Tag Archives: Earl Van Dorn

Confederates on the Move in Mississippi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Confederates Poised to Attack in Kentucky

August 29, 1862 – One Confederate army began moving north toward Kentucky, while another was already in Kentucky and preparing for battle.

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

By August 20, Major General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate Army of Kentucky had entered its namesake state and occupied Barbourville. General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Mississippi prepared to move out of Chattanooga and divert the attention of Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federal Army of the Ohio while also heading north into Kentucky.

Smith informed Bragg that he would advance on Lexington to supply his exhausted and hungry army. Bragg hoped Smith would stay at Barbourville until Bragg could get his army moving, but he did not object. Bragg outranked Smith, but since this operation took place within Smith’s military department, the two commanders acted as equals. This compromised coordination between the armies.

Bragg’s Confederates began crossing the Tennessee River the next day. When Buell learned that Bragg was on the move, he thought Bragg would head for Nashville. To counter, he sent Federals to McMinnville and Sparta to block the Confederates’ path. But they were not heading that way.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

As Bragg moved, he expected his two forces in Mississippi under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price to hold Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s two Federal armies under Major Generals William T. Sherman and William S. Rosecrans at bay. He wrote Price:

“We move from here immediately, later by some days than expected, but in time we hope for a successful campaign. Buell has certainly fallen back from the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and will probably not make a stand this side of Nashville, if there. He is now fortifying that place. General Smith, reinforced by two brigades from this army, has turned Cumberland Gap, and is now marching on Lexington, Ky… We shall thus have Buell pretty well disposed of. Sherman and Rosecrans will leave to you and Van Dorn, satisfied that you can dispose of them, and we shall confidently expect to meet you on the Ohio and there open the way to Missouri.”

Bragg headed north, led by General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry. The 30,000 Confederates marched through the Sequatchie Valley and crossed Walden’s Ridge into central Tennessee on the 28th. Bragg’s route ran parallel to Smith’s but about 100 miles farther west. Bragg issued a proclamation:

“The enemy is before us, devastating our fair country… insulting our women, and desecrating our altars… It is for you to decide whether our brothers and sisters of Tennessee and Kentucky shall remain bondmen and bondwomen of the Abolition tyrant or be restored to the freedom inherited from their fathers.”

In Kentucky, Smith had to push his tattered army on to Lexington for much needed supplies. Cavalry under Colonel John S. Scott led the way and dispersed two Federal brigades atop Big Hill, south of Richmond. Scott learned that Federal reinforcements were on their way to Richmond. Smith, operating in Unionist territory, wrote Bragg, “Thus far the people are universally hostile to our cause. This sentiment extends through the mountain region of Eastern Kentucky. In the bluegrass region I have better expectations and shall soon test their loyalty.”

Smith’s lead division under Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne, along with Scott’s cavalry, crossed Big Hill on the 29th and entered Bluegrass country, moving northwest on the road to Richmond. Smith’s Confederates had marched a remarkable 150 miles through mountains and rugged terrain in just two weeks. Residents of Cincinnati, just 75 miles away, began panicking at the prospect of being attacked.

Brigadier General Mahlon D. Manson, commanding Federals outside Richmond, confronted Scott’s horsemen and drove them through Kingston, about eight miles south. Scott joined with Cleburne’s force, while the Federals fell back to Rogersville. Manson informed Major General William “Bull” Nelson, the ranking area commander at Louisville, of the action and blocked the Lancaster turnpike east of Richmond. With Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill’s Confederates hurrying north to join Cleburne, Smith planned to attack Richmond the next day.

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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. 206-07; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 583; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 195-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 253, 256; 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. 516-17; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 171; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 517-18; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 44-45, 50; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414-15

Confederates Reinforce Chattanooga

July 29, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Mississippi arrived at Chattanooga, while the Federal high command in the West scrambled to learn Bragg’s intentions.

