The Strategic Situation Autumn 1862

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The late summer of 1862 saw the high tide of Confederate fortunes. A few months earlier their capital city, Richmond, had seemed to be in grave danger and their armies were falling back in the western sector too. By September the situation had changed dramatically and it was the northern capital, Washington, that seemed threatened.

In a masterly campaign through northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee had out-manoeuvred and bewildered John Pope, the new commander of the Federal Army of Virginia, and then heavily defeated him at the Second Battle of Bull Run. This was only a few miles from Washington. Lee marched north, crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry and advanced deep into Maryland. For a few weeks it looked as though Lee's boldness and sheer military skill were going to prevail over the huge advantages that the North enjoyed in terms of man-power and industrial might.

The Union forces were also on the retreat in the west. In the first months of the year Grant's advance along the Tennessee from Fort Donelson to Shiloh had taken him to the borders of the state of Mississippi. There, however, he had been halted and his army was soon heavily depleted by the need to send detachments to east Tennessee where the Southern generals, Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith, were pushing vigorously northwards towards the River Ohio.

It was a desperate time for President Lincoln. There were many in his own Republican Party who thought that he was weak and too much under the influence of his Secretary of State, William H. Seward. There were many people in the North who had never thought the secessionist slave states should be held in the Union by force, and many more who had supported the idea at first, when everyone thought the issue would quickly be settled, but who were now sickened by the bloodshed and waste of the war and who wanted peace even though it would mean the break-up of the United States.

On 17 September 1862 a battle was fought at Antietam in Maryland that was bloodier than anything that had gone before. In one day the Federal army lost more than 12,000 men. The result was inconclusive, virtually a draw, but the battle did persuade Lee to pull his army back to Virginia. The immediate threat to Washington and Northern territory generally was over, for the moment at least. But Lincoln had another great anxiety. It looked increasingly likely that Britain, in great need of cotton from the Southern states, was about to recognize the Confederacy as an independent state. The Royal Navy would certainly be able to break the blockade of Southern ports and restore the cotton traffic across the Atlantic. As things stood, recognition from London would almost certainly put an end to all hopes of restoring the Union. Lincoln needed victories and he needed them soon.

Grant's First Attempt, November to December 1862

Grant's first scheme for taking Vicksburg was the obvious one. He would march southwards, roughly following the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad, by way of Holly Springs, Grenada and Oxford. Another hundred miles or so would bring him to Jackson, Mississippi, and from there, swinging westwards, Vicksburg and the river were within easy reach. By this route there were no great natural obstacles to surmount. Grant had some 30,000 men for the advance and reckoned that the Confederate commander, Pemberton, had a similar force. But Grant and his army had victories behind them and felt confident that there were more to come.

His chief anxiety was about his line of supplies. He was venturing deep into enemy territory and the food and ammunition needed to keep his army operative had to reach him by a single-track railway that

A John A. McClemand ed him, but waited was one of those who patiently for him to go sought military glory in too far, and then sacked order to advance his him.

political ambitions. Grant never really trust-

A Henry IV. Halleck was keeping McClernand President Lincoln \s chief under control, military adviser in Washington throughout the campaign. His lawyer's skill was instrumental in

A John A. McClemand ed him, but waited was one of those who patiently for him to go sought military glory in too far, and then sacked order to advance his him.

political ambitions. Grant never really trust-

could not be continually guarded over its entire length. Another mounting anxiety that had nothing to do with the enemy or the nature of the terrain was the question of what his own divisional commander, General John A. McClernand, was up to. McClemand had been with Grant at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and Shiloh. He had not greatly impressed Grant but he was a man of powerful political influence and ambition, and in April 1862 he had been promoted to major general (through his political connections) which meant that he outranked every one in the army except Grant himself.

In the late summer McClernand took leave of absence from the army, went to Washington and spoke to President Lincoln. He argued that morale was low in the mid-Western states and recruitment was slow, and that he was the man to tour the 20

A Henry IV. Halleck was keeping McClernand President Lincoln \s chief under control, military adviser in Washington throughout the campaign. His lawyer's skill was instrumental in region, restore confidence and stimulate recruitment. In return he wanted the President's promise of an independent command, with authority to capture Vicksburg and open up the Mississippi valley. Lincoln agreed, thinking more of the political benefits than of the military disadvantages that might accrue. In October McClernand toured Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, making speeches, gathering recruits, and dispatching the newly formed regiments to Memphis on the Mississippi.

Lincoln's chief military adviser, General I lenry W. Halleck, had small respect for McClernand as a soldier and disapproved of the idea of splitting the command in a vital and difficult operation. Halleck, a lawyer by training, saw to it that the written orders to McClernand included the instruction that McClernand should only move to Memphis 'when a

GRANT'S FIRST ATTEMPT, NOVEMBER TO DECEMBER 1862

A Nathan Bedford For- abandon his Jirst attempt rest, one of the dashing to march on Vicksburg.

