2xTLIAW: Grant Killed at Fort Donelson

Introduction / PoD
We all agree, by virtue of being on this site in the first place, that the study of alternate history is not only fun, but that usually ATLs exist for a reason. If we exclude neo-insert-dead-political-view-here TLs, what is left is mainly shining a light on OTL so it can be better understood. This is epitomized by Civil War TLs especially.

What follows is a pair of TLs, with exactly the same PoD, and a striking sense of how parallel they progress. Or at least how antiparallel they progress (a real physics word by the way). Each new post will advance time in each TL, covering key events as they diverge both from OTL and from each other. The TLs, which for lack of a better name we will call timeline U and timeline C, both have their PoD on February 15th, 1862 at the Battle of Fort Donelson. Timeline U leads to a slightly but substantially quicker end to the Civil War with a decisive Union victory and a new cast of main characters. Timeline C leads to an independent Confederacy, also with a new cast of main characters.

Along the way, the timelines will explore a number of hotly-debated questions in Civil War studies among the amateur historian community. Where does Ulysses Grant fall along the spectrum of generals? Competent? Excellent? War-winningly irreplaceable? How about William Tecumseh Sherman, considering that his rise to high command was almost solely directed by Grant? Of the OTL supporting class and those killed before their time, who plausibly could rise to a higher challenge? How inevitable was Union victory in the western theatre? Considering their brown-water naval dominance, how much territory are they bound to take, and how much away from the rivers could the Confederacy have held on to? Exactly how many butterflies would have to flap in the south’s favor for them to actually win? If the PoD is early enough, would these flaps stay within the realm of ‘plausible’, or were demographics, industry, personnel, and geography stacked too much against them?

Of course, I freely admit to not answering any of these questions, given the 2 parallel timelines going to both sides of the spectrum on each one. And of course I have my own biases. So feel free to critique either or both TLs as they progress – I will try to respond to all comments and may even go back and change details for the sake of plausibility. But know that there is a roadmap to each TL from the beginning.


Introduction: The PoD

Midday, Sunday February 15, 1862

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant was mentally cursing himself as he galloped toward the right flank of his army. Cursing himself for giving in to the wounded Andrew Foote’s insistence that they meet that morning in person, rather than via an exchange of messengers. Cursing himself for not specifying an official second-in-command in his absence – who naturally would be the senior division commander Charles Ferguson Smith, his mentor-slash-subordinate. Mostly, cursing himself for mistakenly supposing that his opposing number, the Confederate commander Gideon Pillow, would remain supine inside his lines around Fort Donelson, as he had for the last three days.

As a result of these actions, along with heroic efforts by the common Rebel soldiers and a less-than-heroic defense by right-wing commander John McClernand, that division was now in tatters and the Union siege line around the fort was broken. The Confederates were now well past the Forge Road, their potential escape route from the Union’s tightening net around the fort. They were also concentrated and astride Wynn’s Ferry Road, which was the only plausible axis for any Union counter-attack. And while the Rebels had taken some casualties and were clearly disorganized by their victory, the situation was much worse in the Federal lines.

But contemplating the battlefield now, even as things verged towards disaster, all was far from lost. The Confederate attack had stopped, for reasons still to be determined, giving Union commanders time to reorganize their lines and get their men back in ranks. Grant knew that if the Rebels had concentrated so many troops on their left (his right) to make their attack, they had to be weak on their right (his left) nearer the fort. He had already ordered Smith to get his division in order and be in readiness to attack. That attack would surely force Pillow to divert some of his troops over to that flank, and might even take the fort outright. Either way, it would give Grant’s other two divisions, McClernand’s reorganizing men and Lew Wallace’s command in the center, an opening to counterattack on the right.

So all that remained for him to do, therefore, was to exercise some personal control over the right wing, get McClernand playing along, shift a few supporting brigades as needed, and this battle was still wide open.


From [an ATL] biography of General Lew Wallace

By the time Grant reached the right wing any trace of panic or even of worry on his face was gone. He rode up to a gathering centered around Wallace and McClernand, talking things over a little behind the buckled right-center of the Union line. The politician, perhaps still rattled by his division’s performance, let his feelings out with an angry growl.

“This army wants a head.”

Grant gave his subordinate a sharp look, but his reply was mildly stated.

“It seems so.”

Wallace’s men remained in good order, some brigades still uncommitted to the action, while others were forming a scratch line for McClernand’s men to rally upon. However, as related earlier, the Confederate attack had halted as Pillow had already ordered his men back practically to their jumping off points against the shocked protests of just about all of his subordinates. So far Brown’s brigade of Buckner’s division represented the high-water mark of the breakout attempt, and their advance was cleanly stopped by Thayer’s brigade atop Wynn’s Ferry Road.

It was at this time that Grant had ridden up. Conversations between him, Wallace, and McClernand quickly established the extent of the Union pullback so far, as well as possible lines to hold. Nearby, common soldiers were conversing as well, and the generals overheard. The troops remarked that the Confederate troops came out from their fortifications with knapsacks on, and haversacks full of rations. From this it could be deduced that they meant to stay outside of their fortifications for some time. And from this, along with their chosen point of attack and more recent pullback, it could be concluded that a breakout attempt was underway but had been halted if not abandoned entirely.

Wallace looked at his commander. His face betrayed almost no emotion, except the slightest gleam in his eye of the opportunity at hand. In his ordinary, quiet voice, Grant said,

“Gentlemen, the position on the right must be retaken.”

No sooner were the words fully out of his mouth then the crack of a bullet registered in the ears of those gathered. Wallace flinched, quite involuntarily, from its close passing, the whiz and the disturbance in the air. McClernand reacted similarly. A moment later there was a flurry of gunfire from the Union line, replying to what turned out to be a Confederate sharpshooter aiming at this gathering of general officers far behind the Yankee’s main line. Wallace turned his head back to the gathering, only to see an empty saddle directly in front of him.

Ulysses S. Grant lay on the ground, his face frozen in quiet surprise and with nary a trace of pain. The bullet had found its mark, and blood poured from the general’s head. In a stroke, an army commander was dead, and on this bullet the course of the whole war would turn.
Great concept. I've been toying with an outline for two parallel timelines centered on New York this summer. Sounds like you know what you're about.

I do notice you make some assumptions of Grant's internal monologue. A bit striking to focus on a character famous for essentially never cursing, and have him (mentally) cursing in the first four sentences one after another.

Looking forward.
Timeline U leads to a slightly but substantially quicker end to the Civil War with a decisive Union victory and a new cast of main characters. Timeline C leads to an independent Confederacy, also with a new cast of main characters.
Obviously, knock-ons can't lead to divergent outcomes, so there have to be butterflies.
Great concept. I've been toying with an outline for two parallel timelines centered on New York this summer. Sounds like you know what you're about.

I do notice you make some assumptions of Grant's internal monologue. A bit striking to focus on a character famous for essentially never cursing, and have him (mentally) cursing in the first four sentences one after another.

Looking forward.
Thank you! I haven't really seen the concept either, and we'll see exactly for how long the parallelism remains. I have ideas but will bow to how the stories unfold to some extent.

Fair point about Grant. I may change the wording, but I always took "mental cursing", especially of one's self, to be more mental berating and with no need for actual obscenities.
Obviously, knock-ons can't lead to divergent outcomes, so there have to be butterflies.
Butterflies from each other in addition to from OTL, yes. You will see that very shortly when I post chapter 1 later today.
I've never seen this style of TL before, and I look forward to see how you bring it into motion. I will be watching.
Many thanks indeed! And don't worry - [spoilers]Timeline U will definitely have a big role for Thomas to play. I know what's up.[/spoilers]
Part 1: Fort Donelson
Part 1: Fort Donelson
Or: The case for and against Gideon Pillow being the best Union general in the entire war.​


Timeline U: Midday, February 15, 1862

Word of Grant’s death spread quickly down the Union line, and to the ears of the left-wing division commander Charles Ferguson Smith. Fifty-four years old and a former commandant at West Point when Grant had been a cadet, Smith proved to be the right man for the moment. Grant’s final orders to Smith had been to have his command ready to attack the western (right) flank of Fort Donelson’s defensive line at a moment’s notice, and the need to contain the mass of Rebels on the eastern (left) flank was obvious. Putting this together with the recent Confederate pullback, gave Smith a good enough view of the battle to take over, and with purpose.

Smith put Grant’s plan into action. The Union left wing would pin the Rebels by attacking the fort directly, while the right wing would reorganize quickly and move to re-close the Forge Road. Noting that McClernand’s troops were disorganized and still rallying after their morning’s drubbing, he used that as a reason (or possibly just as an excuse) to turn official command of the Union’s right-flank counterattack over to Lew Wallace. His men, after all, would be leading the charge. Meanwhile Smith would remain with his own division on the left and go straight for the fort. His part of the attack was in motion by about 2:30 that afternoon.

Behind Confederate lines, meanwhile, Pillow was feeling satisfied with the morning’s battle, content to have thrown the Yankee forces off of the Forge Road and confident that they could not rally in any amount enough to mount a counterattack. His own men, he felt, were tired and disorganized from the morning’s fight (true as far as it went), and that they could safely withdraw to their starting lines to gather their supplies, reform, and be ready to evacuate that night. After varying reactions of disbelief, anger, and dumbfounded acceptance, his subordinates fell into line.

So he was quite surprised when Smith launched his attack on the Confederate main line. This line was, in fact, severely denuded to supply men for the morning’s attack, and Smith’s division swept aside the skeleton force holding the first line of entrenchments. The Rebels fled backwards through their encampments and starting reforming on the next ridge line in. Smith kept up the pursuit closely, leading his men from the front, and not letting the attack slow down. Famously he called out to the men of Lauman’s brigade: “Come on, you volunteers, come on! This is your chance. You volunteered to be killed, and now you can be.”

Support for the Confederate defenders did arrive, too late to hold the main line. Elements of Simon Bolivar Buckner’s division marched quickly to the far flank, trying to hold the fallback position. The men were weary after the morning’s fight, and their spirits were low after withdrawing for no good reason. But they arrived in enough numbers to blunt Smith’s attack, and the ground was irregular, wooded, and hilly. It favored the defense, and ultimately Buckner’s men held the line until nightfall.

Meanwhile, Wallace’s division led the counterattack to the southeast of Wynn’s Ferry Road. They assaulted the lone Confederates left at the high point of their advance – Drake’s infantry brigade supported by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. The Rebels put up a stout defense, but between standing orders to return to their entrenchments as well as many of their morning supports being diverted to stop Smith’s attack, they stood no chance in the long run. Wallace had the numerical advantage and this only increased as he threw in more and more brigades throughout the afternoon. Forrest, plus scattered other units from Bushrod Johnson’s division, prevented a Confederate retreat from becoming a rout, but by nightfall they had been pushed back practically to their morning’s jumping-off point.

Word of Grant’s death reached the ears of the Southern commanders by mid-afternoon. But by that time both wings of the Union’s attack had gone in and it was clear that whoever had taken over for him was pressing things hard. In later reports Pillow made it sound like he would not have retreated had he known of Grant’s death, though overall commander John Floyd disputed this. Both men, of course, had political reputations to protect. Buckner, free to speak the truth, was non-committal in his post-war writings.

Regardless, by nightfall the Rebels were back inside their fortifications. Men in the ranks clearly expected to resume fighting at dawn. But their commanders had other ideas. Scouting information of the Union’s position was inconclusive, with Forrest claiming that the Forge Road remained open for an escape and that he had scouted it personally. Pillow, and the other commanders to be fair, credited other scouts’ reports that the road had been closed by Union troops. Battle reports and journals from the Union side makes clear that their lead units were apparently astride the road but not in great numbers or organization. They would probably not be able to resist an organized breakout attempt, especially if led by Forrest’s cavalry and adding in the inherent confusion in a night battle to psychologically multiply the Rebel numbers.

Whatever the case, the Confederate commanders ultimately agreed that their breakout attempt had failed and that further resistance was pointless. Fearing repercussions to their persons (them having both held high political office in the Federal Government pre-war), Pillow and Floyd both abdicated command, fleeing on a few river boats and with the Virginia troops of Floyd’s brigade. Forrest led his cavalry and whatever infantry units wanted to join him – perhaps a thousand men in all – on a successful breakout attempt across swampy ground along the riverbank and made their escape cleanly. This left Buckner as the ranking officer to surrender Fort Donelson and the large majority of her defenders.

Buckner let some time pass while these escapes were made. More time was lost actually getting a messenger through the lines. But in the pre-dawn darkness of February 16, Buckner’s note asking for terms reached Smith’s headquarters at the Crisp farmhouse – Grant’s headquarters less than a day ago. Smith’s reaction to the note was pointed. “No terms to the damned rebels! Either surrender or we resume the attack at once.” Buckner was furious at this reply, but had no choice but to go through with the capitulation.


Timeline C: Midday, February 15, 1862

The commotion among the gathering of Union generals immediately after Grant’s shooting was immense. Word of Grant’s death spread quickly down the Union line, but with a lull in the fighting along Wynn’s Ferry Road while the Confederates pulled back, it also reached the ears of at least a few common soldiers in John C. Brown’s largely Tennessee brigade. Brown made sure that this news was passed up the line to Floyd and Pillow in short order.

The time was somewhere between 1 and 2 in the afternoon. Not knowing of Grant’s earlier absence conversing with Flag Officer Foote, Pillow naturally assumed that the Confederate victory up to this point was gained against Grant commanding in person. So with his fall, it followed that the Yankees must be thrown into horrible command confusion now. This gave the Confederates time to use how they saw fit.

Pillow was at first inclined to double-down on his retreat orders, so that his men could gather their supplies in peace and rest before nightfall. There was no way the Union would counterattack at all today, thus no real presence on the Forge Road was needed.

Floyd, however, put his foot down. He had been against giving up the morning’s ground in the first place. But he also was very nervous, much more even than Pillow, about the chance of his falling prisoner to the Yankees. Floyd wanted to take no chances. Since the Northerners were clearly not about to attack today, they would not attack that evening either. Thus the Confederates had time either now or then to gather their supplies – why give up their escape route for no reason? Besides the small risk of some local Union commander attacking without higher direction to muddy up the works, a retreat would dishearten their own men for no reason (Floyd clearly not thinking about the bigger-picture retreat this paved the way for). Besides, according to the division commanders Buckner and Johnson, most of their men already had their knapsacks packed and ready to go.

Pillow, irresolute, gave in to Floyd’s view and countermanded his retreat order. Brigades turned around in mid-march and headed back to the front line, currently held only by Drake’s infantry and Forrest’s cavalry. Their support arrived not a moment too soon.

Because while all of this was going on, on the Union side command passed smoothly to Charles Smith, and he knew enough of the land and of Grant’s plans to counterattack. Not long after 2 o’clock, Smith personally led the Union left wing against the skeleton force the Confederates had left behind to man the works right around Fort Donelson. Within half an hour of that, Lew Wallace directed his own and McClernand’s divisions to counterattack over the morning’s battlefield and re-close the Forge Road.

Smith’s attack went well, easily brushing aside the initial Confederate defenders. In the rugged terrain they retreated through their camps and reformed on the next ridgeline, and supporting brigades of Buckner’s division arrived. Smith pushed hard but the Confederate right held.

To the east, Union and Confederate brigades collided on and around Wynn’s Ferry Road, with Wallace forwarding new troops into the attack while Johnson’s brigades, not yet re-formed in their advanced defensive line, collided with them in mid-march. With troops pouring in from awkward angles and terrain limiting good visibility for both sides, the afternoon battle was a confusing mess. Rebel artillery slowed Wallace’s attack on his left, and Forrest’s cavalry was an ever-present thorn on his right. The Union’s initial punch was strong enough to start pushing the Confederates back, and by nightfall the melee neared the Forge Road. With some of Buckner’s supporting brigades pulled back to deal with Smith’s attack, the Union had the advantage of numbers. But with not all of McClernand’s troops having rallied in good enough order to join the attack, this advantage was only a small one. Forrest remained strong on the far flank, while Buckner’s artillery did remain opposite Wallace instead of Smith, and with these flanks secured the Confederates maintained a patchwork line between the two until nightfall. At closest point they were only a few yards in advance of the Forge Road. Their disorganization was immense and their casualty list was long. But the escape route remained open.

Pillow was surely breathing deep sighs of relief that evening. His mismanagement had almost led to the Confederates’ full encirclement, which would only lead to their surrender. At least that fate was avoided.

Smith, meanwhile, disappointedly called off the attacks with the arrival of full darkness. He had pushed the Rebels back all across the line, but not far enough to either reach the fort or close the Forge Road. He contemplated continuing the action into the night, with Wallace and McClernand pressing the attack against the road. But a discussion with those generals convinced him otherwise. Their men were utterly exhausted, with many out of ammunition. Plenty were casualties on the field from a full day of fighting, and plenty more were missing, having routed in McClernand’s initial retreat and not yet returned to their ranks. The disorganization of those who were left precluded any organized attack without at least a pause. Surely the Rebels were in just as bad shape or worse, but with no fresh troops to spearhead a new attack, nothing could be done. Walking away from the general’s meeting, Smith muttered “Damn the Rebels! They’ll get away clean yet.”

