March 5–November 20, 1862
Officially organized on March 5, 1862, the Army of the Mississippi transitioned into the Army of Tennessee, the Confederacy's preeminent fighting force in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.
Origins of the Army of the Mississippi
Although not officially organized until March 5, 1862, the roots of the Army of the Mississippi trace back to 1861. Prior to Tennessee's secession from the Union on June 8, 1861, the state legislature authorized Governor Isham Harris to enter into a military league with the Confederate States of America. Soon after this authorization, a large majority of Tennesseans ratified an ordinance of secession, the legislature enacted a measure to raise an army of fifty-five thousand men. Harris initially appointed Gideon Pillow to command the state's forces and sent him to Memphis to begin preparations for seizing control of the Mississippi River.
On July 13, 1861, Governor Harris authorized the Tennessee Provisional Army to serve under Confederate General Leonidas Polk, although the state's forces would not be folded into the Provisional Confederate Army until July 31. Five weeks later, Polk committed one of the bigger blunders of the Civil War. On September 4, 1861, without authorization, Polk violated Kentucky's neutrality by ordering Pillow to invade the Bluegrass State to occupy Columbus, an important port on the Mississippi River. Within one week, voters in Kentucky elected a new Unionist legislature that acted to end the state's neutrality. Any hopes that the South had for persuading the Kentucky commonwealth to join the Confederacy were lost for the remainder of the war.
Albert Sidney Johnston Takes Command
Six days after Polk's impolitic invasion of Kentucky, President Jefferson Davis reorganized the Confederate defenses in the West. On September 10, 1861, the Confederate War Department issued Special Orders, No. 149, appointing General Albert Sidney Johnston to command of the Western Military Department, which encompassed most of the Confederacy west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi River.
Upon assuming his command, Johnston went to work organizing the Confederate forces in the West. With Polk having opened the door for Union invasions into the South through Kentucky, Johnston's most pressing challenge was trying to defend a three-hundred-mile front stretching from the Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. With only forty thousand raw Confederate troops at his disposal, many of whom were unarmed, the task was hardly possible without first giving ground.
Setbacks in Kentucky and Tennessee
Johnston decided to consolidate his forces at Bowling Green, Kentucky, the heart of his defensive line. During the winter, however, his position became untenable. On January 19, 1862, Union soldiers, commanded by Brigadier-General George H. Thomas, defeated Major General George B. Crittenden's Rebel forces at the Battle of Mill Springs, forcing the Confederates to abandon eastern Kentucky and to retreat into Tennessee. By February 15, Federal forces commanded by Ulysses S. Grant had taken possession of Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, and Fort Donelson, on the Kentucky River.
The fall of the forts provided the Federals with two major waterways in the West from which to launch invasions into the South. As Union soldiers surged into Tennessee, Johnston ordered his troops at Bowling Green to fall back to Murfreesboro, near Nashville, on February 13, 1862. Two weeks later Johnston evacuated central Tennessee and retreated farther south to Corinth, Mississippi. Johnston's withdrawal from Tennessee enabled Brigadier-General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio to occupy Nashville on February 25, making it the first Confederate state capital to fall during the Civil War.
Just prior to the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, General P.G.T. Beauregard was transferred to the Western Theater. Beauregard arrived in Bowling Green in poor health and reported to Johnston on February 4, 1862. Johnston charged Beauregard with the defense of the Mississippi Valley and placed him in command of Leonidas Polk's garrison at Columbus, Kentucky. After the forts fell, Beauregard recognized that the position was untenable. He ordered Polk to abandon the "Gibraltar of the West" and to move his troops farther south. On March 3, 1862, Union troops occupied Columbus. Soon thereafter, Brigadier-General John Pope's successful operations against New Madrid, Missouri and Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River left the Union solidly in control of Kentucky and western Tennessee.
By early March, Beauregard's health had improved to the point that he was able to take direct control of the troops assigned to him. On March 5, 1862, Beauregard issued a message announcing that he was assuming command of the force that he designated as "the Army of the Mississippi."
