January 17, 1863: Sherman justifies the Arkansas expedition

William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman sends a more or less personal letter to Grant, arguing that the Arkansas Post expedition actually did some good in securing their supply lines. And he appeals to Grant to come down and take charge personally.

Official Records:


HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
On board Forest Queen, Napoleon, Ark. January 17, 1863.

Major General U. S. GRANT,
Commanding Department of Tennessee:

DEAR GENERAL: I take a liberty of writing you direct semi-officially. Official reports will convey to you a pretty clear idea of our success at the Post Arkansas.

I infer from a remark made by General McClernand that you have disapproved the step. If I could believe that Banks had reduced Port Hudson and appeared at Vicksburg during our absence I would feel the force of your disapproval, but I feel so assured that we will again be at Vicksburg before Banks is there that I cannot think any bad result of this kind can occur. As long as the Post of Arkansas existed on our flank, with boats to ship cannon and men to the month of the Arkansas, we would be annoyed beyond measure whilst operating below. The capture of the Blue Wing was a mere sample. We were compelled to reduced it. Its importance to the enemy cannot be doubted by one who has seen their preparations and heard the assertions of its garrison that it was deemed impregnable. The fort proper was constructed with great care and its armament as good as it could be made. The Post of Arkansas could only have been taken by a strong force, both by land and water, as we took, it, and had we given any previous notice it would have been strongly re-enforced. They had huts built for full 10,000 men, and with 15,000 they could held the levee as far down as the Notrib house, and our landing would have been resisted. Could we have followed up, the capture of Little Rock would have been easy; but even as it is the enemy up the Arkansas can be held in check by a single wooden gunboat. I assure you when next at Vicksburg I will feel much less uneasiness about our communications.

We leave here to-morrow, and will be at Milliken’s Bend or Young’s Point by the next day, and if Banks has taken Port Hudson and appeared below Vicksburg we can easily communicate across; but I do not expect he will be there for some time.
It may be we can put some guns in position along the shore of the Mississippi at a point where I had my pickets, which night occupy the attention of one set of batteries, and if the gunboats will assail the city in front we might possibly land right under the guns, or we may try Haines’ Bluff; but as to forcing a passage at any point along the Yazoo from its month to Haine’s I doubt it. I wish you would come down and see. I only fear McClernand may attempt impossibilities.

Again if Banks does come up it may be the approach from the south may be better; but all their old defenses of last year look to the south. I saw enough to convince me they have about ten field batteries, and I should estimate their siege guns at fifty; I saw about thirty.

The importance of Vicksburg cannot be overestimated, and if possible a larger force should somehow reach the ridge between the Black and Yazoo, so as to approach from the rear.

Please give much attention to the quantity of ammunition and tools. I carried down with me 1,200 axes, pickets, and spades but in spite of all efforts many are lost. We built batteries at Yazoo and up at the Post, and you know how details of our careless men neglect tools.

We have a good deal of real sickness and still more of that sort which develops on the approach of danger.

An attack on Vicksburg will surely draw thither the Grenada force, so that i think you might safely join us and direct our movements.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General, Commanding.

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