Tag Archives: U.S.S. Tyler

The C.S.S. Arkansas on the Mississippi

July 15, 1862 – A new Confederate ironclad blasted through Federal ships and threatened to turn the tide of the war on the Mississippi River.

During the first half of July, the freshwater Federal Western Flotilla under Commodore Charles H. Davis joined forces with Admiral David G. Farragut’s saltwater Federal squadron on the Mississippi River above Vicksburg, Mississippi. The combined fleet now totaled 37 ships. Reuniting with Davis, Farragut wrote:

“The iron-clads are curious looking things to us salt-water gentlemen; but no doubt they are better calculated for this river than our ships… They look like great turtles. Davis came on board… We have made the circuit (since we met at Port Royal) around half the United States and met on the Mississippi.”

Farragut contacted Major General Henry W. Halleck, stationed at the time at Corinth, Mississippi, and requested army troops to launch a joint land-water attack on Vicksburg. But Halleck refused: “The scattered and weakened condition of my forces renders it impossible for me to detach any troops to cooperate with you at Vicksburg.” For the next week, the Federals pondered their next move while sporadically bombarding Vicksburg. Diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and malaria continued afflicting the men.

Meanwhile, Confederates launched a makeshift ironclad ram called the C.S.S. Arkansas to wreak havoc on enemy ships. The Arkansas was commanded by Lieutenant Isaac N. Brown, who had overseen the ship’s construction. Workers had rescued the partially built vessel before the fall of Memphis and completed her at Yazoo City, on the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg.

The C.S.S. Arkansas | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

This “hermaphrodite ironclad” was 165 feet long and armed with 10 guns. The crew consisted of artillerists and Missouri infantry. The Arkansas was not quite ready for combat, but the water levels on the Yazoo were falling so she had to be launched or destroyed. The ram started down the river on the 12th.

Farragut learned that the Arkansas was being built on the Yazoo and dispatched the timber-clad U.S.S. Tyler, the ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet, and the ram U.S.S. Queen of the West to move up that river and confirm the rumor. Expecting to find a half-built ship in dry dock, the Federal commanders were surprised to see the ram approaching them on the 15th.

The Federal ships quickly turned and fled with the Arkansas in pursuit. The Carondelet, the slowest of the three Federal vessels, was forced aground. Brown reported:

“The Benton, or whatever ironclad we disabled, was left with colors down, evidently aground to prevent sinking, about one mile and a half above the mouth of the Yazoo, on the right-hand bank, or bank across from Vicksburg. I wish it to be remembered that we whipped this vessel, made it run out of the fight and haul down colors, with two less guns than they had; and at the same time fought two rams, which were firing at us with great guns and small-arms; this, too, with our miscellaneous crew, who had never, for the most part, been on board a ship, or at big guns.”

The Arkansas then fired into the wooden hulls of the Tyler and Queen. The Tyler turned back and returned fire, knocking off the Arkansas’s smokestack, which reduced her speed. The Queen escaped into the Mississippi, with the Tyler hurrying behind. The Federals of the Tyler and Carondelet sustained 60 casualties (16 killed, 36 wounded, and eight missing and presumed drowned).

As the ships entered the Mississippi, the Arkansas found her way to Vicksburg blocked by both Farragut’s and Davis’s squadrons. Fortunately for the Arkansas, the Federals were conserving coal and did not have their steam up to give chase. The Arkansas steamed past them, taking broadsides from each ship that cracked her armor in some places but did no substantial damage.

Despite enduring temperatures exceeding 120 degrees inside the ironclad, Brown reported that his crew returned fire “to every point of the circumference, without the fear of hitting a friend or missing an enemy.” The ship ultimately made it to the bluffs below Vicksburg, under the cover of the city’s batteries.

The Confederates lost 53 men (25 killed and 28 wounded). A master’s mate wrote, “The scene around the gun deck upon our arrival was ghastly in the extreme. Blood and brains bespattered everything, whilst arms, legs, and several headless trunks were strewn about.” Nevertheless, Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg, boasted that the Arkansas’s achievement was “the most brilliant ever recorded in naval annals.” Brown later received the thanks of both President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress, along with a promotion to naval commander.

