Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Grant's Decision

Editor's Note:  Grant's decision to have his forces bivouac near Pittsburg Landing has been discussed and re-cussed for the past 150 years.  Keeping within the framework of this presentation, only situational knowledge that was available to Grant at the time will be presented.  Higher order analysis is reserved for those with loftier goals than this writer possesses.

When Halleck decided to reinstate Grant as Commander of the Army of the Tennessee, he issued the following imperatives.  First, release as many steamboats as possible for other duties along the western rivers.  Second, await the arrival of the Army of the Ohio at Savannah, on the east bank of the Tennessee River.  Third, avoid engagement with the enemy. And fourth, await Halleck's own arrival from Fort Henry.  The Commander of the Western Theater intended to personally take charge of the combined armies for an assault on the railroad junction at Corinth, MS, some 22  miles to the south of Pittsburg Landing.

Given his awareness of the enemy's defensive position at Corinth,  Grant needed to disembark his troops on the west bank to release the steamboats for other duties.  He retained only the timber-clads Tyler and Lexington,  his floating command post Tigress and enough boats to ferry Buell's army across the river when they arrive.

It was Sherman's failed mission at Tyler's Landing and subsequent encampment near Pittsburg Landing which led C.F.Smith to position three divisions of green troops on the portion of the plateau nearest Corinth. It was, however, Grant's decision to follow this pattern and deploy his remaining forces in bivouac-styled encampments between the primitive log church and Pittsburg Landing. These positions were on high ground with boggy, flooded creek beds lying to the north and south. The open fields were separated by lightly wooded tree lines, deep ravines and natural growth southern forest. The primary approach from the south was a relatively narrow band of dry land to the southwest. All in all, a naturally defensible position.

Modern view showing the sun-spattered bottom of a 50 ft-deep ravine near Pittsburg Landing.
Photo by author- all rights reserved.

Why these natural defenses were not enhanced has been a subject of much debate, but we will leave it here with Grant's explanation that he felt the troops needed drilling and discipline more than experience building fortifications.


  1. Enjoyable reading. TSR

  2. General CF Smith had the command at Pittsburg Landing before General US Grant was given back command. The first troops were off-loaded on 17 March, 1862 with both General's Smith and Sherman agreeing to the location and disposition of this initial deployment at Pittsburg Landing. General US Grant arrived at Savannah on 17 March and assumed command from the injured/ailing General CF Smith. The Cherry Mansion in Savannah was chosen as the Headquarters and was shared by General's US Grant and CF Smith.

    The infantryman's bias against erecting bulwarks was that it turned a soldier's thinking from offense to defense. The standard common term against assuming a defensive posture was "Queen of Spades", manly men stood their ground and gave as good as they received. The morass that followed the Battle of Shiloh, wherein, General 'Old Brains' Halleck entrenched his force every mile or so toward Corinth and took a month of time to get there which proves this tactic can harm an Army's 'Esprit de Corps' more by not concentrating on delivering blows but rather choosing tactically on blocking them.

    Our Pentagon's thinking today is to assume the Offensive posture and let the enemy opt for the Defensive position. Vindication was born out at the Battle of Vicksburg, which was believed to be nearly impregnable but was captured after Union Forces invested at that location. The flaw in the Offensive tactic's that Confederate Commander Albert Sidney Johnston possessed was in attacking with a force only roughly comparable in size and not superior in size, like twice in force size. Also, there was no way to wedge the Offensive force of General Johnston in between General Grant and Buell's army(s) when the Tennessee River was under US Navy control?

  3. Thanks for your comment. I, believe that Grant's later successes proved that his "Find, engage & defeat the enemy" approach was validated not only by Halleck's removal from field command but also by the subsequent failure of Buell, who held a similarly overcautious philosophy.

    You are correct that Sherman and Smith began to deploy troops at Pitsburg Landng after Sherman found Tyler's landing to be unsuitable. The majority of his forces, however, were still anchored at Savannah when he arrived. Thus, it was Grant's decision to continue this deployment. Given the givens, it was likely the best choice. The only other option being to set up camp further down river with Wallace at Crump's Landing, which could have easily been accomplished and had better access to rails and raods.

    As for the gunboats' control of the river, I agree that were it not for their bombardment on that first evening of the battle, Grant's last line of defense would have found itself surrounded and Buell's forces would have had to fight their way into the battle. Their contribution to the victory is frequently under appreciated.

  4. Two additional points firstly General Albert S Johnston's battle plan contained the real fatal flaws. The broken landscape along the western Tennessee negated a 'wedge' being made to separate Grant and Buell's forces. General Johnston after being forced to abandon Nashville, KY and Columbus, TN was facing being relieved from the Confederate Western Command. Nearly half of the military material supply and agricultural support in Western Kentucky and Tennessee had been lost as a result of Forts Henry and Donelson surrender. General Winfield Scott's "Anaconda Plan" called for a bolstered brown water Navy with iron clads, timberclads and steamboat flotilla which allowed for the strategic capture of Corinth, via Pittsburg Landing without another major battle following Shiloh, and captured a vital East/West and North/South railway prize that further strangled the South. Also, Island Number Ten fell within the month and Memphis was occupied, yet another choke hold effect for the "Anaconda Plan".

  5. Again, I appreciate your emphasis on the frequently overlooked naval war in the West. After all, the Union even named its' armies after the rivers they were intended to control- The Ohio, The Cumberland, The Tennessee, etc.) Their gunboats dominated the poorly-equipped Confederate Navy on the Mississippi and their fortifications at Henry and Donelson.

    As for Johnston, he certainly had his political detractors but I doubt that any of his western generals were worthy replacements, and none could be spared from the eastern theater. He was faced with the same challenge as Buell- controlling a vast territory with a relatively small army.

  6. By the 1 May, 1862 Flag Officer David G Farragut and General Benjamin Butler had captured the city of New Orleans. Cotton backed war bonds that had been sold by Confederate States with the guarantee/assurances that financial backing would be insured by cotton exports from New Orleans which was now held by Federal Forces. Confederate States never recovered their earlier war bond sales to foreign governments/investors and cotton exportation was effectively constricted. With the conjoining of General Grant's and Buell's armies the fate of the State of Mississippi was sealed.