Tag Archives: John P. McCown

Bragg Takes Command in Mississippi

June 23, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg announced that he would lead his new army from Tupelo, Mississippi, into eastern Tennessee to join forces with Major General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates defending Chattanooga.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Bragg had 34,000 men in his Army of Mississippi, which he inherited from General P.G.T. Beauregard. If he linked with Smith, the combined forces would total 54,000. This, along with the effective cavalry commands under Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan, would make the Confederates strong enough to confront Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio threatening Chattanooga from northern Alabama.

Smith had pleaded for reinforcements ever since Federals began approaching Chattanooga, notifying the Confederate War Department, “If the Government wishes Chattanooga secured, a reinforcement of at least 2,000 armed men must be immediately sent there and an officer of ability assigned to the command.” President Jefferson Davis responded by sending 6,000 reinforcements under Brigadier General Henry Heth.

Despite this, Smith called on the governor of Georgia to provide militia because “My force is not sufficient to defend this department.” Smith also wired General Robert E. Lee on the Virginia Peninsula, informing him that reinforcements had to be rushed to Chattanooga to save the city from Federal conquest. Then Smith notified Bragg that Buell’s Federals were coming, and “I have no force to repel such an attack.”

Bragg, still in the process of reorganizing his army, dispatched Major General John P. McCown’s 3,000-man division by railroad. Bragg noted the quickness and efficiency of sending troops by rail for future operations. Meanwhile, Smith wrote the War Department again: “Large reinforcements speedily forwarded can alone save Chattanooga.”

Secretary of War George W. Randolph informed Bragg his department had been “extended so as to embrace that part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi, the entire states of Mississippi and Alabama, and the portion of Georgia and Florida west of the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers.” Randolph added, “Strike the moment an opportunity offers.”

Bragg planned to do so. But first he issued a proclamation to his men as their new commander:

“I enter hopefully on my duties. But, soldiers, to secure the legitimate results of all your heavy sacrifices which have brought this army together, to infuse that unity and cohesion essential for a resolute resistance to the wicked invasion of our country, and to give to serried ranks force, impetus, and direction for driving the invader beyond our borders, be assured discipline at all times and obedience to the orders of your officers on all points, as a sacred duty, an act of patriotism, is an absolute necessity. A few more days of needful preparation and organization and I shall give your banners to the breeze… with the confident trust that you will gain additional honors to those you have already won on other fields. But be prepared to undergo privation and labor with cheerfulness and alacrity.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 231-32; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 567-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 174; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15, 41

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Preparing to Attack Island No. 10

April 4, 1862 – Major General John Pope prepared his Federal Army of the Mississippi to capture strategic Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River with naval support.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Capturing Island No. 10 had been Pope’s prime objective when he formed his army the previous month, as Confederate defenders there blocked Federal shipping on the Mississippi. Pope had seized nearby New Madrid, Missouri, which positioned his Federals within striking distance of the island. He then surrounded the stronghold on three sides and opened an artillery bombardment.

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard reported to the War Department that the Federals had fired 3,000 rounds over the past two weeks in the largest cannonade of the war thus far. Beauregard also noted that the Confederate batteries remained relatively undamaged. To capture the island, Pope needed the Federal navy.

Pope wanted Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet to run past the Confederates and close the fourth side, which the Confederates used to get supplies from Tennessee. Federal troops and contrabands had struggled to dig a 12-mile canal for the fleet to use in bypassing the island. However, Foote resisted using the canal because he feared that the Confederate batteries would destroy his vessels.

To soften the batteries, Colonel George W. Roberts of the 42nd Indiana led a 50-man raiding party to neutralize as many guns as possible. The men used muffled oars to row barges to Battery No. 1, one of five Confederate outposts guarding Island No. 10 on the Tennessee shore. Battery No. 1 consisted of six cannon about two miles upriver from the island.

It was a stormy night, and lightning revealed the Federals’ presence. The Confederate pickets fired at them and then ran back into their fortifications. Before the rest of the Confederates could mobilize, the Federals landed, spiked the guns, and escaped without loss. The operation took less than 30 minutes. The storm later produced a tornado that swept through New Madrid and killed soldiers on both sides.