The Arkansas’s escape embarrassed the Federals and left them, as the fleet surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford wrote, “Caught with our breeches down!” Farragut delivered the bad news to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles with “deep mortification,” adding, “I shall leave no stone unturned to destroy her.” Welles responded, “It is an absolute necessity that the neglect or apparent neglect of the squadron should be wiped out by the destruction of the Arkansas.” Farragut called the Arkansas’s run past 37 Federal ships “Damnable neglect, or worse!”

One Federal ship had been disabled, and every wooden ship in the Federal fleet sustained at least one hit. The presence of an enemy ironclad on the Mississippi threatened to allow Confederates to regain momentum after a long string of defeats on the river.

At dusk, Farragut prepared his squadron for a night attack on the Arkansas below the Vicksburg bluffs. Charles Davis refused to commit his vessels, fearing the operation was too dangerous. Farragut’s ships advanced and managed to hit the Arkansas a few times before the Confederate batteries drove them off; the Arkansas was not destroyed as Farragut hoped.

Farragut vowed to “try to destroy her until my squadron is destroyed or she is… There is no rest for the wicked until she is destroyed.” Charles Davis was later replaced by Admiral David D. Porter due to his role in this incident.

A week later, the U.S.S. Essex and the Queen of the West again tried attacking the Arkansas, hitting the ship with glancing blows and one broadside while taking heavy punishment from the Vicksburg batteries. Most of the Arkansas’s crew was on shore, but the remaining Confederates fought back as best they could. Dabney M. Scales, a crewman aboard the Arkansas, wrote his father:

“At 4 o’clock on the morning of the 22nd, I was awakened by the call to quarters. Hurrying to our stations, with not even a full complement of men for 3 guns, our soldiers having left just the night before, we discovered the enemy coming right down on us… We did not have men enough to heave the anchor up and get underway, before the enemy got to us, even if we had steam ready…”

The Essex eventually disengaged and moved downriver to join Farragut’s fleet. The Queen returned upriver in desperate need of repairs. Brown steamed the Arkansas back and forth in front of the bluffs, defying the Federals to attack again while the Vicksburg batteries covered him.

The attack seemed to cause minimal damage to the Arkansas at first, but it was later discovered that a shot had cracked the connecting rods, making the ship’s already deficient engines potentially even more so. Meanwhile, President Davis called on Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus for help in getting more crewmen for the ironclad:

“Captain Brown of the Arkansas requires boatmen, and reports himself doomed to inactivity by the inability to get them. We have a large class of river boatmen and some ordinary seamen on our Gulf Coast who must now be unemployed. Can you help Captain Brown to get an adequate crew?”

Two days later, Farragut led his Federal naval squadron back down the Mississippi River to New Orleans due to falling waters and rampant illness among his men. The remaining gunboats patrolled the area between Vicksburg and Helena, Arkansas. This gave the Confederates control of the Mississippi from Vicksburg 200 river miles down to Port Hudson, Louisiana. Farragut firmly believed that naval forces alone could not capture the mighty stronghold of Vicksburg. Welles later wrote:

“The most disreputable naval affair of the war was the descent of the steam ram Arkansas through both squadrons, until she hauled into the batteries of Vicksburg, and there the two Flag Officers abandoned the place and the ironclad ram, Farragut and his force going down to New Orleans, and Davis proceeding with his flotilla up the river.”

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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 15899-907; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 635; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 188, 193-94, 196-98; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 556; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178, 182, 184-85; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607, 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 26-32; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 240; 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. 421; 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, 92-94; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 22; 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), Q362

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The Battle of Shiloh: Day One

April 6, 1862 – The most terrible battle of the war to date began as the Confederate Army of Mississippi swarmed upon unsuspecting Federals in southwestern Tennessee.

The Confederates, exhausted and hungry after days of marching in cold rain and mud, were finally poised to make their long-awaited attack on the Federal Army of the Tennessee. The Federal supply base was at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, with the Federal camps strung out across several miles to the west between Owl and Lick creeks. The camps farthest from the landing were near a log cabin called Shiloh Church. No defensive works protected the camps.

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Confederate army, announced to his staff before dawn, “Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee River.” Johnston rode to the front to direct combat operations while his second in command, General P.G.T. Beauregard, stayed behind the lines to direct men and armaments as needed.

Johnston’s plan was to peel the Federal left, or east, flank away from the Tennessee River and pin the army into the cul-de-sac formed by the Owl and Lick creeks, cutting them off from their supply base and forcing them to surrender. However, like nearly everything else that occurred on April 6, this would not go according to plan.