Organizing the Army at Corinth, Mississippi
When Johnston arrived in Corinth on March 22, 1862, he was done retreating. With the help of Beauregard, he began reorganizing the forces at hand for an offensive in Tennessee. In addition to the troops from Johnston's department, Major General Braxton Bragg had arrived earlier in the month from Pensacola with ten thousand well-trained soldiers, and Brigadier-General Daniel Ruggles brought five thousand reinforcements from New Orleans. In total, Johnston now had over forty thousand men under his command. On March 29, Johnston issued General Orders, No. 1-8 (Headquarters of Forces at Corinth, Mississippi), announcing the consolidation of the troops in the Western Military Department as the Army of the Mississippi.
After organizing the army, Johnston and Beauregard set about developing a plan to regain Tennessee by striking Major General Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee and then turning on Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio before the two forces could unite.
Battle of Shiloh (April 6 – 7, 1862)
By early April, Grant's army of nearly fifty thousand men was encamped along the western side of the Tennessee River near Pittsburg Landing. Not believing that Johnston's army was within striking distance, Grant chose to drill his troops, rather than to build defensive works, while he awaited Buell's arrival.
Despite reports of Rebel troop movements in the area in the days before the battle, the Federals were surprised when the Army of the Mississippi launched its attack on the morning of April 6, 1862. In the ensuing confusion, many of the Yankees fled in panic. Others were able to form lines of battle and mount some resistance, but the Union forces were gradually driven back.
As the Rebels pressed their advance, Union soldiers made a stand at a position since popularized as the "Hornet's Nest," near a road now known as the "Sunken Road." Although many of the men were eventually killed or captured, their seven-hour stand bought valuable time for Grant to reorganize his men and to establish a defensive line. In their attempt to dislodge the defenders of the Hornet's Nest, the Rebels suffered a serious loss, when General Johnston was mortally wounded. When Johnston fell, Beauregard assumed command of the Confederate forces.
As the first day of the battle concluded, the Confederate advance had spent itself. Grant had reestablished order amongst his troops and set up a defensive line near the river. After the Federals withstood a final assault that evening, Beauregard called off the attack.
That night, Beauregard sent a telegram to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, proclaiming "A complete victory." Beauregard went to bed expecting to drive Grant's army across the Tennessee River the next day. Grant, however, had established a strong position, and reinforcements from Buell's army were arriving on the scene. Although the size of the armies was about equal on the first day of the battle, Beauregard was now outnumbered.
On the morning of April 7, to Beauregard's surprise, Grant and Buell launched a counterattack. Outnumbered and running low on ammunition, the Rebels began to fall back, losing ground that they had captured the previous day. Eventually, Beauregard knew that he had lost and began an orderly retreat back to Corinth.
After reaching Corinth, Beauregard maintained command of the Western Department but placed Braxton Bragg in charge of the Army of the Mississippi on May 6, 1862 (General Orders, No. 37, Headquarters of the Forces). Meanwhile, the combined Union forces of Grant and Buell, now commanded by Major General Henry Halleck, advanced upon Corinth, Mississippi and settled into a siege of the city in late May. Inside the city, Beauregard's soldiers were wracked by typhoid and dysentery caused by bad water. Facing the prospect of being enveloped by the massive Federal force of nearly 125,000 soldiers, Beauregard saved the Army of the Mississippi with a brilliantly executed evacuation on May 29, 1862. Despite the circumstances that necessitated the withdrawal, Jefferson Davis was critical of Beauregard's decision.
Beauregard reached Tupelo, Mississippi and established new headquarters on June 7, 1862. The Army of the Mississippi arrived on June 9. Five days later, Beauregard received a certificate of disability for a recurring throat problem. On June 15, Beauregard informed General Samuel Cooper, adjutant and inspector general at the War Department, that he was transferring "the command of the forces and of this department to the next officer in rank, General B. Bragg." Beauregard then traveled to Alabama to recuperate, while Bragg reorganized the army. When President Davis learned that Beauregard had left his post on an unauthorized sick leave, he relieved Beauregard of his command of the Western Department. On June 20, 1862, Davis informed Bragg that he was the new department commander. Soon after his appointment, Bragg issued General Orders, No. 22, temporarily handing off command of the Army of the Mississippi to Major General William J. Hardee on July 5, 1862.
