Rebels Prepare to Attack Grant; McClellan Loses His First Corps

April 3, 1862 (Thursday)

What me worry?

“There is no need of haste,” wrote General Ulysses S. Grant to the vanguard of his reinforcements, “come on by easy marches.” The Union armies of Generals Grant and Buell were about to unite after weeks of waiting. Grant and his command occupied Pittsburg Landing, along the Tennessee River, while Buell’s forces were on the march from Columbia, a distance of nearly 100 miles.

Grant had addressed this dispatch to the “Officer in Command of the Advance of Buell’s Army.” That officer was General William Nelson, commanding a division two days’ out from Savannah, where he expected to meet Grant.1 Nelson had been hurrying his men night and day since crossing the Duck River at Columbia. This dispatch from Grant must have seemed otherworldly. If there was no need for haste, why had he rushed at all?

It was strange for Grant to even write such a thing. Just four days prior, he had written his wife that “a big fight may be looked for some place before a great while which it appears to me will be the last in the West.”2

General Beauregard

The Confederate Army of Mississippi, commanded by Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, by this time, was fully consolidated. Johnston had retreated from Nashville, while Beauregard, along with General Braxton Bragg, readied their troops in and around Corinth, Mississippi, twenty-five miles up the Tennessee River from Grant at Pittsburg Landing.

Before dawn on this date, Beauregard received a telegram from an advance division in Bethel. When he read it, he learned two things. First, Grant had apparently divided his forces and was planning on striking towards Memphis. Second, Buell’s army was quickly coming to reinforce him. Passing the message along to Johnston, he added “Now is the moment to advance and strike the enemy at Pittsburg Landing.”3

Beauregard did not accompany the message, and when Johnston read it, he was unsure what to do, so he took it to General Bragg to get his opinion. Bragg agreed with Beauregard, if Grant was divided and if Buell was not yet up, now was indeed time to attack. Waiting even a day might bring less than glorious results. At first, Johnston disagreed, believing the Army of Mississippi unready to engage the foe. With some coaxing, however, he caved. By 1:30am (that is, technically, on the 3rd), orders went out to the various corps commanders.4

General Hardee just wanted to march, right?

For clarification, around 10am, Johnston and Beauregard called the corps commanders together and divulged the entire plan. The 40,000 troops were supposed to be on the move by noon. First, General Hardee’s Corps was to march along Ridge Road, north to a farm owned by the Michie Family, where they would camp for the night. General Bragg was to take his corps along a different road, also arriving at Michie’s by nightfall. Polk, whose corps was divided, was to follow an hour after Hardee with one division, allowing the other division (at Bethel) to meet them on the field of battle.

The Union position at Pittsburg Landing was eight or so miles away from Michie’s, so, if all went according to plan, they would fall upon Grant in the evening of the 4th. Things, however, did not go according to plan.5

Getting through Corinth was a nightmare, its streets clogged with wagons and troops trying to find their commands. Beauregard blamed General Polk, whose troops were sitting in front of Hardee’s, but Polk blamed Hardee, who was supposed to move first. To make matters worse, both Beauregard and Johnston had different ideas on the plan of attack. Johnston wanted to line the corps up, three abreast, while Beauregard wanted to stack two corps up, one behind the other, with another corps on the left and a division of reserves on the right. Later, President Davis would accuse Beauregard of changing Johnston’s plans. For now, however, due to the delay, Beauregard pushed everything back by twenty-four hours.6

Sort of approximate location(ish) of troops.


Lincoln Finds No Need for McClellan’s Mathematical Fuzziness, Keeps a Corps for his Own

President Lincoln had added up General McClellan’s fuzzy math, which left less than 30,000 troops in the vicinity of Washington (and Manassas), even though he (McClellan) assured him that there were over twice that number.

General McDowell

Most of McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was already in the vicinity of Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula. Still in the Washington area were General Irvin McDowell’s First Corps and General Edwin Sumner’s Second Corps. Before leaving Washington, McClellan had ordered Sumner’s Corps to leave first and for McDowell’s not to leave the capital until the rest of the army was before Richmond.

Lincoln’s main fear was that without the Army of the Potomac at its gates, Washington could easily fall to a Rebel attack. McDowell assured Lincoln that he and his corps would still be around until it was certain that the Confederates had pulled back all the way to Richmond.

When McDowell called his division commanders together, informing them that they would pull out of Washington around the 8th or the 9th. Pulling longtime confidant, General William Franklin, aside, he revealed that he suspected Lincoln was about to make some big changes to McClellan’s plans.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wished to speak to McDowell, which probably tipped off the latter that something was up. When he finally met with him, it was clear that Lincoln wasn’t the only one worried about Washington.

Stanton is all up in Washington, stealin' yer corps.
General James Wadsworth, in command of the garrison troops about the city, had complained about McClellan’s fuzzy math. Other officers even stated that McClellan had disobeyed Presidential orders by not leaving Washington secure.7 Disregarding the logic that if the Rebel army was protecting Richmond, it couldn’t possibly attack Washington, Lincoln charged Secretary Stanton with picking either McDowell’s First Corps or Sumner’s Second Corps to be plucked from the Army of the Potomac and stationed near Washington.8

Stanton selected McDowell’s Corps. The specific orders, and perhaps a few changes here and there, would be made out the following day.

  1. A Narrative of Military Service by William Babcock Hazen, 1885. []
  2. Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 by O. Edward Cunningham, Savas Beatie, 2007. []
  3. P.G.T. Beauregard; Napoleon in Gray by T. Harry Williams, Louisiana State University, 1955. []
  4. Army of the Heartland; The Army of Tennessee 1861-1862 by Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Louisiana State University, 1967. []
  5. The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn, University of Oklahoma Press, 1941. []
  6. P.G.T. Beauregard; Napoleon in Gray by T. Harry Williams, Louisiana State University, 1955. []
  7. Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel Beatie, Savas Beatie, 2007. []
  8. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 5. p179. []
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