That is precisely what Pillow, Floyd, and their men tried to do. The night march along Forge Road was a long one indeed. The men were exhausted and many stragglers were left behind. Also abandoned was the fort’s heavy artillery and some of their crew, plus many supplies that could neither be carried out nor burned in time. Several hundred men would surrender to the Yankees the next morning, and some hundreds more were picked up along the road throughout the day of the 16th during Smith’s pursuit. After that Forrest’s cavalry was shifted to rear-guard, and after giving the Union pursuers a bloody nose or two, Smith finally let up. The Confederates avoided outright capitulation at Fort Donelson, but that is just about all that can be said for them.
Part 1.5: After Fort Donelson
Part 1.5: After Fort Donelson
Or: Gosh, the North really had a lot of generals who could organize, equip, and train an army, but not lead it. Amiright?​


Timeline U: February 16, 1862

The situation confronting Albert Sydney Johnston, commander of the Confederacy’s Department #2, was a grim one. He had been trying to hold a long defensive line meandering north of the Kentucky-Tennessee border with, honestly, too few troops to do the job. That much was not his fault, but putting Floyd in command of the forces holding Fort Donelson, with Pillow as his second-in-command, certainly was. On the other hand, the senior-most alternate choice would have been the bishop general, Leonidas Polk. Decision, decisions….

Anyway, all moot now. The fort had fallen, along with something over 10,000 surrendered troops. That, coupled with last month’s loss at Mill Springs in eastern Kentucky, utterly shattered Johnston’s line. The main part of his army that was left, at Bowling Green, was now in a huge salient and could not remain in place for long. At minimum it must be pulled back to Nashville, and immediately.

Considering the situation a bit more, however, Nashville wasn’t really any more defensible than Bowling Green was. With Fort Donelson having fallen, Union ironclad gunboats now had free reign of the Cumberland River, as they already did on the Tennessee. They could steam right into the city, seemingly, with nothing the Confederacy could do about it. Meanwhile, Smith’s advancing divisions could now link up almost at will with another Union force under Don Carlos Buell. Either one on its own outnumbered the forces Johnston had personal command of – against them combined, his men had no chance. The only way to fix this would be to consolidate with Polk’s forces, currently holding Columbus on the Mississippi River, but Union gunboats on the Tennessee were already destroying the direct rail lines linking Polk to Nashville.

The only way for them to link up would be at a point farther south. Johnston took some time to finalize a location – at first retiring his own men only to Murfreesboro and letting Polk choose his own method of withdrawal – but eventually settling on the rail junction at Corinth, Mississippi. Meanwhile, Nashville was evacuated of everything of possible military use for the Confederacy, taking several days. Forrest was placed in command of the rearguard again, and stayed in the city for at least two days longer than his orders technically allowed in order to get out as many supplies as possible. Even with this, some things had to be burned and some artillery abandoned – and a few sick and wounded soldiers left behind – before the city was completely evacuated on Sunday February 23rd.

Even dragged out as long as it was, this proved to be 4 days quicker than the Confederates needed to be. Buell’s lead elements did not reach the north bank of the Cumberland River until the 27th. This can be attributed mostly to Buell’s maddeningly slow pace, but partially to the relationships among the Union’s high western commanders after Fort Donelson.

Grant’s (now Smith’s) three division attack on the Fort fell within the Department of the Mississippi under the command of Henry Halleck. Advancing any farther southeast than the fort, however, would enter Buell’s Department of the Ohio. Major General Halleck ranked Brigadier General Buell, but Buell was a protégé of George McClellan. This mattered for as long as McClellan remained in charge of the whole Union war effort – in other words, for not much longer once Lincoln’s impatience with McClellan in Virginia reached the tipping point – but it mattered for now. Buell was so slow to move on Bowling Green, let alone any farther, that ultimately one of his own division commanders, William “Bull” Nelson, advanced and took Nashville practically against orders. Private correspondence shows that his excuse for exceeding orders was a semi-intentional misreading of a message sent by Halleck.

Halleck tried to take as much credit for the fall of Fort Donelson as possible. Privately, Halleck had thought that Grant was a dangerous commander, attacking whether an attack was called for or not, slow to respond to orders or give status updates, and very possibly still a drunkard. In death, however, he became a heroic martyr for the cause, whose campaign (sanctioned and directed by Halleck, naturally) led to the glorious victory that the much safer Smith carried out, but with Smith being a more junior brigadier that left Halleck with a plausible case, in the public’s eye at least, of getting the credit.

Furthermore, Halleck had been trying to replace Grant for a long time before the campaign began, in particular trying to get a promotion and a field command for Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Halleck thought that Smith, having not nearly so shaky a past as Grant, nor any eye on political glory, and having proven himself in the field at Donelson, was an acceptable alternative for now. As plans to send Hitchcock west faltered (he ended up in a high-placed desk job in Washington), that left Smith in field command with Halleck ready to appear in person and take over whenever he felt like it. But he would try to direct things from his own desk back in St. Louis for as long as possible.

This direction consisted, ultimately and over the course of more than a month, of having Smith lead the Army of the Mississippi down the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing. Supplies came safely via the river and the ironclad gunboats ranged at will. Newly trained Federal troops were forwarded to camps around the landing and organized into new divisions. Smith occupied his time with drilling his men and maintain sanitation in the expanding camps. While he ordered patrols and pickets sent south as a guard for the camps, these became rather lax as the weeks passed. Meanwhile, Buell left a garrison in Nashville and began marching at a very measured pace to join Smith at Pittsburg Landing. Halleck decided to only go to the field himself once the two armies were joined.

It is interesting to consider, as a counterfactual, what may have happened had Halleck been forced to go in person earlier, in the event of something happening to Charles Smith. Like, say, just picking a random example, Smith jumping into a rowboat and landing awkwardly, injuring his leg, which becomes infected, and ultimately leads to his death in late April.


Timeline C: February 16, 1862

To hear Halleck tell it, at least in private correspondence, the Fort Henry – Fort Donelson battles had been a campaign without a victor. Nevermind that the Union now controlled both positions. Nevermind that their ironclad gunboats roamed the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers at will. Nevermind the cannons and supplies the Confederates had abandoned. Pillow’s army had fought the Federals to a standstill, then retired on their own terms, and that was all that mattered.

Frankly Halleck had been worried about Grant advancing past Fort Henry in the first place, and had daily been expecting disaster. Luckily, Smith had saved his army from destruction, at least according to Halleck’s telling. Grant was dead (a fallen soldier, to be buried with full honors, natch), and his recklessness could hurt Halleck’s plans no more. The solid and capable Smith would actually obey his orders.

Of course, in point of fact, even with Pillow’s escape, the campaign was a resounding Union victory, and the public interpreted it as such. So, fortunately, did President Lincoln and most of the rest of Union high command. Halleck and Smith were given some public plaudits while they reorganized their force, and Buell was ordered to advanced on a recently abandoned Nashville.

For this fact – that the campaign was a great Union success – was just as apparent to A. S. Johnston and his forces at Bowling Green. Pillow’s weary column trudged into Nashville, with the common soldiers recognizing only that they had fought well and been ordered to retreat, and had lost many a good friend in the process. Feelings against high command were rather ugly. Johnston, who must have reflected on his own judgment in placing Pillow and Floyd in command in the first place, nonetheless understood their position. Backed up by accounts from Buckner and Bushrod Johnson he attached no disapprobation to them and defended their actions in his reports to Richmond.

He would soon also have to defend his own actions, but the fact was that Nashville (let alone Bowling Green) was now indefensible. With Floyd’s wing (for it was officially Floyd in command despite Pillow’s influence) of two divisions joined to Johnston’s other troops from Bowling Green under the command of William Hardee, he would have a formidable force capable, hopefully, of holding the line against the advance of Buell’s army. However, adding in Smith’s divisions surely soon to be coming up the Cumberland River, with ironclads supporting the move, and the Union’s advantage in numbers would be telling. The city, being right on the river, was indefensible without a lot more fortifications than it had (very little) and perhaps twice the heavy artillery lost at the two forts. Any attempt without these preparations would be doomed, and even with them would surely see the city’s destruction in the fighting. If Johnston could face either Smith or Buell individually, he may be able to get an advantage, especially if he also withdrew Polk’s wing from Columbus (and he would have to, as gunboats on the Tennessee River were already cutting direct rail lines to Nashville). But Nashville was not the place to attempt this.

Better, Johnston thought after some deliberation, to combine all of his forces in one place and strike back when the Yankees overextended themselves. For now, that safe place to combine would be the rail junction at Corinth. All the scattered elements of his department could reach there easily, and he could be reinforced as well. Being near the Tennessee River landings, surely Halleck would advance on that route before Buell could arrive to support him, and that would be the time to strike.

However, that did mean withdrawing from Nashville. Johnston ordered as many supplies as possible to be taken with them, and a clear majority were. Some things, however, did remain behind and were put to the torch, despite heroic efforts to remove everything. Lost as well were the factories in the city, as well as the prestige of losing a state capitol. Johnston’s stock was falling rapidly amongst the Confederate citizenry.

Buell’s leading elements arrived in a largely deserted Nashville on March 2nd and there halted to assume defensive positions. Meanwhile, Halleck prepared to descend down (or rather up) the Tennessee River, as Johnston was anticipating. Halleck had some concern about Johnston being able to concentrate against his advanced forces, and so other than marching back to landings on the Tennessee River, he did not embark before fresh troops started arriving. Eventually though, pressure from the navy wanting to get on with the advance forced his hand.

Halleck’s concerns led to him moving south in person with his army. Smith had done a competent job taking over for Grant, but Halleck’s concerns about a Confederate strategic counter-attack worried him. With numbers too evenly matched for Halleck’s tastes, he did not want to remain far out of touch from his main army, which would be the case if he remained in St. Louis for long. With that, he was off to join his advanced forces at Pittsburg Landing. He also strongly asked Buell to start marching to join his new position, and secured assurances from Washington that he would command the combined forces once joined.

At Pittsburg Landing, Halleck drilled and organized his forces daily, and new regiments swelled his forces at almost the same rate. At first camp picket lines and patrols was maintained strongly. But after weeks of a decided lack of Confederates, security began slackening.
Part 2: Shiloh
Part 2: Shiloh
Or: What a difference 10,001 men can make!​


Timeline U: April 8, 1862

Johnston’s concentration of forces around Corinth had been pulled off successfully. His old wings, under the command of William Hardee and Leonidas Polk, met up easily, and were then joined by reinforcements under Braxton Bragg who had been defending New Orleans and the gulf coast. Yet to arrive was another full corps from the Trans-Mississippi theatre under the command of Earl Van Dorn. But it appeared that Johnston would not have time to wait for them; not if he wanted to strike at Smith before he could be joined by Buell.

As the Confederate command evolved, it became a cumbersome mess to actually direct. Johnston was the overall commander, with second-in-command P.G.T. Beauregard actually calling most of the shots because Johnston deferred to him too readily. Issues of late arriving brigades, seniority, and politics led to the creation of a Reserve unit under the command of John Breckenridge despite being a fairly junior Major General. Of Hardee’s, Polk’s, and Bragg’s wings, the latter two were officially corps subdivided into two divisions whose commanders were little more than supernumeraries once battle was joined. A few lucky units were armed with recently arrived Enfield rifles, but many soldiers had only whatever guns they had brought personally.

Based on the progress of Buell’s supporting advance, Johnston at first intended to march from Corinth on April 6. Heavy rains resulted in equally heavy mud that lingered into that day. Plans were altered so that only outlying units, plus units resting south of Corinth, were moved in on the 6th. The roads were better on the 7th, and that combined with troops being ready to march led to them covering the needed distance that day, ready to open an attack on the 8th. Somewhat over 40,000 troops were involved in this advance, plus a few left behind in Corinth as a guard.

The Union forces they were moving against had also been reorganized. Recently-promoted Major General Charles Smith had field command of the Army of the Mississippi while Halleck remained in telegraphic communication from St. Louis. His experienced troops, bloodied at Fort Donelson, were grouped as they had been at that battle into the divisions of McClernand, Lew Wallace, and John McArthur (the senior brigadier general in what had been Smith’s division, though outranked by date of appointment by general William H. L. Wallace in McClernand’s division). They had been joined by a number of raw troops over the ensuing month and a half, which were grouped in the divisions of Stephen Hurlbut, William Sherman, and Benjamin Prentiss. Of these, due to their late arrival, the latter two divisions were southern-most in the Union camps, with McClernand’s and Hurlbut’s divisions in a second group, and McArthur’s closest to Pittsburg Landing. Lew Wallace’s division was separated from the others and camped some miles north at Crump’s Landing.

Marching to join them was Buell’s Army of the Ohio. In a series of exchanges between Smith and Buell, the former asked the latter to “lead with [his] most experienced troops” in case their timely arrival should be necessary. Buell, if left to his own devices, would have had “Bull” Nelson’s division leading his column, considering his friendship with the commander. However, he deferred to Smith’s request (after some more inconclusive telegrams between him and Halleck), and so led with George Thomas’ division, whose men had fought and won the Battle of Mill Springs. Thomas led a slow but steady pace for the column, efficiently bridging the Duck River with Nelson’s help, and by April 8 was just a couple miles from the Tennessee River.

The Confederates struck at dawn on the 8th. There had been signs of their imminent attack for those who looked, but few on the Union side did. One of Prentiss’ brigadiers had a skirmish line out, plus a couple other individual regimental commanders, but that is about it.

Prentiss’ and Sherman’s divisions were thrown back from their camps in short order. Both divisions made a better fight of it once they reorganized a bit and reinforcements started arriving. By late morning all 5 near Union divisions were in action, and were being pushed back but slowly, but the Confederate advance continued. It came in fits and starts, with men stopping often to plunder the Yankee camps. Local counterattacks by Union brigades and regiments slowed the advance and sometimes threw Rebel units back in disorder. There were enough Confederate brigades compressed in little enough space that they had men to always continue advancing, for now, but it was with great disorganization. Hardee’s division led the advance in a long line, with Bragg’s corps in a long line after him, and Polk’s in a long line after that. This inefficiency, with no commander’s units confined to a single part of the field, threw the chain of command out of whack from the beginning.

Smith made himself ubiquitous, rushing reinforcements to the front lines and staying up there to inspire nervous green troops. After the initial pullback the Union line seemed to be holding (for now) on its left (eastern) flank and in the center. So Smith spent most of his time on the Union right, with the divisions of Sherman and McClernand, giving orders down the line by messenger. He launched a midday counterattack with these divisions that temporarily forced the Rebels back, but by about 2:00 there were no more fresh Union troops on that part of the field, and the Confederate advance continued.

Meanwhile, the Union center had pulled back to a line along a sunken road and into the woods to its south that came to be called the Hornet’s Nest. McArthur held the road itself fronting Duncan field, with the reformed Prentiss’ command on his left. The far Union left was held by Hurlbut’s division in and around a peach orchard, supported by a detached brigade of Sherman’s. The left had retreated early in the day, but in the absence of sustained Confederate attacks soon reformed, though it remained the weakest part of the line numerically.

The Hornet’s Nest was attacked by just about every Confederate brigade in that sector, but the strong defensive position, hard fighting by McArthur and Prentiss, and a steady supply of ammunition sent up by Smith, defied every effort to take it. Johnston spent much of the midafternoon organizing an artillery barrage against the position while weakening the Confederate drive elsewhere to divert troops to the Hornet’s Nest. In spite of this movement, local Confederate commanders continued moving forward, with little coordination, against the entire Union line. As such, by midafternoon the Union pullback was at its farthest point on their right. Most of Sherman’s and McClernand’s men had retired, either with or without orders, and Smith’s presence could only delay a pending rout for so long.

At the decisive moment, up came Thomas. Being practically opposite Pittsburg Landing at the start of the day, his troops were ferried across the river that morning, and by early afternoon the sounds of battle had grown both louder and closer to the landing. An increasing stream of routed men came pouring backwards to the riverbank. Thomas’ men forced their way through the crowd, and obeying an early morning order to report with his men to Smith, marched steadily to the Union right. Some have criticized Thomas for not forced-marching his men at this point to reach the line faster. Indeed, had he done so, the more advanced positions gained by Sherman and McClernand may have been held. On the other hand, by maintaining a slower pace his men remained fresh for when combat was joined.

Thomas’ arrival stopped the Confederate advance cold. The scene when the 9th Ohio re-enacted its battle-winning bayonet charge from Mill Springs graces many a painting and engraving, and is surely stylized beyond measure, but the larger point stands. His opening punch put at least two Confederate brigades out of the fight for that day. Thomas called his men back to form a defensive line, which stood firm against resultant Confederate counterattacks. By 4:00 Thomas had a solid battleline extending from McArthur’s flank northwestward, and like the Hornet’s Nest it held against any frontal attack. The few fighting men left in Sherman’s and McClernand’s shattered divisions extended the line further towards Owl Creek, and the Union right and center were secure.

The weak point was on the Union left. Finally, by late afternoon, the Confederates in that sector had organized their superior numbers enough to push Hurlbut back, and with this done the Hornet’s Nest was outflanked. Prentiss and McArthur retired in reasonably good order (at least compared to scenes from earlier in the day) and the rest of the Union line had to follow, forming their final line along a ridge just in front of Pittsburg Landing by dusk.

Johnston was in no position to make an evening attack. Rarely in direct control of more than a few brigades at once, he had no fresh units, and few organized units at all, with which to make such an attack. Communication between him, Beauregard, and his corps commanders was iffy at best. Bragg had been wounded and command of his corps passed to senior brigadier Jones Withers. A few Confederate brigades had been thrown back by local Union counterattacks and were still regrouping. While the majority were riding high on success, it had some at a high cost of blood, and men wandered all across the battlefield in search of loot or souvenirs. Others, willing to continue the fight, were separated from their units and attached to others.

