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Grant and McClernand

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Grant & McClernand

It was initially believed possible to address the relationship that existed involving military leader U.S. Grant and Congressman John A. McClernand during 1861, and include discussion of that “friendship” in the Pop Quiz item, “We Meet Again,” but there is too much material. And to understand why the relationship became strained before Battle of Shiloh, and how that strain affected the state of readiness at Pittsburg Landing, it must first be understood how the initial friendly relationship between the two men eventuated.

On the face of it, the successful politician, McClernand, ten years more senior, with origins in a Southern state, and with limited experience as a Private during the Black Hawk War, has little in common with the West Point trained, but struggling since his resignation from the Army, Grant. And there does not appear to have been any pre-Civil War contact between the two men (Grant lived in Missouri until 1860) so it is safe to assume that their first encounter occurred June 1861, when finally-a-Colonel Grant permitted Illinois Congressmen Logan and McClernand to address his 21st Infantry Regiment outside of Springfield [Memoirs pages 244 – 5].

The next meeting between Grant and McClernand appears to have taken place after the Disaster at First Manassas, after McClernand had been granted permission to raise his brigade of infantry regiments (and was accorded rank of Brigadier General, junior to Brigadier General Grant.) The relationship appears to have evolved as a “friendship of convenience.” Grant needed assistance in his seniority dispute (September 1861) with Benjamin Prentiss; and McClernand – recently arrived at Cairo – was available to take command of in-arrest Prentiss’s troops in Missouri (this arrangement was suggested by Grant, but not actioned by Fremont – see Papers of USG vol.2 pages 173 – 4). With Prentiss out of the way, Grant relocated to Cairo and established his Head Quarters, District of S.E. Missouri (and benefited from Brigadier General McClernand’s presence when the opportunity to occupy Paducah presented on September 5th). While Grant took the 9th Illinois and 12th Illinois to Kentucky, McClernand remained behind with his brigade and provided defense of Cairo.

Upon return from Paducah, about September 7th, District commander Grant and Post of Cairo commander McClernand had ample time to get to know each other (Grant would remain at Cairo until 21October) and during that time the communications between the two generals is cordial, supportive and frequent… in keeping with a letter sent from McClernand to U.S. Grant dated September 4th: “I will be happy to co-operate with you in all things for the good of the service” (Papers of USG vol.2 page 184). No doubt during this period of close interaction, fellow Democrats Grant and McClernand would have shared “war stories” and may have realized their similar experience as “dispatch riders” (Grant at Monterey during the Mexican War and McClernand during the recent Bull Run Campaign.) McClernand would also have details of that campaign (and Irwin McDowell) not available anywhere else.

From the tone and content of the communications, it appears that Grant was “grooming McClernand to become the best Brigadier he could be” (see Papers of USG vol.2 pp. 184 – 353 and vol.3 pages 67, 88 and 123 – 125). Reports were requested by Grant, the preparation for movement of troops ordered, recommendations provided for establishment of Provost Marshal and other measures (at all times with Grant addressing McClernand as “General” or “Gen.”) The hands-on training with Grant in close proximity culminated with Grant’s brief departure on October 21st for a visit to St. Louis, leaving McClernand in acting-command of the District HQ at Cairo (Papers of USG vol.3 page 67). McClernand obviously passed that test, for on Grant’s return to Cairo he began planning for the Observation of Belmont (and put McClernand to work in helping organize transport and equipage for that expedition – Papers USG vol.3 pp. 98, 103 and 108 – 109).

Papers of US Grant vol.3 pages 123 – 126 details the final preparations and orders for the Expedition against Belmont (with Brigadier General McClernand’s given pride of place as lead brigade.) Following successful completion of the raid, General Grant provides a glowing report of McClernand’s participation (page 142) and McClernand’s own report of Belmont can be read: Papers of US Grant vol.3 pages 196 – 201.

After Belmont, General Grant next left McClernand in acting-command District HQ on November 18th when Grant departed on an inspection tour of Bird’s Point and Cape Girardeau and the frequent communications between the two generals remain cordial and supportive through early February 1862.



References:  Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, volume one

Papers of US Grant volumes 3 & 4 (pages as sited)

Papers of US Grant vol.4 pages 4 (notes: Letter of 12 JAN 1862 from Hillyer) and 6, 38 49 through to page 132 typical of cordial correspondence, Grant and McClernand

Personal Memoirs of John H. Brinton, Major and Surgeon

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The question, "When did the bonds of friendship begin to fray?"

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84031490/1862-02-08/ed-1/seq-1/  Chicago Daily Tribune of 8 FEB 1862 page 1 col.5 "Capture of Ft. Henry"

  • "Only 54 prisoners taken"
  • "The land force [Grant and McClernand] did not reach the fort in time to take part in the action."
  • "Tilghman surrendered to the Navy."

