February 10, 1863 (Tuesday)
Along the Mississippi River, while two corps of General Grant’s troops waited near Vicksburg, other troops, many under General James McPherson, were readying themselves for further orders at Memphis, Tennessee.
Fortunately, Grant had been working on a plan and would need all the troops he could get. The Yazoo Pass had formerly been the way one would float a vessel from Memphis to Yazoo City, bypassing most of the Mississippi River, taking the Tallahatchie and Yazoo Rivers, instead. When the railroad was built, however, they stopped up the pass with a levee, upon which they placed the rails. On February 3rd, Grant ordered the levee to be destroyed and the waters to flow as nature intended.
This was to allow gunships and infantry transports to sneak in the back way to Vicksburg before the Rebels even knew what was happening.
The problem was that the rushing water through the broken levee had swiftly flooded everything in its path. Camps had to be moved and the start of the expedition had to be postponed. This also increased the likelihood that the Rebels would discover their plan.
With the water more or less equalized, Grant ordered several regiments under General Leonard Ross of the XIII Corps, plus 600 soldiers from the XV Corps to act as Marines for the expedition.
Soon after, orders from Grant to General Ross went out, instructing him to go to Delta, Mississippi (near Yazoo Pass) and wait for the gunboats and transports to arrive.
Feeling this would be enough for the Yazoo Pass Expedition, Grant ordered other troops stationed in Memphis to make their way to Providence, Louisiana up the Mississippi from Vicksburg. These were men from General James McPherson’s XVII Corps. A division of his corps was already there, but on this date, he gave orders for the rest to follow.
James Birdseye McPherson (that’s a given middle name) was a career soldier. After graduating from West Point in 1853, he oversaw the construction of Fort Delaware, near Philadelphia, and Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay. When war broke out, he came east as a captain of engineers. Serving in the West with Grant at Fort Donelson and Shiloh, in a little over a year, he was a Major-General commanding the XVII Corps.
Like any good officer, he sent his men off with a rousing address. “We move to capture the stronghold of the rebels in the Valley of the Mississippi,” proclaimed McPherson. “That our success is certain, I have not the slightest doubt, if you bring to the performance of the work the same zeal, ability, and patriotic devotion to your country which have marked your course thus far.”
Breathing the now-sacred words of “Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Island No. 10, and Corinth,” McPherson urged his men to see their glorious record as a portent of things to come.
“We go forward to strike a fatal blow against this most unjustifiable rebellion, a blow which will tell with deadly effect, and cause the heart of every true and loyal man in our country to swell with pride.”
They were going to battle, yes, but more so, “we go to plant our flag upon the ramparts of Vicksburg, and I know I but echo your sentiments when I say that each and every one of you desires, no matter what the labor, privation, or danger may be, to battle earnestly and heroically until this great work is accomplished.”
Now is probably as good of a time as any to describe the organization of Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. With the larger corps numbers and differing division numbers, it can get a bit confusing (speaking from experience, here).
The Army of the Tennessee was divided into four corps. The numbering picked up where the Army of the Potomac left off.
The XIII Corp was commanded by John McClernand. It was based out of Young’s Point and Helena, Arkansas. It consisted of four divisions, the Ninth, Tenth, Twelfth, and Thirteenth (the last two being part of the Department of Arkansas).
The XIV (as well as the VIII) Corps were part of General Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland and not in the Army of the Tennessee.
The XV Corps was near Vicksburg and commanded by William Tecumseh Sherman. It consisted of two divisions, known as the First and Second, but also as the Eleventh and Fifth, respectively.
The XVI Corps, commanded by Charles Hamilton, was the Army’s largest. It was based out of Memphis, but was spread all throughout Western Tennessee and Northern Mississippi. It consisted of the First, Fourth, and Eighth Divisions, as well as the Department of Western Tennessee.
The XVII Corps, now on the move, was commanded by James McPherson. They had been based out of Memphis, but would soon be in Lake Providence, Louisiana. It consisted of the Third, Sixth and Seventh Divisions.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 3, p20-28, 36, 37, 38, 40, 43-44. [↩]