An interesting counterfactual at this point concerns the Union division of Lew Wallace. He had been ordered by Smith that morning to join the main army once the fight was underway. This had been planned for, and the road linking him to the Union’s right flank had been improved (read: partially corduroyed and lifted out of swampland). However, by midday the Rebels had already advanced past this road. Wallace as such was in no position to support the Union line directly. However, by about 4:00 he had arrived with all of his brigades up on the north bank of Owl Creek. From there, advancing across the creek would strike the Confederate army hard in and behind their left flank. However, at that time a messenger from Smith caught up to Wallace and ordered him to backtrack and march to support the main Union line. Had Wallace been left where he was, it is likely he would smash many disorganized Confederate brigades. With oncoming darkness, it is an open question how successful his attack might be, especially with the rest of the Union army falling back. Either way, he never found out, instead joining the defensive line by nightfall.

Overnight Johnston and Beauregard made plans to continue the attack. They had no choice. Even knowing that Buell’s men were arriving on the field, the whole point of their attacking in the first place was to push the Yankees back into the river. They had indeed pushed them back, but not yet far enough. Retreating now would be to abandon all the progress they had made. Their men would be reorganized by morning and in position to keep going.

Smith and Buell made their own plans. The divisions of Nelson and of Thomas Crittenden from the Army of the Ohio arrived overnight to further strengthen the Union line. More were on their way. Scattered Union soldiers were reorganized and returned to their units, though some skulkers did stay near bluffs by the river. With this, the commanders were confident that they had the numbers to go on the offensive, and they did so early on the morning of April 9th.

The Union line surged forward all along its front. The two armies were intermingled, with Nelson and Crittenden advancing on the left near the river; then the reformed units of Hurlbut, Prentiss, and McArthur; with Thomas still to their right; the few men that could be gathered from Sherman and McClernand’s commands next; and finally Wallace on the far right (west). As mixed up as it was, the fresh troops gave the Union line not just a numerical advantage, but also an organizational one against the still largely scattered Confederate brigades.

With no grand scheme other than advancing all across the front, it took time for these numbers to tell. Rebel resistance was firm at first, but by midday they were retreating all across the line. The Union advance disorganized as it went, and a few opportunities to flank and perhaps surround isolated Confederate units went largely unexploited. But with a continual stream of fresh units to add impetus to the attack (Alexander McCook’s division joined the advance just before noon), the results were inevitable. The Confederate pull-back was increasingly forced as the day went on, and arguably only a desperate late afternoon counterpunch led by Cleburne’s brigade stymied the Union advance enough to let the army get away cleanly. This point is arguable, however – in truth the northerners were equally disorganized in victory, if ebullient at their success, and with the very heavy casualties of the last two days were in no position to continue with a long pursuit.

With roughly 12,000 casualties on each side, the Battle of Shiloh was a bloodbath of proportions hitherto unforeseen in American history. It would be counted a Union tactical victory in that they regained their former camps and held the field. More importantly, it was perhaps the final proving ground for a bevy of generals who would go on accomplish great things in the months ahead.


Timeline C: April 10, 1862

Albert Sydney Johnston had almost concentrated all the forces that he could. Hardee, Floyd, and Polk had all fallen back and combined successfully at Corinth. Bragg had arrived from the gulf coast with still more troops. Earl Van Dorn was on the way from the Trans-Mississippi – delayed in crossing the great river, at least the personages of Sterling Price and Van Dorn had disembarked at Memphis. Given a few more days their 10,000 additional men could complete the concentration of Johnston’s grand army.

But scouting revealed that Buell’s advance with the Army of the Ohio, slow as it was, was at last nearing Halleck with his Army of the Mississippi. Time had run out. Even without Van Dorn, Johnston had to attack *now* or let the golden opportunity slip away. Any ambivalence at this decision was wipe away by the exuberance of second-in-command P.G.T. Beauregard, who also wanted to strike quickly.

This concentration of forces led to a revamped command structure. Bragg would command his reinforcements organized as a corps. Likewise Polk and his men, also as a corps. Floyd remained in command of his corps, comprising the divisions of Buckner and Johnson. This left Pillow without a command (possibly to Johnston’s relief), and he was left behind to command the few troops left as a defense at Corinth proper. Hardee, while in practice at an equal level of command, had his troops organized merely as a division. Brigadier John Breckenridge was also elevated to command a ‘Reserve’ division, in practice also at the same level. In all something over 50,000 Confederates would advance on Shiloh.

Five battlefield elements – not counting detached units, cavalry, and artillery. In practice this was a disaster waiting to happen, and to his credit Johnston recognized this. As such, in his plan of attack he divided the battlefield into two sectors. Johnston would command in person the ‘Left Wing’ of the Confederate army, with Polk’s corps in the first line and Floyd’s corps in a second. Rather than stay in the spot of ‘second-in-command’, Beauregard would take the ‘Right Wing’, with Bragg’s corps in the first line and Hardee’s division in a second. That left Breckenridge’s division to be committed where needed. As for the plan itself – Johnston would pin the Union army in place, while Bragg would strike along the river straight for Pittsburg landing. The Confederate line would wheel left to get between the Yankees and the river, thus depriving them of the chance of being reinforced, and ultimately they would be destroyed in detail in the swamps of Owl Creek.

In the Union camps, Henry Halleck was slowly letting his guard down. Weeks of initial tension and raids running up against likeminded Confederate foragers lost their alarm value when nothing came of it. The Army of the Mississippi used the time to drill, incorporate a steady influx of newly arriving regiments, and wait for the big junction with Buell. Five Union divisions called the ground southwest of Pittsburg Landing home – greenhorns under the commands of Sherman and Prentiss were furthest south, and more raw troops were under Hurlbut in the next line. McClernand commanded veterans of Fort Donelson, as did Smith nearest the landing. A sixth division under Lew Wallace was detached a few miles north at Crump’s Landing. Of these commanders, Smith was the officially recognized second-in-command should misfortune befall Halleck, but otherwise he was in direct command only of his own division.

There were signs of the Confederate’s arrival for those that were looking. Halleck had standing orders to monitor the roads southward, but over the weeks there had been a large number of scares and no actual threats. Small Confederate parties clashed with Union picket posts on a fairly regular basis. When the real advance did finally happen, Johnston kept his main body far enough from the Union camps that his own forward scouting elements did not seem out of place. He was quite unsure if his army would maintain its surprise value, but was committed to going through with the attack either way. In the event, most Union troops were quite surprised enough. Only a brigade commander in Prentiss’ division and a few scattered regimental commanders had increased their surveillance come dawn on the 10th.

Prentiss’ and Sherman’s camps were overrun almost immediately. The men re-formed north of the camps and made a better showing of themselves. This slowed the Confederate advance all along the line but did not stop it. By late morning the rest of the Union divisions had marched to join the fighting and a fairly continuous defensive line was established. The planned organization Johnston had prepared broke down quickly, with men stopping to plunder Union camps as they went, and then getting attached to other units. Corps and wing commanders were able to keep the advance going steadily by throwing in their second-line brigades, but this only resulted in intermingling units on the frontline. Also, due to the broken terrain and the rate of Union retreats, the right wing was failing to advance ahead of the left wing, and the Union defensive line remained fairly straight by midday.

This line consisted of Hurlbut plus a detached brigade of Sherman’s holding the river flank in and around a peach orchard, and a timely counterpunch by the lone brigade (Stuart’s) throwing Beauregard’s advance into temporary disarray. The middle of the line ran along a sunken road and nearby woods fronting Duncan field, held by Smith and Prentiss’ reformed units. The right was an intermingled line of Sherman’s and McClernand’s men, which was holding strong through the noon hour. Halleck directed the fighting from messengers sent from his headquarters near the landing, and he did a creditable job throughout the morning. Reinforcements were ordered up in a timely fashion and to logical places, as was supplies of ammunition. Smith, through personal heroic efforts, stabilized the Union center for quite some time.

Just after noon, Johnston took stock of the battle so far, and realized that while his army may continue to push the Yankees back, larger victory would elude him unless they were forced from the river as per his original plans. Reports from Beauregard plus sounds on the battlefield placed his men as “not far enough forward”, while Johnston’s own advance had gone quite well so far (word of initial repulses in Duncan field not having reached him). He thus made the fateful decision to commit Breckenridge’s reserve division to the right wing, doubling down on his plan and giving Beauregard such numerical superiority as to hopefully be unstoppable.

Within minutes of issuing this order, the Federals launched a major counterattack against Johnston’s wing. Halleck had authorized his division commanders to counterpunch when appropriate, to reoccupy good defensive terrain, maintain a straight battleline, and interrupt Confederate moves. But he had not directed any specific attacks so far. The early afternoon attack was made by the initiative of Sherman and McClernand. Sherman perhaps was smarting over being routed out of his own camp, and McClernand judged the Confederate line as vulnerable (and perhaps also saw the opportunity for personal glory benefiting his political career with a successful attack). Their combined divisions did push Johnston’s line back at least a little bit, but their attack soon ran out of steam.

Johnston had moved over to the Duncan field front, so was not immediately available to oversee Confederate defenses on the far left. Polk and Floyd worked out their own defense, which quickly stabilized. However, before they could organize continuing their own attack, a piece of shrapnel hit the bishop in the shoulder. Leonidas Polk was down, seriously wounded. (The wound would become infected, and he would die a week after the battle). Floyd did not feel confident in attacking on his own, with units intermingled as they were, and waited for Johnston’s return.

But meanwhile Beauregard had thrown in Breckenridge’s men at the Peach orchard, and they quickly outflanked and overran Hurlbut’s position. The Duncan field line fronted southwest, so with hordes of Confederates advancing on their east, they were in danger of being not only flanked but also surrounded if they remained in their positions. Smith saw the danger and turned his northern two brigades to the southeast, maintaining a solid line. His third, plus Prentiss’ men, retired past them. Thus, while Sherman and McClernand had actually advanced the Union right, the Union left was pulling back fast. These concurrent moves pivoted the Union line so it now fronted largely southeast, rather than southwest, and terminated at its northern end near Pittsburg landing. Johnston’s plan, finally, was working. On his return to Floyd’s position near 2 o’clock, he purposefully held back the left wing to let Beauregard’s advance continue turning the Union line.

Halleck was largely not aware of this change of status before it actually occurred. Sherman and McClernand had no need to send back detailed status updates beyond their basic and limited success, and by the time the other division commanders could report back their men were already retiring. Smith held his and Prentiss’ men in good enough order in the center, but that left a wide gap near the river through which Confederates were streaming and Hurlbut was avoiding total collapse by the narrowest of threads. Halleck’s notice of this retreat essentially was the thousands of panicked Union troops stampeding towards the bluffs by Pittsburg landing. This development got him into the field in person, trying to stem the potential rout and get men back into line.

He had some success at this, and was aided by the arrival of the first of Buell’s reinforcements around 3:00, the division of William Nelson. The rest of Buell’s men were not yet at the Tennessee river, and could not be ferried across until well past nightfall, but Nelson gave Halleck three fresh brigades with which to work. Worried but not yet panicked, he arranged them in a southward-facing line at the landing proper – a position from which they *must not* be driven – onto which Hurlbut’s men would reform, and which loosely attached to Prentiss’ line off towards the Union center. If this line could hold, the Union might yet win the battle.

Beauregard was determined to not let that happen. Breckenridge’s men had forced the Yankees back all the way to the landing, and there were some hours of daylight left, but they had become as disorganized as the rest of the right wing in doing so. Either the advance must pause to let units be reorganized, or it must be continued with whatever units were available. Knowing that he had 12 brigades to work with and that time was of the essence, Beauregard chose the latter option. His late afternoon attack on the Pittsburg landing position was general and contained units from all elements of the right wing. Nelson and his men had no intention of being forced back, and the line was a strong one, running along a ridge just above a creek and backed by artillery. Initial Confederate attacks were forced back.

The breakthrough was made around 4:30 by Patrick Cleburne’s brigade of Hardee’s division. Through a combination of clever exploitation of terrain and a relentless driving attack, Cleburne broke a small section of Nelson’s line. This proved to be enough, as supporting brigades were right behind (Patton Anderson’s brigade of Bragg’s corps and John Bowen’s brigade of Breckenridge’s division, showing just how intermingled Confederate units were by this point). With key artillery batteries falling and the breakthrough turning the flanks of what remained of the line, Nelson could only keep his green troops in the fight for so long. Some units fell back in good order, but the majority went streaming in every possible direction.

These directions, however, were rapidly running out. North and west was the marshland around Owl Creek. East was the Tennessee River. Already possibly as many as 5,000 Yankee men were huddled along the bank, having trickled their way there throughout the day. Almost all available transports were now housing the wounded, with those that had ferried Nelson’s men across already returning to Savannah. One saving grace, however, was the arrival of the gunboats Tyler and Lexington. Halleck had not ordered them up, having a cool relationship with the naval commanders. But the boats’ captains steamed to the sounds of the battle, and their big shells did throw several Confederate units into confusion and did some damage (though the effect was much more a morale one).

But this would only slow additional Confederate troops from reaching the landing. Cleburne’s men and the other advancing brigades were practically on top of it, and soon any shells the gunboats fired would do about as much harm as good through friendly fire. Many of the Union routed had thrown away their weapons in their panicked flight so could not fight back even if they wanted.

Trapped between encroaching Confederate lines and the river, utter panic set in. Some men waded out into the Tennessee and tried to swim either upstream or to the far shore, abandoning any belongings they still had or sinking under the water. At least one officer ran onto a transport ship, loaded down with wounded, and demanded at gunpoint the captain to sail him to shelter. At another transport a crowd of men ran onboard and swam on-deck in such a mass that the ship began sinking. The majority of men at the riverbank, however, soon ended up as Confederate prisoners. Cleburne made clear that surrendered men would be treated kindly, and gotten away from the riverbank and the risk of death at the hands of their own gunboats (which did lob at least a couple shells into the mass causing horrific casualties). His offer was largely taken up, and by sunset his men were escorting thousands of surrendered Yankees southward.

Those men west of the breakthrough ran towards Owl Creek, and they largely made their escape cleanly. This was because of the arrival of Lew Wallace’s division. He had been ordered that morning to march to Halleck’s aid. Originally, he was slated to march on a road that would bring him in near the Union’s right flank. However, this apparently was not the road Halleck wanted, at least once that flank retreated past the point where the road came in. Another road led straight into the Union rear, but it was half-flooded and slightly longer. A series of messages between Halleck and Wallace resulted in him countermarching to great confusion before finally taking the latter road.

He arrived at the one semi-good crossing point of Owl Creek by about 5:00, only to be met by a mass of routed Union troops streaming towards him. It became clear that he could not stop the rout, so he instead ordered his men into line right at the creek. An eager advance by other Confederate brigades was checked by his volleys, and Beauregard did not reorganize for another attack as he became caught up in affairs closer to the landing. This allowed much of the Union center, which was not being pressed as hard as either flank, to retreat cleanly, and under Smith’s guidance his own men who were still in fighting trim, plus Prentiss and Hurlbut’s sturdier units, retired in decent order. Halleck, in person, made his way across further down-creek and ran across these units after nightfall.

On the Union right, however, another disaster played out. Johnston used the time gained by purposefully halting his advance to reorganize his lines. Word of Polk’s fall had spread throughout the ranks, and the men of his corps were desperate to avenge his wounding. Floyd’s men, fresher, were all-too-happy to continue the advance in their support. Units of the two corps were interspersed, but by 4:00 at least individual brigades were largely intact. At that time, Johnston let them forward again.

This last Confederate advance crashed like a wave against Sherman’s and McClernand’s lines. Though they had also reformed, they were severely outnumbered and without guidance from Halleck. The men held for a while but the ferocity of the Rebel attack began to overwhelm them. As word of the disaster near the landing reached Sherman and McClernand, they ordered those of their units still holding to also retire, considering (rightly) the battle to be lost. This proved to be a mistake, however, as this only disheartened the Yankee defenders and gave added impetus to the Rebel attackers. One chink in the retiring lines was all Johnston (acting very much as a brigade commander in this particular moment) needed to turn an orderly withdrawal into a panicked retreat.

Some of the Union men made their way northward and joined Smith’s contingent in the center. Rapidly advancing Confederates, however, cut this avenue off soon enough. The only way of retreat for most, therefore, was straight across Owl Creek, and this had to happen in the face of seemingly innumerable Confederates pursuing just a stone’s throw behind them. The waterway was not an impassible barrier, but certainly was a challenging one. Most men that did find their way to the north bank and past the swamps did so as leaderless individuals, with all equipment jettisoned so as to not impeded their flight. Some thousands more gave up the effort and surrendered.

As word filtered to the east bank of the Tennessee River, Buell flatly refused to reinforce a lost proposition on the west bank. He would form a defensive line ready to receive Halleck but that was it.

Smith took immediate charge of the Union line that night, resting on the north bank of Owl Creek. He planned to retire on what had been Lew Wallace’s old position at Crump’s Landing, and likely be ferried back across the Tennessee the next day. Halleck wandered back into Union lines at around 10:00 and agreed with this plan. By the morning of the 11th most of the raw panic was gone, but those Union troops who remained were still very disorganized. Halleck ordered the retreat to continue at daybreak. Most of his men and supplies reached Crump’s Landing in fair order, but some hundreds of stragglers throughout the day could be added to the POW list. Overnight on the 11th the Army of the Mississippi, or what remained of it, was ferried to safety east of the Tennessee River.

