Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Geographic Primer

The geography and towns near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers can be confusing. The Union used the rivers as much as possible for moving troops, supplies, animals and equipment. A typical river steamer carried about one thousand men, about two regiments.

The rivers meet at Cairo, Illinois, which is pronounced kerr-oh. When driving east on US-60, you cross the Mississippi from Missouri into Cairo for about 30 seconds and then cross the Ohio into Kentucky. The town occupies a tiny peninsula between the two  rivers.

Cape Girardeau is about 35 miles up the Mississippi from Cairo.

Paducah, Kentucky, is 35 miles by land and 50 miles by river boat up the Ohio. The Tennessee river enters the Ohio at Paducah. Only 2 miles further and the Cumberland river joins the Ohio.

Columbus, Kentucky, on the east bank, and Belmont, in Missouri on the west bank of the Mississippi, are about 25 miles down the Mississippi from Cairo.

Located near the confluences of these four great rivers, Cairo was a logical jumping off point for southward movements by Northern forces. Use of these rivers was a great strategic advantage to the Union army and 'brown-water' navy.

Generals in Blue Missouri - Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant graduated from the military academy at West Point, served in the Mexican War and various western posts before resigning from the army as a captain in 1854. He farmed on his brother-in-law’s property near St, Louis and sold firewood in the city. In 1856 he and his wife Julia moved onto his father-in-law’s farm which he dubbed ’Hardscrabble’. Failing as a farmer, they moved into St. Louis and he worked as a bill collector with no success. In 1860, the family moved to Galena, Illinois, where he worked in his father’s leather goods shop.

After the attack on Fort Sumter, Illinois Governor Richard Yates gave Grant a militia commission to recruit, organize and train state volunteer units. On July 10th 1861, Grant was given command of the 21st Illinois Infantry and assigned to west Quincy in northeast Missouri to protect the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad. The 21st moved to Florida (birthplace of Samuel Clemens) and Mexico, protecting railroad repair crews. At Mexico he took command of 2 additional regiments and learned of his promotion to Brigadier General.

Grant’s command was rushed to Ironton on August 8th to counter a Confederate force moving up from Arkansas. Both his new commission and army politics found him there. Technically outranked by Gen. Benjamin Prentiss, Grant was relieved and sent to Jefferson City and a week later to St. Louis. Fremont, sorting out the rank issue, sent Grant to Cape Girardeau with Prentiss reporting to him. When the Confederates occupied Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi, on September 3rd, Grant secured Paducah, Kentucky, on the Ohio, on the 6th, with the 9th and 12th Illinois regiments.

On November 7, 1861 Grant’s troops crossed the Mississippi River and attacked the Confederate camp at Belmont, Missouri across from Columbus. Initially taking the camp, the reinforced Confederates forced Grant’s men to retreat back to Cairo, wiser and experienced.

After Belmont, Grant was appointed to command the Army of the Tennessee, leading it to Shiloh and Vicksburg, then command of the western theater at Chattanooga, commander of all the armies to Appomattox and finally President in 1868.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Generals in Blue Missouri - John Pope

John Pope was appointed a brigadier General of Volunteers on June 14, 1861 and ordered to Illinois on recruiting duty. Shortly thereafter, he was given command of the District of North and Central Missouri, north of the Missouri River and west of the Mississippi. Pope forced Confederate units out of north-central Missouri, taking over 800 prisoners at the small battle of Blackwater, in Johnson County, on December 18.
This action impressed Halleck who selected Pope to command the Army of the Mississippi with 25,000 men on February 23, 1862 and ordered down the Mississippi. A surprise march captured New Madrid on March 14 and then Island No. 10 on April 7. These actions gave the Union access on the Mississippi all the way to Memphis.
Promoted to Major General, Pope commanded under Halleck in northern Mississippi and was then given command of the Army of Virginia. He is best known as the commander at the worst Union defeat in the east at 2nd Manassas. He was then transferred to Minnesota for the rest of the war.
Side fact: Island No. 10 is so-named as it is the 10th major island in the Mississippi south of it's confluence with the Ohio, just south of Island No. 9 and north of Island No. 11 ;)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Generals in Blue Missouri - Samuel R. Curtis

Samuel Curtis was a Republican Iowa Congressman and Colonel of the 2nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to Brigadier General on May 17, 1861 he reported to St. Louis and helped organize the Union forces in the area.

Given command of the Army of the Southwest on Christmas day and it’s 3 divisions, he moved to Rolla. In March 1862, the army moved into northwest Arkansas and won the battle of Pea Ridge on March 7th and 8th. After campaigning in Arkansas, Curtis earned command of the District of Missouri. Coming in political conflict with the Union Republican Governor, Hamilton Rowan Gamble, Curtis was reassigned to the Department of Kansas and Indian Territory.

