Grant retreats to Memphis to plan and re-organize and his next route to Vicksburg.
Lincoln, Halleck, Grant, and Sherman are at odds of the Vicksburg strategy.
Grant takes firm control of the western command and moves against Vicksburg.
"On the 18th of December I received orders from Washington to divide my command into four army corps, with General McClernand to command one of them and to be assigned to that part of the army which was to operate down the Mississippi. This interfered with my plans, but probably resulted in my ultimately taking command in person."
“On the 20th (December) I ordered General McClernand with the entire command, to Young's Point and Milliken's Bend, while I returned to Memphis to make all the necessary preparation for leaving the territory behind me secure. General Hurlbut with the 16th corps was left in command. The Memphis and Charleston railroad was held, while the Mississippi Central was given up. Columbus was the only point between Cairo and Memphis, on the river, left with a garrison. All the troops and guns from the posts on the abandoned railroad and river were sent to the front. “
“On the 23d (December) I removed my headquarters back to Holly Springs. The troops were drawn back gradually, but without haste or confusion, finding supplies abundant and no enemy following…As I had resolved to move headquarters to Memphis, and to repair the road to that point, I remained at Holly Springs until this work was completed. “
“On the 10th of January, the work on the road from Holly Springs to Grand Junction and thence to Memphis being completed, I moved my headquarters to the latter place.”
December of 1862 and January of 1863 was a low point for General Grant and the Union effort in the west. The Confederate army was now giving strong resistance, the Rebel cavalry was making an overland Union push impractical, and Rebel infantry was winning battles and effectively holding Grant back. The overall Union command and army in the west was scattered, and now with no clear leader in charge. Although Grant was the Lt. General in command of the District of West Tennessee, he had drawn much criticism for the defeat at Coffeeville and the terrible loss at Holly Springs. In the north, and in Washington, more and more desperation was shown for a positive break through in the war. Grant wrote:
"At this time the north had become much discouraged. Many strong Union men believed that the war must prove a failure. The elections of 1862 had gone against the party which was for the prosecution of the war to save the Union if it took the last man and the last dollar. Voluntary enlistments had ceased throughout the greater part of the North, and the draft had been restored to fill up our ranks. It was my judgement at the time that to make a backward movement as long as that from Vicksburg to Memphis (Sherman lost decisively at Chickasaw Bluffs, near Vicksburg, in late December), would be interpreted, by many of those yet full of hope for the preservation of the Union, as a defeat, and the draft would be resisted, desertions ensue, and the power to capture and punish deserters lost. There was nothing left to be done but to go forward to a decisive victory."
McClernand was now meddling incessantly within the campaign while also frequently corresponding with Lincoln, as well as visiting Washington to convince leaders there authorize an independent move to Vicksburg. Along with Lincoln, McClernand was a prominent Illinois politician, and was also a member of Congress when the war began. Although he was a Democrat -- the party that furnished opposition to the war effort -- he had resigned his congressional seat and stood firmly with Lincoln in the support of the war effort to preserve the Union.
There were many in the mid-western states who had little concern whether the South gained its independence or not -- as long as the Mississippi River was re-opened for shipping and trade. The economic crunch was now being felt in the north as well, and creating extended pressure in Washington. McClernand saw this as a golden political opportunity.
By now, Grant and McClernand were committed rivals. They were of two entirely different mindsets, with entirely different goals. Grant was a soldier and looked at Vicksburg as the most strategic point of Confederate resistance against the restoration of the Union. To McClernand, it was the key to winning the Presidency. McClernand was a politician first, and a soldier by necessity. He was not a West Pointer, and his military ideas were not respected by the overwhelming fraternity of Union West Point graduates – who tended to stick together. And foremost, his ambitions were firmly on the White House. The 1864 election was nearing, and there would be no better way to win than by first leading a victorious campaign against Vicksburg. And now with many politicians doubting Grant’s effectiveness, McClernand asked Lincoln for authorization to recruit in Ohio and Indiana to organize a force which he could employ an aggressive campaign to open the Mississippi river. The permission was granted.
I confess, at that moment I did not dream that General McClernand, or anybody else, was scheming for the mere honor of capturing Vicksburg.
