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Chapter 5:

The transcendent importance of the Mississippi river had been manifest from the beginning of the war, to both belligerents. Fertilizing an area of thirteen hundred thousand square miles, or six times as large as the empire of France, receiving the waters of fifty-seven large, navigable streams, washing the shores of ten different states, to one of which it gives its name, forming at once the boundary and the connecting link between territory both free and slave, the natural outlet through which the products of the Northwest find their way to the sea—in a word, the grandest water-course on either continent—its possession was by far the most magnificent prize for which [124] the nation and the rebels were contending. It completely divides the great region that formed the battle-ground of the rebellion, and was indispensable alike to the political or military success of the enterprise. Without it, the so-called Confederacy was cut in twain; with it, the rebellious states were allied by a bond that must be broken, or the North was crippled almost to its ruin.

During the progress of the war, the Mississippi acquired additional importance; it afforded the rebels, blockaded by sea, and shut in by a cordon of armies on the north, their only constant medium of communication with the outside world (across their southwestern frontier); and, more important still, the only avenue by which supplies of cattle for their immense armies, could be obtained. Texas is the only beef-growing country of the entire Southwest, and had thus far proved to the rebels an inexhaustible resource; from no other portion of the attempted Confederacy, could supplies of such consequence be procured. This tangible and practical advantage would be entirely lost, when the control of the Mississippi river was gone; and no consideration had greater weight with the rebel leaders than this, in the long and gallant defence they made for their main artery of supply.

Accordingly, the insurgents early seized the most important positions along the river, and, with a keen appreciation of their natural advantages, fortified Columbus, Fort Pillow, Island Number10, Vicksburg, and later, Port Hudson. The first three of these places had fallen, in the spring of 1862; but Vicksburg, situated at a remarkable bend in the river, and on one of the few bluffs that mark its [125] course, was rendered one of the strongest fortified places in America. In June, 1862, after the capture of New Orleans, a combined expedition moved up the river, under Commodore Farragut and Brigadier-General Thomas Williams, who found no difficulty in making their way as far as Vicksburg, five hundred and thirty miles from the sea; there, however, they were checked. A bombardment by the naval force proving ineffectual, part of the fleet ran by the batteries. The troops did not attack the town, but were occupied for several weeks opposite Vicksburg in cutting a canal across the peninsula, formed by the bend in the stream. It was hoped by this canal to divert the waters of the Mississippi from their ordinary channel, and leave the town several miles inland. The attempt was unsuccessful; and the troops and seamen suffering greatly from heat and the diseases incident to the climate, the expedition returned to New Orleans. Since then, the rebels had strengthened the fortifications of the place, both on the land and water sides, until they finally came to believe that Vicksburg was impregnable; and so indeed it proved, to every actual assault.

When General Halleck was ordered to Washington, in July, 1862, to assume command of all the armies, he told Grant that he would prefer to remain in the Department of the Mississippi; that he had been working on a definite plan ever since he had commanded the department; that all he had done had been in pursuance of this plan, and if permitted, he. would return to fulfil it. What the plan was he did not disclose. Until after the battles of Iuka and Corinth, Grant was too constantly on the defensive, to undertake any movement of an aggressive [126] character. Those battles occurred in September and October; and, on the 25th of the latter month, he as sumed command of the Department of the Tennessee, which included Cairo, Forts Henry and Donelson, northern Mississippi, and the portions of Kentucky and Tennessee west of the Tennessee river.

The next day he wrote to Halleck: ‘You never have suggested to me any plan of operations in this department. . . . . As situated now, with no more troops, I can do nothing but defend my positions, and I do not feel at liberty to abandon any of them, without first consulting you.’ He then proposed the abandonment of Corinth, the destruction of all the railroads branching out from that place, the reopening of the road from Humboldt to Memphis, and the concentration of the troops from Corinth and Bolivar, and ‘with small reenforcements at Memphis, I think I would be able to move down the Mississippi Central road, and cause the evacuation of Vicksburg.’ This was the first mention, in the correspondence of the two commanders, of the place destined afterwards to become so renowned. Grant continued: ‘I am ready, however, to do with all my might whatever you may direct, without criticism.’

The plan here proposed implied relying exclusively on the Mississippi, and the railroads leading east from that river, for all communication and supplies. It involved, also, the abandonment of lines and places that had been carried and maintained only by a lavish expenditure of time, and labor, and lives. But General Halleck's strategy was always based on a great appreciation of the value of places, while Grant, as has been seen, made armies rather than places the objects of his campaigns. The minds [127] of the two soldiers were differently constituted; they looked at most military matters with different eyes. Halleck set so high a value on what had already been obtained, especially after sacrifice, that he seemed unwilling to risk the actual prize for the sake of securing another. Grant believed that, in war, what is won is only a fulcrum on which to rest the lever for another effort. One was essentially a defensive, the other an offensive general; one always prepared for defeat, the other always expected to win. So, the day after Grant's suggestion of an advance, Halleck telegraphed: ‘Be prepared to concentrate your troops in case of an attack.’

This caution, however, was not in reply to Grant's letter; and receiving no answer, the latter announced from Jackson, on the 2d of November: ‘I have commenced a movement on Grand Junction, with three divisions from Corinth and two from Bolivar. Will leave here to-morrow and take command in person. If found practicable, I will go to Holly Springs, and, may be, Grenada, completing railroad and telegraph as I go.’ Holly Springs is on the Mississippi Central railroad, twenty-five miles from Grand Junction, and about half way to the Tallahatchie river. The distance to Grenada from Grand Junction is one hundred miles. General Pemberton, having superseded Van Dorn, who remained to serve under him, was at this time in command of the forces opposed to Grant, and had fortified strongly on the Tallahatchie, his advance, however, reaching as far north as La Grange and Grand Junction. When Halleck received word that Grant had absolutely started south, he telegraphed: ‘I approve of your plan of advancing upon the enemy as soon as you are strong [128] enough for that purpose;’ but he did not authorize the abandonment of any of Grant's positions, and the latter was therefore obliged to hold them all.

