McClernand’s Last Official Dramatic Tantrum Against Grant

February 1, 1863 (Monday)

John McClernand, a lawyer-turned-politician-turned-Union general, was not a happy man. Back in October, he was given permission to raise two corps worth of troops and forge an independent expedition to stream down the Mississippi River and take Vicksburg, claiming all the military glory for himself. The problem was General Grant.

John McClernand: BAH!

Grant had always been a thorn in McClernand’s backside. Ever since Belmont in 1861, it had been all but impossible to serve under such a man. Through Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh and Corinth, McClernand’s political wrangling, his wheeling and dealing, had won him few friends, but did get him a promotion to Major-General.

It also got him an independent command – his own little army. Until now. Until this General Grant fellow took it all away.

Actually, it wasn’t now, per se. In truth, it was about six weeks ago. But for all intents and purposes, it was now. Though Washington had ordered that McClernand’s new army be folded into Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, and though William Tecumseh Sherman had commanded these two corps at the failed battle of Chickasaw Bayou, McClernand had arrived, dubbed them the Army of the Mississippi and won a (very lopsided) battle.

In his mind, these were his troops. He had been promised that nobody, not even Grant, in whose department he was operating, would have command over him or his Army of the Mississippi.

But Grant had somehow managed to convince Washington that the two corps of McClernand’s Army of the Mississippi were actually the XIII and XV Corps in Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. Not only that, but McClernand was reduced to a mere corps commander, leading the XIII Corps only.

That was the order that came through six weeks ago. Since that time, McClernand had created the unofficial Army of the Mississippi and won that lopsided battle. While it was true that he was only officially in command of the XIII Corps, Grant had joined him at Youngs Point, across the Mississippi River from Vicksburg on January 30, and promised that he wouldn’t change a thing, and would allow him to remain in command of both corps.

That same day, McClernand caught wind that Grant was issuing orders directly to the XIII and XV Corps without passing them by him (McClernand) first. After demanding that Grant cut it out, an order was issued returning McClernand to the command of only the XIII Corps and sending him away to the upper west bank of the Mississippi.

Grant: John, allow me explain what an order is…

Not one to take such a slap in the face without a fight, McClernand demanded an explanation for the banishment, threatening to take the issue to President Lincoln himself if he wasn’t satisfied with Grant’s answer.

The next day (January 31st), Grant replied. He saw no reason at all why he (Grant) shouldn’t be allowed take personal command of his own army. In fact, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had recently suggested it. Grant conceded that if the President told him not to do such a thing, he wouldn’t do it, but he didn’t really think that would happen.

Grant admitted that at first, he didn’t think it would be necessary to take personal command, that McClernand would do a fine enough job on his own, “but soon [I] saw it would be much more convenient to issue orders direct to corps commanders whilst present with the command than through another commander.”

On this date, McClernand shot back a reply. He would acquiesce for now, “in the order for the purpose of avoiding a conflict of authority in the presence of the enemy.” However, he was officially lodging a protest against the “competency and justice” of Grant’s order to take command of his own army.

Additionally, McClernand requested that this, his protest, and all correspondence thus far “be forwarded to the General-in-Chief, and through him to the Secretary of War and the President.” He was requesting this claiming the right to command the expedition, and “in justice to myself as its [the expedition’s] author and actual promoter.”

Grant gathered up McClernand’s two letters, his own reply and his original order and sent them to Washington. Accompanying the bundle, Grant wrote his reply to McClernand’s official protest.

He first brought Washington up to speed, letting them know that he had followed Halleck’s allowance and took command of his own troops before Vicksburg – the troops previously commanded by McClernand.

“If General Sherman had been left in command here,” continued Grant, now reminding them that Sherman had been in command of the troops prior to McClernand, “such is my confidence in him that I would not have thought my presence necessary.”

As if that wasn’t biting enough, he brought it to a close: “But whether I do General McClernand injustice or not, I have not confidence in his ability as a soldier to conduct an expedition of the magnitude of this one successfully.”

In Grant’s mind, the issue was closed. In McClernand’s, however, it was not.

As Grant was writing the War Department and forwarding the correspondence, McClernand was writing President Lincoln personally.

McClernand’s letter to Lincoln

“Please cause it to be signified to me whether Genl. Grant or myself will have em>immediate command of the Miss. River Expedition,” pleaded McClernand to the President. He followed by explaining his battle lines and the fact that he captured a steamboat.

After calling Grant’s plan to build a canal to bypass the bend at Youngs Point a “failure,” he rattled off his own plans to take Vicksburg. His plan required General Nathaniel Banks to join him, and together they would force the Rebels to leave their works and fight out in the open.

Lincoln had already concluded that Port Hudson, south of Vicksburg, would probably keep Banks from joining Grant’s men. And as it was with Grant, the issue appears to have been closed with Lincoln. He never bothered to reply to McClernand. Neither did the War Department.

McClernand was left little choice but to learn to live with this wretched, horrible, no good General Grant.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p11-13; The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 07; Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, specifically, McClernand’s Feb 1 letter. []
Creative Commons License
McClernand’s Last Official Dramatic Tantrum Against Grant by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by