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Civil War Western Theater
Civil War Western Theater

The Battle of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson 

In an effort to gain control of rivers and supply lines west of the Appalachians, Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and Commodore Andrew Foote on February 4 and 5, 1862 launched an attack on the lightly defended Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in Tennessee.  After a fierce naval bombardment, Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman secretly evacuated the bulk of his troops to nearby Fort Donelson before surrendering to Union forces.Grant then moved the two brigades down the Tennessee River to Fort Henry from there he moved cross the narrow country between the two rivers (Tennessee River and Cumberland River) to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River and wait for Admiral Foote to steam up the Ohio River from Cairo Illinois with a fleet of gunboats to the Cumberland River where he picked up Union regiments and moved then up the Cumberland River to a landing just north of Fort Donelson on February 13. 

On February 12 General Smith's Second Division and General McClemand's First division had encircled the hills around Fort Donelson and the town of Dover.  Two brigades were position between Smith's 2nd Division and McClemand's 1st Division. That night the weather abruptly turned cold and it began to snow.

On the February 15 a Confederate attack broke through the Union right. McClemand’s First Division.  By 11 O'clock the Confederate held the road south of Dover and could escape south.  But instead the Confederates General Pillow thinking that Grant's whole army was defeated and fleeing in rout for Fort Henry order the Confederate army to attack.  General Wallace formed his brigade to block the Wynn's Ferry road.  The Confederates hit the  road block at full speed and rebounded like a rubber ball and fell back in confusion to their entrenchments. Grant then order General Smith to attack the Confederate right and General McClemand to retake the ground he had lost in the morning.  The whole line then moved forward simultaneously, and never stopped until the Confederates were within the works.  The next day General Pillow surrenders the confederate army. 

On the 16th General Lew Wallace moved his division to occupy  the Confederate Fort Donelson.  After Fort Donelson fell, Union troops moved up the Cumberland River to take Nashville. 

The Battle of Shiloh 

There were five divisions in Grant's Army of the Tennessee. General McClelland (1st Division) led the men he had commanded at Fort Donelson and Grand Gulf, Lew Wallace (3rd Division) had his old division from the battle of Fort Donelson,  Grand Gulf, C. Smith (2nd Division) was given to General W. H. Wallace. There were two new divisions one under General Hurlbut (4th Division) and another division under General Sherman (5th Division).    By March Grant had moved the Army of the Tennessee (40,000 men) down the Tennessee River by steamboat to Pittsburg landing, where he was to wait for the arrival of General Buell's Army of the Ohio (20,000 men). The lead units of Buell’s Army would finally arrive by the evening of April 6 all of Grant's army of the Tennessee was based at Pittsburg landing except General Lew Wallace Third Division which was stationed at Crump's landing about four miles upstream from Pittsburg landing.

Shiloh Battle map

 On the morning of April 6 the Confederate army (40,000 men) attacked the Union army at Pittsburg landing, know now as Shiloh.  The Confederate commanders, ignorant of the terrain and of their enemy's depositions were simply pushing their men blindly forward in a direct assault.  At about 8 o'clock as Grant passed Crump's landing he called out to Wallace to get his troop ready to move at a moment’s notice.  When Grant got to Pittsburg landing he sent word back to Wallace to bring his 7,000 men forward at once.  Wallace left a detachment to guard the public property at Crump's Landing and marched the rest of his division to Shiloh.  What happened in the next several hours to Lew Wallace at Shiloh has been one of the bewildering mysteries of the battle. Instead of taking the river road (five miles) to Pittsburg landing,  General Wallace took the road that would put them on the right of the Union army (twelve miles).  About seven miles from Crump’s landing Wallace was told to turn around and head back and take the river road. Therefore it was nearly dark before Wallace reach Pittsburg landing.  The Union army although its commanders had not expected to be attacked, just barely held on through first day.  Confederate Gen. Johnston was mortally wounded at about 2:30 p.m. as he led am attack.  Gen. Beauregard assumed command, but with his position in the rear he had only a vague idea of the disposition of forces at the front since Johnston and Beauregard had no unified battle plan.