The Confederates, though exhausted, were jubilant beyond measure. Perhaps 6,000 men for each side had fallen dead or wounded, in the largest bloodbath in American history thus far, but at least 13,000 more Union troops were prisoners or war. With the Union’s camps captured and their army retreated across the river, this could only be considered a major Confederate victory. It also was a proving ground – many lower ranking Confederate officers made their debut at Shiloh, and would surely be heard from again.
I don’t like really like civil war timelines—far too many in the board’s early history—but this is like the right level of detail for me, and a strong concept to back it. Excited to see more :)
I don’t like really like civil war timelines—far too many in the board’s early history—but this is like the right level of detail for me, and a strong concept to back it. Excited to see more :)
Thanks for the support! I'm glad you are finding these TLs to your liking and level of detail. I will say that, as we go forward and things increasingly diverge from OTL, I may or may not keep up quite this level of detail. I mean, I'm certainly trying to track things like "okay, so if this person is promoted then who was historically the senior-most brigade commander to fill their spot?" but the divergences quickly become exponential. That, plus any new battle fought on ground different than OTL will not have the level of detail for me to reference. But you can judge with another post coming later today.
Part 3: Slow Summer Moves
Part 3: Slow Summer Moves
Or: The butterflies are really going now, so parallelism becomes less regular​


Timeline U: April 10, 1862

Reaction in the northern populace was very mixed after the Battle of Shiloh. It was not a defeat, of that everybody was in agreement. But how big and how important a victory it was, was very much up for debate. Questions swirled over how surprised the army had been, and who was at fault for it. There was also shock at the incredibly high cost in human life, as reports reached the newspapers.

Smith publicly accepted blame for not maintaining more regular patrols and letting the Rebels get off their initial surprise attack. Beyond that, he vigorously defended his men and his subordinates in public for all their defensive actions after the initial panic. Privately he expressed some disappointment with the actions of a few subordinates, particularly McClernand. His political connections prevented any actions from being taken however. Among military circles the lion’s share of credit for the battle was given to Prentiss and McArthur for their vigorous defense of the Hornet’s Nest and to Thomas for stabilizing the Union right.

After some long private conversations, Halleck also publicly stood by Smith. Perhaps out of deference to the man’s long career and steady service, plus his clear lack of any political ambition against Halleck. The result was that the luster to Smith’s popular reputation from capturing Fort Donelson was wiped clean, but with Shiloh having been a victory (if a narrow and costly one) people were willing to stick with him for now. This included President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton.

However, Halleck did move his headquarters south to join the main army in the field. This was partly to keep a closer eye on Smith and assuage the public. The bigger reason, though, was that the Union concentration of forces was happening. Buell’s army in full crossed the Tennessee River and joined Smith on the west bank. Within a couple weeks they were joined by a third contingent, John Pope and his army. Pope was also a rapidly rising star, being given public credit for capturing the Rebel defenses at New Madrid and Island Number 10 on the Mississippi River. In actual fact, the navy had done most of the work. Regardless Pope’s stock was also rising. With the combination of these three armies, and a slow but steady stream of new regiments, Halleck had north of 100,000 men quickly gathered at and around Pittsburg Landing, and by the end of April he began to put this assembly in motion towards Corinth.

In the Confederate camps, the mood after Shiloh was very mixed. Among the common soldiers, who had after all pushed the Yankees back on the first day, there was the thought that they could have won if not for Buell’s timely arrival. In the officer class criticism was thrown around freely at Johnston and Beauregard, each in measure, for not maintaining proper direction and control over the battle. The southern public, already souring on Johnston for abandoning Nashville and most of Tennessee, now turned on him in full after his perceived failure in battle. But President Jefferson Davis, a friend and admirer of Johnston, stood by him. Johnston publicly accepted blame for failing to win the battle, then hunkered down and worked to continue drilling and equipping his army. Beauregard continued his dual tracks of influencing Johnston’s actions as second-in-command, and writing to political friends in Richmond exculpating himself of as much blame as possible.

The arrival of Van Dorn’s Army of the West made up numerically for the losses at Shiloh and then some. With them, added to Johnston’s field army, those left behind to guard Corinth, and a slow influx of new troops, somewhat over 75,000 men garrisoned the small Mississippi town. Of these, however, about a quarter at any given time were sick and unfit for duty. There were few clean water sources near Corinth, and the large concentration of men and animals quickly became a cesspool of disease.

Meanwhile, news from other parts of the western theater remained grim. As related the upper Mississippi had already been lost to John Pope. Later in the month, a Union fleet commanded by David Farragut steamed up the Mississippi River. After initially being stymied by Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillip defending the lower river and New Orleans, Farragut ran his command past the forts and the small Confederate flotilla trying to stop him. Most of the Confederate defenders had been long withdrawn to reinforce Johnston at Corinth, and now Major General Mansfield Lovell pulled out the few troops he had left. Clear to the city of New Orleans and with no effective defense, the city surrendered on April 30. A day later, the forts themselves capitulated to the supporting Union army advance under Benjamin Butler, who then took over occupation of the city.

Farragut ran his armada up the Mississippi as far as he could. He achieved the surrender of key cities on the river – Baton Rouge and Natchez. His advance was stymied, however, by the high bluffs and heavy artillery at Vicksburg. Farragut attempted multiple purely naval efforts against the bastion, but was unsuccessful, and as the water level of the Mississippi began to drop, he was forced to retire for safety of his ocean-going ships. What some southerners termed the ‘Gibraltar of the West’ was safe for now.

Closer to home, however, it soon appeared as though Johnston would have to retreat once again. Halleck moved his leviathan of an army at an extremely slow pace, averaging barely a mile per day, with fortifications going up every evening. Already a cautious man, he wanted absolutely no chance of being surprised and having a repeat of Shiloh. With his ranks swelling throughout May, almost 125,000 men were involved in the march on Corinth. Johnston’s engineers had laid out a line of fortifications around the town, but against those numbers most of the Confederate high command agreed that they could not hold in the long run. Plans were made, supplies were gotten out cleanly (it was, for what it’s worth, a practically flawless evacuation), and many civilians left with or ahead of the army. The last of Johnston’s troops pulled out on June 2nd, and a week later his army was making a new defensive line fifty miles south at Tupelo. This pullback also outflanked any defensive effort the southerners might make at Memphis. As such, the Confederates also evacuated Fort Pillow on the Mississippi on June 4th. Two days later the Union riverine navy scored a decisive victory against what ships the Confederates could cobble together, and Memphis was also abandoned.

After launching a very tepid pursuit past Corinth, Halleck pulled his massive armies back to the city. In explanation he said in a message to his army commanders that the whole point of taking Corinth was to control the railroads, and as long as Johnston remained sufficiently far south of the junction then he saw no reason to initiate another battle. This was received poorly by Pope and especially by Smith, both of whom had to be reigned in from continued pursuits or side operations.

The ensuing weeks were instead spent spreading men all across western Tennessee in an effort to start actually controlling the territory, and containing the efforts of Rebel partisans against supplies, railroads, telegraph lines, and isolated outposts. Units were spread in garrisons of various size in pretty much every town of note between Memphis and the Tennessee River. Continued inactivity and Halleck’s utter refusal to launch any more major advances led to steadily cooling relations between him and Smith. Not helped was both men, plus tens of thousands of others, falling ill periodically as the poor camp conditions in Corinth took their toll on the Yankees no less than it had previously the Rebels.

The only offensive of note during this time was an excoriating slow advance eastward along the rail line led by Buell’s army. This was practically ordered by President Lincoln and acquiesced to by Halleck only after much cajoling. The ultimate plan was that Buell would join with another advanced Union force (having finally moved south straight from Nashville), and then move on Chattanooga, opening the way to liberating the Unionists in eastern Tennessee. One modification had to be made almost immediately however – Buell unfortunately fell prey to the squalid conditions around Corinth, and his recovery was slowed by heat-induced sickness and bad water caused by the onset of drought conditions in the region. He had to take an extended leave for health purposes, and in his absence the eastward advance was led by his ranking division commander Thomas.

Speaking of command changes, more were being made. Near the end of June, Pope took a leave of absence of his own to visit family in St. Louis. Instead of returning to Tennessee, he was called to Washington to assume command of a new Army of Virginia. A couple of weeks later, Halleck was also summoned to Washington to assume the post of General in Chief. To summarize events in the east: Robert E. Lee had at a heavy cost thrown back George McClellan from the gates of Richmond. McClellan’s stock had fallen and Lincoln felt a unifying overseeing hand was needed. In that spirit also, a new Union army was being assembled nearer Washington from the pieces of three smaller armies that had previous been operating in northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

In western Tennessee, this left Smith in charge of the district, also commanding what was now named the Army of the Tennessee in person. Pope’s Army of the Mississippi was now in the hands of William S. Rosecrans, fairly recently arrived from the mountains of West(ern) Virginia and in need of a command. The two commands were fairly intermingled and spread throughout the region still, and fortunately Smith and Rosecrans got on well. For the time being Smith focused his energy on bureaucratic matters and let Rosecrans organize conditions in the field, though understanding that this situation would change soon. Rosecrans’ initial moves were good ones, finding better and healthier camps for his men, and re-laying fortifications around Corinth that were actually appropriate to the size of his army (Halleck’s initial lines assumed all 100,000+ men would be used).

Affairs of health and organization were little better among Confederate commanders. Beauregard secured a leave of absence to Mobile in mid-June for health purposes. Sterling Price, dissatisfied with the treatment of his Missourians in coming east of the Mississippi River, planned to secure his own leave to travel to Richmond and talk to Jefferson Davis. He was barely talked out of it by mollifications from Johnston.

This, in turn, was accomplished by spreading out Confederate forces throughout the theatre as Halleck had the Yankees. Van Dorn was put in command of a semi-autonomous department commanding the line of the river itself; for now the defenses at Vicksburg plus others that would be established (principally at Port Hudson). This let Price be shifting up to command what had been Van Dorn’s corps. With Bragg on long-term recuperative leave recovering from his Shiloh wound, Johnston reorganized his army into three corps under Price, Polk, and Hardee. Beauregard upon his return, having increasingly resented his limited role as second-in-command, was sent to Chattanooga to command another new department encompassing a division there plus Kirby Smith’s forces in the mountains of eastern Tennessee.

This latter was a necessary move in reaction to Thomas’ slow move towards Chattanooga. His pace, regulated as it was by standing orders from Halleck, the need to repair the rail line as he went, and from the environmental issues of any large movement at all in a drought, was nevertheless made with enough men that one division likely could not hold Chattanooga. If Kirby Smith joined Beauregard in person, however, that would open the door for the Union to occupy eastern Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap. However, if Johnston sent any large force from his army to reinforce Beauregard, that may leave Mississippi so denuded as to allow Smith and Rosecrans to advance there.

Too many Yankees advancing on too many fronts, and not enough Confederates to defend against all of them. As the calendar turned to July, Johnston pondered the state of his defenses, and began making plans.


Timeline C: April 11, 1862

Disaster! Ruin! The public outcry in the wake of the defeat at Shiloh was unanimous. How had the well-read and experienced Halleck let his army be encamped with their backs to the river in the first place, then surprised, and then seemingly destroyed? Was Johnston and his unstoppable horde going to appear any day back along the Ohio river? This last question was utterly ridiculous, but more than one newspaper printed variations of it.

In point of fact, with the remnants of Halleck’s army re-crossed the Tennessee River to Savannah and linking up with Buell, the forces opposing Johnston’s victorious Confederates were their numerical equal at about 50,000 men per side. Yes, Johnston was momentarily to be joined by another corps under Van Dorn from the Missouri front, but the Union was also going to be reinforced by a third army under John Pope. Working with the navy, just days after Shiloh Pope succeeded in investing the Confederate defenses at New Madrid and Island Number 10 on the Mississippi River. Those Rebels who escaped moved south quickly to their next position at Fort Pillow above Memphis. With the north’s riverine navy pursuing them, this freed Pope’s army to come join the Union’s concentration of forces now happening at Savannah.

That concentration, however, would not be commanded by Halleck. Fairly or not, and there is room to debate both sides, he was quickly being made the scapegoat for the result of Shiloh. McClernand was adding his political weight to this effort, perhaps to distract from some of his own failings, and while most other of Halleck’s subordinates did not blame him (rather blaming Confederate numbers and Buell not arriving in time in roughly equal measure), he *was* in overall command. Rather than face an irate public and a backbiting military high command, Lincoln placed Halleck on recuperative leave and suggested he launch a court of inquiry to clear his name from some of the harsher accusations against him.

This left Buell as ranking officer at Savannah. Placing senior division commander Thomas in charge of the Army of the Ohio, Smith took over the rebuilding Army of the Tennessee, and Pope remained in charge of his own Army of the Mississippi. The Union’s ironclad gunboats remained in firm control of the Tennessee River, and simply by remaining in their advanced position in Savannah, Halleck and then Buell could reasonably claim some measure of success in the campaign as a whole, at least for now.

This was the dilemma faced by Johnston in the Confederate camp. Yes he had won a wonderful victory. Yes, all prior doubts amongst politicians and the southern public were silenced and he was the darling of the moment. And yes his numbers were further increased with Van Dorn’s arrival. However, his concentrated forces remained numerically inferior to Buell’s concentration, at least by a little bit, and the Federals continued to receive new units, albeit consisting of raw troops. As long as the Yankees remained on the east bank, he had no clear way to attack them, and after Shiloh it seemed unlikely that Buell would conveniently leave a portion of his army in easy reach in Confederate territory. But at the same time, pressure was on Johnston to do something with his host, because by denuding defenses elsewhere to gather his army in the first place, the Confederacy was left vulnerable on other fronts.

One particularly hard blow that somewhat redressed the balance after Shiloh was the fall of New Orleans. Late in April a Union fleet commanded by David Farragut steamed up the Mississippi River. They were slowed by Confederate defenses at Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillip, but Farragut made the decision to run his command past the forts, and then beat what few ships the Confederates had to defend with. With Farragut able to shell low-lying New Orleans at will, Mansfield Lovell retreated with his small defense force and left the city to surrender on April 29. Butler, commanding the supporting army forces, caused the capitulation of the actual forts a day later.

The Union fleet quickly steamed up the Mississippi and, in their rapid advance, forced the surrender of Baton Rouge and Natchez. But they were stopped at Vicksburg by well-emplaced artillery. Unable to effectively shell the position and in danger due to falling water levels, Farragut retired his sea-going ships down the river.

Johnston got word of this and decided to react. His massive combination of armies numbered over 90,000 men scattered between Crump’s landing and Corinth, and while a fair portion of these men were ill at any given time, morale remained fairly high. Camps around Corinth proper were fetid and running short of water, but rotating troops nearer to the Tennessee River was able to alleviate the worst of the encroaching health problems. That said, this concentration of men was doing nothing sitting where it was. Buell seemed to be quiescent in Savannah and had in fact began dispersing his own forces (more on that in a moment), and with multiple targets now available Johnston decided the time had come to split up his forces once again.

This de-concentration started early in May and continued throughout the month. It also resulted in significant restructuring of the Confederate command, trying to elevate and sideline particular figures in as tactful a manner as possible.

Van Dorn was put in charge of a semi-independent department responsible for the lower Mississippi river defenses. Primarily this consisted of Vicksburg, but Van Dorn was directed to explore the possibility of fortifying Port Hudson as well. Should that prove feasible, he was also to use this as a base from which to attempt the recapture of New Orleans. To do this, he was given command of 17,000 men to add to Vicksburg’s existing garrison. Gideon Pillow, champing at the bit to return to field command, was ‘kicked downstairs’ as it were, and made one of Van Dorn’s division commanders along with Mansfield and Charles Clark.

Meanwhile, Sterling Price was champing at the bit to return with his Missourians west of the river, and made his position clear to Johnston. This view was supported by several other generals including Van Dorn (who had commanded Price), and a number of political figures from the threatened States west of the Mississippi. President Davis, distrustful of Price as a non-West Pointer and viewing him as a vain braggart, looked on this request unfavorably. But Johnston saw Price’s point of view and strongly endorsed his application. Davis reluctantly acquiesced, putting Price in charge of the Trans-Mississippi District. However, he only allowed Price’s own Missouri division to accompany him westward – somewhat over 5,000 men – and the rest of the men Van Dorn had originally brought east remained with Johnston.

Finally, early in June, Beauregard returned from health-induced leave of absence and was sent by rail with a division under Breckenridge to Chattanooga to counter a developing Federal advance in that direction. Provisions were made to reinforce Beauregard as necessary, but for now he commander both his own men and Kirby Smith’s army in eastern Tennessee.

That left Johnston with what was now formally termed the Army of Mississippi in their camps near the Tennessee River. He officially organized the army into three corps, under the command of Bragg, Hardee, and Floyd. This lasted for less than a month, however, as Floyd soon began suffering his own health problems and had to take a leave of absence from which he would ultimately not return. His corps passed to senior division commander Buckner. Division commanders in the army were a mix of Shiloh veterans and well-performing brigade commanders - the latter category included recently promoted Alexander P. Stewart and Patrick Cleburne. This force, with cavalry and artillery, numbered about 55,000 men. Leaning heavily on senior corps commander Bragg, Johnston continued rigorous training of his men, but with a fairer and lighter hand at discipline than Bragg often suggested. This resulted in an effective level of control over the men while their proficiency grew day by day.

Across the river, by late May Buell began movements of his own, as related earlier. His main move was to put five divisions under the command of Thomas Crittenden, send them back to Nashville, and begin a campaign southward along the railroads. His 30,000 men, added to the Nashville garrison already present, should be enough to pacify middle Tennessee and, if they were not strongly opposed, had a destination of Chattanooga. If they were opposed, Buell could detach more men to support the move. This decision was partly in response to Lincoln’s continued agitation for succor to be brought to the Unionists of eastern Tennessee. But it also helped to alleviate the supply situation at Savannah. Most everything Buell’s army needed was supplied by water, but the Tennessee River water level began dropping as signs of a drought set in, and regular supply ship deliveries became hard to maintain.

Buell also scattered over 35,000 men throughout the northern portions of western Tennessee, west of the river. This was primarily what had been Pope’s Army of the Mississippi, now reorganized and commanded by newish arrival William Rosecrans (Pope had been sent east to command a new Army of Virginia – the post of General-in-Chief remained vacant). The region was plagued by official Rebel cavalry raids, and unofficial bushwhackers and irregulars. Railroads did crisscross the northern portion of the state, linking the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers, and the region had to be pacified to allow for any sustained movement down either river. Mindful of the disaster at Shiloh, Buell and Rosecrans continually pushed for more cavalry of their own to maintain regular patrols. The sheer numbers required meant that support arrived but slowly. However, by July Rosecrans was making progress at protecting vital towns, rail junctions, and supply depots. His longer-term goal, however, of assembling a force large enough to descend down the Mississippi against Fort Pillow and Memphis, however, would have to wait.

That left Buell still in Savannah commanding the department and about 40,000 men in person. Those forces not sent away with Crittenden or scattered with Rosecrans were re-branded the Army of the Tennessee. As senior-most commander not utterly disgraced at Shiloh, Charles Smith had command of this force. Buell’s own senior-most division commander, Thomas, was kicked upstairs to second-in-command of the whole department. Buell did not fully trust Thomas, fearing he had eyes on the department (untrue) and wanted to make a premature offensive move (also untrue). Thomas, who for his part retained good relationships with Buell, accepted his position stoically, and worked well with Smith to rebuild morale and continue training the men who had lived through Shiloh.

As June wore on, Buell seemed content to let his operations play out. Crittenden advanced slowly but steadily southward from Nashville, Rosecrans brought some measure of safety and stability to western Tennessee while stockpiling goods for a move south, and Smith and Thomas made the Army of the Tennessee an effective fighting force once again. However, the real test for all of these actions would only be on the battlefield, and the time(s) and place(s) for these would seemingly be dictated solely by Johnston and the Rebels.
Part 4: The Heartland Campaign
Part 4: The Heartland Campaign
Or: I swear I’m not making Thomas a Mary Sue; Timeline U is just repackaged OTL​


Timeline U: Early July, 1862

Johnston’s decision was almost forced. Clearly remaining on the defensive would only lead to being outnumbered and forced to retreat on all fronts. Therefore, he must pick a Union army, or more than one, and go on the offensive again.

While Union forces were scattered throughout western Tennessee, they could be consolidated quickly and at almost any conceivable target. The two targets of most importance – Memphis and Corinth – already had the largest garrisons and best defenses. That left Thomas’ move towards Chattanooga. His army, while sizeable, was also far away from any immediate support. If Johnston was to rapidly and significantly reinforce Beauregard at Chattanooga, a blow could be struck, taking out Thomas and opening the way for the recapture of Nashville, or even a move into Kentucky. This last point was being espoused increasingly loudly by both Kentucky politicians and Kentucky generals, all claiming that their state would proudly cast her lot with the Confederacy if only an army made its protective presence felt.

This was also claimed by Kirby Smith, despite having no connections to Kentucky. His motivation was personal glory. Having been one of the heroes of Manassas last year, he was rapidly overshadowed by ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, and his independent command in eastern Tennessee (not exactly a glamorous spot to begin with) was now folded under Beauregard’s jurisdiction. But if his men led the way in a successful move into Kentucky, his star would be rising once again.

After a lengthy exchange of telegrams between the generals and Richmond, and pouring over a slew of maps, late in July Johnston began sending two of his corps under Hardee and Polk on a very roundabout rail route to Chattanooga. 5,000 infantrymen per day were carried via Mobile and Montgomery to the Tennessee city, while supply wagons, cavalry, and artillery travelled more directly on roads via Rome. Within two weeks, Beauregard had a force of 30,000 men in Chattanooga with Kirby Smith adding another 15,000 based in Knoxville. This left Johnston in personal command only of Price’s corps of about 17,000 men plus more tenuous command of Van Dorn’s 10,000-ish based from Vicksburg, leaving him at some risk should Smith and Rosecrans advance against him. But the situation called for some risk – the possible rewards were well worth it.

To lay the ground for a move northward Beauregard directed Kirby Smith to let loose the cavalry raider John Hunt Morgan all throughout Tennessee. His raid through Kentucky was a massive success, capturing and paroling over a thousand Yankees, acquiring much-needed horses and supplies, and destroying far more. Panicked officials called for garrisons to be increased all throughout the region, sapping the strength from main Union armies farther south.

Meanwhile Kirby Smith and Beauregard then set off on their campaign seemingly at cross-purposes from each other. Beauregard assumed that the opening move would be to recapture middle Tennessee, with Kentucky only as a follow-up. Kirby Smith, however, had other plans. After requesting (and obtaining) another two brigades from Beauregard’s main force, he scouted out the Union defenses of the Cumberland Gap before deciding, perhaps with some duplicity, that they were too strong to be forced. Using this as justification, and that waiting to invest the Gap would take time they did not have, he argued by early August for a move directly into Kentucky. Beauregard, after some hesitation, came around to the grandness of the plan by August 9th, and made preparations for his own move northward.

Kirby Smith, however, advanced on his own first. Scattering his four divisions in many columns to use various passes through the mountains, he marched deep into Kentucky by the end of August, far in advance of any possible concurrent move by Beauregard. On his own in what was essentially a massive raid, he continued to score successes. On August 29th, the van of his forces neared Richmond, Kentucky. There they encountered somewhat over 10,000 completely raw Union troops who had been assembling to try to stop his move. Waiting a day for most of his forces to arrive, Kirby Smith launched an attack on the 30th. His men, all veterans, utterly demolished their Yankee opponents in a day-long running battle. Particularly of note was acting division commander Patrick Cleburne, whose driving force and skillful flanking moves were largely responsible for breaking the Union’s second defensive line.

The Confederates marched into Lexington to cheering crowds, but this show led to few of the promised throng of new recruits. As the days passed Kirby Smith ran out of ideas. Constrained by the need to gather and protect critical supplies, and disappointed at the lack of volunteers swelling his ranks, he scattered his forces throughout the bluegrass region. Raw Union troops continued to pour in to Louisville and to Cincinnati across the Ohio river, but it would take a long time to organize, arm, and train them to any level of effectiveness. With Louisville the only Union stronghold left in the state (barring the far mountains in the east and the river-bound region to the west), Kirby Smith was left largely to his own devices. The problem was, without Beauregard’s support, or a significant uptick in new Kentucky recruits, he could do little more than he already had. He redoubled his letter-writing to Richmond and to Beauregard, urging him northward with all possible speed.

Beauregard, meanwhile, had to contend with the problem of getting either through or around the Army of the Ohio now commanded by George Thomas. Thomas’ advance along the railroad had stretched to a multi-month affair due to several reasons. Falling water levels along the Tennessee river were preventing regular shipments of supplies via water. The rail lines back to Nashville were constantly under attack by Rebel partisans so shipments that way were bad as well. His troops had quickly resorted to foraging for food as they went. Thomas initially issued orders against this practice, but as the supply situation deteriorated and he saw the impact it was having on his men, he relented as long as the supplies taken were paid for. This order was not always enforced by junior officers, and as time passed and foraging became essential to his men’s well-being, Thomas increasingly turned a blind eye towards the practice. Behind his leading divisions, other troops were hard at work repairing rail lines back towards both Nashville and Corinth, and with more and more men being drawn back for garrison duty.

Still the advance continued, inexorably even if painfully slowly. Targeted raids in August bedeviled Thomas’ supply situation even more, as Forrest struck across Tennessee capturing the supply depot at Murfreesboro. Thomas repeatedly requested reinforcements, not for his main army so much as to protect his rear. Eventually this was granted, with Smith forwarding two divisions from western Tennessee. In spite of this Forrest continued to score victories. Thomas also pestered Washington for cavalry, plenty of it and well-armed, to fight back against the raiders. In this he was less successful, as barely trained mounted units slowly trickled in. By August Thomas had established a policy of not going after Rebel raiding parties in anything short of brigade strength and preferably larger, having seen smaller units (even if they outnumbered their foes) be swallowed up in fights against Forrest. This bore some fruit when a mixed force of infantry and cavalry, outnumbering Morgan three-to-one, managed a drawn battle with him near Hartsfield on August 21.

Finally, on August 23, Beauregard began moving his forces across the Tennessee River. There at the riverbank the infantry sat as their supplies slowly followed. Thomas’ lead division under Alexander McCook reported this, along with a wild overestimate of their strength. Thomas spent some days investigating and acquired a better idea of Confederate strength through extensive cavalry reconnaissance and loyal Unionists reporting from throughout the region. If Thomas brought up his trailing divisions, primarily involved with railroad repair and security, he would have a slight numerical edge against Beauregard, about 35,000 fairly well-trained men against Beauregard’s 30,000. But it would take time to consolidate his forces. Until then Thomas decided to fall back to a more defensible and more easily-supplied position along the rail lines some miles further north in Tennessee.

Leaving a token observation force near the Tennessee River and with cavalry in action as often as their horses could sustainably be, he ordered all available forces to concentrate at McMinnville. Primarily this was for reasons of supply – 10 days’ worth of rations were already on hand, and the town lay at the end of a spur rail line from which supplies could feasibly be delivered. But equally important was the flexibility this gave the Federals. Lying just north of the Cumberland plateau, McMinnville lay squarely between two possible invasion routes that Beauregard may be using. If his target was Nashville, he would come straight up the rail line most likely, and while McMinnville was fairly off of this direct route it was an easy march back to block the line and initiate a battle. If, however, he intended to march for Kentucky via the road to Sparta and bypassing Nashville, good roads also put McMinnville in striking distance of that line. Thomas’ scouting was inconclusive but leaned towards the latter option – McMinnville allowed him to cover all cases. In this he went against the advice of some of his division commanders, preferring a concentration nearer the rail line at Altamont.

It took Beauregard a week to get his supply trains in order, but on August 30 he started his army forward from the Tennessee River. After a brief diversion against the main rail line, Beauregard sent his columns northeastward across Walden’s Ridge. His two wings, now formalized as such and commanded by Hardee and Polk, rejoined at Pikeville in the Sequatchie Valley on September 5. From there they turned due northward to their next waypoint at Sparta. The lead division, under Benjamin Cheatham, approached that town on the 7th.

However, Thomas was aware, in broad scope at least, of Beauregard’s moves. Held in place for two days by the diversion, he nevertheless kept up scouting enough to know of the Rebels real move northward. He also knew that the only good road in the region would see Beauregard pass through Sparta, and as per Thomas’ setup a good road ran straight there from McMinnville. Thus, as Cheatham’s Confederate division neared Sparta from the south at midday on the 7th, Thomas Crittenden’s Union division approached the town from the west.

Initial contact was not made until the afternoon. Cheatham and Crittenden slowly felt each other out, and had committed all of their men by 3:30. Sparta lay on the east (southeast) bank of Calf Killer Creek, reduced to a mere trickle in the worsening drought, but still a barrier to movement. Cheatham got the better of the fighting and Crittenden reformed his men on the west bank of the creek. The rest of the armies marched onto to the field throughout the afternoon, and Thomas and Beauregard made plans for a bigger battle tomorrow.

All onus was on Beauregard to attack. The Army of the Ohio, by its very presence, blocked the way for a continued move towards Kentucky. So Beauregard must drive Thomas’ army from the field, and nothing less would let the campaign continue. Thomas, for his part, assumed a defensive line along a ridge west of the creek, moved artillery up to dominant positions on the ridge, and awaited Beauregard’s move.

Beauregard did some night reconnaissance of his own, which convinced him that Thomas’ left flank was in the air. He ordered Hardee to march upstream to two good crossing points (the water level was a non-issue, but the banks of the dried creek remained hard to climb in most places) at dawn on August 8th, and roll up Thomas’ line. Polk’s wing would demonstrate along the creek proper, and use another crossing point downstream to launch a demonstration against Thomas’ right if it looked favorable.

Both moves ended up coming closer to success than Thomas surely would have liked. Hardee was able to cross the creek bed largely undetected, and while Thomas had ordered his left-most unit, Alexander McCook’s division, to refuse its flank against just such a move, McCook did this with only a part of one brigade and some artillery. This force managed merely to slow Hardee’s initial advance. As the Rebels committed more numbers forward, McCook’s line wavered and eventually broke into retreat. The second division in line, Thomas Wood’s, engaged its brigades in order, each one at a time halting the Confederate onslaught for a time before also being forced back by superior numbers. Each brigade, however, disorganized the Rebels as they advanced and Hardee’s wing also began hemorrhaging units at an increasing rate. By midafternoon, Thomas’ left flank was almost turned back upon his right but held in and around the Snedeker farmhouse. Thomas fed reinforcements into this line to match Hardee move for move. Despite repeated desperate charges by Hardee’s units, under Thomas’ personal supervision this last line held throughout the day. Hardee withdrew his men after nightfall.

On the Confederate left, Polk was slow to get started and did not cross the bed of the creek until Hardee had been engaged for some time. He then compounded this error by converting his demonstration into an outright attack up the hillside straight against Thomas’ right flank. The initial attack was shredded, but Polk kept feeding men into the proposition. Later attacks utilized ravines and other irregularities in the ground to get closer to the Union line, and the Confederates maintained a toehold in Roche’s woods. Eventually the Union line began to run low on ammunition, and the immediate supporting forces had already been sent to support the left flank. About 6:00, with close Confederate artillery support blasting away at a small section of Union line, a gap was finally made. Polk’s last fresh unit, the ‘orphan’ Kentucky brigade of Benjamin Helm, charged into the gap and got to the top of the ridgeline. They were met, in turn, by Thomas’ last fresh unit, Speed Fry’s brigade of Thomas’ old division pulled from the uncontested center of the Union line. In a hand-to-hand melee, the 4th and 10th Kentucky (Union) forced back the 2nd and 6th Kentucky (Confederate) as Fry stopped Helm’s advance cold. This re-established the Union right flank, and Polk’s wing fell back across the creek.

The two armies stared at each other across the creek for the whole day of August 9th, and that night Beauregard ordered a withdrawal back to Chattanooga. He justified this by the heavy casualties he had suffered, the expended ammunition in the battle leading for a need to re-supply, and by the fact that any move further northward would simply expose the Confederate columns to another attack by Thomas. For his part, Thomas spent two more days on the battlefield dealing with burying the dead and caring for the wounded, then marched his army back to McMinnville.

Considering the size of both armies engaged, the Battle of Sparta was a bloodbath. 7,000 Confederates and 8,500 Federals were casualties. Both sides were exhausted from the fight and neither general can be blamed for wanting a pause to rest and refit their armies. Thomas welcomed the opportunity no less than Beauregard. He was disappointed with the performance of some of his subordinates but said nothing untoward in public. He had won a narrow if bloody tactical victory by holding the field.

More importantly, Sparta was a major strategic victory for the Union. With Beauregard’s forces withdrawn south of the Tennessee river, Kirby Smith was isolated in Kentucky and could not remain there for long. It was only a question of whether he would run out of supplies to be pilfered, or if the Union would concentrate enough units to smash him. Kirby Smith was not about to stick around and find out which one would happen first. Doubtless regretting the necessity, he turned his columns southward on August 17th and, in good order and with ‘requisitioned’ supplies filling his wagon trains, Kirby Smith marched back into Tennessee.


Timeline C: Early July, 1862

Johnston made his decision carefully. Remaining on the strategic defensive was not an option. The Union’s advances were slow, but they were being made. Time and numbers were not on the side of the South in the long run. So Johnston must pick a Union army, or more than one, and try to win another Shiloh.

Rosecrans’ scattered forces in northwestern Tennessee appeared vulnerable, but a move against them was risky. Cavalry raids and partisans slowed all of Rosecrans’ efforts, but he was consolidating his position. The positions that Johnston *needed* to hold in the region – Memphis, Corinth, the railroad linking them, and the Tennessee river landings nearest Corinth – he already did. Only small towns dotted the region north of that, and while a campaign could be made it did not have any obvious targets. Also, between the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers the whole region looked like a massive dead-end for Confederate prospects as long as the Union gunboats existed.

A move northeast directly against Nashville would be made against strong opposition by the main Union army under Smith, and they would surely pick a better defensive position than Halleck had in April.

That left Crittenden’s slow advance along the rail line south through middle Tennessee. His army was smaller than Smith’s, and far away from any immediate support. If Johnston was to rapidly and significantly reinforce Beauregard at Chattanooga, he could move forth against Crittenden and take out his army, opening the way to recapture Nashville, or even move into Kentucky. Kentuckians of all stripes vigorously pushed for this move, painting a picture of the tens of thousands of new recruits and wagonloads of supplies the state would provide the Confederate if only its army appeared in person.

Kirby Smith, commanding in eastern Tennessee, appealed to everyone who would listen in favor of such a move. Besides seeking some personal glory for himself, all reports he had heard (erroneously) suggested that Kentucky was ripe for formally joining the Confederacy if its citizens could be protected by southern forces. His army was perhaps strong enough to either force or move past Union defenses at the Cumberland Gap, but anything more than that would require cooperation from Beauregard and massive reinforcements.

