Book IV:—the war in the South-West.
E commence this book with the year 1864.
The cold weather which, from the very beginning of December, has interrupted the great military operations in the valleys of the Rappahannock
, continues with unusual severity.
The Mississippi is itself covered with ice far below Vicksburg
, making navigation at times very dangerous and impeding the supply or victualling of the Federal
troops stationed on its banks.
Great operations cannot, any more than in the previous year, be resumed until the April sun shall have melted away the ice, reduced the size of the streams, and dried the roads, which at the thawing season are impassable.
In a military point of view the year 1864 will therefore not begin until the month of May.
The first four months of 1864 are a period of transition, during which, if we may so express ourselves, the belligerents wind up the preceding year by pursuing one another through the southern regions, where the climate does not paralyze their activity.
These are Louisiana
; those which are situated in the same latitude more to the east, such as Alabama
, Eastern Georgia
, and South Carolina
, having been, on the part of the Unionists, only the object of naval operations or of operations limited to the coast, which, as in the preceding volumes, will form the subjects of special chapters.
Chronological order requires that we should first follow the Federals
on the left bank of the Mississippi
It will be remembered that at the time when Grant
was so suddenly summoned with a part of his troops to the assistance of Rosecrans
besieged in Chattanooga
he was soliciting, in concert
, the authority to send a large expedition against Mobile
Although his army was already much reduced, he still could, with the co-operation of the latter and the navy, undertake a campaign which the winter would not have interrupted, and from which he expected the greatest results.
Such was no longer the case in the month of January, 1864.
There were remaining on the banks of the Mississippi
but a part of the Sixteenth corps, united under Hurlbut
, more than one-third of this corps having, with Dodge
, followed the tracks of Sherman
eastward, and the Seventeenth, which under McPherson
was occupying the vicinity of Vicksburg
These forces, comprising six divisions of infantry, and one of cavalry under Grierson
, were too few in number to allow detaching from them for any length of time a whole expeditionary corps.
Their presence on the banks of the Mississippi
was necessary to defend the course of the river, which the Confederates
seemed disposed to close again by a last effort.
In fact, General Polk
, who had come to Demopolis
to take Hardee
's place, had transferred his headquarters to Meridian
, a central point at the junction of the two most important railroads in this region, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Southern Railroad.
Vast depots of provisions, arms, and material had been collected at this place, whilst all the forces forming the nucleus of Polk
's little army had been pushed westward to observe as closely as possible McPherson
's division, seven thousand strong, which had returned from Georgia
, was occupying Canton
with eighteen guns.
French was at Brandon
with three thousand men and ten guns; Quarles
' and Baldwin
's brigades, which had been detached from the Army of the Mississippi during the autumn, had likewise been returned to French
, and by the end of January swelled the effective force of his division to five thousand men. In the city of Jackson
, General S. D. Lee
, who was commanding the cavalry, had established Jackson
's division, four thousand strong and comprising Ross
's, and Wirt Adams
' brigades; a fourth brigade of cavalry, under Ferguson
, was to join him shortly.
Farther north, Forrest
had collected at Como
the numerous recruits which he had brought from Western Tennessee
Appointed major-general after his late success and invested with a sort of independent
command, he was rapidly organizing his force, which, divided into four brigades, numbered nearly six thousand men. Everywhere the Confederates
were recruiting by fair means or foul—everywhere they were gathering horses, mules, and provisions.
The Federals established at Memphis
had not only to defend the Mississippi
against the army that was thus forming by the side of them, but they had also to be prepared to oppose Kirby Smith
, who, master of Red River
, might suddenly appear on the banks of the great river, without concerning themselves either about Steele
, away in the heart of Arkansas
, or about the garrison left by Banks
at Port Hudson
, and whose role
was solely to protect New Orleans.
It was painful, however, to Grant
to confine to a simply defensive part all these veteran troops, whose co-operation would have been so useful to them in the campaign which they were about to undertake.
In order to be able to remove a part of them from guarding the Mississippi
it was necessary to take advantage of the first months of the year and place the enemy beyond the power of threatening seriously the Federal
garrisons on the river.
Another consideration was pressing them to act: as we will explain later on, the Federal Government
had promised furloughs to all the volunteers who, having but a few months more to serve, would re-enlist immediately.
This measure, an excellent one for the future, rapidly thinned then the ranks of the armies of the West
It was therefore necessary, if it was intended to act, to do so promptly, before the time when, by the effect of these furloughs, they would be for some weeks reduced to an insignificant number of effectives.
It was agreed between Grant
that the latter, forming a powerful movable column, should leave Vicksburg
to penetrate as far as possible into the State of Mississippi
If he could reach Polk
's little army, he was to press, attack, and fight it; if it retreated at his approach, he was to destroy the stores and also the railroads, so that it might not again collect within reach of Vicksburg
in this case was to push on at least as far as Meridian
, and if he could as far as Selma
According to some of Grant
's despatches addressed to other officers, it might even be surmised that he had authorized his lieutenant to march on Mobile
retracing his steps.
We, however, do not think so; not only has Sherman
positively denied it, but everything disproves such a supposition.
To undertake the long march from Vicksburg
with the very small army he could collect would have been, on his part, exposing himself to being crushed by the troops which Johnston
could bring together against him from the west, north, and south.
Had he succeeded, he would have found himself, after a long and exhausting campaign, out of all the operations in which his part and that of his soldiers were already marked, and to which the return of the spring season was to give the signal.
, to mislead the enemy, was anxious to keep him in fear of this campaign against Mobile
and to draw his forces on this side.
He therefore did not hesitate to allow the rumor to spread among his staff, in the ranks of the army, and in the newspapers that Sherman
was about to penetrate as far as the shore where the waters of the Alabama
disappear into the Gulf of Mexico
He even endeavored to spread it himself.
In short, to confirm it he requested