Shiloh Battle map

By nightfall on April 6 the Confederate army was fought out. The next day instead of finishing off the Union army the Confederates were attacked by a Union army which had been reinforce by Buell's 20,000 men and Wallace's 7,000 men.  On the morning of April 7 the union counterattacked and drove the Confederate line back to the Purdy‑Hamburg road and around the Shiloh Church.  By the Night of April 7 the Confederate army had retreated to Corinth Miss.  General Halleck arrived at Pittsburg landing on the 11th of April and immediately assumed command of the army.  Corinth, Mississippi, lies in a south westerly direction from Pittsburg landing about 19 miles away.  The junction of the Mississippi and Chattanooga railroad with the Mobile and Ohio road is at Corinth which makes it a valuable strategic point for the enemy.

On April 11 Union Gen. Mitchel’s federal troops seized Huntsville, Alabama. With the fall of Huntsville the only railroad (Memphis and Charleston Railroad) between Georgia and Mississippi was now under Union control. On April 29th the Union army advanced on and laid siege to Corinth, Mississippi the city fell on May 30.  Corinth was a strategic point at the junction of two vital railroad lines, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.

 The Vicksburg Campaign 

On January 1863 Grant organized his army into four corps, XIII under General McClemand, XV under General Sherman, XVI under General Hurlbut, and XVII under General McPherson.   On April 25 Grant moved south on the west side of the Mississippi River. By moving west of the Mississippi river thought the Bayous, Grant came out on the Mississippi river just south of Vicksburg at Hard Times. Just across the Mississippi River were the Confederates batteries at Grand Gulf.  When Porter’s fleet passed Vicksburg’s batteries on April 16, Grant had the means in place to ferry his army across the Mississippi River. Grant originally intended to cross the Mississippi River at Grand Gulf, 25 miles south of Vicksburg.  But a strong Confederate fortification however, ended that possibility when Porter shelled them for hours with little success. 

Grant then moved south down the river on the Porter’s gunboats and crossed the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg on the east side of the, Mississippi River therefore bypassing the Grand Gulf batteries.  McClemand’s XIII Corps crossed the Mississippi River without incident and formed a defensive line a short distance inland from Grand Gulf.  McPherson XVII Corps was next segment of Grant’s Army to cross the river.  Sherman’s XV Corps was the last to cross Mississippi River.

Grant’s first objective was Port Gibson a small village witch was an important hub of roads leading to Vicksburg, Grand Gulf, and inland to Jackson.  By taking Port Gibson on May 1 Grant had outflanked Grand Gulf and forced its evacuation.  With the Confederates evacuated of Grand Gulf, Grant moved his base from Bruinsburg to Grand Gulf.  Grant began his march to Jackson, Mississippi.  McClemand’s Corps would take the lead on the right. McPherson's Corps would hug the south bank of the Big Black River.  When Sherman arrived he would follow and pass around and ahead of McClemand in the middle of the march somewhere around Cayuga.  McPherson bore to right toward Raymond. Grant's army now number about 43,000 men. McPherson's Corps 10,000 men now moved south then east though Utica making up the right of Grant's army.  Grant cut loose his supply link with the north and lived off the land.

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Late in the morning of May 12 McPherson's Corps neared Fourteen Mile Creek, two miles south of Raymond.  Confederate General Gregg with 3,000 troops,

thinking that this was a small force of Union troop advance across Fourteen Mile Creek to attack.  When the southern storm broke loose upon them, McPherson lay down a heavy fire into the right wing of the advancing Texans, slowing them to a standstill.  Gregg’s attack had taken McPherson by surprise.  Gregg decides to turn the right, not realizing the heavy woods and ravines hold several enemy brigades. With more reinforcements on the way, McPherson kept pouring in reinforcing. Gregg finally realizes he is heavily outnumbered.  The battle raged for two hours and at the end the surviving Confederates had fled the creek which was running red with blood. 

The tired but victorious Federal infantrymen then moved up the Utica road to Raymond.  After the battle of Raymond, Grant moved toward Jackson.  McPherson was ordered to cut the Vicksburg to Jackson railway line at Clinton then drive east into Jackson.  McPherson's Corps slashed though powering rain and mud to storm the city from the south and west on May 14.  From the west McPherson’s two divisions faced the city. McPherson worried the water would ruin his ammunition, he delayed his assault hoping the skies would clear.   General Johnston evacuated the capital of Jackson, leaving behind General Gregg and a small command to delay Grant’s entry into the city.  After a brief but sharp fight northwest of town, the divisions of Logan and Crocker drove the rebels, who fell back and retreated northward out of the city.  Sherman approached from below and penetrated the city’s southwestern defenses.

