanders at a council of war that night. The Federals concentrated in the defenses closest to Corinth.

The next day began with an artillery duel before the Confederates advanced. Brigadier General Louis Hebert, leading the division slated to attack the Federal right, reported sick. He was replaced by Brigadier General Martin E. Green, who led the troops in taking Battery Powell. However, Green refused to advance any further, prompting a subordinate to say that he seemed “hopelessly bewildered, as well as ignorant of what ought to be done.” This allowed the Federals to reinforce their line and regain their guns in a counterattack.

The Battle of Corinth, Second Day, by Currier and Ives | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the far Confederate right, Major General Mansfield Lovell refused to advance his division after surveying the strong Federal works in his front. Lovell’s brigade commanders feared that attacking such a line would be suicidal. When one of Lovell’s staffers asked a brigade commander, “Suppose General Lovell orders you to take it?” the officer replied, “My brigade will march up and be killed.”

This left Brigadier General Dabney H. Maury to attack the Federal center unsupported. Maury’s Confederates managed to seize the vital Battery Robinett, but Federal units laying prone 30 yards behind the earthwork suddenly stood and fired, driving the enemy off. By then, some Confederates between Green and Maury had pierced the Federal right and entered Corinth, but they too were driven off around 11:30 a.m. after ferocious hand-to-hand combat.

With the Confederates exhausted in the intense heat, Van Dorn ordered a withdrawal back toward Chewalla around 12 p.m. Lovell’s division served as the rear guard. An hour later, Rosecrans rode among his men at Battery Robinett to dispel rumors he had been killed. He removed his hat and announced, “I stand in the presence of brave men, and I take my hat off to you.” Rosecrans specifically praised the 5th Minnesota for having “saved the day.”

Grant ordered Rosecrans to pursue and destroy the Confederate army, but to Grant’s dismay, Rosecrans stated that his men were too exhausted and shaken to pursue until the next day. As Rosecrans conducted an uninspiring chase from behind, Grant dispatched a force under General E.O.C. Ord to meet Van Dorn in front, cut his supply lines, and possibly destroy his army.

Ord confronted Van Dorn along the Hatchie River near Pocahontas on the 5th. A brief but intense fight ensued that became known as the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge. It ended when Van Dorn’s men used another bridge to cross the river and slipped away to Holly Springs, Mississippi. Van Dorn lost another 600 men, but his army had not been destroyed as Grant hoped.

In the fighting since October 3rd, the Federals sustained 2,839 killed, wounded, or missing. Grant initially praised Rosecrans’s performance at Iuka and Corinth, but he later criticized the general for allowing the Confederates to escape destruction after both battles. The Confederates lost 4,838, or more than a fifth of their total force. Van Dorn blamed the defeat on Hebert for calling out sick and Lovell for refusing to move; he soon relieved them both from command.

This battle outraged many southerners because it had produced such high casualties for almost no gain. The Confederates successfully prevented Federal reinforcements from being sent to Kentucky, but they failed to either regain Corinth or knock the Federals out of northern Mississippi. In fact, they did not even alter Grant’s plan to push deeper into Mississippi.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 213; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18226-35, 18245-62; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 221; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 722, 725; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 217-19; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 40-43; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 274-75; 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. 522-23; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 516-21; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 498; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 166-67, 196, 323; Wikipedia: Battle of Corinth

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