BACK IN THE SADDLE
On June 3, in Corinth, Mississippi, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman persuaded his friend and fellow son of Ohio, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, to stay put and be patient. Frustrated by a month as the powerless “second-in-command” to Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, Grant had been packing to leave, probably for good. In his memoirs, Sherman recalled that he “begged” Grant not to leave, arguing “some happy accident might restore him to favor and his true place.”
Within hours, Grant agreed to wait and Sherman rejoiced. Then, a few days later, Sherman’s prediction came true. Halleck decided to break up the huge force he had assembled at Corinth and send its parts in various directions to hold territory won from the Confederates. As part of this, Grant was restored to command of his Army of the Tennessee and told to take charge of west Tennessee. He would make his headquarters in Memphis (Scenes of the important river port of Memphis before the war are shown above).
Grant liked horses, so he skipped taking a train in favor of riding horseback for the 100-mile trip to Memphis. On Saturday, June 21, Grant climbs on his horse and with only a small escort, heads for his new headquarters. Only recently captured by Union forces, Memphis is the first Confederate city to come under Grant’s direct supervision.
In riding to Memphis, Grant’s lack of concern for his own safety approaches recklessness. For the latter part of the trip he has an escort of only 12 men as he rides through territory still crawling with armed Confederate sympathizers. At one point, troops led by CSA Gen. John K. Jackson came within three-quarters of an hour of intercepting Grant’s little party.
Arriving in Memphis on June 23, Grant finds the city in “bad order, secessionists governing much in their own way.” Never daunted, Grant declares, “In a few days I expect to have everything in good order.” A Confederate major on parole who had unwisely been given the run of the streets was arrested, picket guards were posted around Memphis, clergymen were ordered to omit prayers for the Confederacy, and a provost marshal, backed up by three regiments of Indiana troops, are directed to keep order in the city. Grant orders his Union occupiers to behave themselves. Wandering about, pilfering, or straggling are forbidden; soldiers are told to stay in their camps.
He is back in command, but for the next few months, Grant will have to content himself with housekeeping and security duties. To protect west Tennessee, his troops are too dispersed to undertake major offensive actions. To Grant, this is almost as torturous as serving as Halleck’s toothless second-in-command. However, he has the comfort of having his wife, Julia Dent Grant, join him in Memphis.
Col. Rutherford B. Hayes’ 23rd Ohio is enjoying the summer breezes and not seeing much action, while perched on Flat Top Mountain, a landmark in the southern region of western Virginia. The 3,750-ft mountain stretches for almost 20 miles; the camp of the 23rd positioned near the boundary between Mercer and Raleigh counties.
Like other elements of Gen. Jacob Cox’s Kanahwa Division in the Union army’s Department of the Mountains, the 23rd Ohio is keeping western Virginia safe as the region works to separate itself from old Virginia and become a new Union state.
Frequent scouting expeditions help relieve some of the monotony, but there is a lot to find. Occasionally, enemy scouts are encountered, but these are regular soldiers; stern measures by Cox’s men seem to have ended “bushwhacking” by guerrillas in this region.
AND ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR:
On Monday (June 23), Robert E. Lee—the newly appointed (and not yet impressive) commander of the Confederate forces in Virginia—meets with his generals. Among Them is Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who has just finished his brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley to keep Union forces from reinforcing Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. Now, Lee, Jackson, and company are planning to stop McClellan himself.
The next day, McClellan makes the first move. So close to Richmond that Union soldiers can hear church bells ringing, McClellan sends two divisions across the headwaters of a swamp. Their objective: gain enough ground so Union siege guns can be brought into action and bombard Richmond. The Confederates know that Richmond cannot withstand a siege, so they push back—hard. When darkness halts the bitter fighting, the Yanks have lost much of what they gained early in the day. Their net progress is only 600 yards, achieved at a cost of one casualty for every yard. This, the Battle of Oak Grove, will go down in history as McClellan’s last and only tactical offensive against Richmond.
With that, the so-called Seven Days’ Battles begin, and the initiative passes to Lee. On Thursday (June 26), Lee sends A. P. Hill to drive McClellan out of Mechanicsville, east of Richmond. Hill takes heavy losses without gaining his objective. Nonetheless, the Federals start backpedaling under the pressure. The Battle of Mechanicsville is the beginning of the end for McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign.
The next day, Friday, brings the Battle of Gaines’s Mill, the third of the Seven Days’ battles. Despite yesterday’s shortfall, Lee presses ahead, with more success this time, even while taking more casualties than the Federals. McClellan’s forces continue retreating in what some called a “great skedaddle.”
At the end of the week, McClellan uses a relatively quiet Saturday, June 28, to continue withdrawing, while Lee plans his next move. As usual, McClellan blames others—Lincoln most of all—for his losses. His tone to Lincoln is so bitter and insolent that War Department staffers delete some of his telegram before giving it to the President. McClellan claims he had too few troops (although he hadn’t even used the majority of the men he had on hand). But there were failures on the Confederate side as well. Fresh—or perhaps exhausted—from his brilliant Shenandoah Valley campaign, Jackson keeps showing up late for the battles on the Peninsula.
And so ends the first few days of the Seven Days’ Battles. And so ends yet another Union hope of a quick end to the Civil War.