On the 4th of November, he had seized La Grange and Grand Junction, and announced: ‘My moving force will be about thirty thousand men.’ McPherson commanded his right wing, and C. S. Hamilton the left, while Sherman moved out from Memphis to attract attention in that direction. Grant's headquarters were with the main body. On the 8th, he informed Sherman that he estimated the rebels at thirty thousand, and felt ‘strong enough to handle that number without gloves;’ so the demonstration from Memphis was countermanded.

At this time, Major-General McClernand, who had been a subordinate of Grant since the battle of Belmont, was at Washington, making every effort to obtain an independent command in the West. He had been a politician, and a member of Congress from Illinois, as well as an old acquaintance and legal associate of the President; he was a man of moderate ability, of energy and courage, but ignorant of the meaning of military subordination. Ambitious and vain, he expected to step at once to the highest positions in the army, without the knowledge or experience which alone could fit him for important command. He had political and personal influence, however, and made ample use of it. Having served at Belmont, Donelson, and Shiloh, he declared he was tired of furnishing brains for the Army of the Tennessee, and so claimed the command, which he announced, and very possibly believed, was his right. His claims were supported by not a few individuals of consideration at the West; the President favored, [129] and McClernand was promised, if not that he should supersede Grant, at least that he should be allowed to raise troops for an independent expedition, whose object was the opening of the Mississippi river and the capture of Vicksburg. He made his plans, and submitted them to the President, who approved, and directed McClernand to lay them before the general-in-chief.1

But Halleck was a soldier purely, and had not a particle of sympathy with the personal or political schemes of the ambitious aspirants who swarmed into Washington from every quarter of the North; he was solely and sincerely anxious for military results, and refused to consider McClernand's plan. He told that general that he had not time to waste on such matters, and if he had the time he had not the inclination. So he fought the whole scheme as long and as hard as he could. At this time, too, General Halleck had more consideration with the government than a year later, after his long series of defeats had occurred; he was therefore better able to carry out his own views. The President, however, was the warm friend of McClernand, and was accustomed to dictate in purely military matters as often as in civil ones. It must be said, that the civilians, who controlled military movements, had at this time no warrant for supposing that, even in military matters, their judgments were not as reliable as those of any soldiers who had been prominent. The generals who had enjoyed almost arbitrary power had failed; and it is not surprising that members of the government, who were in a great measure responsible in the eyes of the country [130] for whatever occurred, took it upon themselves to decide questions which, for aught that had been proven, they were as capable of deciding as any officer of the army. So the President indorsed McClernand, and the Secretary of War told him to go out West and get his troops together.

Grant as yet knew nothing of all this, except from the gossip of the newspapers; but, on the 5th of November, Halleck asked, evidently referring to the river expedition: ‘Had not troops sent to reenforce you better go to Memphis hereafter? I hope to give you, twenty thousand additional men in a few days.’ About the same time, he also informed Grant: ‘I hope for an active campaign on the Mississippi, this fall; a large force will ascend the river from New Orleans.’ On the 9th, Grant telegraphed: ‘Reenforcements are arriving very slowly. If they do not come in more rapidly, I will attack as I am.’ On the 10th, he got more restive, and inquired: ‘Am I to understand that I lie here still, while an expedition is fitted out from Memphis, or do you want me to push as far south as possible? Am I to have Sherman subject to my orders, or is he and his force reserved for some special service?’ Halleck replied promptly: ‘You have command of all troops sent to your department, and have permission to fight the enemy when you please.’ This was on the 12th, and on the 13th, Grant's cavalry entered Holly Springs, driving the enemy south of the Tallahatchie. On the 14th, he informed Sherman: ‘I have now complete control of my department,’ and accordingly ordered him to ‘move with two divisions of twelve full regiments each, and, if possible, with three divisions, to Oxford, or the Tallahatchie, as soon as possible. 1 [131] am now ready to move from here (La Grange), any day, and only await your movements.’ Sherman was to notify Grant when he could march, and to which of the places mentioned, and Grant promised to move so that they might arrive simultaneously. ‘I am exceedingly anxious,’ said Grant, ‘to do something before the roads get bad, and before the enemy can intrench and reenforce.’ He was evidently not aware of the rebel works on the Tallahatchie. The campaign now contemplated, was in pursuance of Grant's original plan to advance along the Mississippi Central railroad, until, by getting near enough to threaten Vicksburg, he should compel the evacuation of that place. A cooperative movement, by troops from Helena, in Arkansas, which Halleck ordered, was intended to cut the railroad in Pemberton's rear and threaten Grenada.

On the 23d, Halleck again broached the subject of the river expedition, doubtless urged on by the President, who was beset by McClernand's political friends, and who, in fact, was frequently unable to withstand political or personal solicitations. Now, although Halleck fully agreed with Grant and every other soldier, as to the impropriety of intrusting a man like McClernand with important commands, he was, of course, obliged to be subordinate; and, when directed by his superiors, inquired of Grant how many men he had in his department, and what force could be sent down the river to Vicksburg. Grant replied that he had in all seventy-two thousand men, of whom eighteen thousand were at Memphis, and sixteen thousand of these could be spared for the river expedition. He announced, on the 24th, that he had given his orders for the advance of his entire [132] force, including Sherman; had written to Steele, in Arkansas, to threaten Grenada; and had asked Admiral Porter, commanding the Mississippi squadron, to send boats to cooperate at the mouth of the Yazoo. ‘Must I countermand the orders for this move?’ The reply was: ‘Proposed move approved. Do not go too far.’ Apparently, Halleck and Grant both strove to expedite the movement, so that, if possible, it might get too far advanced to be recalled. Nothing in war is more painful, than the spectacle of soldierly men obliged to give up movements that they know to be for the best interests of the country, and cooperate in others planned by ignorant minds, and committed to unskilful hands. Yet, their soldierly principles and instincts compelled them to cooperate heartily. So far, however, the soldiers had it their own way.