Federal pickets encountered the advance elements of the Confederate army around 5:30 a.m. and quickly fell back to their main units. Most Federal commanders, including Brigadier General William T. Sherman at Shiloh, remained unaware that a major attack was coming. When panicked officers reported that Confederates were massing in their front, Sherman rode out to see for himself. Sherman saw nothing ahead, but then an officer yelled, “General, look to your right!” A wall of Confederates emerged from the woods and fired a deadly volley. Sherman hollered, “My God! We are attacked!”

Major General William J. Hardee’s Confederate corps made up the first attack wave. The unprepared Federals either hurried to try putting up some sort of defense or fled the field in terror. Considering that four of every five soldiers on both sides had never seen combat before, some Confederates fled as well. A soldier of the 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry wrote:

“… The camp was alarmed Sunday morning just as the streaks of red began to tinge the eastern sky, by the rapid firing of the pickets, who soon came in with the report that the enemy was marching on us in overwhelming numbers and were even now in sight, as a shower of bullets which fell around too plainly indicated. There was no time to give orders then. It was life or death. The enemy was in camp before it had to arouse and form a line. Some were shot in their sleep, never knowing what hurt them. Terrible and complete was the surprise…”

The three westernmost Federal divisions under Sherman, John A. McClernand, and Benjamin M. Prentiss were hit first. The commanders tried rallying the men, with some running away and some throwing up makeshift defenses. As Hardee’s Confederates surged forward, they continuously penetrated the defenses and pushed the Federals northeast, or toward the Tennessee. This undermined Johnston’s plan of pushing them northwest, or away from the river.

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

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

The Federal army commander, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, was at his Savannah, Tennessee, headquarters, nine miles downriver from Pittsburg Landing. He had waited for Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio to join with his. Grant knew that one of Buell’s divisions under Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson had already arrived at Savannah, but he did not yet know that Buell had arrived as well. When Grant heard the firing, he quickly directed Nelson to load his men on transports for Pittsburg to join the fight. He also wrote to Buell asking him to hurry the rest of his army to the front.

Grant rushed to Crump’s Landing, midway between Savannah and Pittsburg, where one of his divisions under Brigadier General Lew Wallace was stationed. Grant ordered Wallace to bring his division to the fight as well. Grant then steamed upriver to Pittsburg, where hundreds of terrified Federals had sought refuge under the bluffs along the riverbank after fleeing the field. Grant guessed by the ferocity of the Confederate attacks that they numbered at least 100,000 men.

The Confederates swept through the abandoned Federal camps, stopping to loot tents and knapsacks. They discarded thousands of dollars in “worthless” greenbacks. As Hardee’s assault began losing momentum around 8 a.m., the second Confederate wave under Major General Braxton Bragg arrived on the scene. The lack of combat experience on both sides and the dense undergrowth turned the battle into several isolated fights at various points and in all directions.

Johnston, at the front with Confederates about to assault the Federal left, sent a message to Beauregard in the rear, “We are sweeping the field, and I think we shall press them to the river.” Johnston seemingly abandoned his own plan to tear the enemy away from the river. Beauregard, apparently also disregarding Johnston’s initial plan, directed troops to go where the firing was heaviest, which was initially on the Federal right. This effectively drove the Federals toward the river, where Buell’s reinforcements would soon arrive.

Around 9 a.m., Prentiss’s Federals repelled a furious attack by 500 Confederates under Colonel John S. Marmaduke along what became known as the Sunken Road. Heavy fighting also occurred near a pond that was later called Bloody Pond. Soon after, the Federal divisions under Brigadier Generals W.H.L. Wallace (no relation to Lew Wallace) and Stephen A. Hurlbut arrived on either side of Prentiss. This helped stabilize the Federal line.

By 10:30, Prentiss, Wallace, and Hurlbut had established a strong defensive position in an area of dense brush. The Confederates rolled up the Federal right, commanded by Sherman and McClernand, but they could not penetrate this defense comprising the Federal center and left. The ferocity of combat in this sector of the battlefield prompted soldiers to call it the “Hornet’s Nest.” Grant, directing operations on horseback, recognized the importance of the Hornet’s Nest and ordered Prentiss to hold the position at all costs.