Late in July, Johnston put this plan in motion. He entrained the corps of Bragg and Buckner directly along the Memphis and Charleston railroad to the town of Stevenson, Alabama. From there they were in close contact with Beauregard in Chattanooga, and could immediately ensure their crossing of the Tennessee river would be an easy one. The rail line had limited capacity, but moving 5,000 infantrymen per day and with all vehicles and mounted traffic moving in parallel the move was finished in ten days. With Beauregard officially placed in command of these corps, plus Breckenridge’s division already present, he had 45,000 men for the upcoming campaign, plus Kirby Smith adding another 15,000 around Knoxville. This left Johnston in direct command of only Hardee’s corps plus scattered outposts amounting to 17,000 troops in and around Crump’s landing. In an emergency he could recall much of Van Dorn’s army from along the Mississippi and double his forces, but meanwhile he risked being defeated in detail should Smith or Rosecrans make a strong surprise advance. Johnston judged this risk to be minimal in comparison to the possible rewards of Beauregard’s possible operations.

As these preparations were taking place, Beauregard and Kirby Smith let loose their cavalry. The raider John Hunt Morgan tore through Kentucky, capturing thousands of Union men in small garrisons, as well as massive quantities of supplies and horses. Closer to home, Nathan Bedford Forrest gained similar levels of success against Crittenden’s supply lines and other outposts in Tennessee. All Union commanders in the region called for mass reinforcement to protect their rear echelons, and heeding the call Buell ordered Thomas to take two division from Smith’s army back to Nashville to be distributed to key garrisons in brigade strength or greater.

As August dragged on Kirby Smith continued to pester Beauregard about a Kentucky move. Kirby Smith wanted to strike north immediately – scouting having revealed (to his satisfaction at least) that investing the Cumberland Gap forces would be a time-consuming distraction and that all glory was to be had in the bluegrass, the sooner the better. Beauregard, with his supply trains coming in at last, was willing to make a rapid move but was concerned with leaving Crittenden’s army in his rear. Crittenden’s lead elements had by this point advanced to the town of Wartrace on the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, and were nearing Tullahoma. His advance, slow to begin with, was paused again due to Forrest having captured the supply depot at Murfreesboro. Beauregard, for his part, advanced Breckenridge’s division to join Bragg and Buckner on the Tennessee river and began crossing his supply trains on August 13th. More than that he was unwilling to do without a firm plan of advance, which would depend to some extent on how he decided to deal with Crittenden.

Surely frustrated at these delays, Kirby Smith moved first. He split his column, reinforced by Cleburne’s division on loan from Beauregard, across the mountains in four places, to get in the rear of the Cumberland Gap garrison. Moving unsupported into the bluegrass region, he achieved massive successes. On August 24th Kirby Smith’s forces neared Richmond, Kentucky, and the next day faced off against about 10,000 raw Federal troops who had been hastily assembled to stop him. Relying on the superior training of his men, Kirby Smith utterly routed the Yankees in a day-long running fight. Cleburne was of particular note, continuing his good form of strategically flanking and assaulting Federal lines to overwhelm them while taking relatively few casualties.

Cheering civilians greeted the Confederates as they marched into Lexington, but despite an open-armed invitation by Kirby Smith few new recruits joined his forces. Those that did preferred to go into the cavalry, and thus of lesser use to his fighting forces. Running at the end of a very long supply line, Kirby Smith dispersed his forces throughout the historic bluegrass region. The only city still in Union hands was Louisville, and levies of raw Union troops poured into both that city and Cincinnati on the Ohio side of the river. The Confederates were largely unopposed in their efforts, but clearly they would need to achieve a signal military victory and completely expel Union armies from the state in order to truly make Kentucky a Confederate haven. In this, Kirby Smith could do little more than he already had, at least without support. He appealed for Beauregard to increase the speed of his advance and awaited developments.

Beauregard’s army started marching northward on August 18th. He divided his columns but started by following the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad straight towards Crittenden. Union scouting wildly overestimated Confederate numbers, which were temporarily reduced to 38,000 while Cleburne was on loan with Kirby Smith. Crittenden fell back along the railroad to his Murfreesboro supply base. Beauregard let Forrest’s cavalry pursue and harry Crittenden in doing this, in an effort to keep up the impression of a major advance and letting Crittenden fall back all the way into the Nashville defenses. But he did not pursue, recognizing the strength of those defenses and the reinforcements Crittenden was receiving from Thomas.

Instead, at Tullahoma Beauregard turned his column northeastward through Manchester and McMinnville on towards Sparta. From there they marched north again, circling well wide around Nashville, and crossed the Cumberland River and the Kentucky state line near Tompkinsville on August 30th. Still pondering when and where exactly to turn and reunite with Kirby Smith, Beauregard on that day received new from Forrest that the Yankees had turned and were now racing northwards.

As August neared its end and Kirby Smith rampaged through Kentucky, pressure was being applied to Don Carlos Buell from all quarters. As department commander he was responsible for Crittenden’s slow advance, the aim of which (liberating eastern Tennessee) was being strongly pushed by Lincoln. Yet he was also holding a sizeable force quiescent along the Tennessee River at Savannah. Other than the morale victory of penetrating so far south into the Confederacy, this force had been doing nothing of note for the past several months. Already two divisions had been sent to reinforce Crittenden, and now at last with the news from Kentucky Buell recognized the pointlessness of maintaining his position. If he was not going to immediately attack with Smith’s army – and he wasn’t – then it had to be employed elsewhere.

Leaving two more divisions to reinforce Rosecrans and hopefully enable him to do something along the Mississippi River, Buell had Smith put his remaining 24,000 men in motion back towards Nashville. Meanwhile he travelled to Nashville in person to assume command of Crittenden’s men, Thomas’ reinforcements, and Smith once he arrived, plus start giving direct orders to the bevy of generals congregating with the new recruits assembling at Cincinnati and Louisville. By the end of August Crittenden and Thomas were safely at Nashville, with all supply depots and advanced outposts south of that city withdrawn. Smith was less than a week out. But time was critical now that Beauregard may be in a position to cut the Louisville and Nashville railroad in Kentucky. Leaving a strong garrison in Nashville, Buell had to bring the bulk of his army back to Louisville to approach Beauregard from a position of strength, and he had to do so immediately.

As it was, he was too late to save a 4,000-man garrison at Munfordville, a supply depot and key link where the railroad crossed the Green River. The post’s commander, John Wilder, gave a very bloody nose to the initial Confederate brigade that attacked him. However, on September 8th Beauregard arrived with his whole force and surrounded the garrison. Beauregard demanded Wilder’s surrender. Under flag of truce, Wilder was brought into Rebel lines and agreed to surrender only if Beauregard could prove he had the overwhelming numbers he claimed to have – which he indeed did do, and Wilder surrendered on the 11th.

Beauregard and his men got cocky after this easy victory and stopped for a few days to rest. This gave Buell the time he needed to force march his army around the Confederates, reaching Louisville on September 18th. It was a bitter footrace that the boys in blue had suffered to win. Food ran low and water became increasingly scarce. Marching sometimes thirty miles per day, straggling and even desertion was commonplace, but the Federals were justly proud of their accomplishment and of, by their now guarding the line of the Ohio river, saving the states north of that river from any threat of Confederate invasion.

But that was only step one – after some refitting, the next step would be to turn east and face Beauregard in battle. To do this, Buell would have a force upwards of 80,000 men. Of these, however, about a third were utterly raw recruits, arrived in response to the initial panic Kirby Smith caused. Of his ‘trained’ men, many had not fought in a large battle before, instead being on garrison duty for all of their army life. And of his men who had fought in a large battle, for many of them that battle was Shiloh, and despite promising signs it was still an open question how well they would fight again.

To command this conglomeration of men, Buell rechristened the entire force the Army of the Ohio and divided it into three wings. Crittenden remained in command of the right wing. Charles Smith commanded the center wing, which consisted of many of his Shiloh men. Senior division commander Alexander McCook commanded the left wing. Additionally, there were two independent divisions under Gordon Granger and Horatio Wright, with Wright commanding the pair. Thomas remained as second-in-command of the whole army, a position under which he continued to serve with stoic acceptance and loyalty, but surely with increasing longing for a new command. Within the wings, Buell assigned single new regiments to join existing brigades, increasing their strength and easing their transition into combat roles. This still left multiple divisions of newly levied green troops however.

Meanwhile, Beauregard effected his junction with Kirby Smith. However, Beauregard eventually put his foot down, and on October 2nd Kirby Smith moved his forces to the capitol at Frankfurt. There the Confederate high command was feted, and ‘officially’ installed Richard Hawes, the provisional Confederate governor of Kentucky who had until then been effectively in exile. Breckenridge made a direct appeal to his fellow Kentuckians, encouraging them to enlist in the Confederate ranks. Over the next week a few thousand new men would join Beauregard’s army, which was more than all who had signed up for Kirby Smith and Beauregard until that point, but still far short of what had been hoped for. Meanwhile Bragg’s and Buckner’s corps scattered through several towns to the southwest of Frankfort, the most advanced elements as an observation force at Bardstown.

Buell intended to cut the party short. On October 3rd his columns began marching from Louisville. Wright took his two-division column straight towards Frankfurt as a diversion, while the other wings advanced southeastward on three roads towards Bardstown and on in the direction of Danville. The lead Confederate division, A. P. Stewart’s, quickly determined the numerical superiority of the force against them and started retiring eastward.

While Stevenson’s large division of Kirby Smith’s army remained at Frankfurt to protect the capitol, the rest of his army (now effectively a corps) marched south to join Bragg’s and Buckner’s forces consolidating in a generally eastward direction. By October 9th Beauregard had consolidated his men, about 50,000 strong with Kirby Smith’s reinforcements and exclusive of Stevenson’s division, in and around the town of Harrodsburg. A good road ran north to Frankfort maintaining communication with Stevenson, Harrodsburg proper shielded what had previously been the Union’s Camp Dick Robinson and had been renamed the Confederates’ Camp Breckenridge, and approximated their supply depot for the moment.

Buell’s advancing columns reunited around the town of Perryville on October 10th, just ten miles from the Confederates. From there he could have advanced against Beauregard directly to the northeast, or he could continue eastward towards Danville. The latter would put him slightly closer to ‘Camp Breckenridge’ than the Rebels would be, thus forcing Beauregard to either retire on his supplies or attack Buell and allow the Federals to fight on the defensive. For this reason, Buell moved east, with McCook feinting towards Harrodsburg while Smith led the rest of the Union army towards Danville on October 11th.

Beauregard, however, could not stay long at Harrodsburg in either event, having drained the area of its supplies and its fresh water. Danville lay just a few miles west of Dicks River, which still flowed with some amount of water. As the drought had worsened throughout Kentucky questions of logistics came to the forefront of commanders on both sides. Therefore, Beauregard completely ignored McCook’s move, and headed for Danville just ahead of Buell’s main army. With Buell unwilling to dangle McCook now in a position between Beauregard and Stevenson, he was recalled towards the main army late on the 11th.

The lead elements of Beauregard’s army arrived in Danville on the morning of October 12th, a few hours ahead of Charles Smith’s advancing men. By noon Bragg’s corps and part of Buckner’s, numbering about 30,000 men, were in and around the town. Opposing them was Smith’s wing of about 20,000 men. Crittenden’s wing was approaching adding another 20,000 bluecoats, while Buckner’s trailing divisions and Kirby Smith’s men could add an equal number of Confederates. McCook’s wing would tip the numerical balance solidly in the Union’s favor, but due to their longer march they were not likely to arrive until nightfall. Buell trailed in the Union column, directing the movements of his entire army, thus would not launch a major attack today. Beauregard, who had moved to Danville in person, had a narrow window on the 12th to attack first, and he decided to take it.

But Bragg and Buckner could not coordinate their movements properly. Each commander thought that they were playing a supporting role and that the other would begin the major attack. As such, while skirmishing picked up throughout the afternoon and Confederate divisions marched into battle lines, no big moves were made. A little after 3:00, A. P. Stewart led his division of Buckner’s corps forward exceeding his orders, in an attempt to take out a Union battery disrupting his men. This move proved successful, and the sounds of combat finally woke up Bragg and Buckner to attack, but now only a few hours of daylight remained.

Charles Smith had his wing anchored on Snead’s hill to their left and then running along a wooded creek bed south from there. Bragg sent his divisions forward against this position in waves. He underestimated the strength the Union gain gained on the hillside, especially backed by artillery, and Withers’ Confederate division wrecked itself in repeated assaults up the hill. Cleburne’s and Breckenridge’s divisions made more of an impact along the creek, finding ways to get at the Yankee position. Local numerical superiority pushed elements of Smith’s line back, but he threw in his reserves and in desperate fighting along the creek the Union line was reestablished.

It was the Union right, under Crittenden, that proved the weak point. His line ran along a series of fences bounding the Featherston and Warren fields. A low ridgeline anchored his right flank, but the ground was dominated by a taller hill half a mile to its east. This was the position Stewart took against orders, and he did not pause his advance. Buckner, unable to call Stewart back, doubled down on the proposition sending in Bushrod Johnson’s division in support. Crittenden’s line held for a time, with the green troops of Sheridan’s division forcing back the Confederate advance in a particularly impressive display. However, Buckner crammed every artillery battery he could onto Stewart’s hill, and their blasting away at the Union flank disorganized the line. A sunset attack focused on the far flank broke Crittenden’s extreme right, and with the fence line now untenable Crittenden pulled his line back. This in turn uncovered Smith’s wing, and he also retired his line down the Danville-Perryville pike. The field belonged to the Confederates, but they could not significantly follow up the Yankees’ retreat due to oncoming darkness.

Kirby Smith had his troops on the field but due to mismanagement and an errant courier was unable to commit his men to the fight in time. The Confederates not bringing their superior numbers to bear during the small window they actually *had* superior numbers is one of the greatest counterfactual questions of the Heartland Campaign. Most analysis suggests that, with a clear line of retreat, the Union army could not have been prevented from falling back even if they could have been more thoroughly beaten. McCook’s overnight arrival would have stabilized the situation regardless of the outcome of the battle, and questions of supply would force Beauregard to retire before long again regardless of the battle.

In actuality, on October 13th Buell formed a new line a couple of miles west of Danville, with McCook now anchoring the left flank, Smith the right, and Crittenden’s wing as a reserve. He scouted Beauregard’s position looking for a place to counterattack, and made plans for a forward move on the 14th.

Beauregard, however, was not about to give him the chance. Yes he held the field, but with McCook arrived he knew he was now outnumbered, and in fact exaggerated reports convinced him he was very outnumbered. He interned the dead and evacuated his casualties on the 13th, then retired during the night towards Camp Breckenridge. When Buell cautiously moved forward on the 14th, it was to find an empty battlefield.

Granting that the Battle of Danville lasted for less than five hours from start to finish, its casualties were enormous. 5,500 Rebels and 7,000 Yankees fell in that time, though the difference was largely made up of captured Union soldiers from Crittenden’s line breaking, and actual dead and wounded counts were about equal.

Over the next few days Beauregard and Kirby Smith gathered all of the supplies they could get from central Kentucky. They recalled Stevenson’s division from Frankfurt, and after halting a tentative pursuit by Buell at the Battle (read, ‘Skirmish’) of Bryantsville, then abandoned Camp Breckenridge and turned back towards Tennessee.
Part 5: Not Vicksburg
Part 5: Not Vicksburg
Or: The differing analyses of William Starke Rosecrans​

It was supposed to be at Vicksburg. With high bluffs overlooking a U-turn in the Mississippi river, ridges and watercourses protecting just about every land approach route, caverns and crevices to protect civilians and supplies, and a rail link back to the state capitol at Jackson, Vicksburg truly was the ‘Gibraltar of the West’. Should the Yankee invaders manage to capture every other locale of importance along the great river, Vicksburg would stand, and link the Trans-Mississippi to the rest of the Confederacy.

As it turned out, to almost everyone’s surprise on both sides, Vicksburg proved to be a virtual non-entity in the Civil War. Because……


Timeline U: Autumn, 1862

……Vicksburg was lost before a proper fight could be made for it.

Let’s back up a bit. By the end of July, Albert Sydney Johnston had severely weakened his forces in Mississippi in order to reinforce Beauregard for the heartland campaign. What he was left with was personal command of a corps of 17,000 under Stirling Price, still encamped in Tupelo, plus Van Dorn’s command at Vicksburg, a field strength of about 10,000 men plus a garrison. Opposing him was a great intermingling of two Union forces. William Rosecrans commanded what was still named the Army of the Mississippi, while Charles Smith commanded the Army of the Tennessee in person, plus the district as a whole. Several divisions had been sent eastward to either join Thomas or to garrisons in Kentucky and middle Tennessee. What was left amounted to about 50,000 men if they were all gathered together, but they were largely spread in their own garrisons of various sizes, the two largest at Memphis and Corinth.

Price’s corps was patently not large enough to attack anything except an isolated Yankee garrison. Johnston spent most of his time throughout August launching small cavalry raids and occasional infantry movements in order to deceive the northerners and convince them that he had a far larger army than he in fact did. He also tried to collaborate with partisans and others to continue to disrupt Federal supplies and lines of communication. However, after several months of occupation, and a mix of fair treatment towards civilians and harsh reprisals towards partisans, Smith and Rosecrans were beginning to bring a measure of stability to their occupied land.

Despairing of an offensive move in northern Mississippi, Johnston had authorized Van Dorn to launch attacks of his own at Union positions along the lower Mississippi river. Primarily this consisted of an attempt to capture a Union garrison at Baton Rouge. In conjunction with the ironclad ram CSS Arkansas, Van Dorn led this attack on August 11th. The Union garrison was not battle-tested, but had far superior numbers and the backing of a dozen ships. Three of these were sunk by the Arkansas but she proved very unstable attempting to maneuver in the Mississippi’s heavy currents. Enough fire from the ships was directed inland to disrupt the Confederate advance, and ultimately the garrison held.

