Friday, March 9, 2012

Breaking and Boarding, Mar 9, 1862

Reveille was an hour early this morning and orders to break camp were issued at roll call.  This had been expected.  To the amazement of the troops, the orders came from Major General Charles F. Smith.

 Although not officially relieved of command, Grant's fate was still in the hands of Gen. Halleck and General in Chief George McClellan.  Halleck had forwarded (unsubstantiated) rumors that the tardiness of Grant's reports was the result of  reverting to his "former habits" and demanded his removal.  There was no evidence of Grant's drinking in his current command, but Captain Grant had been asked to resign his commission in 1854 due to charges of drunkenness and neglect of duty.  He remained in private life until appointed colonel of  the 21st Illinois Infantry. An 1843 graduate of West Point, he was soon promoted to Major General given his experience in the Mexican War. Regardless of their accuracy, these rumors persisted throughout his career.

Some of the qualities that irritated Grant's superiors were the same traits that endeared him to the volunteers.  He wore a slouch hat and blue frock coat, the same as the lower ranks and was casual in his speech and comportment-  a stark contrast to both Halleck and McClellan.

                 Drawing of Union troops boarding a riverboat at St. Louis, MO, c.1863

 It was amid rumblings and speculations that the 17th and 25th infantries boarded the New Uncle Sam at Fort Henry.  She was a commercial steamboat that had been commandeered for military use and served as Grant's floating headquarters at Fort Donelson.  A side-wheeler built in 1857 at New Albany, Indiana, she carried 902 tons and was converted into a tin-clad gunboat, being renamed USS Black Hawk in November 1862.  Later in the war she served as flagship to the Mississippi Squadron and participated in most major naval operations from Vicksburg to the Red River Campaign.  In April 1865, she burned accidentally and sank near Cairo, IL, but on this glorious day she was the pride of the largest inland flotilla in American history.

 USS Black Hawk:   Photograph and ship's history courtesy of Naval Historical Center Online Library

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