The Hornet's Nest | Image Credit: Wikispaces .org

The Hornet’s Nest | Image Credit: Wikispaces .org

Meanwhile, Johnston directed attacks in a peach orchard in the front and left of the “Hornet’s Nest.” When Confederates from Major General John C. Breckinridge’s corps hesitated to attack, he joined with Johnston and Tennessee Governor Isham Harris to personally rally the men. The men, star-struck at seeing a former U.S. vice president, the army commander, and the state governor together, soon answered the call and charged.

Johnston personally led several charges that helped drive the Federals out of the orchard. Riding back to the main line around 2:30 p.m., Johnston reeled in the saddle and aides helped him to the ground. He had been shot, but nobody could find the wound until after he bled to death; a bullet had nicked an artery in the back of Johnston’s leg. A tourniquet could have saved him. Johnston became the highest ranking officer in either army to be killed in combat in the war. His aides tried hiding his death to avoid demoralizing the troops.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Beauregard took command from faraway Shiloh Church. He turned his attention to the Hornet’s Nest, where the Federals had withstood 11 Confederate charges. Beauregard directed Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles to train 62 cannon on the position.

By this time, the Federals to the left and right of the Hornet’s Nest had fallen back toward Pittsburg Landing, leaving the defenders isolated. W.H.L. Wallace had also been mortally wounded by a shell fragment to the head. Virtually surrounded and with no hope of reinforcement, Prentiss finally surrendered at 5:30. He had held for nearly seven hours, giving Grant precious time to form a strong, compact defensive perimeter around the landing.

Many Confederates stopped fighting after capturing Hornet’s Nest, believing the battle was won. The commanders knew better and directed them to renew their advance in the hopes of destroying Grant’s army before Buell could arrive. But after days of hard marching and a day of horrifying combat, the troops were breaking down from exhaustion.

Grant continued strengthening his defenses with the addition of Nelson’s division and many deserters who came out from under the bluffs to rejoin their comrades. Lew Wallace’s men had also finally arrived from Crump’s Landing, seven miles away. Wallace’s “lost division” had taken a wrong road and arrived too late to take part in the day’s fighting. In addition, heavy Federal siege guns were posted, and the gunboats U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler lobbed shells over the bluffs from the river.

Bragg directed a Confederate assault that was easily repulsed. Finally, Beauregard ordered a suspension of hostilities until morning. He telegraphed President Jefferson Davis that night: “After a severe battle of 10 hours, thanks be to the Almighty, (we) gained a complete victory, driving the enemy from every position.”

This was true. In addition, the Confederates had taken about 3,000 prisoners and 30 battle flags, along with many Federal encampments and supplies. Beauregard expressed confidence that a renewed attack the next morning would finish Grant off before retiring that night in Sherman’s bed.

Beauregard did not expect Buell to reinforce Grant because he had received an erroneous report from Colonel Benjamin H. Helm in northern Alabama that Buell’s army was advancing toward Helm and would not be joining with Grant at Pittsburg. Although Beauregard later asserted that Helm’s message had no influence on his strategy, he went to bed that night apparently unconcerned that Buell might be on his way.

That night, Prentiss was a guest of the Confederate high command as a prisoner of war. Prentiss acknowledged, “You have whipped our best troops today.” But when Bragg predicted that the Confederates would wrap up the victory the next day, Prentiss said, “You gentlemen have had your way today, but it will be very different tomorrow. You’ll see. Buell will effect a junction with Grant tonight and we’ll turn the tables on you in the morning.”

Heavy storms raged through the night. Troops on both sides tried sleeping through them and the sporadic cannon fire from the Federals trying to keep the exhausted Confederates awake. Neither side had developed a system for tending to the dead or wounded, so they lay in the field overnight. Hogs feasted on some of the corpses.

The Federal gunboats played a key role in demoralizing the Confederates that evening. Grant reported that “much is due to the presence of the gunboats Tyler and Lexington.” Beauregard wrote that as a result of the naval bombardment, “on the following morning the troops under my command were not in condition to cope with an equal force… (aided) by such an auxiliary as the enemy’s gunboats.”

