August 3, 1863 (Monday)
Following the campaign, siege and surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, nearly one month prior, General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had earned a bit of rest. Since the late winter, they had toiled away, searching, often in vain, for some way, any way to assail the defenses of Vicksburg. But now, in the early days of August, after all the capitulated Rebels had been paroled, and the citizens urged back to normal (albeit, slave-free) existence, for the Army to turn to the relative ease of camp life would be a blessing for which few soldiers would not beg.
Ulysses S. Grant was not such a soldier. Momentum, he believed, must be kept. They had taken Vicksburg and rather than rest fulfilled upon their greenest of laurels, Grant wanted more action. Grant wanted little more than to flow down the Mississippi Valley, like the river itself, and eventually focus upon Mobile, Alabama. To begin this movement, Grant decided to send the XIII Corps, now commanded by General E.O. Ord, south to Natchez, Mississippi. They were to take the place of the troops already at Natchez, and were tasked with keeping the river open. Soon, however, their plans would be changed. Before the week was out, they would be ordered to join General Nathaniel Banks, in command of New Orleans.
Before even that, Grant was losing the IX Corps. Unlike the XIII Corps, the IX was never really his. They had been loaned to him by General Ambrose Burnside, now commanding the Department of Ohio. They, along with the newly-minted XXIII Corps, made up Burnside’s Army of the Ohio.
General Burnside wished to have them back as they were his pet corps. Prior to commanding the Army of the Potomac, Burnside had commanded an expeditionary force to the Carolina Coast that eventually became the IX Corps. To say that he was attached was putting it mildly. To the general, the IX Corps was as much a part of him as his whiskers.
In early June, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had ordered Burnside to send 8,000 men to General Grant before Vicksburg. Burnside complied, and sent two divisions, being promised that they would be returned as soon as the Rebel bastion was taken. Ever since he heard of Vicksburg’s fall, Burnside was clamoring to have them back.
While Burnside’s pestering was no doubt irritating to General Halleck, he had a point. Halleck had been on Burnside to make a move to take East Tennessee. Though Burnside could certainly have started without the 8,000 men sent to Grant, Halleck quickly learned that no amount of prodding would be able to convince his bewhiskered general to do so.
Grant was keenly aware that he was about to lose the IX Corps to Burnside, and at least 12,000 troops to Banks. Others were also hoping to grab a morsel of Grant’s Army. All of this greatly diminished his ability to wage the kind of war he wanted. His position could be defended, but what could he do with so small a force?
And though Grant wanted action, he knew his army needed rest. “My troops are very much exhausted, and entirely unfit for any present duty requiring much marching,” he wrote Halleck on July 24th, the same day he finally ordered the IX Corps to return to Burnside.
There was, however, no transportation for them to make the move. The necessary conveyances did not arrive until the end of July. On the 31st, Grant again ordered the IX Corps to move out, sending with it his gratitude: “The endurance, valor, and general good conduct of the Ninth Corps are admired by all, and its valuable co-operation in achieving the final triumph of the campaign is gratefully acknowledged by the Army of the Tennessee.”
By this date, they were on their way, though Burnside was not yet aware of it. With each passing day, he kept an eye out from his Cincinnati office and an ear toward the telegraph, hoping for news at any moment.
General-in-Chief Halleck was waiting as well. Just as he had been urging Burnside to make a move into East Tennessee, he had been pleading with General William Rosecrans to advance against Braxton Bragg’s Rebel Army at Chattanooga. Both had dragged their feet and it was seeming that neither would step off without direct and explicit orders.1
- Sources: Nothing But Victory by Steven Woodworth; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 23, Part 2, p590; Vol. 24, Part 3, p383-384, 517, 546, 548, 560, 566. [↩]