Co nfed era te ca va I ryi leaders whose raids behind the Federal front lines forced Grant to sufficient force, not required by the operations of General Grant1 had been assembled there.

Grant was suspicious of McClernand. In Personal Memoirs he recalled his feelings in early November when he was marching his army to Holly Springs: 'At this stage of the campaign against Vicksburg I was very much disturbed by newspaper rumours that General McClernand was to have a separate and independent command within mine, to operate against Vicksburg by way of the Mississippi River. Two commanders on the same field are always one too many, and in this case I did not think the general selected had either the experience or the qualifications to fit him for so important a position.'

On 10 November Grant sent a message to Hal-leck in Washington, asking for clarification. The reply was reassuring: 'You have command of all the troops sent to your department and have permission to fight the enemy where you please.' So Grant set up a supply base at Holly Springs, left a garrison of 1,500 men there to protect it, and marched south, meeting no real resistance. At Oxford he paused and revised his plan.

I lis most trusted commander, and by this time a close friend, was Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, an Ohio man and a fighting commander of great experience. On 8 December Grant ordered Sherman to bring his division back to Memphis as quickly as possible, take charge of the recruits McClernand had sent there, then sail down the Mississippi to threaten Vicksburg from the north in cooperation with the navy's gunboats. The scheme had two advantages. It would pre-empt any move that McClernand was planning to make against Vicksburg. And it would fix Pemberton on the horns of a dilemma. Should he fall back with the hulk of his army to meet the threat from Sherman? Or rely on Vicksburg's natural defences* and small garrison, and keep his main force 70 miles to the north-east, confronting Grant? In the event, the decision was taken for Pemberton.

Sherman moved off for Memphis with his usual brisk efficiency. Grant resumed his southwards march with two div isions. On 20 December disaster struck. The rebel commander, Earl Van Dorn, leading 3,500 cavalrymen, attacked Grant's supply depot at Holly Springs, seized it and destroyed great quantities of food, forage and ammunition. Another

A Nathan Bedford For- abandon his Jirst attempt rest, one of the dashing to march on Vicksburg.

Co nfed era te ca va I ryi leaders whose raids behind the Federal front lines forced Grant to

Confederate cavalry leader, the legendary Nathan Bedford Forrest, had already been ranging and raiding across northern Mississippi and western Tennessee, destroying rail and telegraph communications, taking arms and horses, enrolling fresh recruits, and generally creating havoc in Grant's rear. The destruction of his supplies at Holly Springs was the final straw. Grant pulled out of Oxford, heading north again, on 21 December.

At that time it was a generally accepted axiom that an army operating in enemy territory must secure its supplies and communications. Grant sent detachments out in all directions, with all the wagons they could lav hands on, to bring back food and forage from farms in the vicinity. 'I was amazed', he was to recall, 'at the quantity of supplies the country afforded. It showed that we could have subsisted off

▼ Uniforms of the Federal army. Left to right: a captain of light artillery; an artillery corporal; and a regimental quarter-master sergeant of the heavy artillery. (Ron Volstad)

▼ Uniforms of the Federal army. Left to right: a captain of light artillery; an artillery corporal; and a regimental quarter-master sergeant of the heavy artillery. (Ron Volstad)

Cavalry Ron Volstad

SHERMAN'S ATTACK AT CHICKASAW BLUFFS

▼ Rear Admiral David throughout the campaign D. Porter, commander of and a pillar of strength Grant's naval forces and support.

the country for two months instead of two weeks ... This taught me a lesson which was taken advantage of later in the campaign.' The lesson he had learned, he thought, more than compensated for the disappointment of failing in his first attempt to get at Vicksburg.

Sherman's Attack at Chickasaw Bluffs

The destruction of his telegraph lines meant that Grant's orders did not get through for several days. So Sherman went on believing that Grant was near Grenada, holding the attention of Pemberton and the greater part of his army. Consequently, as soon as Sherman reached Memphis he set about organizing McClernand's new regiments into brigades and divisions, and arranging the transportation of his army - grown to more than 30,000 men - down the Mississippi.

The Union's naval commander in the area was Admiral David Porter, a stocky little man of drive and vigour. He got on well with Sherman and the

▼ Rear Admiral David throughout the campaign D. Porter, commander of and a pillar of strength Grant's naval forces and support.

Carolina Campaign Sherman

expedition was quickly planned. By 26 December Sherman's army, in four divisions, was landing on the southern bank of the Yazoo, seven miles north of the city of Vicksburg. General Pemberton arrived on the scene at much the same time. Having realized that Grant was withdrawing, and having received reports that the Union navy was reconnoitring the Yazoo near the point where it joins the Mississippi, Pemberton had acted with dispatch. He moved brigades from Grenada and men and guns from the Vicksburg garrison, and set them up along the summit slopes of the long line of cliffs, the Chickasaw Bluffs, that commanded the ground Sherman's men would have to cross.

