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Army of the West (1862)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For the U.S. army during the Mexican-American War see Army of the West (1846), and for the French Revolutionary army unit see Army of the West (1793).

The Army of the West, also known as the Trans-Mississippi District, was a formation of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War that was a part of the Army of Mississippi. It saw action in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Battle of Corinth, and Battle of Iuka and consisted of about 20,000 personnel.

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[♪upbeat music♪] This Week in Army History. In January 1862, Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley led the approximately 3,000 men of his Army of New Mexico over the Rio Grande from Texas as part of a grandiose plan to snatch the West away from the Union. Never a very thorough strategist, Sibley had no real logistical plan except to capture the supplies stockpiled at Union forts in New Mexico. Facing him were slightly larger forces from the Union under the command of Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, who had unique issues of his own. The majority of his forces were volunteers and militia with a confusing cultural mix of Spanish and English, resulting in prejudice and poor communication. Canby based his forces at Fort Craig and continually depleted Sibley's supplies with raids. When the Confederates finally reached the fort, they realized they did not have the proper equipment to besiege it. On the morning of February 21, Sibley abandoned his positions near the fort and headed north toward a Rio Grande fort at Valverde. Canby sent Colonel Benjamin Roberts with all the Union Cavalry to contest the crossing. Soon a full battle ensued as both commanders sent their forces, "Marching to the sound of the guns." Sibley, as he was wont to do at critical times in the campaign, was stricken by an "unidentifiable illness as well as by indecision." His nickname as the Walking Whiskey Keg may hint at the source of his sickness. Command of the Confederates fell to the very capable Colonel Tom Green. His forces hunkered down in the natural trench of the old riverbed, as both commanders gathered their forces together. Late in the afternoon, they both launched successful assaults simultaneously on the enemy right flank. While Canby's forces were sweeping the Texans out of the riverbed, Green captured the main Union artillery battery, anchoring their position. While Sibley had a tactical victory, his overall situation had actually worsened. Irregular New Mexican Cavalry were able to capture and burn some of his supply trains, left vulnerable when their guards rushed off to the battle. Sibley marched northward to repeat his Valverde performance at Glorieta Pass, again winning a tactical victory while losing his trains and failing to take Fort Union. Eventually, his Army endured a terrible retreat back to Texas, shattered, along with his dreams of conquest. The campaign is believed to be unparalleled in military history in that whilst the winning Army was tactically defeated in every engagement of importance, its enemy was finally driven from the invaded territory, utterly defeated, disheartened, and decimated. [♪upbeat music♪]



Pea Ridge campaign

During 1861, Confederate forces in Missouri and Arkansas were divided into two independent commands: Major General Sterling Price's pro–Confederate Missouri State Guard, based in southwestern Missouri, and Major General Benjamin McCulloch's Confederate volunteers, based in northwestern Arkansas and the Indian Territory. Both Price and McCulloch feuded with each other concerning the proper Confederate strategy in the Trans–Mississippi area, and cooperated only once, during the Wilson's Creek campaign in August 1861.[1] During February 1862, the Union Army of the Southwest commanded by Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis drove the Missouri State Guard out of the state and into northwestern Arkansas, where Price united with McCulloch's forces. The Confederates settled into winter quarters in the northern Boston Mountains, where Price immediately started feuding with McCulloch again. Price also started the process of enlisting his men from the Missouri State Guard into the Confederate volunteer army but the process was slow and only one brigade was organized onto complete regiments by March; another brigade was composed only of battalions and a third of partial organized battalions and companies.[2]

To solve the problem of having two feuding commanders in Arkansas, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed Major General Earl Van Dorn to command the District of the Trans–Mississippi, which covered Missouri, Arkansas, the Indian Territory, and northern Louisiana; the district was part of the Confederate Department No. 2, commanded by General Albert Johnston. Once he arrived in Arkansas, Van Dorn designated each command a division and enlisted additional troops, organizing them into the 19th and 20th Arkansas Infantry regiments. He also ordered Brigadier General Albert Pike to bring his brigade from the Indian Territory to Arkansas but only two regiments (the 1st and 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles) reached Van Dorn's army before the campaign started.[3]

