WAR IN THE WEST: THE RIVER WAR
CONTROL OF THE WESTERN RIVERS
1861 – 1862
Ulysses s. Grand, a political appointee of the Illinois governor, had been given command of troops stationed in Cairo, Illinois. In January of 1862, Grant suggested to his superior, General Halleck that he be allowed to attack Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and following that attack fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. Halleck refused to approve this proposal. It wasn’t that Halleck did not feel the project had merit. Rather, he just did not want to approve such a venture under Grant’s command.
Halleck did not like Grant. His animosity went back to their service days in California. There, Halleck knew Grant as a man who could not hold his liquor; a man who was forced to resign his army commission or face a court martial for being intoxicated while on duty.
But the Grant of 1861 was a sober man and a determined one, too. He sent some of his men east to occupy the fort at Paducah on the Ohio River. He also enlisted the support of naval Captain Foote for a joint naval/army operation against the two forts. He and Foote proposed the attack again on January 28th. Halleck knew the strategic importance of these two forts. and, Grand and Foote’s proposal came at the same time Lincoln was putting pressure on Halleck to begin some sort of offensive operation in the West. This time, Halleck authorized the project.
The approval came at the very time that the new military river craft were being delivered to Halleck’s command. In January 1862, Foote took delivery of seven City Class ironclads. Designed for river use, they only needed seven feet of water, it was said they could sail on the mist.
Western river battles and joint operations with the Union army, won by the Union in 1862:
Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Nashville, Island Number 10, Fort Columbus, Fort Pillow, Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh), Memphis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Natchez, and New Madrid. The Union’s Brown River Navy defeated it’s Confederate opponent in every engagement.