Some Federal officers advised Grant to retreat after taking such a horrible pounding from the Confederates all day. Grant said, “Retreat? No. I propose to attack at daylight and whip them.” That night, Sherman found his friend Grant huddled under a tree in the rain and said, “Well Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant said, “Yes, yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 71-72; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 126-27; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (6 Apr 1862); Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 647, 799; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 43-45; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 150-53; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 132-34; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 173-81; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 232; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 194-95; 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. 411-12; 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. 82; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 112-13, 116, 120-22, 138, 144, 147-48; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 304-05; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 356-57, 370, 600-01, 799-800; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 113-20; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 684-85

Prelude to Battle in Tennessee

March 25, 1862 – Federals advanced deep into western Tennessee this month as Confederates gathered in northern Mississippi to counterattack.

By this month, the Confederate defensive line across Kentucky had been shattered by the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson, along with Nashville. Confederates on the eastern part of the line, primarily at Bowling Green, Kentucky, fell back to Murfreesboro in middle Tennessee. Those at Columbus, Kentucky, to the west withdrew to New Madrid and Island No. 10 on the Mississippi, along with other points in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General P.G.T. Beauregard commanded the Confederate Army of the Mississippi in the western sector. When Federal forces captured New Madrid, Beauregard began concentrating his remaining forces at Corinth, Mississippi, where the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads intersected. At Beauregard’s request, General Braxton Bragg led 10,000 Confederates from Pensacola and Mobile to join the force gathering at Corinth. Also joining was 5,000 men under General Daniel Ruggles from New Orleans, leaving that important city nearly defenseless.

As Beauregard tried collecting manpower, he faced three armies advancing on three sides: Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi in Missouri (left), Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee in western Tennessee (front), and Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio at Nashville (right).

Grant’s advance was preceded by two Federal timber-clad gunboats, U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler, reconnoitering up the Tennessee River all the way to the Tennessee-Mississippi line. The vessels exchanged fire with Confederate batteries at Pittsburg Landing, and then sailors (with sharpshooter support) came ashore to drive the Confederates off. Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, commanding the Federal squadron, praised the commanders for securing the area and then added:

“But I must give a general order that no commander will land men to make an attack on shore. Our gunboats are to be used as forts, and as they have no more men than necessary to man the guns, and as the Army must do the shore work, and as the enemy want nothing better than to entice our men on shore and overpower them with superior numbers, the commanders must not operate on shore, but confine themselves to their vessels.”

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals also captured the C.S.S. Eastport, a gunboat under construction that was larger and faster than any in Foote’s squadron. Foote wrote:

“I have applied to the Secretary of the Navy to have the rebel gunboat, Eastport, lately captured in the Tennessee River, fitted up as a gunboat… She can be fitted out for about $20,000, and in three weeks. We want such a fast and powerful boat. Do telegraph about her, as we now have carpenters and cargo ahead on her and she is just what we want. I should run about in her and save time and do good service. Our other ironclad boats are too slow. The Eastport was a steamer on the river, and she, being a good boat, would please the West. No reply yet from the Secretary and time is precious.”

Advance elements of Grant’s army, temporarily commanded by General Charles F. Smith, reached Savannah, Tennessee, on March 5. The rest of what became known as the Army of the Tennessee arrived nine days later, ferried by 80 transports and a gunboat escort. Smith directed recently arrived Brigadier General William T. Sherman to continue up the Tennessee to reconnoiter the area of Eastport, Mississippi.

Along the way, Sherman secured Pittsburg Landing as a staging area for an advance on Corinth and received permission from Smith to land his division there. The rest of the army soon followed. Sherman’s Federals reconnoitered from Pittsburg Landing to Monterey, Tennessee, about halfway to Corinth.

During this time, Major General Henry W. Halleck was promoted to command not only the forces under Pope and Grant, but Buell as well. Halleck ordered Buell to move from Nashville to Savannah and join forces with the Federal troops assembling there. Buell opted to advance overland rather than by water to protect the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and cover the Federal forces sent to occupy northern Alabama.

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Meanwhile, General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate Department No. 2 (the Western Theater), was stationed with the former Army of Central Kentucky at Murfreesboro. At Beauregard’s urging, Johnston began moving west to join forces with those gathering at Corinth.

Passing through Columbia just before Buell’s Federals arrived, Johnston’s Confederates burned the bridges spanning the Duck River. Rather than build temporary pontoon bridges to hurry his men across, Buell directed engineers to build new permanent ones. Buell notified Halleck on the 18th that the work would take three or four days. At that time, Buell’s army was about 85 miles away from the Federals at Savannah and Pittsburg Landing.

