One of the major problems that Union forces had with capturing Vicksburg and all of the lower Mississippi was that they faced almost continual harassment of supply lines, both on land and rivers. I’ve written a little about this when referring to BG Stand Watie and his Confederate American Indian cavalry harassing supply lines on the Mississippi River. In Fort Hindman, near Arkansas Post and overlooking the Arkansas River, the Confederates had a strong position to harry any Union boats trying to make their way up to Little Rock. Additionally, it was a safe haven and replenishing point for Confederate gunboats working the Mississippi River. Before the Union forces could secure the lower Mississippi river area, they needed to secure their supply lines throughout Missouri, Arkansas and along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
The Battle of Arkansas Post
Hence, on 9 January, Union General John McClernand led a combined ground and naval force with Admiral David Porter to shut down Fort Hindman starting on 9 January 1863. Union troops, led by General William Sherman landed on the 9th and began assaulting the outlying trenches of the fort immediately, eventually over-running them and forcing the Confederates to retreat to the fort itself. On 10 January 1863, Porter laid into the fort with naval fire. By 11 January 1863, McClernand had tightened the noose with infantry preparing for a full attack on the fort and Porter’s guns both bombarding the fort and cutting off retreat lines. Eventually, Confederate commander General Thomas Churchill saw the futility of further resistance and surrendered the fort. One more secure post along the Mississippi was secured for future Union operations.
John A. McClernand and Lincoln’s famous quote on Grant’s whiskey
Check out this biography of John A. McClernand, who was a congressman before becoming a general. McClernand did well at first, but went head on with Grant, shortly after the Battle of Arkansas Post, and lost over the conduct of the Vicksburg campaign. McClernand was one of the main sources that reported back to Washington about Grant’s drinking. To which, Abraham Lincoln was to have said, “I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”
Battle of Arkansas Post Motorcycle Ride
Try this circular route from Pine Bluff to Stuttgart to Gillett to Dumas and back to Pine Bluff which passes by Arkansas Post National Memorial. It also includes the long stretch of scenic highway US 65.
Image Credit:Currier and Ives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Union Navy under Porter continued a relentless bombardment from 13 January to the early afternoon of 15 January. When the bombardment stopped, a force of sailors and marines landed and attacked with pistols and cutlasses. This attacked was repulsed by the Confederates who had re-occupied the earthen works. However, the focus on the amphibious landings caused the Confederates to leave too little on the up river side where General Terry had landed on the 13th of January.
Terry’s force worked its way into the land-side walls and turned the position one pit at a time. The Confederates of Colonel Lamb fought valiantly, but the “Gibraltor of the South” was lost and the last port for large scale re-supply of the southern cause was now in Union hands.
Start at the Fort Fisher, NC Historic Site on the north side of the Cape Fear. Take the ferry to Southport. Follow North Carolina State Route 211 to US 17 and follow the coast south to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
By the end of 1864, the Confederacy had only one major port remaining to run goods in and out to the Bahamas, Bermuda and Nova Scotia for much needed supplies. That port was Wilmington, North Carolina and it was protected by Fort Fisher. Fort Fisher sat at the mouth of the Cape Fear River’s entrance into the Atlantic. Fort Fisher was a formidable obstacle, not just for its position, but for the extended earthen works as well. Such was its strength that it was often referred to as the “Gibralter of the South.” Naturally, it became a prime objective for the North as they tried to choke of the remaining supply lines to the South.
On Christmas Day 1864, General Benjamin Butler and Admiral David Porter led a combined force that was to attempt an amphibious assault on Fort Fisher. Porter played his part with one of the fiercest bombardments that the Union Navy had conducted to date. However, Butler lost his nerve after his initial attack was rebuffed and cancelled the ground attack and departed. Porter and Union commander, U.S. Grant were disgusted with the lack of Butler’s resolve. Grant relieved Butler, replacing him with Alfred H. Terry (who was later to become one of the best known Indian fighters of the West). Porter was to give a reprise of his successful bombardment. Terry had previously been in charge of the Siege of Charleston and knew that he had to co-ordinate heavily with Porter for the complex mission to succeed.
On January 13th, 1865, under covering fire by Porter, Terry landed a force up river from the fort to block a Confederate re-enforcement of the fort once the amphibious assault began. Union forces probed the fort’s defenses and Terry decided that the fort was vulnerable from the river side. In the mean time, Porter continued his bombardment and prepared an amphibious assault of sailors and marines on the ocean side. With the fort now cut off from land side support and no naval protection to speak of, the Confederate forces, under General Whiting and Colonel Lamb, hunkered down under a remorseless bombardment by Porter over the next two days. The damage to the earthen works could not be repaired due to the ceaseless nature of the fire.
The stage was now set for the final assault on the 15th of January.
Start in Southport, North Carolina on the south side of the Cape Fear. Take the ferry to Fort Fisher. Then follow the coast from Fort Fisher to Camp Lejeune, NC. Check out Fort Fisher, NC Historic Site.