It was an ideal defensive position and Pemberton must have been surprised and grateful that Sherman had chosen this route. The attackers would have to push their way through a tangled maze of lakes, swamps and bayous (marshy offshoots of the river), in full view of the defenders, before hurling themselves at the steep slopes of the Bluffs. There had been much recent rainfall and the waters were high, and more than half of Sherman's men had never been in action before. It is difficult to understand why Sherman attacked -until one remembers that he was still under the impression 24

Navy Seal Gun Boat

CASEMATE N? I DESTROYED BV GUN BOAT ^CE Kfllu

▼ Porter's gunboats bombarding Port Hindman into submission - as recorded in the pages of Harper's Weekly.

Vall Heureuse Maroc

208 killed, 1,005 wounded and 563 missing. The Confederate losses were less than one-eighth of that number: 63 killed, 134 wounded and 10 missing. Sherman later complained that some of his units had shown cowardice. One of his divisional commanders, Brigadier General George W. Morgan, hotly repudiated the charge and accused Sherman of rashly attacking at the point where the enemy's defences were strongest.

Sherman pulled his army back to the Yazoo, got his men on to the boats and withdrew to Milliken's Bend on the west bank of the Mississippi, some 20 miles above Vicksburg. There he conferred with Admiral Porter and they decided to sail northwards, turn up the River Arkansas and destroy the troublesome Confederate stronghold Fort Hindman. It was at this moment that an angry and impatient General McClernand landed in their midst.

McClernand had had a bad time. His recruiting drive in the mid-West states had gone well but he had begun to get worried when the order to go to Memphis and lead his army down-river to the seizure of Vicksburg did not come. In mid-Decem-ber he sent urgent inquiries to Washington. The replies were not reassuring. I le was to have command of the Mississippi operation but not as an independent army commander, as he had expected, but merely as the commander of an army corps under General Grant's supervision. So he needed orders from Grant before he could move. Grant dutifully sent the orders, under instruction from Washington, but this was one of his messages that did not get through because the telegraph wires had been cut. McClernand could only wait and worry. On 23 December he telegraphed again to Washington and at last secured the order to proceed to Memphis.

that Pemberton's main force was 70 miles away to the north-east, and that he was anxious to get the job done before McClernand arrived to grab the glory.

The attack was launched on the morning of 29 December; the attackers were mid-Westerners, from Iowa, Illinois and Ohio. They had to force their way, as one of the divisional commanders described it, '...through the mucky and tangled swamp, under a withering fire of grape, canister, shells and Minie-balls'. The defenders - slightly outnumbered but securely dug into commanding positions - were regiments from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. The result was inevitable. Sherman's men were beaten back with the loss of

A Chickasaw Bayou anil the bluffs, after a contemporary sketch; in the foreground, the artillery are guns of General Morgan L. Smith's 2nd Division.

▼ Porter's gunboats bombarding Port Hindman into submission - as recorded in the pages of Harper's Weekly.

/V!>Pt«flflMCl CF 1X1» CJN SIILNCCO BY Tilt CINCINATtl 1/

CASEMATE N? I DESTROYED BV GUN BOAT ^CE Kfllu

McClernand Takes Over

He arrived there hurriedly on 28 December 28, but too late. Sherman had already sailed, with the whole army, for Vicksburg. By now McClernand was convinced that there was a high-level conspiracy to frustrate his ambitions, by Halleck in Washington and Grant in the field. The conviction grew upon him as time passed, but he was never able to prove anything. In his Personal Memoirs Grant tells

the story laconically and then adds: lI had good reason to believe that in forestalling him I was by no means giving offence to those whose authority to command was above both him and me.'

It was into the New Year, 2 January 1863, when McClernand finally caught up with his army at Mil-liken's Bend. He showed his orders to Sherman and took charge, naming his force 'the Army of the Mississippi'. He formed it into two corps, giving Sherman command of one of them. Sherman outlined the idea of a raid against Fort Hindman and McClernand liked it. They sailed up the Arkansas and bombarded the fort which quickly surrendered. Five thousand Confederate troops and seventeen guns were taken.

By this time General Grant was in the area and on 17 January he visited McClernand and his army: 4It was here made clear to me', he later wrote, 'that both the army and navy were so distrustful of McClcrnand's fitness to command that, while they would do all they could to ensure success, this distrust was an element of weakness.'

Grant had no alternative but to take charge himself. If he did not, he would have to leave McClernand in command, and he did not trust him to make a success of it. It was this rogue element, the McClernand factor, that determined the shape of the Vicksburg campaign. The attack would be made down the Mississippi and it would be led by Ulysses S. Grant.

■4 Nathan P. Banks was the Union commander in Louisiana. His importance in the Vicksburg story was entirely negative. He was conspicuous only for his continued absence from the scene of action.

Ironclads Grand Gulf

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