The delay gave Johnston more time to consolidate. To bolster his manpower, he peremptorily ordered Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Army of the West in Arkansas, to move east by “the best and most expeditious route” to Corinth.

Van Dorn, who had recently lost the Battle of Pea Ridge, had been moving north when he received this directive. Beauregard tried sending transports from New Orleans to take Van Dorn’s men east, but Louisiana Governor Thomas Moore would not release the boats for army use due to a political dispute he was having with President Jefferson Davis.

Johnston entered Corinth with his rear guard on the 24th, where he assimilated the Army of Central Kentucky into the new Army of Mississippi (referred to by Beauregard as the Army of the Mississippi). Johnston was overall commander, with Beauregard second-in-command. Beauregard declined Johnston’s offer to head the army while Johnston maintained administrative command. President Davis wrote his close friend Johnston:

“My confidence in you has never wavered, and I hope the public will soon give me credit for judgment, rather than continue to arraign me for obstinacy… You have done wonderfully well… If you can meet the division of the enemy moving from the Tennessee before it can make a junction with that advancing from Nashville, the future will be brighter…”

When Grant resumed command over Smith, he set up headquarters at a Savannah mansion. His army consisted of two divisions on the east bank of the Tennessee at Savannah, two division nine miles upriver (or south) on the west bank at Pittsburg Landing, and one on the west bank at Crump’s Landing, between Savannah and Pittsburg. His army totaled 27,000 men, with reinforcements arriving from St. Louis that Grant formed into another division.

Grant knew about the Confederates gathering at Corinth, but Sherman reported that they could number no more than 20,000. Grant sent two messengers to try finding Buell, whose 37,000 men were expected to join him at some point, though there seemed to be no hurry. Buell’s insistence on building proper bridges delayed him over two weeks. Added to the problem was the Duck River being swollen due to rain and melting snow.

When Buell finally relented and allowed his army to cross on pontoon bridges, the Duck had receded enough to allow a crossing without any bridges at all. Buell’s lead division under Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson crossed first and headed for Savannah on the 28th. The rest of Buell’s army followed the next day.

By that time, Johnston had reorganized the new Army of Mississippi. The 1st Grand Division under Leonidas Polk was re-designated the I Corps. The new army also included the II Corps under Braxton Bragg, the III Corps under William J. Hardee (really just three brigades), and the Reserve Corps under George B. Crittenden.

Bragg served double-duty as corps commander and army chief of staff. Crittenden, already under fire for his embarrassing defeat at Mill Springs, was soon relieved for alleged drunkenness on duty. Despite Crittenden’s shortcomings, his removal deprived the army of an experienced military leader. He was replaced by former U.S. Vice President John C. Breckinridge.

Most of Johnston’s officers and men had never experienced combat before, and many were equipped with obsolete or non-functioning weapons. Nevertheless, the 40,000 Confederates assembling at Corinth were being organized to destroy Grant’s army concentrating around Pittsburg Landing, about 22 miles north, before Buell’s army crossing the Duck River could come to its aid.

Grant remained stationary and awaited Buell’s arrival. Unconcerned about the Confederates, he did not order the men to build any defensive works.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 71-72; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12851, 12910, 12927, 12947; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 135, 137, 143-44, 147; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 292, 320; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-17, 124, 127, 129; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 168-71; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 171, 500; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 177-79, 185-86, 189-90; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 168, 169; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 684-85

The Battle of Belmont

November 7, 1861 – Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals narrowly escaped destruction in an engagement in southeastern Missouri.

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant, commanding 20,000 Federals at Cairo, received orders from Major General John C. Fremont on November 1 to make a demonstration on both sides of the Mississippi River to force Confederates at Columbus, Kentucky, to stay within their defenses. This would prevent General Leonidas Polk, commanding at Columbus, from reinforcing General Sterling Price’s State Guards in southwestern Missouri. It would also address the growing Confederate threat to Grant’s command. The orders stated that Grant was not to provoke an engagement.

Four days later, Grant supposedly received a dispatch from department headquarters stating that Polk was indeed sending troops down the Mississippi and up the White River to reinforce Price. Grant was to demonstrate against Columbus immediately to prevent the transfer. The dispatch was never found, but Grant later asserted that this prompted him to hurry preparations for the demonstration.