"I was very much disturbed by newspaper rumors 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 qualifications to fit him for so important a position..."
Grant was also concerned that McClerland’s recruitment and favor in Washington would lead to a pre-mature move down the river. And Grant knew the political and military disaster this would cause. A crushing Union defeat at Vicksburg would turn northern sentiment against the war effort and drastically affect the upcoming 1864 election. Grant quickly chose to pre-empt McClernand’s move by sending his friend Sherman, with 35,000 men, along with Admiral Porter and his gunboats to open the door to Vicksburg. In the meantime Grant would re-build his supplied and army and move south to meet Sherman. But no one in the Union command fully grasped what a nearly impossible terrain they would have to conquer for miles around Vicksburg.
“The winter of 1862-3 was a noted one for continuous high water in the Mississippi and for heavy rains along the lower river. To get dry land, or rather land above the water, to encamp the troops upon, took many miles of river front. We had to occupy the levees and the ground immediately behind. This was so limited that one corps, the 17th, under General McPherson, was at Lake Providence, seventy miles above Vicksburg.
“It was in January the troops took their position opposite Vicksburg. The water was very high and the rains were incessant. There seemed no possibility of a land movement before the end of March or later, and it would not do to lie idle all this time. The effect would be demoralizing to the troops and injurious to their health. Friends in the North would have grown more and more discouraged, and enemies in the same section more and more insolent in their gibes and denunciation of the cause and those engaged in it.”
Grant moved forward with his plans, and by late December seven Union gunboats and fifty-nine transports, carrying Sherman and his troops, landed near Vicksburg at Milliken's Bend. The next day they moved up the Yazoo River and then traveled slowly inland toward Walnut Hills. But Pemberton was already established in the area and had nearly 15,000 men guarding the bluffs. Due to the swamps and impassable terrain, Sherman was not effective in his assault, and he was defeated soundly at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. Shortly, a federal supply steamer was captured up river. And now the Confederates were digging in at Fort Hindman to further assault any more Federal ship activity. It was another terrible set back for Grant’s command in the west. And to complicate a nearly impossible situation, McClernand further hampered the overall Federal strategists.
On the morning of January 2d, all my command were again afloat in their proper steamboats, when Admiral Porter told me that General McClernand had arrived at the mouth of the Yazoo in the steamboat Tigress, and that it was rumored he had come down to supersede me. Leaving my whole force where it was, I ran down to the month of the Yazoo in a small tug boat, and there found General McClernand, with orders from the War Department to command the expeditionary force on the Mississippi River. I explained what had been done, and what was the actual state of facts; that the heavy re-enforcements pouring into Vicksburg must be Pemberton's army, and that General Grant must be near at hand. He informed me that General Grant was not coming at all…”
“…On the 4th General McClernand issued his General Order No. 1, assuming command of the Army of the Mississippi, divided into two corps; the first to be commanded by General Morgan, composed of his own and A. J. Smith's divisions; and the second, composed of Steele's and Stuart's divisions, to be commanded by me. Up to that time the army had been styled the right wing of (General Grant's) Thirteenth Army Corps, and numbered about thirty thousand men.
“…General McClernand was appointed to this command by President Lincoln in person, who had no knowledge of what was then going on down the river. Still, my relief, on the heels of a failure, raised the usual cry, at the North, of "repulse, failure, and bungling." There was no bungling on my part, for I never worked harder or with more intensity of purpose in my life; and General Grant, long after, in his report of the operations of the siege of Vicksburg, gave us all full credit for the skill of the movement, and described the almost impregnable nature of the ground; and, although in all official reports I assumed the whole responsibility…
Grant was the senior officer, and his favored subordinate, Sherman, was a divisional commander, but serving under McClernand. With McClernand offering no sound or practical military maneuvers, Sherman proposed taking his division up the river with Admiral Porter in support, and move up the Arkansas River to attack the Confederate fort at Arkansas Post. This would help open the river to Union ship movements that were sure to be needed in the coming all-out Federal move against Vicksburg. But neither Porter or McClernand liked the idea. Yet after a conference among the three McClerland saw his opportunity, and suddenly came in favor of it --announcing that he would lead the attack with the whole army. Politically, he needed his first victory.