Van Dorn soon abandoned the effort and returned with most of his army to Vicksburg. The Arkansas’ engines failed while attempting to steam back upriver, and eventually she was scuttled to prevent being captured. One productive thing Van Dorn did do, however, is establish a small garrison of his own at Port Hudson. Unlike the low-lying Baton Rouge, Port Hudson was effectively Vicksburg in miniature, with high bluffs overlooking a hairpin turn in the river. For the Union’s part, just to add insult to injury, they evacuated Baton Rouge and consolidated in New Orleans a week after winning the battle due to supply issues, seeing no strategic purpose to remaining in the city.

Early in September, Johnston thought he saw an opening to attack a Union garrison. Over the past months, Union reinforcements sent eastward crossed the Tennessee river at Eastport. To protect this crossing point a garrison was established at the town of Iuka numbering only a couple thousand men in one brigade. Johnston directed Price to leave behind one division at Tupelo, and advance with about 10,000 men to take out this force.

Leaving his camps on September 3rd and arriving at Iuka on the 6th, Price did just that. He quickly overwhelmed the garrison and was stopped just shy of encircling and capturing the whole force. As it was, he found himself in possession of a couple hundred prisoners and quite a hefty supply train. Seeing no signs of an immediate Union counterattack, wanting time to move the bulk of the captured supplied farther south, and not wanting to harm his men’s morale with an unnecessary retreat, Price elected to remain in Iuka for a while longer.

When Rosecrans heard of the capture of Iuka, he recognized the opportunity for what it was – Price being isolated and vulnerable – and moved quickly to strike back. He assembled the forces he could at Corinth within a day’s travel, about 18,000 men, and on September 8th started marching east. He planned an envelopment, with half of his force commanded by Edward Ord to demonstrate against Price directly. Rosecrans would personally lead the other half of his force on parallel roads to the south, strike Iuka from behind, cut off Price’s escape routes, and destroy him in detail.

To enable communication between the two wings, Rosecrans had laid out a line of couriers as his column advanced, and kept Ord appraised of his progress. However, while this worked well during the march towards Iuka on the 8th and 9th, it broke down at the most important time on the 10th. Ord thought, fairly based on what messages he had received but in opposition to Rosecrans’ orders and intent, that he was to wait for the sounds of Rosecrans attacking first and only then join in. Due to adverse winds limiting sound propagation, these sounds never reached Ord’s position northwest of Iuka.

As things developed, Rosecrans attacked with his own two divisions utterly isolated from any support from Ord. Price was able to concentrate the large majority of his forces against Rosecrans leaving only a token screen against Ord, and make the numbers for the battle fairly even. The fight started at midafternoon and raged into the evening darkness. Charge and countercharge went on for possession of a Union battery on top of a hill in the center of the Union line. Price’s Missourians, now commanded by Henry Little, were in the thick of things, and it took ferocious fighting from the Union brigade of Joseph Mower to ultimately retain the Union artillery, but the Confederates took control of the hill that had anchored the Union position.

During the night, Price took stock of the numbers against him, and withdrew from Iuka while he could do so safely. Rosecrans was at first incredulous at Ord’s explanation of not hearing the sounds of his attack. But corroboration from Ord’s junior officers was fairly unanimous, and Rosecrans ultimately had to accept the situation. He sent Ord’s fresh wing forward in pursuit of Price, lasting for two days but ultimately held off by Confederate cavalry. Almost a thousand men on both sides were lost in the battle and pursuit. With Price holding onto the captured trains but Rosecrans recapturing and regarrisoning the town, little was gained by either side.

As Price returned to his old camps, Johnston acknowledged the situation. Rosecrans and Smith could concentrate enough forces to outnumber him at almost any location in short order. Had Price had his whole corps present, Iuka would not have turned out substantially differently. Only by concentrating all of the men he had left – Price and Van Dorn together – would the Confederates have the numbers to attempt any campaign of importance. Risks would have to be taken, and whatever Johnston attempted to do, it would have to be done with rapidity.

Johnston ordered Van Dorn to leave the absolute minimal garrisons that he could at Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and join him with his main force near Tupelo. Van Dorn delayed as long as possible, pursuing a number of side projects and in general relishing his independent command. However, by the end of September Johnston had a field army of about 24,000 men assembled in northern Mississippi. Also by this time, Beauregard had fallen back to near Chattanooga. Thomas’ army remained in opposition to him, and it was clear that these two concentrations would face off with each other again in this new front. No new reinforcements from either side were going to be sent from Mississippi, and nothing would be quickly sent the other way either.

On the Union side, Rosecrans was disappointed at not being able to crush Price at Iuka, but expressed satisfaction and praise for most of his subordinates who fought in the battle. Talking with Charles Smith after the battle led to rearranging a few units in the regions’ garrisons, shuffling more rested troops further south. Smith, by this time, was personally located in Memphis. While overseeing the region as a whole, reports show that his focus was starting to make long term plans of descending further down the Mississippi river towards Vicksburg in a combined operation with the fleet. Preliminarily this consisted of stockpiling supplies in Memphis, organizing and training troops specifically for this movement, and getting fleet repairs and upgrades ready. All of this would take some time, and meanwhile Rosecrans was given an increasingly free hand with the current field army operating against Johnston.

On October 3rd, reports began coming from Union cavalry and vedettes that a major Rebel advance was in the works. Johnston was heading north, force unknown but plenty large, destination unknown but heading was vaguely towards Bolivar. Rosecrans and Smith exchanged a few messages before the direct telegraph lines were cut (necessitating a longer route to the north and including ship couriers, adding delay to every message). They agreed to call in all the smaller outposts, and concentrate especially at Memphis and Corinth.

Johnston was indeed launching his attack, risking the fate of the theatre on one decisive battle. He also was intentionally angling straight towards the middle of the mass of Union positions along and near the rail line, so as to deceive the Yankees as to his ultimate objective. He did about as well as could be expected with his preparations. Ultimately, his objective was the rail junction at Corinth, and by marching on the path he was taking he could attack from its comparatively unentrenched northwestern side. Once the Union concentrations were done Johnston would have a couple of thousand men less than Rosecrans – Smith in Memphis had a smaller concentration but he was also supported by the gunboats.

Leaving tiny detachments behind to guard their supplies and a key bridge over the Tuscumbia River, the Confederate army encountered Union outposts around Corinth early on October 8th, Van Dorn’s corps leading the way. Price, with a significantly larger corps, spread out on Van Dorn’s left. Rosecrans, from writings he made later, intended to make a fighting withdrawal from Corinth’s outer defensive line, which had fallen into disrepair and was too long for his forces to occupy anyway, to a shorter line he had selected and improved more recently.

On a swelteringly hot day, Johnston’s advance made irregular but good progress. Rosecrans was not able to put together a continuous defensive line until much too late in the day, due to frequent and unclear orders he sent some of his subordinates. Left largely to their own devices, the junior Union commanders fought bravely, but for the most part ended up being isolated and forced back. Against Price’s front in particular multiple Union brigades were all but routed by midday. The Union left, however, was held by John McArthur’s division, and by keeping close eye on and coordinated control amongst his brigades, McArthur was able to do as Rosecrans had intended, fighting while withdrawing and maintaining a solid defensive line at all times.

Meanwhile, after Price’s attack on the Union right made excellent progress early, as he neared Corinth proper his men reached more open fields dominated by Union artillery. Forward progress was much slower from here, and continually arriving Union reinforcements (called in from camps south and east of town) made good the morning’s losses. This included Benjamin Prentiss’ division reaching the front line around 2:00. He launched a brief counterattack to throw off Price’s advance, and then solidified a line linking up with McArthur. Other scattered Union units generally rallied to this line as the afternoon went on. A final assault by Price, coupled with a few Federal units running out of ammunition, broke this line as sunset neared. Union soldiers retreated from all field positions into Rosecrans’ inner defensive line. However, there was not enough time or enough fresh Confederate units to continue an assault against this line today.

During the night, sacrificing sleep for the purpose, Rosecrans finished establishing this much more organized line anchored on several heavy batteries. Most of the routed units were rallied and arranged in a supporting line. Johnston was relatively pleased at his progress on the 8th, but knew he had to win outright on the 9th as his army could not afford to get dragged down into a long and costly battle. Towards this end, he planned a flanking attack for dawn on the 9th, aiming to get around Rosecrans’ right based on the extent of his final line on the 8th. However, a part of Rosecrans’ preparations during the night involved fronting two brigades under David Stanley to the north, essentially forming a big refused flank just in the rear of his main line, guarding against just such a flanking attack.

Price had his wing moving into position by dawn on the 9th, but order delays and a recalcitrant division commander meant that the attack didn’t go forward until full daylight. By that point Stanley was in position and with rudimentary breastworks in place. Instead of shattering the flank of the Union line, Price’s attack was largely shredded to pieces. It broke the main line in one location a couple hundred yards wide, but the Union supporting line quickly counterattacked and patched things up. A few diversionary attacks Johnston ordered along the rest of his line ultimately came to nothing as well, despite a couple of Union regiments temporarily thrown back in disorder and having to be rallied in the streets of Corinth proper.

His attacks having all been tried and failed by late afternoon, Johnston began to withdraw his army that evening. While a couple individual units started an immediate pursuit, Rosecrans let his men rest after two days of fighting and waited until dawn on the 10th to send his whole army forward. Men in both armies were still exhausted, but Rosecrans had McPherson’s fresh brigade just arrived with which to lead the pursuit.

Meanwhile, he had been in telegraphic communications with Smith at Memphis. Upon hearing news of the main fight unfolding at Corinth, Smith began ordering a mass concentration of Union troops in that direction. Any unit that could reach the beleaguered town within two days was forwarded to Rosecrans directly; these he received during and immediately after the battle, McPherson’s men being the last arrivals. As for other units in the region, Smith quickly organized several columns to start heading south to try to cut off Johnston’s communications and surround him. If that was impossible, then they were to join in the pursuit from wherever they were located. Smith knew the numerical advantage he had, and the bounty of supplies he was sitting on in Memphis. He had let the enemy get away cleanly after Shiloh – failing to pursue a second time was not an option.

One of these columns, Stephen Hurlbut’s division marching from Bolivar, got ahead of Johnston’s preferred line of retreat across the Hatchie River at Davis Bridge. This caused Johnston to split his column, with a division to engage Hurlbut and keep him from advancing farther south, while his main body detoured six miles further south to Crum’s Bridge. Due to a quirk of geography at Davis Bridge, each side of the crossing had excellent defensive terrain and was a killing zone for whoever tried to cross. The Confederates crossed first and were blown apart, whereupon they retreated to the east bank, Hurlbut crossed in pursuit, and was shredded in return. This affair led to almost a thousand casualties on both sides and was otherwise pointless.

Johnston managed to get his army across the river at Crum’s Bridge and Rosecrans continued his pursuit. Both columns in this chase were tiring, but to the Confederates must be added the despair of retreating. Rosecrans, with Smith organizing things in support, kept supply trains moving largely in parallel with his columns and kept the gap between pursuer and pursued small. A fairly steady stream of Rebel stragglers fell into the Union’s ranks each day, heightening morale.

Of much more importance was Smith’s main column, led by the division of Lew Wallace. This force marched straight out of Memphis on a long diagonal aiming to intercept the Rebels further south. By the 12th the head of this column arrived at the Confederate supply depot at Holly Springs and quickly overcame the token garrison there. In retreat they managed only to burn a small amount of their supplies, and Wallace found himself in possession of a massive haul of food, ammunition, and other supplies. Johnston’s army, now being forced-march southward, was left with what supplies they were carrying with them and little more unless they could get many dozens of miles ahead of any Federal pursuit – at least to Grenada to the southwest or Macon to the south.

With almost 4,000 men lost as casualties at Corinth, Johnston had fewer than 20,000 troops remaining, including many lightly wounded, and was losing more to straggling each day. With Rosecrans in immediate pursuit and Wallace leading the flanking column, his Union pursuers now outnumbered him by a 2-to-1 margin that was sure to grow over time. Yet issues of supply meant that Johnston could not turn and fight just anywhere. Choosing to angle southwest and remain in close communication with Vicksburg and other points on the lower Mississippi, the Confederate column reached the rail junction at Grenada on October 15th, with Rosecrans and Wallace’s vanguards having linked up and less than a day behind him. Both pursued and pursuers had a hungry day or two marching through the Mississippi Pine Barrens, but other than that scavenging was rampant and provided fair sustenance for soldiers in the chase.

Hoping to at least buy time, if not discourage further pursuit entirely, Johnston made a stand at Grenada, defending the crossings of the Yalobusha River. Rosecrans’ column tried to force a crossing on the 16th against heavy and well-hidden Confederate opposition and was given a bloody nose. Wallace, however, crossed several miles to Rosecrans’ west against virtually no opposition. When they appeared on the Rebels’ flank on the south bank of the river, the defensive line broke quickly. The physical exhaustion of continued retreat and the rapid failure of the river line led to already low morale collapsing further. While Johnston maintained good order over the core of his army, some units broke utterly, with some thousands of men lost to the winds as either deserters or just giving up and surrendering.

Less than 15,000 troops continued the retreat towards the state capitol of Jackson. Johnston was in communication with the garrisons there and at nearby Vicksburg. These consisted of one skeleton brigade of infantry and the heavy artillery at Vicksburg. While useful in a siege environment, these would not address his army’s lack of numbers making them seeming unable to fight a stand-up battle. Holing up in Vicksburg was an option, but the only defensive line that had so far been planned (with construction not even having started) was a long one that would require double Johnston’s strength to hold.

Against the advice of many of his subordinates, Johnston decided that Vicksburg must be evacuated while there was still time to get its artillery and supplies out. He issued the order on October 18th. Over the next two days, the biggest guns were variously brought via train to Jackson and then sent south, while all supplies that could be sent via wagons were. Some quantity was also floated down the Mississippi river. Two artillery pieces could not be physically gotten out, so were spiked and the barrels dumped into the river. A few other supplies were also destroyed, but the large majority was evacuated safely.

As for the army, Johnston got his men past Jackson and into a new camp around Gallatin by the end of the month. About 12,000 bone-weary men tramped in after him and, finally, had a chance to rest and recuperate. 3,000 stragglers found their way to the camp over the next week. Outposts throughout central Mississippi began trickling in too, and reinforcements from other theatres began arriving as well.

Having been given both Vicksburg and Jackson, the Federals were not about to pursue further immediately. Their march south lasted for hundreds of miles, and while Rosecrans’ and Wallace’s columns remained well organized and well supplied thanks to the bounty of fresh-picked corn from surrounding farms, their men were exhausted as well. The two towns, plus much of the state of Mississippi, were more than enough prize for now.

But on October 22nd, as the Union high command reported their capture of Vicksburg back to a delighted nation, and Smith began organizing garrisons in all the newly claimed territory, the fight for the Mississippi valley was not yet done. Unable to prevent Johnston from having time, finally, to regroup, his army was still a force in being, and likely to be restrengthened in the future. On the river itself, Van Dorn’s seemingly forlorn site at Port Hudson was now the last Confederate bastion overlooking the Mississippi. All of Vicksburg’s heavy artillery was forwarded there, where it effectively closed the waterway to civilian traffic and could punishingly fire down onto any warships attempting to force the position. Johnston was unwilling to retreat any further without cause, and his position near Gallatin would have to be forced before any attempt could even be made at Port Hudson. Meanwhile Confederate engineers began laying out more reasonable defensive lines around the river site should an army be forced to retreat into it.

The “mini” Gibraltar of the West, Port Hudson, would remain unconquered for far longer than the Union surely hoped for as their incredibly successful October came to a close.


Timeline C: Autumn, 1862

……other defenses stopped the Federals before they ever got close to Vicksburg.

Let’s back up a bit. After sending most of his army to reinforce Beauregard for his invasion of Kentucky, Albert Sydney Johnston was left in and around Crump’s landing with the 17,000 men of Hardee’s corps plus a few scattered outposts. He also commanded Van Dorn’s army based in Vicksburg of about the same strength. No longer available was the Missourian division of Sterling Price now sent back across the great river. Opposing him was an equally scattered Union force commanded by William Rosecrans. Earlier in the summer this amounted to only 35,000 men, but when Buell pulled his force back from Savannah to fight in the Kentucky campaign, he had left another two divisions behind as reinforcements for Rosecrans. The Union commander thus had about 48,000 men available and would surely take the initiative soon.

Rosecrans’ problems, however, were numerous. Much of his army consisted of troops who had never fought in a major battle. They were largely well-trained, but over a third of his men had spent the entire war in a garrison somewhere. Indeed, even now that is where Rosecrans had to keep a large portion of his army, guarding against Rebel partisans and cavalry raids. By autumn, after several months of occupation, and a mix of fair treatment towards civilians and harsh reprisals towards partisans, Rosecrans was beginning to bring a measure of stability to western Tennessee.

Another big problem for Rosecrans was his lack of cavalry. Ceaseless effort on his part managed to increase his mounted arm’s strength but slowly, hampering reconnaissance efforts against the Confederate positions. For example, while Rosecrans knew early that Johnston had weakened his forces to support Beauregard, it was not until specific Confederate units were reported in Kentucky that he knew, by a logical process of elimination, how few men Johnston had remaining in western Tennessee. It was thus only by September that Rosecrans seriously began preparing for a forward movement.

