November 30, 1862 (Sunday)
General Ulysses S. Grant felt fairly confident that the Confederate army retiring before him could be dealt with if his own army moved swiftly and the enemy didn’t entrench. It was getting late in the season. Soon the rains would turn the roads to thick paste and any plan for a campaign would be mere wishful thinking.
Grant, who had gathered much of his army at Grand Junction, Tennessee, and William Tecumseh Sherman, whose corps had grown considerably at Memphis, were ready to move out. They had planned to leave on the 26th and unite at Holly Springs, Mississippi on the 30th, this date.
But a mere three days before Sherman was to step off, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck wired from Washington that Grant was to send to Vicksburg, Mississippi as many troops as he could. Halleck told Grant to leave behind only enough troops to defend the Tennessee border.
General Grant’s ultimate goal was, in fact, Vicksburg. Everything he was doing was part of his Vicksburg Campaign. But to bypass the entire Confederate Army of the West, thought Grant, was a bad idea. Besides, he had already issued orders, not only to Sherman, but to General Frederick Steele, commanding at Helena, Arkansas, along the Mississippi River, who was to push east and threaten Grenada, well behind current Rebel lines, eighty miles south. Meanwhile, Commodore David Porter had agreed to take his flotilla down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Yazoo River.
Grant was not happy. All of his orders had been sent and could not be recalled before the start date. Ultimately, Halleck acquiesced: “Proposed movement approved. Do not go too far.”
As things began to get moving, Grant called for a diversion by Federal cavalry from Helena, southwest of the Confederate in Grant’s front. For this, Steele called upon General Cadwallader Washburn (one of the war’s best-named officers), who took his cavalry on a raid to damage the railroad near Grenada. This, hoped Grant, would take Rebel eyes off his enormous movement.
Washburn was able to raid to the railroad, cutting telegraph lines, ripping up track, and destroying bridges along the line to Memphis. He decided not to hit the line running north to both armies for fear of becoming entrapped in Grenada, the spires of which he could almost see, seven miles away. Soon, Washburn would return to Alvin Hovey’s Brigade, which had crossed the river and was now at the mouth of the Coldwater River, fifty miles west of Grant at Holly Springs.
Washburn made several quick, sharp attacks against Confederate-held towns such as Charleston, Penola and Oakland, which he attacked on this date. The fight was a bloody one, but Washburn saw the better of it. The threat to the enemy rear, however, was quickly dissipating. The diversion didn’t really work and Grant was in much the same position as before. The Rebels had retreated to cover the threat, winding up in and around Oxford.
This made it much easier for Grant to move south, and by this date, though his headquarters was still in Holly Springs, much of his army was halfway to Abbeville. Sherman, on the other hand, was a few miles down the Tallahatchie at Wyatt. The Rebels that had left the area had destroyed the bridge, forcing Sherman to rebuild it before he could cross and join up with Grant’s command.1
Hovey Complains about “Unprincipled Sharpers and Jews”
As Sherman was having trouble crossing the Tallahatchie, Alvin Hovey, commanding a detached brigade under Frederick Steele, was having some problems of his own. He describes these troubles in the same official report where he described Washburn’s cavalry raid.
“I cannot refrain from stating to you the effects of the great evil growing out of our commercial intercourse with the rebels,” wrote Hovey to Steele before continuing upon his frustrated rant: “Unprincipled sharpers and Jews are supplying the enemy with all they want.” Wherever Hovey’s men went, they seemed to find Rebels adorned with boots and clothing purchased from supposed Unionists. “War and commerce with the same people!” exclaimed Hovey. “What a Utopian dream!”
Hovey, like many Union officers in the area, Sherman and Grant especially included, blamed the Jews. “Every secret of our camps is carried,” continued Hovey, “by the same men that formerly sold their God for thirty pieces of silver, to our worst enemies for a few pounds of cotton.”
Every expedition sent out by Hovey had witnessed “the blighting effects of their cupidity. No expedition has ever been dreamed of at Helena that these bloodhounds of commerce have not scented out and carried to our enemies days in advance.”
This kind of talk was hardly anything new. Back in July, Sherman turned a scornful eye at “swarms of Jews.” Earlier in November, Grant banned all Jews from the railroad under his command. He complained to Halleck about the Jews being a “privileged class who can travel anywhere.”
Though Hovey seems to not have officially complained about the Jews in subsequent reports, Grant was far from finished.2