Van Dorn launched his offensive on March 5; when he discovered that Curtis was positioned behind fortifications located along the Little Sugar Creek, Van Dorn decided to march around the Union left flank and attack from the rear, starting the flanking march during the night of March 6–7. There was a delay as the Confederates had to construct a bridge over the Little Sugar Creek; by morning Price's division arrived at the Telegraph Road north of Curtis's fortifications, with McCulloch behind him and a rocky ridge called Big Mountain between the Confederates and the Union army. At this time, McCulloch received permission to head around the southern shoulder of Big Mountain and meet up with Price near Elkhorn Tavern, since this would shorten the distance he would travel. However, a portion of the Union army, commanded by Brigadier General Franz Sigel intercepted McCulloch's men near the southwest corner of Big Mountain. While an attack by Pike's brigade and Brigadier General James McIntosh's cavalry brigade drove back the Union forces from their initial positions, McCulloch was killed while scouting the second Union line, McIntosh was killed while leading a regiment into position, and Union reinforcements routed McCulloch's infantry brigade and captured its leader, Colonel Louis Hebert.[4] Pike was able to rally a portion of the division and lead it back to the Bentonville Detour, where it marched around the northern end of Big Mountain and to Elkhorn Tavern. Colonel Elkanah Greer of the 3rd Texas Cavalry took command of another portion of the division and, after holding his position until after dark, also marched around Big Mountain to the tavern.[5]

Meanwhile, Price's force, accompanied by Van Dorn, arrived near Elkhorn Tavern to find Colonel Eugene Carr's Union division defending the crest. Price deployed the State Guard on his left and the Missouri Confederate brigades on the right; following an artillery bombardment, he ordered a charge. The Confederates were able to drive back the Union line and capture a cannon but couldn't rout Carr's division; one of Price's brigade commanders was killed and Price himself was wounded twice but not seriously enough to leave the field.[6] During the night, the remains of McCulloch's division arrived at Elkhorn Tavern but no supplies came, since the supply train was located several miles away at the initial Confederate positions and Van Dorn failed to order it to follow the army; as a result, the Confederates were low on ammunition.[7]

Curtis concentrated his army around the Confederate positions near Elkhorn Tavern during the night; at dawn he started an artillery bombardment which lasted two hours. Due to having no ammunition reserves nearby, the Confederates soon ran very low on artillery shells and couldn't resupply for at least five or six hours. Van Dorn ordered his army to retreat towards the east before moving southwards. Neither Van Dorn nor Price remained behind to supervise the retreat, so the units left the field chaotically, with the artillery batteries leaving as they ran out of ammunition and the infantry and cavalry regiments following.[8]

Once the army arrived at Van Buren, Van Dorn reorganized it into a single division under Price, with four infantry brigades, two cavalry brigades, and an artillery brigade. At this time, General P. G. T. Beauregard, acting for Johnston, ordered Van Dorn to bring his army to Corinth, Mississippi to join Johnston's force for an attack on the Union army at Shiloh. However, due to bad roads Van Dorn failed to reach Corinth until a week after the Battle of Shiloh; in addition, Van Dorn brought all supplies he could, including the machinery and stores at the Little Rock arsenal, to northern Mississippi with him, and left few men behind.[9]

Iuka-Corinth Campaign

Following the transfer of the Army of the West to Corinth, part of the army was incorporated into the Army of Mississippi. The remaining units were reorganized by Price into two divisions commanded by Brigadier Generals Henry Little and Dabney Maury, with a cavalry brigade commanded by Colonel Frank Armstrong. As part of the preparations for the Perryville campaign, the new commander of Department No. 2, General Braxton Bragg, divided Mississippi into several commands to defend the state in his absence. Van Dorn was appointed commander of the District of the Mississippi, centered around Vicksburg; Price was given the District of the Tennessee, covering northwestern Mississippi and northeastern Alabama, with the Army of the West as his field army. Price was ordered to hold the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and prevent the Union forces in western Tennessee, commanded by U. S. Grant and William S. Rosecrans, from reinforcing the Union army in Kentucky, with Van Dorn to cooperate with Price. Initially, Van Dorn refused to unite his force with Price's, instead concentrating on recapturing Baton Rouge, Louisiana; when that attack failed, Van Dorn reconsidered Price's proposal of invading the Union held territory.[10]