On the 29th, Grant's cavalry crossed the Tallahatchie, and his headquarters were at Holly Springs; Sherman, too, was up, and would cross the Tallahatchie, at Wyatt. Grant telegraphed: ‘Our troops will be in Abbeville’ (on the Tallahatchie) ‘tomorrow, or a battle will be fought.’

Meanwhile the movement of troops from Helena was made, under Generals Hovey and Washburne. They marched across from the Mississippi, to cut the railroad in Pemberton's rear, and accomplished that object; but the damage done was slight and readily repaired, and the operation had but little effect upon the campaign, unless, indeed, it hastened the evacuation of the rebel works on the Tallahatchie. For on the 1st of December, the enemy deserted his fortifications on that river, which were too strong to have been stormed: Grant was making preparations to [133] flank them, when the evacuation occurred. Pursuit was made to Oxford: there was no fighting other than skirmishing; but delays were indispensable, as supplies for the entire army were brought along a single line of railroad, which had to be repaired and reconstructed as the troops advanced. The country roads, too, were in bad condition, and rendered rapid marches impossible. But on the 3d, Grant informed Admiral Porter: ‘Our move has been successful, so far as compelling the evacuation of the Mississippi Central road as far as Grenada.’ Shortly after, he reported taking twelve hundred prisoners.

Grant, however, had already begun to think that the difficulty of supplying his army would be too great to overcome, and on the same day that he wrote to Porter, he asked Halleck, from Abbeville: ‘How far south would you like me to go? Would it not be well to hold the enemy south of the Yallabusha’ (the next important stream south of the Tallahatchie), ‘and move a force from Helena and Memphis on Vicksburg? With my present force it would not be prudent to go beyond Grenada, and attempt to hold present line of communication.’ On the 5th, he was at Oxford, twenty-eight miles beyond Holly Springs, with his cavalry at Coffeeville, only eighteen miles from Grenada. This whole advance was made without serious fighting, as the enemy fell back rapidly before any show of pursuit. On the 5th, he again suggested to Halleck: ‘If the Helena troops were at my command, I think it would be practicable to send Sherman to take them and the Memphis forces south of the mouth of Yazoo river, and thus secure Vicksburg and the state of Mississippi.’2 [134]

The plan here sketched, and which was eventually adopted, had a double chance of success. Either Sherman, going down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Yazoo, could present a new base for Grant, from which the latter could supply himself, when he also struck the Yazoo, in the interior; or, if this should be found impracticable or less desirable, Grant could hold the main body of the enemy at, or near Grenada, confronting him, while Sherman might step in and take Vicksburg. By this strategy, Grant assumed what seemed the more ungrateful part of the undertaking, leaving the prize of the campaign to be secured by his subordinate. The same peculiarity was also conspicuous in some of his later programmes, but in each instance, Fortune overruled his arrangements and brought about her own conclusions, apparently resolved to dispose of her own favors.

On the 5th of the month, in reply to Grant's suggestions, Halleck directed him not to attempt to hold the country south of the Tallahatchie, but to collect twenty-five thousand troops at Memphis, by the 20th, for the Vicksburg expedition. On the 7th, Grant answered that he would send two divisions to Memphis in a few days, and asked: ‘Do you want me to command the expedition to Vicksburg, or shall I send Sherman?’ To which Halleck replied: ‘You may move your troops as you may deem best to accomplish the great object in view. . . Ask Porter to cooperate. Telegraph what are your present plans.’ Grant answered at once, on the 8th: [135]

General Sherman will command the expedition down the Mississippi. He will have a force of about forty thousand men, will land at Vicksburg, up the Yazoo if practicable, and cut the Mississippi Central road, and the road running east from Vicksburg, where they cross the Black river. I will cooperate from here, my movements depending on those of the enemy. With the large cavalry force at my command, I will be able to have them show themselves at different points on the Tallahatchie and Yallabusha, and where an opportunity occurs, make a real attack. After cutting the two roads, General Sherman's movements, to secure the end desired, will necessarily be left to his judgment. I will occupy this road to Coffeeville.

Written instructions conformable to the above dispatch were on the same day given to Sherman;3 [136] and Grant having been authorized, in compliance with his request, to assume command of all the troops then in Mississippi, belonging to the Department of Arkansas, directed them to report to Sherman, whom he dispatched on the 8th, to Memphis. Porter was informed of the plan, and was requested to cooperate. Sherman was instructed to move with all celerity, and informed, that ‘I will hold the troops here in readiness to cooperate with you in such manner as the movements of the enemy may make necessary.’ This was the extent of Grant's promise of cooperation. It was, however, understood in conversation, that in case Pemberton retreated, Grant would follow him up, between the Yazoo and the Big Black rivers, to the Mississippi.

Grant was still anxious lest McClernand should obtain the command of the river expedition, and therefore had hurried Sherman to Memphis, on the very day that he received the authority, so that, if possible, the latter might start before McClernand could arrive. Halleck, too, sent the permission to Grant to dispatch Sherman, without that deliberation which he sometimes displayed; but on the 9th, he telegraphed: ‘The President may insist upon sending a separate commander. If not, assign such officer as you deem best. Sherman would be my choice as the chief under you.’ Nothing could be more genuine than the support which in this and [137] nearly every other matter, Grant received from his chief, after Halleck once assumed command of all the armies. If any jealousy or unkindness had once been apparent in Halleck's behavior to his subordinate, neither was displayed again under relations of extraordinary delicacy and difficulty. And, at this time, Grant had not begun to regain his position in the public esteem.

