Designated by Grant to front the expedition Sherman’s task to assemble the necessary resources for the strike at Vicksburg was complicated by several factors. The impending arrival of MG John McClernand left command of the expedition in doubt. McClernand, a political ally of the President, had been given command of any river operations against Vicksburg by a grateful President Lincoln for his recruiting efforts in the mid-west. Both Halleck and Grant were dismayed over the possibility of an independent command led by military newcomer McClernand and did all they could to stall his entry into theater. But McClernand’s recruiting efforts had been highly successful and he was growing antsy. He knew that he was being stonewalled and began to apply political pressure to get to his new command. Grant realized if he wanted to proceed without McClernand’s influence whatever was to be done needed to happen quickly. Sherman must prepare and begin the operation before his arrival. Time was short.
Also making Sherman’s task more difficult was the wide dispersal of troops designated for the effort. On December 12th he arrived in Memphis to find a portion of his command already in position. BG George Morgan with a 6,000 man division and BG A. J. Smith with an additional 8,000 man division were awaiting his arrival. The following day BG M. L. Smith’s division, detached from the Army of the Tennessee, arrived after a rapid march in light order from their position in front of the Tallahatchie River. The addition of Smith’s 7,000 men gave Sherman a total of 21,000 with only days left to organize the remaining troops for the projected start of operations. These troops had to be secured from Arkansas. These troops proved considerably more difficult to get a hold of. Tenuous communications and an uncooperative attitude by the commander across the river complicated matters. On December 12th an earlier Sherman message requesting 12,000 troops was replied to by BG Willis Gorman, the new commander of the Eastern District of Arkansas. A surprised and irritated Sherman was told that, by some confusion in the authorization, that only 7,000 troops would be available. Pressed for time Sherman reacted strongly jumping over Gorman’s head. He appealed to MG Samuel Curtis, commander of the Department of the Missouri, for assistance gaining the requested troops from a reluctant Gorman. He also asked Grant to make a request for Halleck to designate a specific number of troops to be given over to the expedition. Ultimately the pressure from Grant and Curtis persuaded Gorman to be more cooperative. Gorman dedicated 13,000 troops from his command to the operation. The movement was planned for the 18th.
With all the troops now in hand Sherman now had to secure transportation. Preliminary steps were taken immediately after the December 8th meeting with Grant in Oxford. Chief Quartermaster Allen received a telegraph from Sherman to begin procuring the necessary steamboats for the expedition. Assured that acquiring 60 transports, crews, stores (including axes to cut wood to make up for the shortage of coal), and fuel on such short notice was impossible Allen wired Halleck that the full allotment of vessels could not be made available before December 17th. Based on this promise Sherman issued orders to have the troops prepared to load on the 18th. This order had to be amended when low water delayed the arrival of the transport fleet until the 19th. Loading commenced early on December 20th in a mad scramble to make up for lost time.
The early boats, with Sherman, departed Memphis before noon for the Friars Landing assembly area where they would link up with the troops departing Helena. As the last boats were departing rumors of the Holly Spring raid were just arriving. In two cavalry raids, Van Dorn on the supply depot at Holly Springs and Forrest on the rail lines connecting Grant with Corinth, the Federal logistic systems were ruined. Grant would be forced to pull his men back to Tennessee or have them starved. Sherman’s supporting campaign was gone before his had even started, but as it turned out that would be the least of his problems.
*These well below strength divisions had been ordered to reinforce Grant from Kentucky by Halleck on November 5th. They were brought up to strength by the addition of the newly recruited regiments.Chickasaw Bayou (Campaign Series)
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