The above report would have been curious to the general reader ("How come so few prisoners?" and "Surrendered to the Navy... where was the Army?") But the serious questions would come from Henry Halleck: "Why was McClernand so late getting to Fort Henry?" was likely followed by "How come no pursuit?"

A victory that should have been welcomed by the North was questioned by the North... and something (or someone) must be responsible for the unsatisfying results.


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Six Days to Enmity

It is evident that the rift that developed between U. S. Grant and John McClernand occurred during a brief span of days: between 1:40 pm on February 6th when the Rebel flag was struck at Fort Henry, until noon on February 12th (when McClernand’s lead elements arrived in vicinity of Fort Donelson, only an hour after the ordered start of the march, supposedly at 11 am.)

The newspapers of the period, although incredulous at the manner of Federal acquisition of Fort Henry were not overly critical of the operation: the Navy is given credit, but both Grant and McClernand – the successful team at Belmont – rate positive mentions in nearly all reports. Therefore, the cause for disaffection must lie elsewhere; most likely, Henry Halleck; or Grant, himself. And “the issue” seems to revolve around “the failure of McClernand to reach Fort Henry until thirty minutes after the surrender to the Navy” and “the lack of pursuit initiated by Brigadier General McClernand.”

McClernand addresses both of these issues in his Fort Henry report of 10 FEB 1862, claiming he did send away his cavalry when he realized his infantry would be too late in arriving to execute a pursuit of the fleeing Rebels (and gives credit to that cavalry for capturing a handful of guns and some prisoners.) And as for the delayed arrival of his infantry, McClernand puts the blame squarely on U. S. Grant for launching the Navy’s thrust and the Army’s advance at the same moment: 11 am… and not giving adequate consideration to the state of the roads, and swollen streams affected by heavy rain, obviously resulting in slowing the march of infantry.

As for the Commander of the Department of the Missouri, Henry Halleck never congratulated U.S. Grant for his role in securing Fort Henry for the Union (and Halleck did congratulate Flag - officer Andrew Foote on February 9th.) Therefore, if Major General Halleck sent a critical communication to Brigadier General Grant, querying the Army’s late arrival and lack of pursuit,  it likely arrived February 9 or 10.

Following the Capture, McClernand’s Division was ordered to camp in vicinity of Fort Henry and defend it from attack (while U.S. Grant intended to launch the follow-up operation against Fort Donelson on February 8th.) Persistent rain and scouts revealed the sad condition of roads connecting Fort Henry to Fort Donelson, and General Grant was forced to put the operation on hold until the state of the roads improved.

On February 10th an improvement in the weather, with likely continuation for the next several days, led to confidence that the drying roads would be ready for the march east very soon: perhaps February 11 or 12. On that day – the 10th – U.S. Grant sent away Captain William Hillyer to Cairo (likely under pretense of guarding prisoners) but probably carrying Grant’s intention to initiate the operation against Fort Donelson (Brigadier General George Cullum at Cairo had “signature authority” from Henry Halleck to approve any and all operations.)

That same day – February 10 – General Grant scheduled a War Council to take place at 2 pm the following day. At the 11 February meeting, Generals C.F. Smith and Lew Wallace expressed their brief opinions concurring that the move on Fort Donelson should go ahead, with no more delays. It appears that John McClernand was last to speak: he pulled out a paper and read his exhaustive recommendations for how the march should be conducted, and how the attack against Fort Donelson should transpire… It is said that General Grant was embarrassed; in any event, it was the last time Grant ever called a Council of War.

Following the breakup of the War Council with the decision – GO ! – General McClernand moved elements of his First Division further east (several miles further east) and on the morning of February 12th began the march of his division towards Fort Donelson at 8 am.

It is my belief that the following occurred:

·         U.S. Grant was embarrassed by the late arrival of his Army at Fort Henry;

·         John McClernand assigned blame for that late arrival to General Grant;

·         John McClernand subsequently embarrassed Grant at the Council of War;

·         General Grant was aware that McClernand had acted on his own initiative to commence the 11 am march of 12 February three hours early.

All the above contributed to U.S. Grant not leaving Brigadier General McClernand in charge when Grant departed early on 15 February to meet with Flag-officer Foote aboard his gunboat.

The rift had occurred: Trust was gone.



References:  Papers of US Grant vol.4 pages 158, 166.

OR 7 pages 126 – 130 (McClernand’s report of Fort Henry)

OR 7 page 123 (Halleck congratulates F/O Foote 9 FEB 1862)

SDG topic, “Ever Hear of Major Mudd?” of 1 NOV 2016.

SDG topic, “Irksome Jessie Scouts” of July 2018.

SDG topic, “Fort Henry is OURS !” of July 2018.

Lew Wallace Autobiography page 377.


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