Battle of Champion Hill 

On the Morning of May 15 McClemand and McPherson left Jackson behind still in flames. Sherman’s corps remained in Jackson to destroy all military and public property beneficial to the Confederacy.   Champion Hill is a considerable eminence about a mile across from east to west.  It is steep and its sides are roughened by knobs, gullies by ravine and covered with forest. Low, flat land encircles the north and west faces. By 10:30 General McPherson deployed his Corp in the fields near Champion hill. The Confederate high upon the hill began firing down on the men.  General McPherson advanced south into the timber and up the slope, and took position in a ravine parallel with a ravine in which the Confederate had halted.  As the Confederate reformed brigade attacked and drove deep into the woods and slammed into Union General Smith surprised regiments knocking them rearward. A bloody but brief close quarter fight followed.  Nearly surrounded, Barton’s Georgia was unable to hold and fell back.  At sun down, the Confederate army moved west towards Vicksburg.  In the battle Grant lost 2,441 men killed, wounded or missing where the Confederate lost 3,840 men.  After the battle the Confederate retreated across the Big Black River and into the fortifications of Vicksburg.  Confederate General Pemberton could put only 18,500 troops in his lines. Grant had over 35,000, with more on the way. However, Pemberton had the advantage of terrain and fortifications that made his defense nearly impregnable.

Battle of Vicksburg  

 The defensive line around Vicksburg ran approximately 6.5 miles, based on terrain of varying elevations that included hills and knobs with steep angles for an attacker to ascend under fire.  The perimeter included many gun pits, forts, trenches and redoubts. Grant wanted to overwhelm the Confederates before they could fully organize their defenses and ordered an immediate assault against Vicksburg for May 19. Troops from Sherman's corps had a difficult time approaching the position under rifle and artillery fire and had to negotiate a steep ravine protected by a ditch before attacking the 17-foot-high (5.2 m) walls of the redan. This first attempt was easily repulsed. Grant ordered an artillery bombardment to soften the defenses.  Sherman's tried again, but only a small number of men were able to advance even as far as the ditch below the redan. The assault collapsed in a melee of rifle fire and hand grenades lobbing back and forth.

The failed Federal assaults of May 19 damaged Union morale, deflating the confidence the soldiers after their string of victories across Mississippi. They were also costly, with casualties of 157 killed, 777 wounded, and 8 missing, versus Confederate casualties of 8 killed and 62 wounded. The Confederates, assumed to be demoralized, had regained their fighting edge.

Grant planned another assault for May 22, but this time with greater care; they would first reconnoiter thoroughly and soften up the defenses with artillery and naval gunfire. The lead units were supplied with ladders to ascend the fortification walls. Grant did not want a long siege, and this attack was to be by the entire army across a wide front.   Despite their bloody repulse on May 19, Union troops were in high spirits, now well-fed with provisions they had foraged. Everyone expected that Vicksburg would fall the next day.

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Union forces bombarded the city all night, from 220 artillery pieces and naval gunfire from Rear Adm. David D. Porter's fleet in the river, and while causing little property damage, they damaged Confederate civilian morale. On the morning of May 22, the defenders were bombarded again for four hours before the Union attacked once more along a three-mile front at 10 am.   By 11 am, it was clear that a breakthrough was not forthcoming and the advances by Sherman and McPherson were failures. Grant reluctantly settled into a siege.  On May 25, Federal troops began to dig in, constructing elaborate entrenchments (the soldiers of the time referred to them as "ditches") that surrounded the city and moved closer and closer to the Confederate fortifications.  With their backs against the Mississippi and Union gunboats firing from the river, Confederate soldiers and citizens alike were trapped. Confederate General Pemberton was determined to hold his few miles of the Mississippi as long as possible, hoping for relief from Johnston.

Grant's army began to fill the 12-mile ring around Vicksburg. In short time it became clear that even 50,000 Union soldiers would not be able to effect a complete encirclement of the Confederate defenses.  Pemberton's outlook on escape was pessimistic, but there were still roads leading south out of Vicksburg unguarded by Federal troops.  Gen. Halleck quickly began to shift Union troops in the West to meet Grant's needs. On June 14 Grant had 77,000 men around Vicksburg.

