November 2, 1862 (Sunday)
For weeks, the Union Army of the Tennessee had largely been idle. Some, like the units previously commanded by General William Rosecrans, had seen action at Iuka and Corinth, but for others, spread across Western Tennessee, the late summer and early autumn was relatively uneventful.
So when the order came from General Ulysses S. Grant to concentrate at Grand Junction for a concerted push towards Vicksburg, most were thrilled to finally have something to do.
Prior to all of this, several outside (though Federal) factors were in motion. First, and most importantly, the political general, John A. McClernand, had gotten it into his head that he needed to raise 60,000 troops, take them down the Mississippi River and attack Vicksburg. All this would happen, he hoped, without botheration from Grant or any other General, including General-in-Chief Henry Halleck. It would be, dreamed the politico, a truly independent command.
Halleck had bristled at such a horrible idea, but Lincoln supported it. Without causing too much fuss, Halleck wiggled his way into having ultimate authority over the otherwise independent gaggle of regiments, which would not be ready to begin leaving Illinois for another couple of weeks.
Second, Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had recently undergone a slight reorganization. Just as he was about to sack William Rosecrans for his less-than-stellar performance at the Battle of Corinth, Rosecrans was promoted to command the Department of the Cumberland (most of Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee). Rosecrans’ old command, which had been John Pope’s old Army of the Mississippi, was officially disbanded and absorbed into Grant’s army.
Rosecrans’ old force (now commanded by Charles Hamilton), along with James McPherson’s troops, constituted the 31,000 men who would make up Grant’s army in the field. Five divisions were assembling at Grand Junction, and already scouts were moving south, probing for the enemy that had recently been encamped twenty-five miles southwest at Holly Springs, Mississippi.
As his troops marched towards Grand Junction from Corinth and Bolivar, Grant was worried that they would be attacked by Confederates under Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn (newly-restyled the Army of the West, officially commanded by John Pemberton). But as they neared Grand Junction, and as scouts sought the Rebels, it was soon realized that not only would there be no Rebel surprise attack, but that the Confederates were evacuating Holly Springs.
The scouts that confirmed this were actually scouts under William Tecumseh Sherman’s Division at Memphis. Sherman commanded around 7,000 men, who would not be going on the expedition with Grant. They would bide their time fixing a railroad and, apparently, doing some light scouting work on the side. Sherman believed the Rebels were fleeing to Meridian, perhaps even to Mobile, Alabama.
This wasn’t at all true. John C. Pemberton, a Pennsylvanian by birth, was still very much at Holly Springs. The Rebel scouts were as far north as Grand Junction. So secure did they feel that Pemberton was preparing a grand review of his 30,000 or so troops for the next day. He had admitted to Richmond that if Grant began to move south he would take his Army of the Trans-Mississippi fifteen miles south to the banks of the Tallahatchie River, but on this date, his army was still at Holly Springs.
His mind was mostly upon the defense of Vicksburg, and called upon the officers there to impress as many slaves into the service of fortification as possible. In the next couple of days, Pemberton would leave the army in the field to return to his headquarters at Jackson, Mississippi. This would leave Earl Van Dorn in command of the army.
The Trans-Mississippi command structure was a strange one that evolved from a strange past. Originally, Sterling Price had led the Missouri State Guards, independent from the Confederate Army. In Arkansas, Van Dorn commanded the Confederate Army of the West. Over time, as Price’s men were made official, the two forces combined. Van Dorn and Price never really got along, and there was a near constant struggle to make it all work.
Eventually, Van Dorn was given full command, but following the battles of Iuka and Corinth, Richmond sent John Pemberton to oversee the Trans-Mississippi Department. He was ordered command the army, but that would displace Van Dorn.
The problem with all of this was that Van Dorn outranked Pemberton. Even Mansfield Lovell, to whom Van Dorn had given a division, outranked Pemberton. This was all fairly awkward, so Richmond made Pemberton a Lt. General. Now, officially outranking the army’s commander, Van Dorn was made redundant. But rather than moving him somewhere else, he was retained as commander of Pemberton’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi (for the time being).
This situation would have appeared oddly familiar to Ulysses S. Grant, who had endured a similar role as second-in-command under Halleck’s Army of the Tennessee during the Siege of Corinth this past Spring. Though he now personally commanded a much-scaled down Army of the Tennessee, his problems were not quite at an end.
One of the most important things to have on a campaign is a map. As Charles Hamilton, commanding William Rosecrans’ former troops, was readying his force to march from Corinth to Grand Junction, he noticed that all of his maps were missing.
“Please give some instructions about the route to be followed,” wrote Hamilton to Grant. “Rosecrans carried off the maps that were most needed.” What Rosecrans needed with maps of northern Mississippi in his new department in Kentucky is anybody’s guess, but that hardly mattered now. Grant made no mention of it as he gave Hamilton directions to Grand Junction. If anything, he maybe shook he head in slight annoyance and saw it as a small price to pay for getting rid of William Starke Rosecrans.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p312, 315-316, 318, 740-741; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard; Nothing But Victory by Steven Woodworth. [↩]