Gen Don Carlos Buell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio from Huntsville, Alabama, received word on the 31st that Bragg had arrived at Chattanooga two days before, and “On the same evening two trains came in with soldiers. Railroad agent says he has orders to furnish cars for 30,000 as fast as he can.” Buell had been moving sluggishly through northern Alabama due to Confederate raiders disrupting his supply lines. He just recently restored his line from Nashville to Stevenson and finally returned his men to full allowances with the arrival of 210,000 rations.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal armies farther west, was unaware of Bragg’s intentions. He received varying reports from Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Army of the Mississippi at Corinth, that Bragg was headed to Vicksburg, or Mobile, or Chattanooga. This left Grant to report that “nothing absolutely certain of the movements of the enemy has been learned,” except “a movement has taken place from Tupelo, in what direction or for what purpose is not so certain.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Brigadier General Philip Sheridan, commanding Rosecrans’s cavalry, learned from a captured Confederate officer that Bragg was heading to Chattanooga. Sheridan reported, “The enemy have been and still are moving in large numbers to Chattanooga, via Mobile and Montgomery, concentrating at Rome, Ga. A large number of troops are at Saltillo (10 miles north of Tupelo), not less than 10,000.” The Confederate troops near Saltillo belonged to Major General Sterling Price, who was moving north from Tupelo.

Bragg arrived at Chattanooga on July 30. The next day, Major General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Army of East Tennessee, came down from Knoxville to meet with him. Bragg sought to liberate Nashville from Federal occupation, but Smith wanted Bragg to hold off Buell while he led his army into Kentucky.

The men agreed to coordinate their movements with each other, with Smith telling Bragg that he would “not only co-operate with you, but will cheerfully place my command under you subject to your orders.” Although Bragg was the ranking officer, his army was operating in Smith’s department, so the men would act as equals. This virtually doomed the offensive before it even began.

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

Smith would initiate the action by moving against Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s Federals at Cumberland Gap. If Bragg’s cavalry was available, Bragg and Smith would combine their forces and cut Buell’s supply lines in Middle Tennessee. Without developing any specifics, Bragg would confront Buell while Smith invaded Kentucky. The two Confederate forces in Mississippi under Price at Saltillo and Major General Earl Van Dorn at Vicksburg would prevent Grant from reinforcing Buell.

Bragg informed Richmond that he and Smith had “arranged measures for material support and effective cooperation.” Bragg explained that Smith would advance on Cumberland Gap:

“Should he be successful, and our well-grounded hopes be fulfilled, our entire force will then be thrown into Middle Tennessee with the fairest prospect of cutting off General Buell, should that commander continue in his present position.”

Bragg made no mention of a Kentucky incursion, instead emphasizing Middle Tennessee as the main objective. He stated that if Grant reinforced Buell, “Van Dorn and Price can strike and clear West Tennessee of any force that can be left to hold it.”

Timing and coordination were essential for this plan to succeed. This would prove very difficult for Bragg, who not only had to coordinate his army’s movements with Smith’s, but he had to keep command over Van Dorn and Price as well. The first move was Smith’s, as he tried taking Cumberland Gap while calling for reinforcements from western Virginia.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 562, 575; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 186-87; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 576-77; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 43

The Baton Rouge Campaign

July 26, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding Confederates in the area of Vicksburg, Mississippi, detached a portion of his force to try regaining the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge.

Major General John C. Breckinridge | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Van Dorn, learning that the Federal Mississippi River fleet had split in two and moved off in opposite directions, issued orders to Major General John C. Breckinridge, former U.S. vice president, to lead 4,000 Confederates southward out of Jackson, Tennessee. Their mission was to surprise the Federal occupation forces at Baton Rouge.

Breckinridge did not think the town was worth the effort because even if regained, it could not be held against Federal gunboats. But Van Dorn coveted Baton Rouge because it was the state capital, and as such he ordered Breckinridge to proceed. Breckinridge’s men boarded trains in Vicksburg the next day and arrived at Camp Moore near Kentwood, Louisiana, on the afternoon of the 28th. From there they were to march overland about 60 miles southwest to the state capital.

Breckinridge split his force into two divisions and began the advance at dawn on the 30th. However, he suspended the march the next day when he learned “that the effective force of the enemy was not less than 5,000 and that the ground was commanded by three gunboats lying in the river.” Breckinridge, whose force had dwindled to 3,400 due to illness, telegraphed Van Dorn that he would still “undertake to capture the (Baton Rouge) garrison if Arkansas could be sent down to clear the river or divert the fire of the gunboats.”

The C.S.S. Arkansas was the Confederacy’s most formidable ram on the Mississippi, currently stationed at Vicksburg. Breckinridge planned to resume his approach after receiving Van Dorn’s response that the Arkansas would be at Baton Rouge by the morning of August 5.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 578

Confederates on the Move in the West

July 23, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg mobilized his Confederate Army of Mississippi to move from Tupelo to Chattanooga and ultimately join forces with Major General Edmund Kirby Smith.