During the siege, Union gunboats lobbed over 22,000 shells into the town and army artillery fire was even heavier. As the barrages continued, suitable housing in Vicksburg was reduced to a minimum. A ridge, located between the main town and the rebel defense line, provided a diverse citizenry with lodging for the duration. Over 500 caves, known locally as "bombproofs," were dug into the yellow clay hills of Vicksburg.  Whether houses were structurally sound or not, it was deemed safer to occupy these dugouts. People did their best to make them comfortable, with rugs, furniture, and pictures. They tried to time their movements and foraging with the rhythm of the cannonade, sometimes unsuccessfully. Because of the citizens' burrowing, the Union soldiers gave the town the nickname of "Prairie Dog Village." Despite the ferocity of the Union fire against the town, fewer than a dozen civilians were known to have been killed during the entire siege.

In addition to Pemberton at his front, Grant had to be concerned with Confederate forces in his rear under the command of Joseph E. Johnston.  Grant stationed one division in the vicinity of the Big Black River Bridge and another reconnoitered as far north as Mechanicsburg, both to act as a covering force. On July 3, Pemberton sent a note to Grant regarding the possibility of negotiations for peace. Grant, as he had done at Fort Donelson, first demanded unconditional surrender.  But Grant reconsidered, not wanting to feed 30,000 hungry Confederates in Union prison camps, and offered to parole all prisoners. Considering their destitute state, dejected and starving, he never expected them to fight again; he hoped they would carry home the stigma of defeat to the rest of the Confederacy.  In any event, it would have occupied his army and taken months to ship that many prisoners north.  Pemberton officially surrendered his army on July 4, 1863. This is the same day that Confederates General Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg.

Chattanooga Campaign (August-September 1863) 

The major objective of Major General William Rosecrans' Federal Army of the Cumberland was to keep control of the roads heading southward. One of these went through Chattanooga. In the meantime, General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee was determined to block the Federal Army from Chattanooga. The first battle of the campaign took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

On August 16, 1863, Major General Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, launched a campaign to take Chattanooga, Tennessee. Rosecrans marched to a location northeast of Chattanooga where the Confederates could see them.  General Braxton Bragg’s expectations a Union attack on the town from that direction.  On August 21st, Union troop reached the Tennessee River opposite Chattanooga and begin shelling the town. The shelling helped keep Bragg's attention to the northeast while the bulk of Rosecrans' army crossed the Tennessee River well west and south of Chattanooga. When Bragg learned on September 8th that the Union army was in force southwest of the city, he abandoned Chattanooga. 