On the 14th, Grant informed Sherman, who was still at Memphis, that ‘it would be well if you could have two or three small boats suitable for navigating the Yazoo. It may become necessary for me to look to that base for supplies, before we get through.’ On the 18th, came at last the unwelcome word from Washington: ‘It is the wish of the President that General McClernand's corps shall constitute a part of the river expedition, and that he shall have the immediate command under your direction.’ The first part of this dispatch was an order to divide all the troops in Grant's command, including those from Arkansas, into four corps.

And thus a political general was foisted on Halleck and his subordinate; the influences brought to bear on the President were too strong for the soldiers. There was of course nothing to do but obey; and Grant wrote on the same day to McClernand, who was at Springfield, Illinois: ‘I have been directed this moment, by telegraph from the general-in-chief of the army, to divide the forces of this department into four army corps, one of which is to be commanded by yourself, and that to form a part of the expedition on Vicksburg. I have drafted the order, and will forward it to you as soon as printed. . . . Written and verbal instructions have been given to [138] General Sherman, which will be turned over to you on your arrival at Memphis.’

On the 20th, however, the enemy's cavalry, under Van Dorn, made a dash into Holly Springs, twenty-eight miles in Grant's rear, and captured the garrison, with all its stores. Forrest, another rebel raider, at the same time pushed his cavalry into West Tennessee, and cut the railroad to Columbus, at several points between that place and Jackson. This completely severed Grant's only line of communication with the North, and even with most parts of his own command. It was a catastrophe which he had foreseen as possible, and had striven hard to avert. He had received timely notice of the advance of Forrest, and taken every precaution to meet it. General Sullivan, who commanded at Jackson, was reinforced rapidly, and directed to move out towards the enemy. All of the available cavalry of the Army of the Tennessee was also sent after the raiders, and all commanders between Oxford and Bolivar were notified of the rebel movements, and directed to hold their respective posts ‘at all hazards.’ Men and commanders everywhere did their duty, except at Holly Springs; and the enemy was repulsed at Coldwater, Davis Mills, Bolivar, and Middleburg; but Holly Springs was captured while the troops were in their beds. The commanding officer of the post, Colonel Murphy, of the Eighth Wisconsin volunteers, had taken no steps to protect the place, not notifying a single officer of the command, of the approaching danger, although he himself had received early warning from Grant. The troops were blameless, for the first intimation they had of an attack, was when they found themselves surrounded; and notwithstanding the surprise, many [139] of them behaved admirably, refusing to be paroled, and after making their escape from the enemy, attacking him without regard to their relative strength. Colonel Murphy was dismissed the service for his conduct on this occasion. He was the same officer who had abandoned Iuka to Price so readily. Fifteen hundred prisoners were taken, and four hundred thousand dollars' worth of property was reported destroyed. The enemy estimated the loss of property at four millions. The actual damage probably amounted to a million of dollars.

Holly Springs, Grant had made a secondary base of supplies, and the destruction of the ordnance, subsistence, and quartermasters' stores there, was a serious though temporary annoyance. The railroad, however, was not seriously damaged between La Grange and Oxford, except at Holly Springs, and the enemy had possession of that place only long enough to complete the destruction of the stores; but the cutting of the line between Jackson and Columbus at once demonstrated what Grant had foretold, the impossibility of maintaining so long a line of supply through hostile territory. He commenced the next day to fall back north of the Tallahatchie, and at the same time expressed a wish to Halleck, to send two divisions to Memphis, and join the river expedition with them in person. Since Sherman was not to command it, he was anxious to do so himself, especially as he knew its difficulties would now be enhanced by his own inability to advance, or even to remain on his present line. The promptness with which he came to this conclusion was not inspired by any apprehension of the force in his front, for he telegraphed the same day: ‘The enemy are falling back from Grenada.’ [140]

General Grant has told me, when discussing this campaign, that had he known then, what he soon afterwards learned—the possibility of subsisting an army of thirty thousand men without supplies, other than those drawn from an enemy's country—he could, at that time, have pushed on to the rear of Vicksburg, and probably have succeeded in capturing the place. But no experience of former wars, nor of the war of the rebellion, warranted him in supposing that he could feed his army exclusively from the country. The rainy season was setting in, when the roads would naturally very much impede his progress, of course increasing the difficulty of subsistence, and he determined at once to return.

He was, however, obliged from sheer necessity to subsist on what he could find. For over a week, he had no communication whatever with the North, and for two weeks, no supplies. But the country was found to be abundantly stocked. Every thing for the subsistence of man or beast, for fifteen miles east and west of the railroad, from Coffeeville to La Grange, was appropriated to the use of the army. The families of the farmers suffered, but the soldiers were fed; and the lesson was taught which Grant afterwards applied in the rear of Vicksburg, and which Sherman, having seen the application, practised on a still larger scale, in the marches through Georgia and the Carolinas—the lesson that an army may live, though its communications are destroyed.

It was a sorry day for the rebels when they burnt Holly Springs, and broke up Grant's communications with Columbus; not only sorry in those grander results to which allusion has been made, but in the more immediate effects, extending only to the people [141] of northern Mississippi. The women came with smiling faces to Grant's headquarters, to see how he bore the loss of Holly Springs. They asked him civilly, but exultingly, what he would do, now that his soldiers had nothing to eat. But their exultation and smiles were of short continuance, when the quiet general informed them that his soldiers would find plenty in their barns and storehouses. They looked aghast at this, and exclaimed: ‘You would not take from non-combatants!’ But a commander's first necessity is to provide for his troops; so the country was stripped bare, and the army was supplied.

Although the soldiers found all that was neces. sary, Grant was anxious until he discovered the success of the experiment. It was one hitherto untried, and, while uncertain as to its results, he moved his army back to La Grange, abandoning the campaign, which had been pressed to a distance of fifty or sixty miles. On the 23d of December, the headquarters were again at Holly Springs. Forrest was speedily chased out of West Tennessee, but the damage he had done could not be so readily repaired.

