Arkansas Post – Part 4

McClernand Takes Charge
Sherman’s attack on the northern defenses of Vicksburg at Chickasaw Bayou was crushed on December 29th. On January 2nd the defeated Federals, after realizing the impossibility of success in this area, boarded their transports for the trip to Milliken’s Bend. As they loaded unit commanders took stock of their losses. Several units had been severely mauled in the bloody repulse. Amongst the units that suffered the most losses were the 16th Ohio (311), 67th Indiana (264), and the 13th Illinois (173).These units and others desperately needed to recuperate and reorganize and where anxiously anticipating rest. But new plans and a new commander would mean little rest for these troops.

The troop transports made the trip up the Mississippi in foul weather. The battered troops of the 13th Illinois reported; “We were ordered up to Milliken’s Bend. The night was rainy, foggy, and dark; and it was very difficult and dangerous running. We put up some tents on the hurricane-deck ; but were in danger of swamping our boat, from having too much sail on her, and had to take them, down in double-quick time, and then lay exposed to a terrible rain-storm all night, but had got to the ‘ Bend ‘ at 10:30 p. m. and laid over until morning.” When the Union convoy arrived at Milliken’s Bend Sherman met with MG John A. McClernand who was authorized by Presidential warrant to take command of the force operating against Vicksburg from the river. On January 4th Sherman’s General Order No. 5 announced the change in this fashion;

“A new commander is here to lead you. He is chosen by the President of the United States, who is charged by the Constitution to maintain and defend it, and he has the undoubted right to select his own agents. I know that all good officers and soldiers will give him the same hearty support and cheerful obedience they have hitherto given me.”

The two men agreed that the reduction of Arkansas Post was now a high priority but that naval support had to be arranged. They sailed immediately to ask the cooperation of Rear Admiral David D. Porter, whose boats had remained at the mouth of the Yazoo. While Sherman had rescinded command in a professional manner the same cannot be said for McClernand’s meeting with the navy commander. The conference, held in Porter’s cabin aboard his flagship, got off to a rocky start. It was obvious from the very beginning that Porter had a dislike for McClernand. It got worse as the new Army commander began to get dismissive of Sherman. Porter’s cold and ungentlemanly treatment of the McClernand began to trouble Sherman. Finally when Porter insulted McClernand by stating that he would personally lead the navy contingent if Sherman was named commander of troops an appalled Sherman drew Porter aside. Porter remembered the exchange this way;

“My God, Porter” he exclaimed, “you will ruin yourself if you talk that way to McClernand; he is very intimate with the President, and has powerful influence.”

“I don’t care who or what he is, he shall not be rude to you in my cabin,” I replied.

“Did you understand my proposition General McClernand?” I inquired, on my return to the forward cabin — he was at that moment consulting a map which lay on the table.

“Yes,” said McClernand, “I understand it, and agree to it. There is no objection, I suppose, to my going along? ”

“None in the world,” I answered, “only be it understood that General Sherman is to command this army.

Under these tense circumstances the framework of the campaign was agreed upon. Porter would supply the requested gunboats if the army would supply towage. Porter he was short of coal and the heavy boats could not make way against the current using wood for fuel. McClernand had no objection to assisting the gunboats and a timetable was established. The troops were still embarked on the transports that brought them away from Chickasaw Bayou so there would be no delay. The convoy would leave on January 5th.

In a last slap at Sherman before their departure McClernand issued orders cutting ties to Grant by forming the “Army of the Mississippi” consisting of two corps as an independent command. Sherman would lead the XV Corps and BG George W. Morgan the XIII Corps. Morgan’s assignment to corps command almost certainly was meant to irritate Sherman, who openly blamed Morgan for the failure at Chickasaw Bayou. The growing hatred between the key leaders did not prevent the departure of the expedition.

Arkansas Post (Campaign Series)


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