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Battle of Chickamauga 1863 

Eluding his Federal pursuers, General Bragg concentrated his forces at La Fayette, Georgia, some 26 miles south of Chattanooga. Here, reinforcements swelled his ranks to more than 66,000 men. Twice, General Braxton Bragg unsuccessfully tried to destroy segments of General Rosecrans’ army. Then, on September 18, 1863, hoping to wedge his troops between the Federals he posted his army on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek. On the morning of September 18, 1863, three advanced brigades of Confederate General James Longstreet’s Corps from Virginia arrived at Ringgold, Georgia. Union cavalry guarding the bridges, offered stout resistance and delayed the crossing of the southern troops for several hours. The Confederates used other fords and crossings throughout the late afternoon and night as all of forces, except three divisions, crossed to the west side of Chickamauga Creek. The Union forces were not idle, and during the night, General Rosecrans moved Thomas’ corps northeastward above and back of Crittenden, so that General Bragg would not outflank the Federal line. The situation at dawn on the 19th found the two armies facing each other over a stretch of several miles along the banks of Chickamauga Creek. Rosecrans had been able in a short time to maneuver the Army of the Cumberland into position so that it interposed between General Bragg and Chattanooga. His Reserve Corps under General Granger was at McAfee’s Church, near Rossville, Georgia. Thomas’ Fourteenth Army Corps composed the Union’s left a few miles south of Granger, and formed a southwesterly line to Crawfish Spring where it joined McCook, forming the right in McLemore’s Cove. Crittenden’s 21st Army Corps remained concentrated at Lee and Gordon’s Mills, somewhat in front of the other two corps, to protect the Union. Early in the morning of September 19, Union infantry moved forward to reconnoiter the Confederate forces and accidentally ran into some of Confederate cavalry, which were dismounted and serving as infantry near Chickamauga Creek. And so the battle began. Suddenly, the commanding generals realized that a major conflict was upon them, and they hurriedly sent troops into the fight as first one side and then the other gained the upper hand. Union General Rosecrans by rapid and forced marches brought up his troops. Confederate General Bragg ordered his left wing divisions to cross to the west side of Chickamauga Creek. By mid-afternoon major fighting had spread along a jagged line some three miles in length. Most Union divisions became involved. The Confederate troops were also largely engaged. When the battle ended for the day, little progress could be shown. Neither side could claim a victory. Bragg had failed to crush the Union left, and General Rosecrans remained in possession of the roads to Chattanooga. The losses on both sides were heavy. As night fell and darkness settled over the battlefield the fighting stopped, but, there was little rest for the weary soldiers.  Rosecrans brought the Army of the Cumberland into a more compact defensive line. Throughout the night the Confederates heard the ring of axes as the Union troops cut trees and logs to form breastworks. During the night, Confederate General James Longstreet arrived with two more brigades ready for action. General Bragg then decided to form the Army of Tennessee into two wings for offensive action the next day. He placed Lieutenant General Leonidas in command of the right wing and General Longstreet, the left. The Confederate Army was facing west between Chickamauga Creek. On September 20th, Confederate General Bragg again tried to drive between the Union force and Chattanooga, but failed to dislodge Major General Rosecrans‘ line. Longstreet advanced with his two brigades around 11:30 am. In a stroke of luck for the Confederates, the advance occurred just at the point when Rosecrans was shifting his troops. As a result, the rebels were able to burst through a gap in the Federal lines and send the Union troops into a chaotic retreat north towards Chattanooga. General George H. Thomas took command of the remaining Federals and formed a new battle line on Snodgrass Hill. Here, his men held their ground against repeated assaults. After dark, Thomas’ forces withdrew from the field to the defenses of Chattanooga. The Confederates pursued and besieged the city. By placing artillery on the heights overlooking the river and blocking the roads and rail lines, the Southerners prevented Federal supplies from entering the city.

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Aware of General Rosecrans’ plight, Union authorities in Washington ordered reinforcements to his relief. General Joseph Hooker came from Virginia late in October and General William T. Sherman brought reinforcements from Mississippi in mid November. Thomas replaced Rosecrans as head of Army of the Cumberland and General Ulysses S. Grant assumed overall command. Within days of Grant’s arrival in October, the situation began to change dramatically. Federal troops opened a supply route, nicknamed the “Cracker Line,” from Bridgeport, Alabama. On the 24th, aided by a heavy fog that enshrouded the slopes of Lookout Mountain, Union’s soldiers pushed the Confederates out of their defenses on Lookout Mountain. On November 25, with most of General Bragg’s army now concentrated on Missionary Ridge. General Ulysses S. Grant launched General Sherman’s troops against the Confederate right flank, and sent Hooker’s men from Lookout Mountain to attack the Confederate left. It was at the center that the Union achieved its greatest success. The soldiers on both sides received confusing orders. Some Union troops thought they were only supposed to take the rifle pits at the base of the ridge, while others understood that they were to advance to the top. Some of the Confederates heard that they were to hold the pits, while others thought they were to retreat to the top of Missionary Ridge. Furthermore, poor placement of Confederate trenches on the top of the ridge made it difficult to fire at the advancing Union troops without hitting their own men, who were retreating from the rifle pits. The result was that the attack on the Confederate center turned into a major Union victory. After the center collapsed, the Confederate troops retreated on November 26 and Bragg pulled his troops away from Chattanooga. He resigned shortly thereafter, having lost the confidence of his army. The Union suffered an estimated 5,800 casualties during the Battle of Chattanooga, while the Confederates’ casualties numbered around 6,600. Grant missed an opportunity to destroy the Confederate army when he chose not to pursue the retreating Rebels, but Chattanooga was secured. Sherman resumed the attack in the spring after Grant was promoted to general in chief of all Federal forces. Sherman’s troops captured Atlanta in early September 1864 and in November embarked on the so-called March to the Sea, which concluded with the occupation of the port of Savannah in late December. 

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