“We had reports from this fort, usually called the "Post of Arkansas," about forty miles above the mouth, that it was held by about five thousand rebels, was an inclosed work, commanding the passage of the river, but supposed to be easy of capture from the rear. At that time I don't think General McClernand had any definite views or plays of action. If so, he did not impart them to me. He spoke, in general terms of opening the navigation of the Mississippi, "cutting his way to the sea," etc., etc., but the modus operandi was not so clear. Knowing full well that we could not carry on operations against Vicksburg as long as the rebels held the Post of Arkansas, whence to attack our boats coming and going without convoy, I visited him on his boat, the Tigress…and asked leave to go up the Arkansas, to clear out the Post. He made various objections, but consented to go with me to see Admiral Porter about it.
“We got up steam in the Forest Queen, during the night of January 4th, stopped at the Tigress, took General McClernand on board, and proceeded down the river by night to the admiral's boat, the Black Hawk, lying in the mouth of the Yazoo. It must have been near midnight, and Admiral Porter was in deshabille. We were seated in his cabin and I explained my views about Arkansas Post, and asked his cooperation. He said that he was short of coal, and could not use wood in his iron-clad boats…Porter's manner to McClernand was so curt that I invited him out into a forward-cabin where he had his charts, and asked him what he meant by it. He said that "he did not like him;" that in Washington, before coming West, he had been introduced to him by President Lincoln, and he had taken a strong prejudice against him. I begged him, for the sake of harmony, to waive that, which he promised to do…
“Returning to the cabin, the conversation was resumed, and, on our offering to tow his gunboats up the river to save coal, and on renewing the request for Shirk to command the detachment, Porter said, "Suppose I go along myself?" I answered, if he would do so, it would insure the success of the enterprise. At that time I supposed General MeClernand would send me on this business, but he concluded to go himself, and to take his whole force.”
Grant approved Sherman’s idea, and on January 8 the expedition began. By January 11 the Federals had taken Fort Hindman, capturing 8,000 Confederate prisoners. It was the first Union breakthrough in the Vicksburg campaign.
"On the 17th (January, '63) I visited McClernand and his command at Napolean. It was here made evident to me that both the army and navy were so distrustful of McClernand's fitness to command that while they would do all they could to insure success this distrust was an element of weakness. It would have been criminal to send troops under these circumstances into such danger. By this time I had received authority to relieve McClernand, or to assign any person else to the command of the river expedition, or to assume command in person. I felt great embarrassment about McClernand. He was the senior major-general after myself within the department. It would not do, with his rank and ambition, to assign a junior over him. Nothing was left, therefore, but to assume the command myself."
“…On the 29th of January I arrived at Young's Point and assumed command the following day. General McClernand took exception in a most characteristic way -- for him. His correspondence with me on the subject was more in the nature of a reprimand than a protest. It was highly insubordinate…”
With McClernand now safely out of the way Grant moved boldly forward. But during the long delay since Coffeeville and Holly Springs, CSA General Pemberton had re-enforced Vicksburg and was securely dug in. This was the absolute last thing the war department in Washington wanted. Vicksburg had fended off a naval attack in the fall, Sherman had been heavily defeated in an approach in late December, the town was now heavily defended, and the river was running at flood stage.
But Grant stuck to his goal and Lincoln stuck by Grant. Neither flinched. They took every obstacle hurled at them -- from every direction -- and remained steadfast to preserving the Union at any cost. A morale boost in the west was essential, and now Vicksburg became more crucial than ever.
Grant continued maneuvering and adjusting his tactics as he went. For months he met one set back after the next until finally on May 1, 1863 he made his second significant breakthrough at Port Gibson. Subsequent advances were made at Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and at Big Black River Bridge. He had pressed the Rebels relentlessly on all fronts until he had them bottled up in Vicksburg. With his full army in place, he now began a series of direct assaults on the town -- but without effect. Time and again he threw his forces against the entrenched Confederates, but all his efforts failed. His mission was now stalled again.
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