October 23, 1862 (Wednesday)
Ulysses S. Grant had recently learned that he was now in command of a department that included all of Western Tennessee, parts of Northern Mississippi, some of Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois. To cover this ground, Grant was also a man with hardly an army. His Army of the Tennessee was stretched from 7,000 at Memphis, to 4,800 around Illinois and Kentucky, to 19,000 spread through Western Tennessee, and 17,500 at Corinth, Mississippi. These 49,000 troops had been tasked with keeping the two Confederate commands under Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn from marching through Tennessee to join Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith in their invasion of Kentucky.
But that invasion had been repulsed by the Union Army of the Ohio under Don Carlos Buell. Bragg and Smith were retreating back into Eastern Tennessee. Buell seemed unconcerned about following and so they were now quite possibly Grant’s problem.
Grant’s men had successfully defended Iuka and Corinth from Price and Van Dorn, but, like Buell, had failed to follow up the victories with a crushing blow. Grant now believed his plate would soon become too full.
“It is now certain that the rebels have been largely re-enforced at Holly Springs and are strongly fortifying,” wrote Grant to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck on the morning of this day. “Pemberton in command.” The forces under Price and Van Dorn had been consolidated into one force with John C. Pemberton at its head. To make matters worse, Grant had understood that they had been “reinforced by conscripts, Alabama and Texas troops.” In closing the short message, Grant wondered: “Is it not probable that Bragg will come this way?”
This was a very good question. Bragg was currently in Cumberland Gap, but nobody expected him to stay there. Buell believed that Bragg’s Rebel Army of Mississippi would turn upon Nashville. Grant, along with one of his corps commanders, William Rosecrans, believed it possible Bragg would end up on their doorstep.
“Beware of Bragg,” warned Rosecrans at Corinth in a short dispatch to Grant, “it is nearly time for a few car-loads of his troops to arrive. Depend upon it unless Buell is sharper than heretofore we shall have the devil to pay here.”
Rosecrans may have shared Grant’s views on Bragg’s possible destination, but he was not exactly in Grant’s good graces. Quite the opposite.
Following the battle of Corinth, Rosecrans was elated that he had actually whipped the enemy. The battle, however, had been horribly mismanaged. Though he was in command, he blamed the miscues on others. The Second Division under Thomas Davies, said Rosecrans, was a “set of cowards” who “had disgraced themselves” on the field of battle. Davies was livid and demanded an apology. Rosecrans sort of gave one, but it amounted to little more than “I’m sorry you were so upset when I insulted you.” [Obviously not a direct quote.]
And though Grenville Dodge replaced Davies (who was actually promoted), Rosecrans still had a lot to answer for. There had been articles in the press containing information clearly leaked from Rosecrans’ headquarters, possibly with Rosecrans’ knowledge. These clippings extolled the virtues of Rosecrans, while defaming General Grant.
When Grant confronted Rosecrans about this, the victor of Corinth threw a fit. “There are no headquarters in these United States less responsible for what newspaper correspondents and paragraphists say of operations than mine,” broiled Rosecrans. “After this declaration I am free to say that if you do not meet me frankly with a declaration that you are satisfied, I shall consider my power to be useful in this Department ended.”
So be it. If Rosecrans wanted to leave the Department, he could leave. Grant was more than ready to fire him when a very timely message came through from General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington: “You will direct Major-General Rosecrans to immediately repair to Cincinnati, where he will receive orders.”
Over the past week, Rosecrans had been in direct communication with Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Much of the correspondence was about Bragg and his Rebels retreating into Eastern Tennessee. Apparently Rosecrans impressed them in ways that Buell could not (hardly an unbelievable feat). Orders to repair to Cincinnati meant simply that Don Carlos Buell was out and William Starke Rosecrans was in.
Rosecrans replied to Halleck that his order would be “promptly obeyed,” but then asked for one of his friends to be placed upon his staff. This request was answered by Stanton, telling Rosecrans that it was “needless to determine the question of your staff until you receive instructions.” It was a mild rebuke, but a foreshadowing of things to come.
General Charles S. Hamilton would soon be called upon to replace Rosecrans in Grant’s army. Hamilton had commanded a division under Samuel Heintzelman at Yorktown, Virginia. His camp had been in a swamp and he had heard that his men, digging entrenchments in the foul muck, were suffering, with many near death. He sent repeated complaints to Heintzelman, who passed them along to General George McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Finally, Hamilton was in direct communication with McClellan, who took grave offense at Hamilton’s frank language and relieved him of duty. Hamilton had been “sent West.”
And so General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was spread thin, less than 50,000-strong, and newly-reorganized. He continued to work on a plan to fall upon the Rebels under Pemberton and proceed to Vicksburg.1
- Sources: Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Vicksburg by Michael Ballard; New York Times, June 1, 1862; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p283, 290-291. [↩]