October 26, 1862 (Sunday)
The scuttlebutt coming into General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters was that a significant force of Confederates under Sterling Price was moving north from their camp at Holly Springs, Mississippi. Scouts apparently saw the force several miles south of Grand Junction. As a precaution, Grant ordered nearby troops to have three days cooked rations and be ready to move out at a moment’s notice. Corinth, he assumed, would again be the Rebel target.
While this was simply faulty information, for Grant it drove home a very important problem. His department was bordered on the west by the Mississippi River. Troops under his command held the eastern shore, while the western shore was held by troops under General Samuel Curtis, commanding the Department of Missouri, which encompassed much more land than its named implied.
Though Curtis’ troops were in Helena and could be quite useful, they were not Grant’s to command. Even worse, neither Curtis, to the west, or Rosecrans (soon to be) to the east, were in any kind of workable communication with him. But communication hardly mattered when there was barely even word from Washington.
“You never have suggested to me any plan of operations in this department,” wrote Grant to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, “and as I do not know anything of those of commanders to my right or left I have none therefore that is not independent of all other forces than those under my immediate command.”
Since Halleck hadn’t suggested a plan, Grant took the opportunity to suggest one of his own. As things stood in his department now, he had only enough troops to hold his positions. To draw any away for campaigning would necessarily leave some undefended or easily assailable.
Corinth was, believed Grant, the problem. If the Rebels were again on the move, Corinth was the target. That place had been the cause of a siege and a battle, when the only thing about it that was worth having was the railroad junction. If the railroads were taken out of the picture, it would just be a normal town.
And so Grant suggested “the destruction of the railroads to all points of the compass from Corinth.” With Corinth rendered a pointless objective, he would use this force, augmented by some reinforcements, for a stab down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.
Grant understood that if he were to steam down the Mississippi having command of only the eastern shore, it would make for some awkward and militarily ridiculous scenarios. In his letter to Halleck, Grant described two such scenarios already playing themselves out.
The first involved a contract for a Union business man to ship liquor from St. Louis to Memphis. Grant had allowed it, but Curtis refused it. The second was of a bit more importance. Before the departments were rearranged, Grant had taken New Madrid, Missouri. And while he still held the town with his men, Curtis had refused to let them return to Grant. He “coolly” informed Grant that “he cannot spare them.”
“I would respectfully suggest that both banks of the river be under one command.”
Washington had a similar plan to Grant’s and it would transcend both Grant and Curtis, while utilizing troops from both departments. The day before General John McClernand, a politician-turned-officer, arrived in Springfield, Illinois to begin assembling his secret force to steam down the Mississippi and take Vicksburg. This plan was one of secrecy, and even Grant had not been told. Soon, however, the usual leak would develop and he would be able to read all about it in the papers.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p296; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant. [↩]