Various reasons had induced Grant to select this line of operations against Vicksburg, rather than that of the Mississippi river. First of all, was a desire to fight Pemberton. He appreciated fully the importance of Vicksburg, and was anxious enough to secure its possession; but, as has already been shown, he was always more anxious to destroy rebel armies than to capture rebel cities, believing that, if the armies were destroyed, the cities were sure to fall. So, if Pemberton had by any possibility got around towards Columbus, Grant would undoubtedly have moved in that direction, and let Vicksburg alone, [142] until he had beaten the enemy in the field. When he started from La Grange, he indeed meant and hoped to threaten Vicksburg, but his prime object was the defeat of Pemberton. As soon as he discovered that Pemberton would not fight, on the very day that the national troops got inside the rebel works on the Tallahatchie, and found the enemy again disappearing, Grant suggested the movement direct against Vicksburg; determined to secure the destruction of the rebel force, whether it remained in the interior of Mississippi, confronting him, or was hurried to Vicksburg to reinforce the garrison there.

There were, however, other, although secondary considerations, which confirmed his judgment in this matter, if they did not assist in determining it. Taking the river route earlier, would have left all the state of Mississippi free to the rebels, who could at any time have attacked his communications on that line, cutting him off more effectually and permanently than they did at Holly Springs; while Memphis itself would have been within reach of Bragg, by a rapidly executed movement. By moving towards Grenada, however, Grant covered Memphis and the country already acquired, besides threatening the region on both sides of his line of march. These advantages recommended this route to accomplished soldiers, even after the disaster at Holly Springs; and I have heard men of high military reputation maintain, since the capture of Vicksburg, that Grant should have persevered in his original plan of campaign. He, however, had no idea of remaining in the interior, or of returning to it, after this date, although strongly urged to such a course, by some of his most capable and trusted officers. He considered [143] that, by the destruction of the Mississippi Central road and its bridges, and the devastation of the resources of the country, he had sufficiently protected himself against attacks of any importance upon his new line; and the event proved that the rebels were too busy defending themselves, to take any initiative again, during the long campaign and siege that followed. McClernand's assumption of the command of the river expedition was delayed by the break in communication. Grant could not transmit the orders he had received, although he wrote at once to McClernand; but, before the line was reopened, Sherman had embarked at Memphis, with thirty thousand men, and at Helena, was reenforced by twelve thousand more. He arrived at Milliken's bend, on the Arkansas side, and twenty miles above Vicksburg, on the 24th of December; here he spent two or three days, in attempts to cut the Vicksburg and Shreveport railroad (by which reenforcements could have been sent to Vicksburg), and waiting to hear from Banks, who had been ordered to move up the river from New Orleans and cooperate in the attack on Vicksburg. The rebels probably made use of these two or three days to prepare for the attack which they knew must follow. On the 26th, under convoy of Admiral Porter and his fleet of gunboats, Sherman advanced on transports up the Yazoo river, which empties into the Mississippi, about nine miles above the town. He debarked his troops on the 27th, on the south side of the river, near the mouth of the Chickasaw bayou.4

The long line of hills on which Vicksburg stands, turns off from the Mississippi, just above the town, [144] and runs parallel to the Yazoo for several miles. Between the latter river and the bluffs, lies a strip of country peculiarly susceptible of defence; covered with a dense and tangled overgrowth, cut up with swamps and intersected with streams, and at this time almost entirely under water; in fact, impracticable for infantry, except along one or two narrow causeways; this strip of territory, some three miles wide, was commanded by the guns on the bluffs, which were strongly posted, and was besides completely within range from the numerous trenches and rifle-pits along the hills. Notwithstanding these difficulties, which rendered it impossible for Sherman to avail himself at any one time of half his force, he attacked the works on the 29th, got his men across this difficult country, and into the rebel lines; he even effected a lodgment on the hard land at the foot of the bluffs, but was finally driven back with severe loss. It was then determined to attempt a landing higher up the Yazoo, in the night, so as to attack the enemy's extreme right in cooperation with the naval force, and thus secure a base from which communication with Grant might be opened. The preliminary movements were made, but a dense fog set in, so thick that the vessels could not move, nor could the men see each other at the distance of ten paces. This lasted till daybreak, when it was too late to start. A heavy rain then set in, rendering the ground if possible still more impracticable, and the attempt was abandoned. Sherman moved his troops out of the Yazoo, and at the mouth of the Mississippi, he was met by McClernand, on the 2d of January. He at once relinquished his command to that officer, assuming himself the command of a single corps. [145]

He had lost one hundred and seventy-five men killed, nine hundred and thirty wounded, and seven hundred and forty-three missing.5 In his report to Grant, he attributed his failure ‘to the strength of the enemy's position, both natural and artificial.’ Grant, however, had no fault to find with him; the assault was made at the only point where there was a chance of success, and was conducted with skill and judgment; the men behaved with a gallantry not surpassed during the war, but the extraordinary nature of the defences rendered the attempt unavailing. The rebels had doubtless been reinforced from Pemberton's command, but this contributed nothing to the result, as Sherman had twice as many men as he could use on the difficult ground where he fought.6 [146]

The rebels were jubilant over the double issue of this campaign, and they certainly succeeded in deferring the result at which the national commander aimed. The success of Grant's plans was indeed [147] more than once delayed; sometimes by the skilful movements of his antagonists, and quite as often by the unskilful or unwilling operations of those whom he commanded: for in war, the loyalty of his subordinates is as important to the chief as the practicability of his plans or the steadiness of his soldiers. In this instance, Grant could not complain of his generals; nor indeed is it easy to say that the fault was in his plans. The line he himself marched on, was that dictated by the rules of the military art, and, had he taken a larger force, his predicament would only have been so much the worse; he would have had so many more men to feed. Sherman, too, had more troops than he could use, so that a different disposition of the forces could hardly have resulted more favorably. Indeed, when Grant threw both his [148] armies on the Mississippi, success still fled before his advances, as coyly as in the interior.