On October 6th, 1863, Curtis’ son, Major Zarah Curtis, was killed by Quantrill’s guerillas at the massacre of Baxter Springs, Kansas.

During Confederate General Sterling Price’s 1864 invasion, Curtis brought his forces, the self-styled Army of the Border, east and helped defeat Price at the battle of Westport on October 23. Afterwards he was assigned to the Department of the Northwest, leading the military response to Native American uprisings against white settlers.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Generals in Blue Missouri - Henry W. Halleck

Henry Wager Halleck replaced Fremont as commander of the Department of Missouri on November 9, 1861. Halleck was a military theorist and able administrator and quickly sorted out the chaos of corruption, fraud and disorder left by his predecessor. Seldom close to either superiors or subordinates, throughout his career he strove to ensure that credit for good work came to him but that blame for bad fell on others.

While administering the department from St. Louis, Union troops won victories at Pea Ridge, Belmont, Island Number 10 and New Madrid under field generals Samuel Curtis, Ulysses Grant, and John Pope.

Halleck was leery of the talents of his most successful subordinate, Grant. Being risk-averse, Halleck viewed Grant as overly pugnacious, unreliable and carrying a reputation for alcoholism. Grant’s victory at the small battle of Belmont allowed Halleck to give him a bit more leash in Tennessee, after which both their careers pointed south and then east.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Generals in Blue Missouri - John Charles Fremont

John C. Fremont is the most famous man to become a general in Missouri. Famous western explorer, first Republican presidential candidate and controversial adventurer, he was appointed commander of the Department of the West, headquartered in St. Louis, on July 1, 1861.

While Lyon operated in the field, Fremont organized the far-flung federal forces in Missouri and Illinois. Many men were enlisted, but they were short of arms, food and other supplies. Fremont’s manned his staff with friends and family and his requisitioning and purchasing practices came under scrutiny and he was accused of graft and corruption.

With Lyon moving through Missouri, Fremont appointed Ulysses S. Grant to command the post in Cairo, Illinois, train the troops there and prepare for operations in southeast Missouri.

After Lyon’s death in the defeat at Wilson Creek, Fremont collected 40,000 green troops, moved toward Springfield, declared martial law in the state and issued an edict freeing the slaves of disloyal Missourians. He retook Springfield, but President Lincoln, opposed to such a bold move early in the war, reversed the emancipation declaration and removed Fremont from command.

Fremont transferred east, served desultorily and was removed from active service in mid-1862.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Generals in Blue Missouri - Nathaniel Lyon

Nathaniel Lyon was born in Connecticut in 1818 and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1841. He fought in the second Seminole War and the war with Mexico. After the Mexican War he served in California and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where the political climate predicted the coming sectional conflict. A strict, perhaps severe, disciplinarian he was considered impetuous and hot-headed by some.

In February 1861, after the secession winter but before open hostilities, Nathaniel Lyon was assigned to command the federal weapons arsenal in St. Louis. Tension was high for Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson was an avowed southern sympathizer and secessionist. When war began in April and Lincoln called for troops, including 4 regiments from Missouri, Jackson refused. Rather, he assembled the state militia outside at the fairgrounds outside St. Louis in anticipation of fighting for the south.  On May 10, Lyon sent troops to surround and subdue the militia. After capturing the militia and while marching them through St. Louis, pro-southern citizens began to riot. Lyon ordered the troops to defend themselves and they fired into the crowd, killing 28.

A week later, Lyon was given command of all Union troops in Missouri. Shortly­ after, in a fiery meeting, he and Congressman Francis P. Blair met with Governor Jackson and General Sterling Price in peace negotiations. The meeting failed as Lyon stated, “Rather than concede to the state of Missouri the right to dictate to my government in any matter however unimportant, I would see you, and you, and every man, woman, and child in the state dead and buried. This means war.”

Forcing the Missouri State Guard, their leaders, Price and Gov. Jackson, west, Union forces captured Jefferson City, won the first battle of Boonville on June 17th, gained control of the Missouri River and secured most of northern Missouri.

After refitting, recruiting and reorganizing, and uniting with soldiers under Col. Franz Sigel, Lyon’s troops attacked Price, the Missouri State Guard and Confederate regular army troops just south of Springfield at Wilson Creek on August 10. While rallying his outnumbered men, Lyon was shot through the heart and died instantly, the first Union general to die in the conflict.

Lyon’s efforts kept Missouri in the Union. Ironically, the efficiency in clearing northern Missouri of the Guard and regular CSA troops left many pro-southern men behind Union lines and laid the groundwork for the deadly guerilla war that lasted the rest of the war.