Bragg wrote his predecessor, General P.G.T. Beauregard, explaining there were four options for his Confederates:

  • They could remain at Tupelo
  • They could attack Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals at either Corinth or Memphis
  • They could attack Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals advancing on Chattanooga
  • They could advance into Middle Tennessee, disrupting both Grant’s and Buell’s supply lines

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Only advancing on Chattanooga would enable Bragg to join forces with E.K. Smith, whose 18,000-man army was poised to threaten Cumberland Gap and Kentucky. Bragg wrote to President Jefferson Davis:

“Obstacles in front connected with danger to Chattanooga induce a change of base. Fully impressed with great importance of that line, am moving to East Tennessee. Produce rapid offensive from there following the consternation now being produced by our cavalry. Leave this State amply protected by (Major General Earl) Van Dorn at Vicksburg and (Major General Sterling) Price here (at Tupelo).”

Bragg’s cavalry moved out on the 22nd, with Bragg writing Beauregard, “Our cavalry is paving the way for me in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky.” Bragg’s 30,000 Confederate infantry began boarding trains the next day. The trip stretched 776-miles and involved transferring onto six different railroads and a steamboat along a route south to Mobile, north to Montgomery, east to Atlanta, then northwest to Chattanooga.

Once at Chattanooga, Bragg planned to join forces with E.K. Smith’s army and invade Kentucky, much like Colonel John Hunt Morgan was doing. Bragg guessed that Buell’s Federals would abandon efforts to capture Chattanooga and instead pursue the Confederates northward. And if Grant reinforced Buell, Van Dorn and Price could join forces in Mississippi to attack Grant’s diminished force.

Certain that Kentuckians would eagerly join his army, Bragg brought 15,000 extra rifles with him. This certainty seemed to be confirmed the next day when E.K. Smith forwarded a message from J.H. Morgan in Kentucky, stating that the bridges between Cincinnati and Lexington had been destroyed and at least 30,000 secessionists would gladly join the Confederate cause.

Smith contacted Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson, who was opposing the Federal force at Cumberland Gap under Brigadier General George W. Morgan. Smith told Stevenson that if G.W. Morgan detached troops to deal with J.H. Morgan, it could “present the most favorable opportunity of pushing forward your operations, and probably enable you to enter Kentucky.”

Bragg reported to the Confederate adjutant general on the 24th:

“Major General Van Dorn, with about 16,000 effectives, will hold the line of the Mississippi. Major General Price, with a similar force, will face the enemy on this frontier (central Mississippi), and a sufficient garrison will be left for Mobile and the Gulf. With the balance of the forces, some 35,000 effectives, I hope, in conjunction with Major General Smith, to strike an effective blow through Middle Tennessee, gaining the enemy’s rear, cutting off his supplies and dividing his forces, so as to encounter him in detail. In any event much will be accomplished in simply preserving our line and preventing a descent into Georgia, than which no greater disaster could befall us.”

Advance Confederate units from Bragg’s army arrived at Chattanooga on July 27, just two days before the last train left Tupelo. This was the largest Confederate railroad movement of the war, and it was completed in record time, despite the poor condition and different track gauges of southern railroads.

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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. 198; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 571, 573; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 184-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 243; 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. 515-16; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 42-43

Edmund Kirby Smith Eyes Kentucky

July 10, 1862 – As Federal forces closed in on Chattanooga, Confederate Major General Edmund Kirby Smith revealed a daring plan to take the offensive.

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

Smith commanded the Confederate Army of East Tennessee, which he had divided. His 9,000 best troops were stationed north of Knoxville under Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson to confront Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s 10,000 Federals at Cumberland Gap. Smith kept another 9,000 men, mostly raw recruits, at Chattanooga to face the 31,000-man Army of the Ohio approaching from northern Alabama.

Smith repeatedly asked Richmond to send more men to defend the city and finally got 6,000 reinforcements in early July. Despite this, Smith reported on the 2nd that a Federal “attack may be daily looked for.” He asked General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi at Tupelo, for more men once again. Bragg, under no orders to do so, finally complied by sending him 3,000 troops under Major General John P. McCown, a man whom Bragg said lacked “capacity and nerve for a separate, responsible command.”

