Tag: John A. McClernand

Ulysses S. Grant Begins Western Campaign 2 February 1862

Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com [CC BY 3.0 or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On 2 February 1862, the Commander of the Union’s Army of the Tennessee, U.S. Grant, began the action that would lead to his being recognized by President Abraham Lincoln as a General with a bias for action. Grant launched his forces from Cairo, Illinois, through far western Kentucky towards Forts Heiman, Henry (on the Tennessee River) and Donelson (on the Cumberland River).

Grant Begins Western Campaign

Grant had a sizable force consisting of three infantry divisions, led by John A. McClernand, Charles F. Smith and Lew Wallace. There were also two regiments of cavalry and eight batteries of artillery. Grant also had Captain Andrew Foote’s squadron of seven gunboats. (troop numbers are from the excellent military history of the USA Civil War, The Longest Night by David J. Eicher)

The force, although reasonable, was not huge, so Grant had to make a decision to attack or wait for the initiative to be sent to him from his superiors. However, the western theatre (generally in Kentucky and south of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains, but also in Kansas and Missouri) was split into three commands. Those commands were frozen by indecision on how to attack the south, so Grant might have waited forever to get his chance to attack. The known forces were unclear to both sides, as proven by the still debatable troop numbers present at Fort Donelson to weeks later. Grant chose the warrior’s path of seizing the initiative whilst others debated strategy. He proposed to his Commander, General Henry Halleck, that he proceed to take Fort Henry and open up Tennessee via the Tennessee River. The rest as they say is history. Grant’s star was on the rise.

Grant Begins Western Campaign Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Leaving Cairo, Illinois, cross the Ohio River near its confluence with the Mississippi River on U.S. Highway 51 towards Paducah, Kentucky. Take US-62 out of Paducah and US-68 down to KenLake State Resort Park on the Cumberland River (now Kentucky Lake) pretty much following the path that Grant followed to get to the Fort Henry area. Continue on KY-SR-94 down to Paris Landing State Park in Tennessee and then into the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. In the southwest corner of LBL, near the Piney Bay Campground, you can find the remains of Fort Henry. A map of the ride is here.

Unconditional Surrender Grant Takes Fort Donelson 12-16 Feb 1862

On 13 February 1862, Union commanding General U.S. Grant’s positioning was complete and the time had come to attack Fort Donelson. The Union forces had spent the 12th of February closing in from Fort Henry and exchanging picket fire with the Confederates manning the earthen works of Fort Donelson. The gunboats had also spent the 12th testing the river batteries and found them tough, but assumed they could be taken as Fort Henry’s had been.

A False Start

On the morning of 13 February 1862, Grant meant to have a simultaneous push along the right and left, but General John A. McClernand had jumped the gun and got manhandled by the Confederates, led by General Gideon Pillow. A push on the other side by General C.F. Smith was more disciplined and originally successful, but met with the same fate at the hands of General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s troops. Overnight, a snow and ice storm befell the area and the lines woke on the 14th to a white landscape, ice laden trees and wounded who had died from exposure overnight.

Commodore Foote’s Gunboats

On 14 February 1862, Commodore Andrew Foote was to unleash his gunboats on the Fort Donelson river batteries just like he had at Fort Henry. However, Donelson was not Henry. Fort Donelson’s batteries were on tiered bluffs overlooking the Cumberland River, which gave them great range and an enviable angle of fire up close. This was to prove decisive. Foote was to preclude the ground assault with a show of force and hopefully take out the batteries. Foote came on and made considerable progress, until the flotilla got close enough for the Confederate gunners to zero in. When very close, the Donelson guns were firing right down on the Yankee ships, delivering devastating blows. Virtually the entire flotilla lost navigation capabilities due to direct hits and were floating helplessly down stream. Foote was seriously injured and many were dead. Donelson would not be another Henry. The overall Rebel commander, General John B. Floyd, was ecstatic, because his original mission was to slow down the Yankee advance long enough to let Rebel troops in Bowling Green, Kentucky retreat to Nashville unhindered and this he had accomplished. His follow-on mission would drive the course of the battle, though.

Fight in the Snow and Ice

Grant now had to face the very real possibility that his confidence in taking Donelson was misplaced. The next day would be critical, but not in the way Grant expected. On 15 December 1862, Grant had to go meet Foote as the Navy man was too injured to travel to Grant. As Grant left, he left explicit instructions not to engage with the Confederates in the belief that the Confederates would not dream of attacking. Grant met with Foote and asked for whatever force Foote could give the following day to keep the batteries busy, whilst he attacked on land. As Grant rode back on the icy roads, he got news that McClernand was under pressure on the right. The fight was on, but not at Grant’s bidding.

Bickering Confederates

The Confederate leadership of Floyd, Buckner and Pillow had querulously decided to attempt a breakout around Dover. Buckner was to provide a rear guard, Pillow, with the help of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry, would push McClernand out of the way, then Floyd would lead the vanguard to Nashville. Pillow and Buckner would then retreat under fire and provide cover for Floyd.
Pillow’s and Forrest’s push on McClernand was what the reports Grant was receiving were all about. Grant made his way forward and heard that the Rebels were carrying 3 days of rations on them. This told him that they were trying to breakout. Grant immediately ordered re-enforcements to McClernand and also told Smith to attack Buckner’s rear guard with force. Smith put such pressure on Buckner that Pillow had to send some help to stave off a collapse of the rear. Pillow thought this was OK, because he and Forrest had opend the road near Dover for a retreat. However, as the Rebels settled back into their positions after opening the road, a stasis developed. As the intitative ebbed away, Floyd, Pillow and Buckner traded turns in being optimistic, pessimistic and openly hostile to each other.

Unconditional Surrender Grant Takes Fort Donelson

Floyd was a deer in the headlights now. Finally, Pillow wanted to hold the position and Buckner wanted to ram the forces through the hole created during the day. Floyd lost nerve and decided to hold the position. The day ended in much the same position as it had began with the notable exception of some of Smith’s unit occupying some of the ridge line near the fort, putting artillery in range of the main fort. It might have continued that way had Pillow and Floyd stuck around, but both were former Federal officials and feared being tried for treason if caught. So, under the cover of darkness, they caught the first thing steaming to Nashville. A small number of Confederate troops also got up river that night. Forrest, who was disgusted by the trio of Generals, stomped out and took his cavalry command across a swollen stream and into the Tennessee darkness. Buckner was left in charge and immediately drafted a request for terms to send to his old friend, Grant. Buckner was probably hoping for some leniency based on his previous relationship with Grant. The request reached Grant in the early morning and he responded with what was to make him famous, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner called him “unchivalrous,” but accepted the terms anyway.

Grant Takes Fort Donelson Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

This is my home ride and I recommend it as one of the most beautiful rides anywhere. It splits the the Land Between the Lakes from North to South. Along the way, you will pass the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum which gives you a good feel for how the people lived in that area in that era. Finish off the ride with a visit to Fort Campbell, KY, home of the 101st Airborne Division’s Don F. Pratt Museum and a little WWII to modern era military history.

The Battle of Arkansas Post / Fort Hindman 9-11 January 1863

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

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