Grant Tries to Live with McClernand – Fails Within Twenty-Four Hours

January 30, 1863 (Friday)

Boy was Grant’s face red! When he arrived at Young’s Point, just up the Mississippi River from Confederate-fortified Vicksburg the previous day, he made a promise that her soon found he could not keep.

Grant gave it his best shot.

General John McClernand was the last person in the world who was happy to see Grant. Since arriving on the scene shortly after the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, he had been top dog of his little Army of the Mississippi. Deep down, he knew that the two corps making up his “army” were actually two corps from Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, but still, it was nice to pretend.

McClernand had steamed up the Arkansas River without permission from Grant, his actual commander, and took out Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post. After William Tecumseh Sherman, who commanded one of the aforementioned corps explained it, Grant understood that ultimately it was a good thing. Still, McClernand made the move without even bothering to tell him.

Even through all of that, Grant assured McClernand on the 29th that he wouldn’t change a thing in the command structure. McClernand would remain leader of the two corps.

With Grant in camp, however, McClernand was finding that his underlings were going over his head and reporting directly to Grant. This simply would not do. He wanted Grant to arrest the officers for insubordination.

If Grant saw the hypocrisy in this, he never mentioned it. But he must have been reminded of how McClernand went over his head to President Lincoln in order to get the post he now held.

McClernand was in a state. In his letter to Grant, he demanded that all orders issued to his two corps be sent first through his (McClernand’s) headquarters. If Grant had a problem with that, “the question should be immediately referred to Washington, and one or other, or both of us relieved.”

This was serious – to McClernand, anyway. For some reason, he simply couldn’t get it through his head that the so-called Army of the Mississippi was a fabrication, existing only in the imagination of one General McClernand. It was not recognized by Grant, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton or President Lincoln. It had been decided six weeks prior that John McClernand commanded the XIII Corps, that was all.

Almost instantly fed up with McClernand, Grant issued General Orders No. 13, in which he took immediate command of the troops in the expedition against Vicksburg. This was his right, as given by Washington.

To make things even clearer, he ordered Army corps commanders (very much including McClernand) to “resume the immediate command of their respective corps, and will report to and receive orders direct from these headquarters.”

McClernand: But what about my very own independent army that I knew I wasn’t going to have?!

As a final kick in the teeth, Grant ordered (or, rather, banished) McClernand and his XIII Corps to “garrisoning the post of Helena, Ark., and any other point on the west bank of the river it may be necessary to hold south of that place.” Helena was 200 or so miles to the north.

When it arrived on his desk, McClernand immediately fired back a reply.

“I hasten to inquire,” asked the ridiculous General, “whether its purpose is to relieve me from the command of all or any portion of the forces composing the Mississippi River expedition, or, in other words, whether its purpose is to limit my command to the Thirteenth Army Corps.”

He assumed the correct answer – yes, it was meant to limit him to commanding the XIII Corps – but dropped every name in Washington and the order dating from October 1862 stating that it was he and not Grant who was to lead the expedition “against Vicksburg and to clear the Mississippi to New Orleans.”

He demanded an explanation and complained that the XIII Corps was too small and that if he was to garrison the Mississippi’s west bank, as Grant had ordered, it would use up the entire force; “and thus, while having projected the Mississippi River expedition, and having been by a series of orders assigned to the command of it, I may be entirely withdrawn from it.”

But then, he probably understood that that was the idea. He would have to wait until the following day for Grant’s reply.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p11-12; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth. []
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