As has been shown, he had early foreseen the especial difficulty which beset his army in this campaign; but marched on, trusting that in the manifold chances of war, he might be able to overcome or evade it. The rebels, however, saw plainly what their game was, and played it well; they withdrew before Grant's advance without risking a fight, and,. then, suddenly cutting his communications, so as to hold him from any further progress, hastened by their interior lines to Vicksburg, to withstand Sherman; who, however, would have been equally unable to carry his point of assault, if Pemberton had remained in front of Grant. Had this been the end, it would have been a defeat for Grant; but nothing can be styled defeat which eventuates in success; and the idea of abandoning his aim was not even presented to this general's mind. He was baffled at Oxford, but before the rebel rear-guard was out of Holly Springs, he had planned another campaign with all his forces, by way of the Mississippi river. Delays and difficulties with him had only the effect of increasing his determination and provoking his obstinacy. Some men need the excitement of slight success to sustain their patience and inspire their hope; Grant's only enthusiasm was that confidence which becomes serene when emergencies threaten and crowd.

Upon leaving the Yazoo river, Sherman at once proposed to McClernand that, while waiting for further orders from Grant, the expeditionary force should be employed in the capture of Arkansas Post, a strong work on the Arkansas, fifty miles from its mouth. The object was to occupy the troops, and [149] raise their spirits, depressed by the recent failure, and also to secure the line of communication by the Mississippi against attacks from the Arkansas side. McClernand immediately acquiesced in Sherman's proposition, and moved his force up the Arkansas, the fleet under Porter accompanying. A naval bombardment, lasting several days, occurred; and on the 11th, the troops assaulted the works, when the post surrendered, after a fight of three hours, in which the squadron bore a conspicuous part. Five thousand prisoners and seventeen pieces of cannon fell into the hands of the victors; McClernand lost about a thousand men, in killed, wounded, and missing. The guns of the fort were silenced by the fleet, and Admiral Porter received the sword of its commander, but the troops were surrendered to the army.

This operation was planned and executed without Grant's knowledge or consent, and he was at first displeased with the movement, whose effect on the contemplated campaign was not perceptible. Lacking any confidence in McClernand's military judgment, and supposing that the plan emanated solely from that officer, he did not give it the same consideration it would have received, had he known that Sherman first suggested the idea. It seemed to him a mere side move, contributing in no degree to the great result at which he was aiming; and, throughout the war, he preferred to engage in no enterprise that did not tend directly to the accomplishment of his main object. He expressed his dissatisfaction in this instance both to McClernand and to Halleck, but, subsequently, became convinced that the reasons offered in favor of the movement were sufficient to warrant McClernand in making it. [150]

Grant, meanwhile, had been extremely anxious on account of Sherman. Cut off, for more than a week, from all news from the North, and aware that the impossibility of holding any troops in his own front, might greatly increase Sherman's difficulties, he was yet unable to do any thing to relieve his subordinate. Even after communication with Memphis was reopened, it was long before he heard directly from the river expedition. On the 4th of January, he had news of the assault, but neither official nor definite, and could not learn, for a week afterwards, whether Sherman had fought his way into Vicksburg or not. On the 4th, McPherson was ordered north from the Tallahatchie; but the backward movement was a slow one; the roads were in miserable condition by reason of the winter rains, and, as it had been deter. mined to abandon northern Mississippi, the accumulated quartermasters' and ordnance stores had to be removed with the army. It was not until the 10th of January, that the headquarters were established at Memphis.

From there, Grant wrote at once to McClernand that he had heard nothing official from the expedition since Sherman left: ‘This expedition must not fail. If there is force enough within the limits of my control to secure a certain victory at Vicksburg, they will be sent there.’ Being urged by Halleck to send every thing possible down the river, he stated his readiness to reinforce McClernand with twenty thousand troops. He also, at this time, sent an officer to Admiral Porter, to survey the ground, and determine the practicability of reopening the canal across the tongue of land opposite Vicksburg. McClernand was ordered to rendezvous at Milliken's bend, or [151] some other point convenient for cooperation with Banks, who was daily expected below Vicksburg.

It is necessary to a correct understanding of all these operations, and due to General Halleck, to keep constantly in mind that Major-General Banks had been sent to New Orleans, by sea, with an army of forty thousand men, and ordered to cooperate in the opening of the Mississippi river, and especially in the capture of Vicksburg.7 He was to be supported by Admiral Farragut's fleet, already so renowned, and for months his arrival was constantly expected by Grant. Circumstances, which it is not my province to investigate or describe, delayed the movements of General Banks, who arrived at New Orleans in December, but did not start from there until March, and returned the same month. His movements afforded no cooperation to Grant.

All this while, Grant was greatly annoyed by McClernand's insubordinate behavior. That officer claimed to have been placed in command directly by the President, and therefore to be independent of his superior. He constantly appealed from Grant in matters of military etiquette and law; his language was as intolerable as his actions were injudicious; his official papers teemed with self-laudation and grandiloquent fustian, assuming credit to which he was not entitled, raising objections to the orders of his commanding officer, making suggestions contrary to all the principles of military science, and fostering jeal ousies among different portions of the army and with [152] the naval officers.8 All these peculiarities indicated to Sherman, to McPherson, and to Admiral Porter the same traits, and those three officers urged upon Grant, in writing and in conversation, that the only chance for the success of the enterprise was in his assuming command of it in person. He finally received authority from Washington to relieve McClernand, and either appoint the next officer in rank in his place, or to assume himself the immediate command.9

He, at first, desired to put Sherman in command; as that officer had started from Memphis with the expedition, and afterwards been obliged to yield precedence to McClernand, it seemed but fail to restore him. But Grant was especially anxious to place Sherman at the head of the expedition, because he thought Sherman especially capable of directing its movements. It was, however, represented by those in his confidence, that as McClernand was the senior of Sherman, to give the junior the higher command, [153] even by authority of the government, would undoubtedly provoke feelings and conduct prejudicial to the public interest, especially in an officer of Mc-Clernand's peculiarities. Sherman, it is true, had submitted promptly to be relieved by McClernand, but he was a man with soldierly instincts, the first of which is subordination, and this was a trait that McClernand had seldom displayed, even towards Grant, his legitimate superior. Grant was, besides, the commander of the department, and entitled to direct the campaign in person; no one could complain of this, for he ranked everybody in the West, and his assumption of immediate command would, in fact, relieve the question of all difficulty.

