Joe Johnston Leaves for the Frustrating West

November 24, 1862 (Monday)

Joe Johnston is as ready as he can be.

Confederate General Joseph Johnston was back in the war. Well, not quite back. Not yet. On this date, he was finally leaving Richmond, en route to the West. There, he would be back in the war. Nearly two weeks had passed since he was given command of “The West” – or, everything between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. This included three mostly separate Confederate forces. It did not, however, include any of the Southern soldiers on the western side of the big river.

Like Union General Ulysses S. Grant, Johnston thought it a bad idea to have two different commanders in charge of the Mississippi River. Both complained to their superiors and neither had yet received satisfaction. By the time Johnston boarded his train at the depot, he had come to terms with this, collecting his wife and eight staff officers for relocation to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he would base his headquarters.

The idea of dividing the Mississippi under two different departments came directly from President Jefferson Davis. Rather than focusing upon defeating the Federal armies, Davis wanted to defend territory. Anything his armies captured, he naturally wanted to hold. But in doing so, Johnston was compelled to somehow defend 180,000 square miles with somewhere around 83,000 men.

Johnston had kept an eye upon Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith’s invasion of Kentucky, saw how they had done so much, but also let so much slip away. He also understood how Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price had never left Mississippi to aid in the Kentucky Campaign. Everything hung in a very precarious way at this point.

Approximate map showing Bragg’s and Rosecrans’ approximate positions and strengths.

Bragg’s Army of Tennessee had moved 35,000 to Murfreesboro in an attempt to draw out the Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by William Rosecrans. Following the Kentucky Campaign, both sides turned their focus upon Nashville. Bragg wanted it and Rosecrans, with a little over 80,000 men, wanted him not to have it. Kirby Smith’s small Army of Kentucky was based out of Knoxville and defended Cumberland Gap. Smith himself had been petitioning Richmond for a transfer, unable to work with Bragg at all anymore.

And then there was Vicksburg. After Van Dorn and Price were beaten at Iuka and Corinth when trying to do something to aide Bragg’s Kentucky Campaign, President Davis sent General John Pemberton to combine the two forces into the Army of Mississippi, 24,000-strong. While Van Dorn and Price slowly backed away from the battles, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, along with Port Hudson, were fortifying against concentrating Federal forces on both sides of the river.

While Bragg and Smith attempted to handle Rosecrans, Pemberton was up against quite a number of Yankees. General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, nearly twice as large as the local Rebel force, fielded around 40,000. Additionally, there was another Union army gathering – the expeditionary force under General John McClernand. It was hardly the secret that it was supposed to be, as 32,000 extra troops gathered at Memphis and points north, waiting for Washington to figure out whether McClernand, Grant or William Tecumseh Sherman would command them.

Approximate map showing Grant’s and Pemberton’s approximate positions and strengths.

Since neither Johnston nor Grant had any command over any troops on the western side of the Mississippi, both wanted more than anything to at least be able to rely upon them for reinforcements. On the Federal side, Grant looked to Samuel Curtis to send something from the forces fighting along the Arkansas/Missouri border, but since things were heating up there again, it wasn’t likely. Similarly, Johnston looked to Theophilus Holmes to help reinforce Vicksburg. After all, Holmes, in Arkansas, was about 400 miles (by rail) closer to the river than Bragg was in Murfreeboro.

All this would be sorted out (or probably not) when Johnston finally reached Chattanooga on December 4th.

((Sources: Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds; Stones River by James Lee McDonough; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 20, Part 2, p431-433.))

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Joe Johnston Leaves for the Frustrating West by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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