June 13, 1863: McClernand’s Order #72 gets him in hot water

Gen. John A. McClernand

About this time, the Northern papers started reaching the Vicksburg lines with reports of McClernand’s “General Order #72″. This was not, in fact, an order, but a congratulatory (largely *self*congratulatory) address to his 13th Army Corps as they settled into the siege of Vicksburg, issued on May 30, and promptly leaked to the press by McClernand’s headquarters. Firstly, the order itself was offensive and insubordinate; but in any case, releasing it to the press without approval from Grant was a clear violation of War Department regulations. Grant demanded of McClernand whether the order was genuine, and McClernand’s adjutant replied by sending a copy of the original order.

Official Records:


HEADQUARTERS THIRTEENTH ARMY CORPS, near Vicksburg, MISS., June 13, 1863.
Lieutenant Colonel John A. RAWLINS,
Assistant Adjutant-GENERAL:

SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of Major-General Grant’s dispatch to General McClernand in relation to his address to the officers and soldiers of the Thirteenth Army Corps. The major-general commanding was absent at the time of its receipt, and has not yet returned.

I hasten to comply with the order of General Grant by inclosing a correct copy of the address.

Your most obedient servant,
WALTER B. SCATES,
Lieutenant-Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General.

Major-General.

McClernand’s address is given here in full. Much of it is more or less accurate, although it gives the impression throughout that it was all McClernand’s idea, rather than Grant’s plan that he followed under orders. The most inflammatory part is his claim that, when his army got a temporary foothold on the defenses of Vicksburg, the battle was lost through inaction on the part of other armies.

How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth Army Corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle criminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If, while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for by a diversion at other points, or by re-enforcement, it only asked what in one case Major-General Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attack all along our lines until the enemy’s outer works should be carried, and what, in the other, by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.

This is most directly a criticism of McPherson, whose army was next to McClernand’s, although Sherman too offense as well; all the armies were hotly engaged during the assault and took significant losses. It’s also a criticism of Grant for lacking control over his armies, or failing to concentrate his forces.

GENERAL ORDERS, HDQRS. THIRTEENTH ARMY CORPS, Number 72
Battle-field, in rear of Vicksburg, May 30, 1863.

COMRADES: As your commander, I am proud to congratulate you upon your constancy, valor, and successes. History affords no more brilliant example of soldierly qualities. Your victories have followed in such rapid succession that their echoes have not yet reached the country. They will challenge its grateful and enthusiastic applause. Yourselves striking out a new path, your comrades of the Army of the Tennessee followed, and a way was thus opened for them to redeem previous disappointments. Your march through Louisiana, from Milliken’s Bend to New Cartage and Perkins’ plantation, on the Mississippi River, is one of the most remarkable on record. Bayous and miry roads, threatened with momentary inundation, obstructed your progress. All these were overcome by unceasing labor and unflagging energy. The 2,000 feet of bridging which was hastily improvised out of materials created on the spot, and over which you passed, must long be remembered as a marvel. Descending the Mississippi still lower, you were the first to cross the river at Bruin’s Landing and to plant our colors in the State of Mississippi below Warrenton. Resuming the advance the same day, you pushed on until you came up to the enemy near Port Gibson. Only restrained by the darkness of night, you hastened to attack him on the
morning of May 1, and by vigorously pressing him at all points drove him from his position, taking a large number of prisoners and small arms and five pieces of cannon. General Logan’s DIVISION came up in time to gallantly share in consummating the most valuable victory won since the capture of Fort Donelson.

Taking the lead on the morning of the 2nd, you were the first to enter Port Gibson and to hasten the retreat of the enemy from the vicinity of that place. During the ensuing night, as a consequence of the victory at Port Gibson, the enemy spiked his guns at Grand Gulf and evacuated that place, retiring upon Vicksburg and Edwards Station. The fall of Grand Gulf was solely the result of the victory achieved by the land forces at Port Gibson. The armament and public stores captured there are but the just trophies of that victory. Hastening to bridge the South Branch of the Bayou Pierre, at Port Gibson, you crossed on the morning of the 3rd, and pushed on to Willow Springs, Big Sandy, and the main crossing of Fourteen Mile Creek, 4 miles from Edwards Station. A detachment of the enemy was immediately driven away from the crossing, and you advanced, passed over, and rested during the night of the 12th within 3 miles of the enemy, in large force at the station.

On the morning of the 13th, the objective point of the army’s movements having been changed from Edwards Station to Jackson, in pursuance of an order from the commander of the department, you moved on the north side of Fourteen Mile Creek toward Raymond. This delicate and hazardous movement was executed by a portion of your number cover of Hovey’s DIVISION, which made a feint of attack in line of battle upon Edwards Station. Too late to harm you, the enemy attacked the rear of that DIVISION, but was promptly and decisively repulsed.

Resting near Raymond that night, on the morning of the 14th you entered that place, one DIVISION moving on to Mississippi Sprin, in support of General Sherman; another to Clinton, in support of General McPherson; a THIRD remaining at Raymond, and a fourth at Old Auburn, to bring up the army trains.

On the 15th, you again led the advance toward Edwards Station, which again more became the objective point. Expelling the enemy’s pickets from Bolton the same day, you secured and held that important position.

On the 16th, you led the advance, in three columns upon three roads, against Edward Station. Meeting the enemy on the way in strong force, you heavily engaged him near Champion’s Hill, and after a sanguinary and obstinate battle, with the assistance of General McPherson’s corps, beat and routed him, taking many prisoners and small arms and several pieces of cannon. Continuing to lead the advance, you rapidly pursued the enemy to Edwards Station, capturing that place, a large quantity of public stores, and many prisoners. Night only stopped you.

At day dawn on the 17th, you resumed the advance, and early coming upon the enemy strongly intrenched in elaborate works, both before and behind Big Black River, immediately opened with artillery upon him, followed by a daring and heroic charge at the point of the bayonet, which put him to rout, leaving eighteen pieces of cannon and more than 1,000 prisoners in your hands.

By an early hour on the 18th, you had constructed a bridge across the Big Black, and had commenced the advance upon Vicksburg.
On the 19th, 20th, and 21st you continued to reconnoiter and skirmish until you had gained a near approach to the enemy’s works.
On the 22nd, in pursuance of the order from the commander of the department, you assaulted the enemy’s defenses in front at 10 a. m., and within thirty minutes had made a lodgment and planted your colors upon two of his bastions. This partial success called into exercise the highest heroism, and was only gained by a bloody and protracted struggle; yet it was gained, and was the first and largests success achieved anywhere along the whole line of our army. For nearly eight hours, under a scorching sun and destructive fire, you firmly held your footing, and only withdrew when the enemy had largely massed their forces and concentrated their attack upon you. How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth Army Corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle criminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If, while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for by a diversion at other points, or by re-enforcement, it only asked what in one case Major-General Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attack all along our lines until the enemy’s outer works should be carried, and what, in the other, by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.

Comrades, you have done much, yet something more remains to be done. The enemy’s odious defenses still block your access to Vicksburg. Treason still rules that rebellious city, and closes the Mississippi River against rightful use by the Illinois who inhabit its sources and the great Northwest. Shall not our flag float over Vicksburg? Shall not the great Father of Waters be opened to lawful commerce? Methinks the emphatic response of one and all of you is, “It shall be so. ” Then let us rise to the level of a crowning trial. Let our common sufferings and glories, while uniting as a band of brothers, rouse us to new and surpassing efforts. Let us resolve upon success, God helping us.

I join with you, comrades, in your sympathy for the wounded and sorrow for the dead. May we not trust, nay, is it not so, that history will associate the martyrs of this sacred struggle for law and order, liberty and justice, with the honored martyrs of Monmouth and Bunker Hill?

JOHN A. McClernand,
Major-General, Commanding.

This entry was posted in James B. McPherson, John A. McClernand, Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant, Vicksburg, William Tecumseh Sherman. Bookmark the permalink.

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