This reasoning was unanswerable, and Grant allowed himself to be governed by it. He was loath, however, to deprive Sherman of the opportunity to throw off the odium caused by his unsuccessful assault; and, besides, disliked to use his own position as commander of the department, to claim the direction of a campaign originally intrusted to another. But, Sherman was informed of the reasons which led to the decision, and manifested a complete appreciation of Grant's motives. During the tedious and often discouraging campaign that ensued, he never failed to display a zeal and loyalty towards his commander equal to that commander's anxiety to support and bring forward his subordinate, even at the risk of his own chances for fame.

On the 17th, Grant paid his first visit to the transport fleet, then lying off Napoleon, at the mouth of the Arkansas, with all the troops on board; from there, he wrote to Halleck, what the experience of many months eventually confirmed: ‘Our troops [154] must get below the city to be used effectually.’ On the 18th, he wrote: ‘Should Banks pass Port Hudson, this force will be ready to cooperate on Vicksburg, at any time.’ On the 20th, he returned to Memphis, and sent word to one of his subordinates: ‘The Mississippi river enterprise must take precedence of all others, and any side move must simply be to protect our flanks and rear.’ On the 22d, he said to McClernand: ‘I hope the work of changing the channel of the Mississippi is begun;’ and on the same day: ‘On the present rise, it is barely possible that the Yazoo pass might be turned to good account in aiding our enterprise.’ These two ideas were already prominent in his mind; they were destined to become fully developed ere long, and to be prosecuted with energy and persistency, but both to prove unsuccessful. Although so persistently and zealously followed up by Grant, he was not at any time persuaded of their adequacy; but he thought it his duty to give them a fair trial, and, at any rate, to occupy the troops vigorously until he should be able to get them below the city. On the 20th, after his visit to Napoleon, he wrote: ‘The work of reducing Vicksburg will take time and men, but can be accomplished.’

He determined, now, to abandon the railroad from Jackson to Columbus, and to move all his troops south, except those absolutely necessary to hold the line from Memphis to Corinth. All heavy guns on the east bank, between Memphis and Columbus, and from Island Number10, as well as the floating batteries below there, were at once removed; as their remaining only offered inducements to the enemy to attack from the Tennessee side; and the expedition [155] was ordered to Young's point, opposite the mouth of the Yazoo. Grant wrote to Halleck, that he should require a large force in the final struggle, but could dispense with any further reenforcements for the present. He suggested, however, that it would be well to have the men in readiness when they should be needed. He also inquired if it would not be good policy to combine the four departments at the West —Rosecrans's, Steele's, Banks's, and his own—under one commander, and remarked: ‘As I am the rank. ing department commander in the West, I will state that I have no desire whatever for such combined command, but would prefer the command I now have, to any other that can be given.’ This suggestion was eventually acted upon, but not for many months, and until after the fall of Vicksburg, and the battle of Chickamauga, had demonstrated the sagacity of the thought, and made the selection of the man inevitable. As much of the Department of Arkansas, however, as he might desire, was placed under his command at once, so that he had control of both banks of the Mississippi. Forts Henry and Donel son were at the same time transferred to the Department of the Cumberland, leaving Grant the exclusive task of opening and controlling the Mississippi river.

On the 29th of January, General Grant arrived in person at Young's point, and, on the 30th, assumed immediate command of the expedition against Vicksburg. McClernand at once protested formally, but in vain.

1 These assertions of fact are all based on statements capable of verification, but not exclusively derived from official sources.

2 I beg the careful attention of the reader to the above extract, and to all that is quoted in reference to Sherman's movement and Grant's promised cooperation . There has been a misunderstanding of this matter by some writers, which I shall endeavor to rectify.


headquarters Thirteenth army corps. Department of the Tennessee, Oxford, Mississippi, December 8, 1862.
Major-General W. T. Sherman, commanding Right Wing:
You will proceed, with as little delay as possible, to Memphis, Tennessee, taking with you one division of your present command. On your arrival at Memphis, you will assume command of all the troops there, and that portion of General Curtis's forces at present east of the Mississippi river, and organize them into brigades and divisions in your own army. As soon as possible move with them down the river to the vicinity of Vicksburg, and, with the cooperation of the gunboat fleet under command of Flag-Officer Porter, proceed to the reduction of that place, in such manner as circumstances and your own judgment may dictate.

The amount of rations, forage, land transportation, etc., necessary to take, will be left entirely with yourself. The quartermaster at St. Louis will be instructed to send you transportation for thirty thousand men; should you still find yourself deficient, your quartermaster will be authorized to make up the deficiency from such transports as may come into the post of Memphis.

On arriving in Memphis, put yourself in communication with Admiral Porter, and arrange with him for his cooperation .

Inform me at the earliest practicable day of the time when you will embark, and such plans as may then be matured. I will hold the forces here in readiness to cooperate with you in such manner as the movements of the enemy may make necessary.

Leave the District of Memphis in the command of an efficient officer, and with a garrison of four regiments of infantry, the siege guns, and whatever cavalry may be there.

U. S. Grant, Major-General.

4 The map of operations in Yazoo pass and Steele's bayou and map of Campaign against Vicksburg illustrate the operations here described.

