January 16, 1863 (Friday)
At this point, General Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t at all convinced that the victory at Fort Hindman was worth it. For starters, General John McClernand had taken it upon himself to annex two corps from Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, redubbing them “The Army of the Mississippi.” Secondly, not only did he fail to ask permission to start a new campaign, he didn’t even mention it to Grant before setting sail from just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Yes, they were victorious, but, thought Grant, so what? The 5,000 or so Rebels were of little consequence, even though they were basically behind Union lines. What’s worse is that the campaign sapped the Navy’s strength at a time when Grant was readying his own campaign. He wanted to leave Memphis to join up with McClernand’s men by the end of this week. Now, as he had been informed, the Navy wouldn’t be ready for another ten days.
As he was preparing to steam down to Milliken’s Bend, where he had ordered McClernand to wait for him, he saw Federal transports carrying nearly 5,000 Confederate prisoners captured at Fort Hindman. Since there wasn’t even a note pinned to their gray jackets as to what to do with them, Grant wrote General Samuel Curtis, commanding the next door Department of Missouri. “As I am leaving Memphis and can take no orders for the disposal of these prisoners,” wrote Grant to Curtis, “I hope that you will have the kindness to take charge of them….”
So, basically, the whole Fort Hindman ordeal seemed to be turning out to be more trouble that it was worth. When Grant first heard about it in a letter from McClernand, he gave no real recognition of the victory and told McClernand to get to Milliken’s Bend as soon as possible.
On this date, around six in the evening, McClernand received Grant’s dismissive response and pretty well flipped out.
First, he wrote Grant a biting, argumentative letter. While he took responsibility for the decision to attack Fort Hindman, he had anticipated Grant’s “approval of the complete and signal success which crowned it rather than your condemnation.”
Grant, in an earlier letter to McClernand, had told him that his main reason for disapproving of his campaign against Fort Hindman was that it would do nothing to advance the cause of taking Vicksburg. In response, McClernand blamed that on Grant.
“From the moment you fell back from Oxford, and the purpose of a front attack upon the enemy’s works near Vicksburg was thus deprived of co-operation,” McClernand bit back, “the Mississippi River Expedition was doomed to eventuate in a failure.”
For every reason Grant had given for why he wanted McClernand to remain at Milliken’s Bend, the errant General tossed out an excuse.
But McClernand was not even close to being finished. After writing Grant, he wrote to President Lincoln.
“I believe my success here is gall and wormwood to the clique of West Pointers who have been persecuting me for months,” he wrote bitterly. He accused this clique (Grant very much included) of being “chagrined at the success of your volunteer officers [McClernand, specifically].” They would, he suspected, be happier with the defeat of non West Pointers than the defeat of the Rebels.
“Do not let me be clandestinely destroyed, or, what is worse, dishonored, without a hearing,” he added, apparently figuring that Grant was about to have him fired.
He then reminded Lincoln that he (McClernand) had originally be tasked with taking Vicksburg and opening the Mississippi. Grant, when this was first planned out, had absolutely nothing to do with it.
“The Mississippi River being the only channel of communication, and that being infested with guerrillas, how can General Grant at a distance of 400 miles intelligently command the army with me?” asked McClearnand before answering his own question. “He cannot do it.”
Unknown to McClernand, Grant was about to join him, doing away with the 400 miles. But by his wording, clearly McClernand was still a bit in denial concerning his role in the western theater. Grant wasn’t commanding the army with McClernand, he was commanding the army which featured McClernand in the position of one of several corps commanders.
Still, McClernand had a solution: “It should be made an independent command, as both you and the Secretary of War, as I believe, originally intended.”
Lincoln would not specifically reply to this letter, but did address an earlier one McClernand wrote detailing his many, many grievances against General-in-Chief Henry Halleck.
“I have too many family controversies, (so to speak) already on my hands,” Lincoln would reply on the 22nd, “to voluntarily, or so long as I can avoid it, take up another. You are now doing well—well for the country, and well for yourself—much better than you could possibly be, if engaged in open war with Gen. Halleck. Allow me to beg, that for your sake, for my sake, & for the country’s sake, you give your whole attention to the better work.”
((Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p552, 554, 566, 567; Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 6.))