With Chattanooga reinforced, Smith began thinking about taking the offensive. He envisioned defeating his old friend George Morgan at Cumberland Gap and then advancing north into Kentucky, aided by the path that Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate troopers had already opened into that state.

Smith wrote a confidential letter to Stevenson explaining that he intended to outflank Morgan’s Federals and advance into Kentucky. Smith then notified Bragg that even though the Federal Army of the Ohio was closing in on Chattanooga, “I am mobilizing my command for movement on General Morgan or into Middle Tennessee, as the circumstances may demand.”

Meanwhile, the Army of the Ohio under Major General Don Carlos Buell continued its extremely slow drive through northern Alabama toward Chattanooga. Operating in enemy territory, Buell’s supply lines were regularly cut by Confederate raiders and local residents, causing extensive delays. Adhering to the Articles of War, Buell would not retaliate against civilians. By July 8, Buell approached Stevenson, Alabama, having advanced just 90 miles in three weeks. He was still not even halfway to Chattanooga.

Major General Henry W. Halleck, Buell’s superior, notified him that Bragg’s army was mobilizing either to confront Buell at Tuscumbia or Chattanooga, or to confront Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals at Memphis or Corinth. Halleck wrote:

“A few days more may reduce these doubts to a certainty, when our troops will operate accordingly. The President telegraphs that your progress is not satisfactory and that you should move more rapidly. The long time taken by you to reach Chattanooga will enable the enemy to anticipate you by concentrating a large force to meet you. I communicate his views, hoping that your movements hereafter may be so rapid as to remove all cause of complaint, whether well founded or not.”

Buell responded to Halleck’s admonition: “I regret that it is necessary to explain the circumstances which must make my progress seem so slow. The advance on Chattanooga must be made with the means of acting in force; otherwise it will either fail,” as Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel had done in May, or else the city would “prove a profitless and transient prize… The dissatisfaction of the President pains me exceedingly.”

Halleck responded the next day:

“I can well understand the difficulties you have to encounter and also the impatience at Washington. In the first place they have no conception of the length of our lines of defense and of operations. In the second place the disasters before Richmond have worked them up to boiling heat. I will see that your movements are properly explained to the President.”

By this time, Buell’s Federals had repaired the railroad lines damaged by the raiders, and his men at Stevenson began receiving supplies from Nashville. But the raiders continued causing problems, including burning bridges around Nashville on the road leading to Chattanooga.

As Buell inched closer, E.K. Smith wrote to President Jefferson Davis warning that the Federals were “an overwhelming force, that cannot be resisted except by Bragg’s cooperation.” Smith did not share his secret plan to outflank Morgan’s Federals and advance into Kentucky.

Five days later, Smith wrote the Confederate adjutant general that “Buell with his whole force” had reached Stevenson, 30 miles from Chattanooga, and was “daily expected to attack.” Noting that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry had broken the Federal supply line at Murfreesboro, Smith stated, “This may delay General Buell’s movement and give General Bragg time to move on Middle Tennessee.”

Shifting responsibility to Bragg, Smith wrote, “The safety of Chattanooga depends upon his cooperation.” Smith also informed Bragg that Buell “was momentarily expected to attack. If possible hasten your movement on East Tennessee. The successful holding of Chattanooga depends upon your cooperation.” But Bragg had problems of his own, as he explained to Smith the next day:

“We are fearfully outnumbered in this department. I have hoped you would be able to cope with General Buell’s force, especially as he would have to cross a broad and deep river in your immediate presence. That hope still exists; but I must urge on you the propriety of your taking command in Chattanooga. The officer I sent you (McCown), I regret to say, cannot be trusted with such a command, and I implore you not to entrust him indeed with any important position.”

Ignoring Bragg’s recommendation, Smith wrote:

“Buell has completed his preparations, is prepared to cross near Bridgeport, and his passage there may be hourly expected. General Morgan’s command moving on Knoxville from Cumberland Gap. Your cooperation is much needed. It is your time to strike at Middle Tennessee.”

Bragg replied, “Confronted here by a largely superior force strongly intrenched,” which could “now be enabled to unite against us,” Bragg said it was “impossible… to do more than menace and harass the enemy from this quarter. The fact is we are fearfully outnumbered in this department, the enemy having at least two to our one in the field, with a comparatively short line upon which he may concentrate.”