On the 6th, Grant loaded 3,114 troops–five infantry regiments, two cavalry troops, and a six-gun battery–onto four transports escorted by the wooden gunboats U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler. They steamed downriver under cover of growing darkness before stopping for the night on the eastern (Kentucky) bank, about nine miles below Cairo and six miles above the hamlet of Belmont, Missouri.

Polk had about 2,700 Confederates at Belmont under Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow, with his main force at Columbus. Contrary to Federal concerns, Polk had no plans to reinforce Price; in fact, Pillow had received orders to leave Belmont the next morning and move east to Clarksville, Tennessee. The Confederates at Belmont had no idea that Grant was approaching that evening. Grant ordered General Charles F. Smith, commanding Federals at Paducah, to demonstrate against Columbus while Grant prepared to “menace Belmont.” This would prevent Polk from reinforcing the hamlet.

Around 8 a.m., Grant’s Federals landed at Hunter’s Farm, about three miles above Belmont, concealed by woods. They cut through the dense underbrush as they advanced on the town. Pillow, whose troops had begun heading toward Clarksville, hurried back and formed a line of battle in the face of the oncoming enemy. Confederate artillery from the Columbus bluffs fired on the Federals as they approached and attacked Pillow’s right, anchored on the Mississippi, and center.

Map of the engagement at Belmont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Map of the engagement at Belmont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates held firm until their ammunition ran low. Pillow ordered a bayonet charge, but only some of the men complied, and their line quickly collapsed. The Confederates fled, leaving the Federals in possession of their abandoned camps. Grant, with no wagons to collect captured supplies, directed that captured soldiers, horses, and cannons be put on the transports while the rest was burned. The Federals looted the camps as they listened to officers delivering patriotic speeches and bands playing “Yankee Doodle.”

Meanwhile, Polk landed reinforcements from Columbus between the Federals and their transports. With their line of retreat cut off, some officers suggested surrender. Grant replied that “we had to cut our way in and could cut our way out just as well.” The Federals fought their way through the enemy forces and hurried back to their transports. Grant nearly rode into enemy lines on his way to the river. The Lexington and Tyler provided covering fire as the troops boarded the vessels and returned north. Grant was the last to board, leaving his dead and wounded behind.

Each side lost about a quarter of their total, with Federals sustaining 607 casualties (120 killed, 383 wounded, and 104 captured or missing) and Confederates losing 641 (105 killed, 419 wounded, and 117 captured or missing).

Grant’s men returned to Belmont the next day under a flag of truce to collect the dead and wounded. Some officers’ wives searched for their missing husbands. Grant hosted Polk aboard the Federal headquarters boat, where Grant offered to turn over some wounded Confederate troops that had been captured. Polk responded that “… my Government requires all prisoners to be placed at the disposal of the Secretary of War.”

Confederates considered this engagement a victory because they had driven the Federals off. One reported that Grant “fled the field, virtually abandoning one of his regiments, leaving his dead and wounded, a large preponderance of prisoners, a stand of colors, 1,000 stands of arms, and the caissons of his battery at the hands of the Confederates.”

Pillow reported that his “small Spartan army” had withstood an attack from a force three times its size with impressive gallantry. General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Western Theater, announced:

“This was no ordinary shock of arms; it was a long and trying contest, in which our troops fought by detachments, and always against superior numbers. The 7th of November will fill a bright page in our military annals, and be remembered with gratitude by the sons and daughters of the South.”

Some northerners tended to agree. An editorial in the Chicago Tribune lamented the perceived defeat at Belmont:

“The disastrous termination of the Cairo expedition to Columbus is another severe lesson on the management of this contest with the rebels. Our troops have suffered a bad defeat… The rebels have been elated and emboldened while our troops have been depressed, if not discouraged.”

However, Grant claimed victory because he successfully carried out his orders, even if his force had to flee to narrowly avoid destruction. In his official report, Grant declared, “The victory is complete.”

In reality, this engagement gained nothing for either side. However, the role played by the Lexington and Tyler in protecting the Federal escape demonstrated the importance that naval gunboats would have in future engagements on the western rivers. And despite Grant’s questionable performance, this proved for the first time that he would fight when other generals would not.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 149; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 77, 79; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 138-39; 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. 396; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46-49; 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), Q461