March 15, 1862 (Saturday)
Feuds conducted via overland mail and telegraph lines necessarily crept slowly to resolution. The accusations leveled against Union General Ulysses S. Grant by his commander, General Halleck and supported by General-in-Chief George McClellan were slow to dissolve.
Halleck had removed Grant from field command due to Grant’s lack of communication, his unauthorized trip to Nashville and rumors of drunkenness. Grant plead his case on the 5th, but since then, only a few letters had passed.
These letters indicated that all would work itself out, but Grant still sat in his office at Fort Henry, while his troops, commanded by General C.F. Smith, had made their way south towards Pittsburg Landing. Over the next week, Grant insisted that he had been in communication, while Halleck insisted the opposite.
At one point, Grant became so fed up with Halleck’s insistence over knowing the exact number of troops under Grant’s command that Grant fired back: “You had a better chance of knowing my strength whilst surrounded Fort Donelson than I had. Troops were arriving daily, by your order, and immediately assigned to brigades.” He then asked to be relieved from duty.
He followed this bit of sass with an exacting report, detailed down to the last man, telling Halleck that there were, for example, “infantry present and fit for duty, 35,147.”
Halleck received this report and did not reply to it directly. On the 10th, however, Halleck informed Grant that due to the victory at Pea Ridge, the department had extra reinforcements. Halleck was sending them to Grant. “Arrange for them to arrive,” he told his errant General, “and be ready yourself to take the general command.”
Suddenly, a sliver of hope! However, the next day (the 11th), Grant received a report from an anonymous source, forwarded by Halleck on the 6th. The letter, written by “a man of integrity and perfect reliability,” was full of supposed irregularities over the stores captured by Grant at Fort Henry.
“There is such a disposition to find fault with me,” replied Grant after receiving the anonymous letter, “that I again asked to be relieved from further duty until I can be placed right in the estimation of those in higher authority.”
Two days later, Halleck finally addressed Grant’s third request to be removed from command. “You cannot be relieved from your command,” he emphatically stated. “There is no good reason for it.” It was as if Halleck suddenly figured out that Grant wasn’t all that bad. “Instead of relieving you,” he continued, “I wish you as soon as your new army is in the field to assume the immediate command and lead it on to new victories.”
On the 14th, Grant replied to Halleck, informing him that he had expected to be brought up on charges, but that Halleck’s telegram of the day before placed “such a different phase upon my position that I will again assume command.”1
On this date, as Grant was moving more troops to Smith’s command, Halleck was closing the matter in a letter to Washington. He wrote that “Grant has made the proper explanation and has been directed to resume command in the field.” Halleck himself explained that the lack of communication was due to lack of things to communicate and bad telegraph lines. Grant’s unauthorized trip to Nashville was suddenly understandable given his “praiseworthy, though mistaken, zeal.” The drunkenness was simply left out.2
In his Memoirs, Grant had an explanation for his lack of communication: “My dispatches were all sent to Cairo by boat, but many of those addressed to me were sent to the operator at the end of the advancing wire and he failed to forward them. This operator afterwards proved to be a rebel; he deserted his post after a short time and went south taking his dispatches with him.”3
With the mystery and crisis at an end, Grant would again take the field in a couple of days.
Sherman Turned Back by Rain, Snow and Floods
General Grant, while being grounded at Fort Henry, pushed forward troops to steam up the Tennessee River towards the Confederate positions near Corinth and Iuka, Mississippi, 100 or so miles up stream.
The first division sent forward was commanded by General William Tecumseh Sherman. By the 12th, they had reached Savannah, Tennessee, and two days later, the entire Army of the Tennessee was assembled. Also on the 14th, General Smith ordered Sherman to take his division up the Tennessee to Eastport, Mississippi to destroy a railroad bridge. On the way, Sherman decided that a place called Pittsburg Landing should also be held as it was the disembarkation point for people traveling to Corinth.
Sherman’s Division steamed past the landing, to Eastport, five or six miles north of Iuka, Mississippi. The Confederates had already placed artillery and infantry. Not wanting to bring on any sort of engagement at this point, Sherman ordered the transports to be turned around to the mouth of Yellow Creek, a few miles downriver. All the while, a torrent of rain soaked everything.4
Sherman determined to destroy the railroad works at Burnsville, on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, cutting the road. He ordered 400 of his cavalry to begin the march at 11pm on the 14th, planning for his infantry to follow in the morning.
This was a fiasco. The rain became heavier and the dark somehow darker. The land became swamp and the streams became rivers. When the temperatures dipped below freezing, the rain turned to snow.
The creeks were so swollen that the troopers had to stumble miles out of their way to get around them. One such creek had to be forded, or, rather, swam, as there was no bridge. During the swim, the cavalry lost all of their picks and axes they had hoped to use against Burnsville.
Just before dawn on the 15th (this date), they were stopped by a stream-turned-river whose bridge was precariously floating upon the raging water. Figuring that there was no way to cross 400 horses and men, they made their way back to the transports, arriving just before noon. Burnsville and the railroad were saved.5
Sherman, coming to the same conclusion after marching his infantry six miles, bypassed the mess leading to Burnsville, reembarked his division upon the transports and steamed upriver to Indian Creek, nearly within site of the Rebel artillery at Chickasaw, but found it to be equally as flooded. Remembering that Pittsburg Landing was still good enough ground, he again turned around the ships and headed downstream.6
Once he arrived, he found the landing occupied by Union General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s Division. Unsure of what to do with his own men, he left them on their transports at Pittsburg Landing and steamed downriver to Savannah and General Smith. After a brief meeting, Sherman and Hurlbut were ordered to land their divisions at Pittsburg Landing. Smith would follow with the rest of his army, soon to be under General Grant.7
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p21, 22, 24, 27, 30, 32, 36. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p683-684. [↩]
- Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant. [↩]
- Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 1, p28-29. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 1, 22-23. [↩]
- Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 by O. Edward Cunningham, Savas Beatie Press, 2007. [↩]