But Bragg did a sudden about-face on July 21, issuing orders for his Army of Mississippi to move out of Tupelo and advance on Chattanooga. He left the forces under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price in northern Mississippi, putting Price in charge of the District of Tennessee. Bragg notified President Davis, “Will move immediately to Chattanooga in force and advance from there. Forward movement from here in force is not practicable. Will leave this line well defended.”

Bragg began moving out with 35,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. The move would not be easy because Buell’s Federals blocked his path. The cavalry would embark on a 430-mile trip, moving south to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, turning east to Rome, Georgia, and finally turning northwest to Chattanooga. The infantry’s journey would be even longer, moving by train southeast to Mobile, Alabama, turning northeast to Atlanta, Georgia, and then marching northwest to Chattanooga, a distance of nearly 800 miles.

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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. 196; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 560-61, 572; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 183; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 242; 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. 513; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 41-43

Running the Vicksburg Batteries

June 18, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut began assembling a Federal naval squadron to run past Vicksburg, one of the last major Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut received orders from Washington to assemble a flotilla of gunboats and mortars that could bypass the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg and link with the Federal Western Flotilla at Memphis. Although he doubted that ships could get past Vicksburg’s heavy guns without being destroyed, he began organizing a squadron downriver at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

By this time, Major General Earl Van Dorn, the new Confederate commander in the region, had assembled 10,000 troops to defend Vicksburg. Recent Federal successes on the Mississippi had prompted soldiers and residents to strengthen the city’s defenses, which included building fortifications and placing more batteries on the bluffs overlooking the river to prevent Federal naval passage.

On June 20, a 3,000-man Federal detachment from Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s New Orleans occupation force under Brigadier General Thomas Williams boarded transports to join Farragut’s fleet upriver to Vicksburg. Their mission was to set up a base across the river from the city at Swampy Toe, and then dig a canal to allow Federal vessels to bypass a bend in the river and move upriver, beyond Vicksburg’s cannon range.

As the Federals approached, the Confederates’ rush to finish Vicksburg’s defenses accelerated. The steep bluffs on the riverbank, along with Van Dorn’s superior numbers, made an infantry attack impossible. But many worried that the Federals’ naval firepower could overwhelm the defenders. President Jefferson Davis wrote to Van Dorn, “The people will sustain you in your heroic determination, and may God bless you with success.”

The Federal troops began landing on the 24th. Unaccustomed to the southern climate, they fell ill from diseases such as dysentery, malaria, and typhoid, and many died as a result. In addition, Farragut worried that the summer drought would lower the river and strand his deep-draft vessels. Nevertheless, the mortar boats began firing on the Vicksburg defenses as the Federal troops started digging the canal.

After two days of bombardment, Farragut resolved to try moving his gunboats past Vicksburg, just as he had bypassed Forts Jackson and St. Philip in April. Nighttime navigation on the river was too difficult, so Farragut had to make the attempt at dawn. As Commander David D. Porter’s mortar fleet continued shelling the town, the gunboats began upriver. The Confederates immediately began firing down on them from the bluffs, with the ships answering with broadsides. A sailor aboard Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, wrote:

“The whole fleet moved up to the attack. The shells from the mortars were being hurled right over our heads, and as (enemy) battery after battery was unmasked from every conceivable position, the ridge of the bluff was one sheet of fire. The big ships sent in their broadsides, the mortars scores of shells, and all combined to make up a grand display and terrible conflict.”

Ultimately, eight vessels made it past the batteries and three had to turn back. The Hartford made it through, even though she was “riddled from stem to stern.” A shot nearly killed Farragut, hitting the ship’s rigging just above where he stood. He wrote his wife, “The same shot cut the halyard that hoisted my flag, which dropped to half-mast without being perceived by us. This circumstance caused the other vessels to think that I was killed.”

Federal fire killed 22 soldiers and two civilians (a man and a woman). The Federals suffered 10 killed. Farragut succeeded in getting most of his fleet past Vicksburg, thus demonstrating the ability of gunboats to bypass stationary batteries. But the Confederate defenders still commanded the river, and Farragut noted that as soon as Federal fire drove Confederate artillerists from their guns, they “return to them as soon as we have passed and rake us.”

Vicksburg could not be captured by naval firepower alone, leading Farragut to write to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, “I am satisfied that it is not possible for us to take Vicksburg without an army force of twelve to fifteen thousand men.” A long, brutal campaign to take this Confederate bastion had just begun.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169-72, 174-75; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-26; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 228-33; 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. 420-21; 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. 89-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 429; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846