April 8, 1863 (Wednesday)
Things had been going fairly well for Union General John McClernand, in a “little picture” sort of way. Though his dreams of personally and independently leading an expedition that would cause Vicksburg to fall had been drowned in the bayous and swamps of Mississippi, his small exploration down the Louisiana bank to New Carthage was doing alright.
There had been a bit of skirmishing and some problems due to flooding and a lack of boats, but by the 6th the small town of New Carthage was in Federal hands. The Rebels would make a show here and there to get it back, but mostly it was bluster.
Holding New Carthage was essential to General Grant’s new plan. As he explained it in an Apirl 4th letter to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck: “My expectation is for a portion of the naval fleet to run the batteries of Vicksburg, whilst the army moves through by this new route [to New Carthage]. Once there, I will move either to Warrenton or Grand Gulf; most probably the latter.” Though Admiral David Dixon Porter wasn’t thrilled with the idea, he would eventually come around.
If there was any problem at all, it was some thought that McClernand had no real plan once he captured New Carthage. The general idea was that McClernand was to cross the Mississippi and either march south towards Port Hudson and Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf, or turn north to assault Vicksburg. The situation was to dictate what he would do.
The scuttlebutt around camp was that McClernand would do nothing. In his memoirs, General Sherman relates that “we never had a council of war at any time during the Vicksburg campaign. We often met casually, regardless of rank or power, and talked and gossiped of things in general, as officer do and should.”
On this date, such a meeting took place. Though it wasn’t a formal council of war, General Grant, General McPherson, commanding one of Grant’s corps, and Frank Blair, who commanded a division, as well as Charles Dana, the Assistant Secretary of War were all in attendance. At some point, the talk turned to General McClernand. In the meeting it was accepted that McClernand would do nothing now that he established himself at New Carthage.
The general idea was that, according to Sherman, McClernand “was still intriguing against General Grant, in hopes to regain the command of the whole expedition, and that other were raising a clamor against General Grant in the newspapers of the North.”
This was not simply gossip. Through much of March, McClernand had been on the warpath. Writing to President Lincoln himself, McClernand gossiped that “on the 13th of March, 1863, Genl. Grant I am informed was gloriously durnk and in bed sick all next day. If you [are] averse ot drunken Genl’s I can furnish the name of officers of high standing to substantiate the above.”
Feeling that he needed more than a few high standing officers to back him up, McClernand wrote to the Governor of Illinios, Richard Yates. His situation was “intolerable” and he begged Yates to come see for himself. He complained that Grant had done “nothing decisive” and that “time is passing and the Republic is dying of inertia.” To continue the insubordination, he begged Yates: “Can’t you prevail upon the President to send some competent commander? For our country’s sake do.”
A few weeks had passed, but those assembled at this impromptu meeting figured that McClernand was still up to his politicking. That night, after the meeting was over, Sherman returned to his headquarters and wrote out his own idea of a plan to take Vicksburg.
In his memoirs, he says that the reason he did it was “partially to induce Greneral Grant to call on General McClernand for a similar expression of opinion.” Apparently, once McClernand made it known that he had no real plan, he could be dealt with.
Despite the truth or untruth of all that, what it boiled down to was that Sherman did not like McClernand and did not like Grant’s new idea. Rather than criticize Grant for what he saw as a shoddy plan, it was easier to come down upon McClernand, who deserved it anyway.
If Sherman had his druthers, he would take the bulk of the army back to Memphis and try to get at Vicksburg via northern Mississippi. He argued that if all of Vicksburg’s supply lines were cut, Vicksburg would fall. Grant, of course, agreed, but did not wish to make any move that could be taken as a retreat. This was especially wise in light of the rumors and gossip being spread by McClernand.
And so Sherman’s proposed plan was never really considered and neither did it spur Grant into asking McClernand to submit a similar letter. For the time being, Grant would let McClernand fully establish his corps at New Carthage while he readied the rest of the army and Porter’s Navy to join them.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p26; Part 3, p140, 492-493; Major General John Alexander McClernand: Politician in Uniform by Richard L. Kiper; Vicksburg is the Key by William L. Shea; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard; Memoirs of Gen. W.T. Sherman, Volume 1 by William Tecumseh Sherman; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant. [↩]