Confederate Heartland Offensive
As commander of the Western Department, Bragg devised a plan to shift the focus of the war in the Western Theater by invading Kentucky. Bragg believed that the majority of residents in that border state supported the Confederacy and that many of them would join the Southern army if given the opportunity.
On August 15, 1862, Bragg issued General Orders, No. 116 (Department No. 2), resuming his command of the Army of the Mississippi. Two weeks later, on August 28, he left Chattanooga, Tennessee with thirty-four thousand soldiers to launch his invasion of Kentucky. Once in the Bluegrass State, Bragg planned to combine forces with Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith's eighteen thousand soldiers, stationed near Knoxville, Tennessee and to move against Buell's Army of the Ohio.
On September 17, the Army of the Mississippi captured an important rail station at Munfordville, Kentucky, along with four thousand Union soldiers, at the Battle of Munfordville (September 14-17, 1862). On October 4, events were so promising that Bragg participated in the inauguration of Richard Hawes as the provisional Confederate governor of Kentucky. On October 8, Bragg won a tactical victory over Buell at the Battle of Perryville. Nonetheless, running short of supplies and ammunition and faced with the prospect of squaring off with Buell's reinforced army on the following day, Bragg withdrew during the night.
After the Battle of Perryville, Bragg retreated to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where he finally joined forces with Kirby Smith. The combined Confederate army was now comparable in size to Buell's army. Nevertheless, Bragg lost his enthusiasm for the campaign. The Kentucky recruits that he expected never materialized, and he believed that his supply lines were too vulnerable and insufficient for his army to remain in the state. Over the objections of Smith, Polk, and other subordinates, Bragg decided to call off the campaign and to evacuate Kentucky, leaving the state in Union control for the remainder of the war.
The Army of the Mississippi Becomes the Army of Tennessee
Following the failed Heartland Campaign, President Davis summoned Bragg to Richmond to answer to the charges of his subordinate officers. During Bragg's absence, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk commanded the Army of the Mississippi from September 28, through November 7, 1862. Satisfied with Bragg's rebuttal, Davis ignored requests to relieve the general of his command. Understandably, Bragg's relationships with his subordinate officers were strained when he rejoined his forces. On November 7, 1862, Bragg issued General Orders, No. 143, reorganizing the Army of the Mississippi into two corps commanded by Polk and William J. Hardee. Two weeks later, he issued General Orders, No. 151, on November 20, again shaking up the command structure. Bragg created a third army corps, commanded by Edmund Kirby Smith, from troops from the Department of East Tennessee. The general designated his newly-structured command as the Army of Tennessee, thus bringing an end to the Army of the Mississippi.
- Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
- Braxton Bragg
- Don Carlos Buell
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Battle of Perryville
- George Henry Thomas
- Jefferson Finis Davis
- Battle of Shiloh
- John Pope
- Albert Sidney Johnston
- Leonidas Polk
- Gideon J. Pillow
- Battle of Mill Springs
- Battle of Fort Henry
- Battle of Fort Donelson
- Army of the Ohio 1861?1862
- Operations at New Madrid and Island No. 10
- Army of the Tennessee
- General Orders, No. 37 (Headquarters of the Forces, CSA)
- Special Orders, No. 149 (CSA War Dept.)
- Message from P.G.T. Beauregard Assuming Command of the Army of the Mississippi
- General Orders, No. 1-8 (Headquarters of Forces at Corinth, Mississippi)
- Siege of Corinth
- Henry Wager Halleck
- Message from Jefferson Davis Appointing Braxton Bragg to Command the Western Department
- General Orders, No. 22 (Headquarters of the Army of the Mississippi CSA)
- Confederate Heartland Offensive
- General Orders, No. 116 (Department No. 2, CSA)
- Edmund Kirby Smith
- Battle of Munfordville
- General Orders, No. 143 (Department No. 2, CSA)
- Message from Braxton Bragg Assuming Command of the Army of the Mississippi (CSA)
- Army of Tennessee
- William Joseph Hardee