5 The rebels reported a loss of sixty-three killed, one hundred and thirty-four wounded, and ten missing.

6 It has been supposed and stated by some, that Sherman's reverse was the consequence of a failure on Grant's part to move south from Grenada, and appear in the rear of Vicksburg at the time of the assault. I have already explained what was the nature and extent of the cooperation planned by Grant. He meant, if he could, to hold Pemberton at Grenada, and thus allow Sherman to enter Vicksburg without any material opposition: but the strength of the works was not fully appreciated when this arrangement was made; they were so strong that had Grant been able to keep Pemberton's entire force in his own front, there would have been no different result to Sherman's endeavor. Sherman himself declared that his failure was owing to ‘the strength of the enemy's position, both natural and artificial;’ and he never could have anticipated a tactical cooperation from Grant, for Grant had neither promised nor suggested it. The letters from Grant to Halleck, and Grant's orders to Sherman, both given in full above (in the text or in notes), are proof of this assertion. Sherman himself declared in his report of the operations: ‘I supposed their’ (the rebel) ‘organized forces to amount to about fifteen thousand, which could be reinforced at the rate of about five thousand a day, provided General Grant did not occupy all the attention of Pemberton's forces at Grenada.’ Again, in the same report: ‘Not one word could I hear from General Grant, who was supposed to be pushing south.’ ‘I proposed. . . to attack the enemy's right, which, if successful, would give us the substantial possession of the Yazoo river, and place us in communication with General Grant.’ ‘Of course I was sadly disappointed, as it was the only remaining chance of our securing a lodgment on the ridge between the Yazoo and the Black rivers, from which to operate against Vicksburg and the railroad east, as also to secure the navigation of the Yazoo river.’ ‘The rumor of General Grant having fallen back behind the Tallahatchie, became confirmed by my receiving no intelligence from him.’ ‘The effort was necessary to a successful accomplishment of my orders, and the combinations were the best possible under the circumstances. I assume all the responsibility, and attach blame to no one.’

In his orders to division commanders before the attack, dated December 23d, Sherman said: ‘Parts of this general plan are to cooperate with the naval squadron in the reduction of Vicksburg, to secure possession of the land lying between the Yazoo and the Black, and to act in concert with General Grant against Pemberton's forces, supposed to have Jackson, Mississippi, as a point of concentration.’ In the same paper: ‘It may be necessary (looking to Grant's approach), before attacking Vicksburg, to reduce the battery at Haine's bluff first, so as to enable some of the lighter gunboats and transports to ascend the Ya-zoo, and communicate with General Grant.’ Again: ‘Grant's left and centre were at the last accounts approaching the Yallabusha, near Grenada, and the railroad to his rear, by which he drew his supplies, was reported to be seriously damaged. This may disconcert him somewhat, but only makes more important our line of operations. At the Yallabusha, General Grant may encounter the army of General Pemberton, the same which refused him battle on the line of the Tallahatchie, which was strongly fortified; but as he’ (Pemberton) ‘will not have time to fortify the Yallabusha, he will hardly fortify there, and in that event General Grant will immediately advance down the high ridge lying between the Big Black and Yazoo, and will expect to meet us on the Yazoo, and receive from us the supplies which he needs, and which he knows we carry along.’ Finally: ‘I purpose to land our whole force on the Mississippi side, and then to reach the point where the Vicksburg and Jackson railroad crosses the Big Black, after which to attack Vicksburg by land, whilst the gunboats assail it by water.’

Of course those who think or have said that General Grant was to meet Sherman at Vicksburg, or to cooperate with him in the assault, never can have seen these papers. It is evident that Sherman understood exactly what his chief meant to do, and explained those intentions to his own subordinates. It is plain that he felt the greatest anxiety to open up the Yazoo river, so that Grant might descend, and in order to open the Yazoo, he made the assault; it is plain, not only, that he did not expect Grant to be at Vicksburg, but that he had heard and believed strong rumors of the disaster which had occurred to Grant's line of communication; that, knowing the probability of this disaster having occurred, he was, like a good soldier and loyal subordinate, still more anxious to assault, in order to relieve his commander from what might be imminent stress; that he knew Grant's objective to be Pemberton, and declared that Pemberton's point of concentration was Jackson, fifty miles from Vicksburg; that after the unsuccessful assault he still made no ungenerous attempt to lay the blame on any shoulders but his own, but assumed it all, if any blame there was in making a skilful and courageous though unsuccessful effort to take a place of unusual strength by storm. Sherman deserves all praise for his determination to attempt the assault, when he knew, not only, that Grant never intended to support him in its tactical execution, but that he was prob ably unable to render even the strategical support to the movement which had originally been planned.

7 On the 2d of February, Halleck wrote to Banks: ‘General Grant's forces have been for some time operating in the vicinity of Vicksburg, and the President expects that you will permit no obstacle to prevent you from cooperating with him by some movement up the Mississippi river.’

8 On the 20th of January, Grant wrote to Halleck: ‘I regard it as my duty to state that I found there was not sufficient confidence felt in General McClernand as a commander, either by the army or navy, to insure him success. Of course, all would cooperate to the best of their abilities, but still with a distrust. This is a matter I made no inquiries about, but it was forced upon me. . . . I want you to know that others besides myself agree in the necessity of the course I had already determined upon pursuing. Admiral Porter told me he had written freely to the Secretary of the Navy, with the request that what he said might be shown to the Secretary of War.’

On the 30th of January, McClernand wrote to Grant: ‘If different views are entertained by you, then the question should be immediately referred to Washington, and one or other, or both of us, relieved. One thing is certain: two generals cannot command this army, issuing independent and direct orders to subordinate officers.’

9 See Appendix for original and important papers relating to this expedition, and to McClernand's command of it; also for further ex tracts from McClernand's correspondence, confirmatory of assertions in the text.

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