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Part IV:

The Campaign Stalls 

The Battle of Coffeeville was important for several reasons: Not only were the Confederates able to save their last equipment wagons, Pemberton now had the breathing room to re-enforce his position in Grenada after the strong victory compelled the Federal army to retreat back to Water Valley, and then a few miles further to Prophet’s Bridge, five miles northwest of the town.  

The northern leadership was now more divided on the best strategy for Vicksburg  -- some felt an overland route to control the rail line was essential, and others thought the best route was to following the Mississippi River south with more steamers, gun boats, and a huge army in three wings following on shore.   The railroad campaign seemed logical, but the Union leaders realized that it would be all but impossible to move two hundred miles through enemy territory and risk more raids by small Confederate forces that could find a weakness and exploit it, just as Van Dorn and Forrest would soon do. Further, Grant did not realize at this time that he could move a huge army, depending on local forage, for sustenance.  This was a lesson he learned in Mississippi, and he employed it throughout the rest of the war. 


Political and military rivals.   Both from Illinois, both generals, and both seeking to lead the Vicksburg assault.  When McClernand began to muscle his way in front of Grant, Grant replaced McClernand – with himself. (Later McClernand ran against Lincoln for the presidency. If McClernand had won he would have taken over from Lincoln and no doubt dismissed Grant.)  Grant and Lincoln were able to fend off not only southern foes, but fellow Illinois foes as well.

(Interestingly, the unassuming, rough-hewn, and politically disinterested Grant would become everything that McClernand had hoped for -- the officer that captured Vicksburg, and the man who would later become President.)


Further, General McClernand, another Illinois politician and now general, was working diligently on a plan to lead an army himself  -- ahead of Grant  -- down the river route to capture Vicksburg and re-open the Mississippi for shipping and trade.  He had met with Lincoln to convince him of the soundness of his plan and Lincoln was somewhat in agreement, although he did not want to lose his key, and favorite general, Grant.  Grant was miffed at the war department – and especially McClernand – for devising and approving such a plan within his department without his knowledge. Once Grant learned of this he immediately began to seek ways to have the meddlesome McClernand out of his way.  Due to a technicality of protocol, Grant eventually replaced McClernand – with himself. 

As early as Coffeeville, there was bickering among the Union leaders concerning the Mississippi Central Railroad campaign, and if it was the best suited plan to approach Vicksburg. More doubt was brought on following the Union loss in Coffeeville. Lincoln, Halleck, Grant, Sherman, and the war department could not reach a consensus agreement on this most important issue, and the matter was further stalled by McClernand who wanted to circumvent standard protocol and proceed at his own free will for reasons of self gain. And while the Union leadership structured its next move, the Confederates took advantage.  

Following Coffeeville the Federals were rocked back on their heels and morale was sinking.  The mighty army of Grant had been defeated – or so it seemed in the northern newspapers.   The leaders in Washington and in the western theatre were at odds on how to continue, and who would lead.  For two weeks the Federal cavalry and infantry foraged and moved about the general area of Oxford with little purpose.  In a dress parade in Oxford many of he men would not salute Grant as they passed for review – others made cat calls at their leader.  Grant was losing the confidence of his men and their were others within his department that wanted a new leader installed.  It was a critical time for Lincoln.

With the Federal forces relatively inactive and making no move south, Pemberton was now securely positioned in Grenada with all the re-enforcements he could expect.  His position and force was as strong as it would ever be.   Both armies thought that a conflict at Grenada was inevitable, and that it would rival the bloody clash at Shiloh.  However, as the Confederates waited a Texas cavalry officer met with Pemberton to suggest a bold move that would cripple Grant.  He had devised a way for a small cavalry force of about 2,500 to completely neutralize Grant and his 70,000 or so troops in north Mississippi.  The plan was brilliant.


March forward to:

Part Five:
Confederate Raids


Retreat to:

Part Three:
The Battle of Coffeeville


Return to Headquarters at:

The Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign Home Page





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