No amount of energy will move a sand-bar: Sherman reinforcing Chattanooga

Earlier I recalled the difficulties and success experienced moving two corps by railroad from Virginia to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.  But these were not the only forces pushed forward to aid that besieged point.  Even before the battle of Chickamauga, Major-General Henry Halleck ordered troops from Major-General U.S. Grant’s command in Mississippi to make way to Chattanooga.

Major-General William T. Sherman commanded the reinforcements (which in time would grow to four divisions of veteran troops).  But Sherman’s start was delayed for several reasons.  From a transportation perspective, he could not use the rail lines as Major-General Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac veterans used.  Instead Sherman had to march his men to Vicksburg; then use riverboats to reach Memphis; where after a short railroad ride they would march overland towards Chattanooga.  On this day (October 1) in 1863, Brigadier-General Peter Osterhaus’ First Division, Fifteenth Army Corps camped outside Corinth, Mississippi, preparing for the march of about fifty miles across hostile territory.

Sherman himself was a bit further behind at Helena, Arkansas.  There he penned a quick letter for Grant, laced with some of Sherman’s cynicism:

My boat arrived here an hour ago, and the pilots are gone to sound the bar. River very low, and we will surely have to land our men and stock, and pass round the bar, and even then it is doubtful if this boat can pass. River is lower than ever known before. I have sent one of my staff up to General Buford to learn the news. I have papers of the 25th.

Rosecrans is at Chattanooga awaiting re-enforcements. Bragg threatens him close at hand. The newspapers announce that Rosecrans is already re-enforced by Burnside and Sherman. They will doubtless hold us accountable for not passing by magic from Black River to Chattanooga. It will be as much as I expect to get to Memphis to-morrow, and all the Second Division is behind me. We found plenty of wood at Griffin’s Landing, 10 miles below Greenville, and plenty here. The wood at Griffin’s is about a mile back, and is represented by one of my staff at 4,000 cords. It would well pay to send up and haul it to the bank. To move troops along the river, wood-yards must be established. It would be better for the Fourth Division to come on without waiting for the return of these boats, and work their way up on small boats as best they can. I will send your letters up to Cairo by a staff officer.

Minnie is much better, but Willie, my oldest boy, is very sick.

I will push matters from Memphis with all possible energy, but no amount of energy will move a sand-bar.

Comparing the movements from Virginia to that from Mississippi, the difference in planning considerations were as vast as the territory separating the troop movements.  River stages, firewood, and sandbars governed Sherman’s transit, preventing him from moving “by magic from Black River to Chattanooga.”

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 30, Part IV, Serial 53, page 3.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

One thought on “No amount of energy will move a sand-bar: Sherman reinforcing Chattanooga

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: