Early Moves on the Western Waters 1861-1862
The River War 1861 – 1862
General Winfield Scott’s plan to defeat the Confederate States needed a river navy to succeed in the West and an ocean navy to succeed in the East. In the last blog, I outlined the creation of the Brown River Navy with the building of the Pook boats under the direction of an engineer named Eads. Before those boats were delivered at the end of 1861, steam driven river paddle boats were refitted to carry troops & supplies with others armed with mortars and artillery to support military activity on the Western rivers.
The first of such military activity was on September 3rd, 1861 at Columbus, KY when CSA General Polk occupied the eastern bluffs at this site to dominate the Mississippi River just south of Cairo, IL
Then, on September 6th, under orders from General Fremont, General Grant took a force up the Ohio River and occupied Paducah, KY. Located on the Ohio River. The fort at Paducah gave the Union control of the exits of the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Grant’s force occupied the city and it’s dominating fort without firing a shot. His move preceded a Confederate force that was just sixteen miles East, moving to take the river city for the CSA.
Subsequently, General Fremont was replace by General Halleck. Not a Grant supporter, Halleck non-the-less ordered Grant to attack Confederate forces at Belmont, MO south of Cairo, Ill. It was on the West side of the 800 yard wide Mississippi River across from the Confederate stronghold of Columbus, KY.
So, Grant loaded his troops on converted river boats and moved his force South from Cairo, IL.. They unloaded north of Belmont early in the morning and surprised the Confederate force there. Grant’s force was later repulsed, retreating to the river where they left the area on their river transports under the protective fire of Union gunboats.
Back in Washington City, President Lincoln was pressing for more action in the Western theater. General Halleck, much like his superior General-in-Chief McClellan hesitated to attack Confederate positions in his theater of operations. General Grant proposed an attack on Forts Henry and Donelson.
See the map I sent you earlier.
Capturing these two positions for the Union would be catastrophic for the CSA’s war strategy in the West. Never-the-less, Halleck denied Grant permission to proceed. We will cover this issue in a future blog.