His biggest problem, however, was picking a location to target. Oh, he had enough supplies accumulated to march into the region at will and pick a fight, but beating Johnston in the field would only bring so much material benefit, if he would just then retreat to a stronghold. The city of Memphis, with its population and industry, would be a blow to the Rebels to capture, as would the rail junction at Corinth. These positions, however, were blocked by Confederate positions at Fort Pillow and Crump’s landing respectively. The landing was just a large Confederate encampment, haunted only by the ghosts of Federal troops lost at Shiloh.

Fort Pillow deserves a longer mention however. Sited on the First Chickasaw Bluff overlooking the Mississippi river many miles north of Memphis, its location was first picked by then-colonel Patrick Cleburne in May of 1861. His small fortification was greatly expanded upon by the command of Gideon Pillow. Construction was finished very early in 1862. Pillow’s plan called for three lines of land fortifications to protect the fort, the longest line two miles long designed to be held by 15,000 men and stretching from Cold Creek to the Mississippi River. Confederate engineers examined the position in March and determined that many cannons, in addition to 15,000 infantrymen, would be needed to hold the line, and that neither it nor any shorter line would allow a severely outnumbered garrison to hold safely. The intermediate line might allow 5,000 men to hold the fort but much artillery would still be needed.

Despite all of this, the position was the best in the region for dominating the Mississippi River itself, so investments in the land defenses were made. Slowly but steadily through the spring and summer of 1862 the defenses at Fort Pillow were made more and more imposing. Both the intermediate and outer lines received parapets and moats. The trenches, originally made too deep for men to fire from without half-climbing out and exposing themselves, were made shallower and head-logs were added to protect men standing up while still letting them fire. Trees were cut down even farther out from the trenches than they were originally, crucially including clearing a series of knolls and ridges to the south of the fort that were on equally high ground as it.

On September 26th Johnston visited the fort to examine its defenses and confer with its garrison commander, and was surprised at the imposing nature of the position. Few high commanders had visited the fort, letting engineers and local commanders handle the site’s improvements and directing things via telegram. Devoting a full day to touring the position, Johnston was impressed enough to seriously consider it as a part of his defensive line, not wanting to repeat the mistake he had made with Fort Donelson of leaving an isolated garrison hanging. To do this, however, he would need more men than he had in just Hardee’s corps. He would need to recall Van Dorn from his expedition along the lower Mississippi.

Van Dorn, given another independent command after his failure at Elkhorn Tavern, was trying to do better on his second attempt. His main effort was a strike to capture a Union garrison at Baton Rouge. Working with the ironclad ram CSS Arkansas, Van Dorn’s army arrived outside the city on August 19th. The Union troops were fairly well trained but had not fought in a big battle before this. They were also backed up by a substantial fleet. Numerically Van Dorn had brought his entire mobile force with him and had quite superior numbers.

With these forces he pushed the Union troops out of their prepared positions back towards the river. The Arkansas damaged several Union ships, but proved hard to maneuver and control in the Mississippi’s currents. Enough fire from the Federal fleet gave cover for the garrison, so that even with them ultimately forced back all the way to the river, they were mostly able to escape via transport ships. Van Dorn inflicted a few hundred casualties and captured some prisoners. However, the city itself was largely indefensible against any major Union counterattack, lying low along the waterline and the Arkansas’ engines making her very unreliable. Van Dorn inventoried what captured Union supplies he could, and left a token garrison in the town for show, but ultimately retired. Along the way back to Vicksburg, Van Dorn also established another garrison at Port Hudson, planning to use the much more favorable terrain here to hold against any major Union effort coming out of New Orleans.

Early in September, Johnston urgently ordered Van Dorn to march northward and join him in western Tennessee. Signs were rapidly growing that Rosecrans was going to finally launch an attack southward. Johnston ordered some of his smaller garrisons to be withdrawn or combined into larger garrisons. Defenses around Corinth and Bolivar were beefed up or refurbished, and additional troops were forwarded to Fort Pillow. Cavalry patrols were increased, and raids were unleashed to discern the path of Rosecrans’ advance.

Rosecrans, for his part, had been fending off increasingly strident calls from Washington to launch his campaign. He had been delaying to build up, train, and arm his forces, especially cavalry. He worked hard to make sure as many of his troops as possible had ‘modern’ rifled weapons (still a challenge for all armies, north and south, that weren’t based in Virginia), and assembled other supplies in bases along the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers. As autumn approached, and Buell added two divisions to Rosecrans’ forces before leaving for Kentucky, Rosecrans felt just about ready to initiate his moves. However, he did not appreciate the continued interference from Washington politicians, and a rift began to grow in particular between him and Secretary of War Stanton.

Union reconnaissance had been significant but not perfect. He knew of the concentration of Rebel forces, particularly at Corinth and Bolivar. He also knew that the position at Fort Pillow had been strengthened. However, he was unaware that when Van Dorn was recalled, the large majority of his troops, with him in command, took up position at Fort Pillow, with 15,000 men fully manning its main defensive line. Rosecrans thought that these reinforcements were instead joining with Hardee’s corps spread between the other two sites.

The Union’s plan, based, on this information, called for the main army to march south along the roads of west Tennessee. From an advanced base in Trenton, near where the Mobile and Ohio railroad met with the Memphis and Ohio, Rosecrans would march south through Jackson and on towards Bolivar. If opposed in the field on this march, Rosecrans figured his army of about 35,000 to have a sizeable numerical advantage, so he would fight and win a major battle freeing western Tennessee. If the Rebels instead concentrated at Bolivar against him, Rosecrans would feint against the town before turning west towards an under-defended Fort Pillow. He would send another 5,000 troops via river transport to join him and overwhelm the Fort’s defenders, thus opening the Mississippi down to at least Memphis. If Johnston chose to neither face Rosecrans in the field nor behind Bolivar’s defenses, Rosecrans would overwhelm the small garrison there, make that town his new advanced base, and instead march towards Corinth to force a battle there instead.

Based on the information available, Rosecrans had crafted a good plan involving a mix of strategic maneuver and advantageous fighting. He gathered his forces around Trenton early in September, and on the 14th began marching southward. Slowed by cavalry all the way, Rosecrans forced his army forward at a regulated pace, maintaining the strength of his men while not allowing mere skirmishes to slow his progress. Other than a full day’s delay crossing Middle Creek, Rosecrans reached Jackson without incident on the 17th. He then turned slightly southwest following the roads to Bolivar.

Johnston’s cavalry reported this move, and he quickly shifted the bulk of Hardee’s corps from camps midway between Bolivar and Corinth towards the former town. Rosecrans’ lead elements appeared outside of Bolivar on the 19th, and skirmishing went on throughout the 20th. The actual numbers were slightly better than two to one in Rosecrans’ favor had he chosen to fight for Bolivar, but the Confederates were behind some well laid-out fortifications.

Instead, Rosecrans stuck to his plan. He left one division commanded by David Stanley, plus a few detached regiments from other commands, to demonstrate against Bolivar. With the bulk of his forces, about 27,000 men, he then countermarched north a few miles before turning west on roads towards Brownsville and on towards the great river and Fort Pillow.

Johnston and Hardee were at first deceived by Rosecrans’ decoy. Fighting on the 21st they were very pleased to hold off Union attacks that were pressed less firmly than they might have been. But by the 22nd, Confederate cavalry and partisans reported the movement of Rosecrans’ main column. Rosecrans was within a day’s march of Fort Pillow and far ahead of any immediate relief efforts the Confederates could send. Johnston sent orders to Van Dorn to hold on at all hazards, and if the position should look to be overrun to breakout with as many men as possible. Meanwhile he would try to destroy Stanley’s force and fall upon Rosecrans from the rear, but Van Dorn *must* hold on for a little while.

Van Dorn had his own scouts out and was aware of Rosecrans’ approach. He sent out a few regiments to delay the Federals, forcing them out of route column whenever possible, and greatly delayed Rosecrans’ investiture of the Fort. The Union did not have a solid line established around Fort Pillow until evening of the 24th. Once their line extended north of the fort to the Mississippi river, Rosecrans’ 5,000 reinforcements were able to disembark. The Union gunboats, operating well with the army, shelled the Fort from a distance but did little damage. It would be down to Rosecrans’ now 32,000-strong army to either storm the landward defenses, or starve the defenders into submission.

The latter would not be an option at this time. Partly this was because, as a long-established supply depot, Van Dorn had filling if uninspiring food supplies to last for a month, while access to Cold Creek gave them water. But the main reason was that Johnston, with the bulk of Hardee’s corps, had become a column of relief and was coming to Van Dorn’s aid.

Johnston had alternative routes available with which to march to Fort Pillow, but Stanley blocked the by-far most direct route, and Johnston did not want to leave a sizeable Union force in his rear. Thus, on September 23rd, Johnston’s men came out of their defenses at Bolivar and attacked Stanley’s holding force. Despite being only a decoy, Stanley had 8,000 men with him, enough while fighting on the defensive to put up a good fight against anything less than Hardee’s whole corps. He kept up his part of the plan well, shuffling men along his defensive line, and fighting off the Confederate’s half-hearted attacks on the 23rd. But on the 24th Johnston put in the whole of Hardee’s corps, Cheatham’s Tennessee division leading the attack, and by sheer force of numbers Stanley’s line was overwhelmed.

Stanley was able to make a fighting withdrawal and avoid a full rout, but most of a brigade was sacrificed for the purpose. 1500 Confederate and 2000 Union troops were lost in the Battles of Bolivar, and the net result was that Johnston had an open road to march towards Fort Pillow. He left behind some cavalry to demonstrate against Stanley and ensure that he continued his withdrawal towards Jackson. Meanwhile, Johnston could arrive outside of Fort Pillow within two days. Rosecrans had that long to either storm the defenses, withdraw, or split his forces to maintain a siege while holding Johnston away from the fort.

Rosecrans elected to at least try to take Van Dorn’s position by attack. Having scouted the defensive line, he sent his men forward at dawn on September 25th. His main push came from the south. Union artillery was well emplaced on an irregular set of hills, some of which were at equal elevation to the Confederate defensive lines and could fire on them to good effect. Union infantry, however, took heavy casualties descending and then climbing out of the ravine in front of the Rebel trenches. Despite this, Union attackers reached the defensive line in multiple places, and even took a small section of the entrenchments. Van Dorn shuffled reserve units to the threatened sections, and over the course of the morning’s fighting forced the attackers back, but it had come close.

Meanwhile, a secondary effort was launched from the northeast spearheaded by McClernand’s division. Here the terrain was comparatively smoother, but the Confederate defensive line just as strong. McClernand’s men suffered immensely, but a few brave regiments hung on to a position about thirty yards away from the abatis, sheltered by a slight roll in the ground. McClernand greatly exaggerated this in a message to Rosecrans, describing his assault as successful and calling for reinforcements. Occupied with the southern attack, Rosecrans took McClernand’s message at face value and ordered another wave of men in to support his attack. The supporting wave enjoyed no more success than the first had, taking heavy casualties and not even reaching the advanced position. By early afternoon that section of field was carpeted in Union dead and wounded, with nothing to show for it.

Rosecrans had suffered almost 4,000 casualties in the morning’s assaults, double Van Dorn’s losses, with the large majority coming from McClernand’s folly. Rosecrans was incensed when he looked over that part of the field himself and saw the politician’s mendacity. The two men had a poisoned relationship from that day onward. Rosecrans tried to have McClernand removed from command, but his political connections saved his position for the time being.

Upon hearing of Johnston’s approach, Rosecrans also decided that, while he might have the numbers to both hold a siege line and stave of the Confederates in his rear, it would be risky. He feared suffered another battlefield reverse in such a short time, and preferred to have his men rest and recuperate before making another attempt at either the Fort or facing Johnston in the field.

Rosecrans pulled his army away from Fort Pillow on September 25th. It took some maneuvering and skirmishing to get around Johnston’s field force, but Rosecrans had far superior numbers against him in the field. At the Battle (read: ‘Skirmish’) of Ripley, Rosecrans got a small measure of revenge by savaging an isolated Confederate brigade, and otherwise forcing Johnston to get off of the main roads and let Rosecrans dictate his own movements.

These movements found the Union army encamped, by the end of September, in the small town of Cherryville, along the Memphis and Ohio railroad and on the north bank of Forked Deer River (south fork). From there they were within easy march along good roads to both Trenton back north and Jackson to the east. The campaign could be resumed at Rosecrans’ leisure, either going again for Fort Pillow or making a more serious effort to take Bolivar and Corinth.

Johnston breathed a sigh of relief at holding onto all of his positions, and enjoyed some satisfaction at the heavier casualties he had inflicted on the Union forces. However, it took the recall of Van Dorn to make his force strong enough to accomplish this. Should Rosecrans be reinforced to any significant measure, the Confederates would be hard-pressed in the future.

However, one thing that was made clear was the strength of the defenses at Fort Pillow. Its strength against riverine assault was already an article of faith. Van Dorn had proved that, properly manned, the land defenses could also stand up to attack. And there was good reason to hold on to the position – the Fort’s fall would almost guarantee the loss of Memphis soon afterwards.

So as September rolled into October, Johnston began forwarding the heaviest armaments from Vicksburg northward, by land and river, to be installed at Fort Pillow. The ‘Gibraltar of the West’ would always be a fallback position, but it would remain untested for now. Fort Pillow became the left anchor of Johnston’s Tennessee defensive line, and as long as it stood strong, it allowed the Confederates to hold onto a large portion of that state against any future Union attack.
So, IRL I will be on vacation for a week, away from all of my reference books, so will not post Part 6 until after that. Already this has become far more than a 1-week project, but I am committed to see it to the end of the war.

For those interested, here are a couple of the maps I have been using to plot out alternate campaigns:


Also, even with the ATLs still not past 1862, I think (I hope) some of the key ideas in each one are clear. What do you, the reading public, think of the following Civil War hot takes?

  • Grant, and by extension Sherman, are absolutely not irreplaceable. Yes Grant had a good idea of high-level inter-theater strategy in 1864, but by that point in the war starting every single campaign at the same time is absolutely not essential, granted that they happen at all (and they *would* all happen, Lincoln having been pushing all war for concerted action). Within a single theater, Grant and Sherman could have been sufficiently-well replaced by a large bevy of other people without much negatively impacting the outcome of the war. Between high-ranking generals taken before their time (e.g. Charles Smith and James McPherson), high-ranking generals who were competent in OTL and possibly much better considering that their historiography is colored by Grant's dislike of them (e.g. William Rosecrans and Lew Wallace), and lower-ranking generals who if they were promoted earlier may have done great things (e.g. Benjamin Prentiss and John McArthur - actually a lot of these categories overlap), the Union's bench was deep indeed. Or of course, Thomas could have just won in the west by himself.
  • If Thomas is not in the clear top tier of Union generals, shared only with Grant and Sherman, then you have simply not researched in-depth enough about what Thomas did during the war. His staving off of the entire Kentucky campaign in Timeline-U is exactly what he proposed to do, recorded in messages in the OR, and was overridden by Buell.
  • Any Confederate victory in the war, if not by foreign intervention, needs an Early PoD to be remotely plausible. At least once a year a thread pops up on this site about the south winning because of something different in 1864. By that time there is no realistic hope for a southern victory - even if they hold out through November, they won't remain in an advantageous position by March 1865 which is when it really matters. McClellan was not a Peace Democrat; he would have continued the war if it was 100% clear the Union was going to win.
  • Such an early Pod will *NOT* be in the Heartland Offensive in 1862. TL-191 and similar has been debated to death on this site, but a stern and detailed look at the Kentucky campaign, plus the known lack of true southern sentiment in the bluegrass, shows that this was even more of a longshot than Lee's invasion of Maryland was. In OTL pretty much everything that could have broken the Confederates' way did do so (Richmond, Munfordsville, Wood killing Nelson, Thomas' sidelining and Gilbert's promotion, etc.). In the battle proper they won a tactical victory against 1 wing of the Union army and that's all. There were *so many* Union troops assembled in and around Louisville that it doesn't matter what Bragg did, he and Kirby Smith were retreating within a month anyway. In my Timeline-C, just to illustrate the point, I still have everything break the Confederates' way, *plus* Kirby Smith combining with *Bragg (now Beauregard) before the battle happens, *plus* a flat extra ~10,000 men on the front end. Here they can beat 2 wings of the Union army. Unfortunately for them, the army has 3 wings.
  • Gideon Pillow really should be in the running for "Best Union General of the entire war". The breakout of Fort Donelson, as described in Timeline-C, is not only plausible, it is arguably what *should have happened* if the Confederate commander was *anybody else*.
  • Rosecrans in particular is not given a fair shake by some historians. The OR shows that he was the one conducting and managing the pursuit after both Iuka and Corinth, and each pursuit was stopped over his objections by Grant. Grant claimed the reverse in his Memoirs, but the official record shows the true story. Confederates' opinions, meanwhile, are that post-Corinth their entire position in Mississippi was at risk and they were never in so much danger as those couple of weeks prior to reorganizing. That section of Timeline-U might be a stretch, but I do not think a large one.
Any Confederate victory in the war, if not by foreign intervention, needs an Early PoD to be remotely plausible. At least once a year a thread pops up on this site about the south winning because of something different in 1864. By that time there is no realistic hope for a southern victory - even if they hold out through November, they won't remain in an advantageous position by March 1865 which is when it really matters. McClellan was not a Peace Democrat; he would have continued the war if it was 100% clear the Union was going to win.
I've wondered if having Grant invade Kentucky before Polk and Pillow can do so would make for a situation more like that of OTL Missouri, especially if Fremont extends his emancipation order to that state as well.
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