The Battle of Arkansas Post
McClernand was a political general who had been a prominent Democrat politician and a member of Congress in antebellum Illinois. He had been commissioned as a brigadier general in May of 1861 after raising the “McClernand’s Brigade”. A close associate of President Lincoln’s, McClernand tried to use that friendship for his own advancement.
In the fall of 1862, McClernand traveled to Washington and attempted to use his political influence with Lincoln and War Secretary Edwin Stanton to receive an independent. In so doing, he earned the enmity of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the general-in-chief, who would punish McClernand for going outside the chain of command.
Despite the letter McClernand received from Lincoln promising the independent command, Halleck made sure that he could override it, using the ‘needs of the service’ as the reason.
In December 1862, Grant had ordered Sherman to take his corps and McClernand’s to Chickasaw Bayou where the attempted to move south against the city of Vicksburg. The Union invaders were repulsed and they returned to Milliken’s Bend. It was here that McClernand took command of the two corps by right of seniority. His force was designated as the Army of the Mississippi.
Fort Hindman was located near the small village of Arkansas Post and was originally named simply, the Post of Arkansas. The fort was a solid, heavily armed, square structure constructed on a horseshoe bend on the Arkansas River on a high bluff in the fall of 1862. The river enters the Mississippi River halfway between Vicksburg and Memphis.
In December 1862, Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill had assumed command of the fort. In late December, Confederate troops captured the steamer the Blue Wing on the Mississippi River and sent it and its cargo of armaments to Churchill’s garrison at Arkansas Post.
McClernand’s, sensing an opportunity, decided to use his new force and join Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s flotilla against Confederates who were disrupting the Union supply lines on the Arkansas River.
Despite Union attempts to avid Confederate discovery of their movements, by January 9, 1863, Churchill was aware of the Union advance. He ordered infantry into a line of rifle pits about two miles north of the fort to impede the Union advance.
McClernand had landed troops south of the fort at Notrebe’s Plantation on the north bank of the river about three miles from the fort and more troops on the south bank.
By 11:00 Am on January 10th, thousands of Union troops had been disembarked at Notrebe’s Plantation. They bagan to advance against Fort Hindman. The Confederate position was anchored by the fort on the banks of the Arkansas River with a line of rifle pits to the west of the fort that ended near the Post Bayou, which protected the position from being turned.
Union gunboats led by the ironclads the Baron DeKalb, the Louisville, and the Cincinnati then moved against Fort Hindman, hammering the fort’s big guns and killing most of the Confederate artillery’s horses in and around the fort. By the time the Union naval bombardment was done, it was too dark to attack, allowing the Confederate troops the opportunity to strengthen their position.
McClernand and his generals spent the morning of the 11th organizing their 32,000 troops for the assault against the 4,900 Confederate defenders. Porter ordered his gunboats to bombard the Confederate positions at about 1:00 PM. The Union naval forces were aided by artillery positioned across the river. By 4:00 PM, the Confederate guns had been silenced and the attack commenced.
After a fierce, half hour firefight, the Confederates waved the white flag of surrender. Although Churchill later denied ordering the surrender, the defenders quit the fight. Union casualties were surprisingly high for such a brief engagement. Union losses were 134 killed, 898 wounded, and 29 missing; incomplete Confederate reports showed 60 killed and 80 wounded, with 4,791 of the garrison captured.
The Confederate prisoners were loaded onto transports and sent to prison camps up the Mississippi River. Confederate armaments and supplies were captured and the fort was razed. McClernand ordered a raid up the river to South Bend, Arkansas to destroy corn supplies. He also sent word to Sherman and Porter that he planned to move against Little Rock, the state capital.
At this point Grant stepped in and countermanded his orders. He ordered McClernand’s Army of the Mississippi to return to Union lines and rejoin the Army of the Tennessee. McClernand’s short-lived career in independent command was officially over. He returned to corps command under Grant’s direct command. The Siege of Vicksburg would now proceed with Ulysses Grant in complete command.