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Over the next few days, Federals prepared Commander Henry Walke’s ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet to run the remaining batteries. They fitted the ship with cordwood around the boilers and an anchor chain for armor. The Carondelet entered the canal at full steam around 10 p.m. on April 4, covered by darkness and a heavy thunderstorm.

The Confederates saw flames shooting from the Carondelet’s smokestacks, and lightning revealed her exact location. They opened fire and hit the ship once in the coal barge and once in a hay bale. Most shots missed because the guns could not be depressed low enough to fire down the steep banks.

The Carondelet successfully passed both Island No. 10 and a floating Confederate battery, arriving at New Madrid amid the cheers of Federal troops awaiting her arrival. The ship’s passage posed an immediate threat to the island’s defenders because she could transport troops to the Tennessee side of the river below them and attack the island from the rear.

Two days later, the Carondelet began clearing the Tennessee shore of Confederate batteries by destroying two cannon opposite Point Pleasant. She then moved further downriver to Tiptonville, Tennessee, where Federal troops landed and spiked a battery. Brigadier General William W. Mackall, who had replaced Brigadier General John P. McCown as commander of Confederate forces in the area, transferred his infantry and one battery from Island No. 10 to the Tennessee shore to protect against a Federal landing.

Pope made plans to attack the Confederates at Tiptonville, but he needed more naval support. Foote initially refused Pope’s request to run another ironclad past Island No. 10. Foote wrote, “There is so much hazard in running the blockade, and the rebels being so much on the alert, I consider it injudicious to hazard another boat.”

But Foote finally relented, and late on April 6, during a heavy thunderstorm, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh successfully ran past the batteries without damage. Pope was now ready to carry out his grand strategy to capture Island No. 10 and its adjoining defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (1 Apr 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 796; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 147, 150, 154; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 130-31, 134; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 193; 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. 415; 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), p. 81; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 163-64, 166; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 299; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386

The Fall of New Madrid

March 13, 1862 – Confederate defenders abandoned a position on the Mississippi River under artillery bombardment from Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi.

By early March, General P.G.T. Beauregard had arrived in Tennessee after his transfer from Virginia to take command of Major General Leonidas Polk’s Confederates at Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi. The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, along with Nashville, had left Polk isolated and, despite his assertion that Columbus was the “Gibraltar of the West,” Beauregard directed him to abandon the place and fall back southward, down the Mississippi.

A new defensive line was established from Corinth and Iuka in Mississippi on the right (east) to Island No. 10 and New Madrid in Missouri on the left (west). Beauregard notified General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Western Theater, of this move. Johnston, reorganizing Confederates in Middle Tennessee, responded: “You must now act as seems best to you. The separation of our armies is for the present complete.”

About 7,000 Confederate troops, supported by gunboats and 140 guns, held Beauregard’s western flank. They were stationed at Island No. 10 in the Mississippi, and at New Madrid Bend, a peninsula created by an “S” bend in the river. The Confederates defended against western enemy advances, and they blocked the passage of Federal shipping.

The Confederate commander in the New Madrid sector, Brigadier General John P. McCown, warned his superiors that the region would not last six hours if attacked. His artillery chief, James Trudeau, inspected nearby Island No. 10 and reported that it was “in no measure fortified.” It was quickly reinforced with 10 artillery companies.

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Meanwhile, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri at St. Louis, feared that Polk’s Confederates might move north and attack the Federal supply base at Cairo, Illinois. To counter, Halleck assigned John Pope to reinforce Cairo while leading a force down the Mississippi to attack the Confederates at New Madrid and Island No. 10.

Pope raised a new 12,500-man “Army of the Mississippi” at Commerce, Missouri, about 50 miles from New Madrid. The force mobilized quickly but was soon slowed by steady rain and mud. Pope’s ultimate objective was Island No. 10, which was highly fortified and most responsible for blocking Federal river traffic. But first Pope had to take New Madrid.

Pope’s advance units clashed with General M. Jeff Thompson’s Missouri partisans, which were hopelessly outnumbered and forced to run 16 miles from Sikeston to New Madrid. The partisans left behind some of their new, experimental cannon, which Pope inspected and reported to Halleck:

“The pieces of artillery are of small caliber, breechloading, beautifully rifled, and handsomely mounted on four wheels, drawn by two horses each. They have an ingenious repeating apparatus at the breech, and were undoubtedly made for service in this swampy, low region.”

Just as the Confederates from Columbus began manning the garrisons on the Mississippi, Pope’s Federals arrived outside New Madrid. Pope had a decisive advantage in troop strength, but he wanted to wait for support from Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet before attacking. Pope’s main concern was nearby Confederate gunboats, which could stop an infantry attack. Pope also awaited his own artillery–three 24-pounders and an eight-inch howitzer.

Pope seized Point Pleasant on the 5th, which cut New Madrid off from the south. However, Foote would not be coming up any time soon, as he explained:

“The gunboats have been so much cut up in the late engagements at Forts Henry and Donelson in the pilot houses, hulls, and disabled machinery, that I could not induce the pilots to go in them again in a fight until they are repaired. I regret this, as we ought to move in the quickest possible time, but I have declined doing it, being utterly unprepared, although General Halleck says go, and not wait for repairs; but that can not be done without creating a stampede amongst the pilots and most of the newly made officers, to say nothing of the disasters which must follow if the rebels fight as they have done of late.”

During that time, Beauregard formally took command of the Confederates in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, as well as those at New Madrid and Island No. 10. He called them the “Army of the Mississippi” (the “the” was dropped later) and proclaimed that so far in the war, their losses were “about the same as those of the enemy.” Despite recent setbacks, “those reverses, far from disheartening, must nerve us to new deeps of valor and patriotism, and should inspire us with unconquerable determination to drive back our invaders.”

As Pope continued waiting for support, Foote provided an update to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles:

“The Benton is underway and barely stems the strong current of the Ohio, which is 5 knots in this rise of water, but hope, by putting her between two ironclad steamers to-morrow, she will stem the current and work comparatively well… I hope on Wednesday (March 12) to take down seven ironclad gunboats and 10 mortar boats to attack Island No. 10 and New Madrid… We are doing our best, but our difficulties and trials are legion.”

On March 12, nine days after reaching New Madrid, Pope’s heavy siege artillery arrived. The Federals spent the night deploying the guns to begin laying siege to the two forts defending New Madrid, Thompson and Bankhead, as well as the 20 Confederate guns.

With his troops in position, the Federal siege guns opened with a sudden and massive bombardment through the foggy dawn of the 13th. The barrage caught the Confederate gunboats by surprise; they had not even gotten started when the firing began. Soon the Confederate artillery responded, taking out one 24-pounder and some field pieces.

Pope planned to focus on capturing Fort Bankhead on the Confederates’ right, but their gunboats arrived and forced Pope to change his strategy. The Confederate artillery was strong enough to prevent a frontal assault, but General McCown, with just 3,500 men against Pope’s 12,500, received word that Brigadier General Franz Sigel was on the way with 40 Federal regiments to reinforce Pope. McCown knew it was just a matter of time before he would have to evacuate or surrender.

That night, Captain George N. Hollins withdrew his Confederate gunboat squadron (the C.S.S. Livingston, Polk, and Pontchartrain) and used steamers to evacuate McCown’s defenders. During a violent storm, they pulled back to more fortified positions at Island No. 10, about 10 miles upriver on the Mississippi’s east bank. The Confederates spiked their guns to render them useless to the enemy, but they left behind many other valuable supplies in their disorganized retreat.

The next day, Pope’s men discovered that McCown had abandoned his positions. The Federals entered New Madrid and the forts without opposition, recovering the supplies and artillery the Confederates had left. Pope began planning to attack his main target, Island No. 10, and fortifications along the Tennessee bank of the river.

Meanwhile, Foote’s naval fleet finally left Cairo to support Pope; it consisted of seven ironclad gunboats, one wooden gunboat, 10 mortar boats, a coal barge, two ordnance steamers, and two army transports. Confederate cavalry stationed at Hickman, Kentucky, fled as the fleet approached.

The fall of New Madrid left the Confederates at Island No. 10 isolated from communications and supplies. It also trapped them in the swamps east of New Madrid, where Pope would confront them next month.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13281, 13290; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 135-38, 141; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 307; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-17, 122-23; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 177-78, 184-85; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 258; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386