In the meantime, Price launched an offensive without waiting for Van Dorn's forces, mostly due to pressure from Bragg. He captured without a fight the town of Iuka on September 14, along with many supplies abandoned by the Union garrison. Grant and Rosecrans immediately formed a plan of trapping Price, with Grant moving in from the northwest to hold Price's attention, while Rosecrans attacked from the south and southwest to cut off Price's lines of retreat. The two columns reached Iuka on September 19 but due to poor communications and misunderstanding, Grant failed to attack as planned. This enabled Price to concentrate on Rosecrans, resulting in the Battle of Iuka; the Confederates overpowered the initial Union line and held it against Union counterattacks. Upon learning of Grant's approach, Price decided to retreat to avoid being surrounded; total Confederate casualties were 652, with Little killed and succeeded by Brigadier General Louis Hebert.[11]

Uniting with Van Dorn at Ripley, Mississippi on September 28, Price placed himself under Van Dorn's command. The Army of the West was redesignated Price's Corps, which with Mansfield Lovell's division from the District of the Mississippi, formed Van Dorn's Army of West Tennessee. (Lovell's division remained separate from Price's corps and reported directly to Van Dorn.) Van Dorn then informed Price of his plans to capture Corinth: first the Confederates would march to Pocahontas, northwest of Corinth, in order to confuse the Union high command, then turn around and attack Corinth from the north and northwest. Although opposed to the plan, Price went along with it. During the two‑day Battle of Corinth, Price's corps did much of the fighting. On the first day, Price's troops drove the Union troops from their lines north of Corinth into their second line of fortifications; on the second, his divisions overran several parts of the Union line and briefly entered into Corinth but had to fall back due to lack of support. Hebert reported himself sick on the morning of the second day and was replaced by Brigadier General Martin E. Green; in addition, several field officers were killed or wounded during the battle. During both days, Lovell failed to fully support Price's attacks, which may have been due to his opposition to attacking Corinth at all.[12]

Van Dorn ordered a retreat first towards Pocahontas, where he proposed for the Confederate army to attack Corinth again from the south; both Price and Maury talked him out of it. The retreat continued westward, with Lovell's division serving as a rearguard against Rosecrans and Price's divisions in front. On the morning of October 6, Van Dorn learned that another Union force commanded by Stephen Hulbut was approaching from the west; he assigned Maury's division to hold the Davis Bridge over the Hatchie River until the army could reach another crossing six miles to the south. Maury formed a line on the west side of the creek but the line was overrun with the loss of 300 prisoners. Hulbut then crossed several regiments to the east bank, which suffered 570 casualties, mostly due to sharpshooters and artillery fire. Once a temporary bridge was built across the Hatchie, the Confederate army retreated to Holly Springs.[13]

Price's force lost 35 percent of its strength, with most of the casualties in Maury's division (2,500 men out of 3,900, with another 600 desertions during the retreat). Both Price's and Van Dorn's districts were merged into the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, commanded by Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, who took over the Army of West Tennessee. Price was reassigned to the Trans-Mississippi Department in February 1863 but the Missouri regiments were not transferred with him as he had requested.[14]


See also


  1. ^ Shea & Hess, pp. 2, 19.
  2. ^ Josephy, pp. 336–338.
  3. ^ Shea & Hess, pp. 23–25, 58.
  4. ^ Shea & Hess, p. 87; Josephy, pp. 343–344.
  5. ^ Shea & Hess, pp. 210–211.
  6. ^ Josephy, pp. 344–345.
  7. ^ Shea & Hess, pp. 214–215.
  8. ^ Shea & Hess, pp. 236, 239–240.
  9. ^ Shea & Hess, pp. 285, 287, 289.
  10. ^ Cozzens, p. 39, 42–43, 59–60.
  11. ^ Cozzens, pp. 50, 56–57, 63–65, 70, 74–115, 133.
  12. ^ Cozzens, pp. 136–140, 175–193, 203–213, 237–268, 271, 306.
  13. ^ Cozzens, pp. 277–279, 285–290, 300.
  14. ^ Cozzens, pp. 305–307, 321–322.


  • Cozzens, Peter. The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka & Corinth. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8078-2320-1
  • Josephy, Jr., Alvin M. The Civil War in the American West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. ISBN 0-394-56482-0.
  • Shea, William L. & Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8078-2042-3.

External links

This page was last edited on 29 July 2018, at 05:50
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