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Friday, September 02, 2011

PAYBACK

I should point out that when Martin Van Buren (above) was humiliatingly dumped into an Indiana hog wallow, ruining a very expensive pair of pearl gray trousers and coating his elegant frock coat with everything a happy swine leaves behind in a porcine sauna, it wasn't entirely fair. Of course “The Red Fox of Kinderhook” was far too crafty a politician to admit he had been humiliated. That would just draw more attention to his humiliation. As the venomous Virginia politician John Randolph observed, Martin Van Buren always “rowed with muffled oars.” But everybody knew this traffic accident had been staged as payback for Van Buren having insulted Hoosiers. What goes around comes around. And it was useless to point out that the insult had mostly come from Van Buren's predecessor, the still popular Andrew Jackson.
Even the frail shadow of federal authority which existed in 1828 was too much for incoming President Andrew Jackson. Over his two terms, he did his very best to weaken the Federal government, in all its endeavors except the ones he approved of. The ideology that argues against "big government" is still powerful in American politics today. Jackson vetoed a new charter for the National Bank - precursor of the Federal Reserve - which left the entire banking system unregulated. He streamlined the sale of public lands, which energized the speculators and overcharge yeoman farmers. He cut entire programs out of the Federal budget, and insisted the states take over many others. And at the same time he backed the Seminole Indian nation into a war.
But it was not until three months after Van Buren's inauguration in March of 1837 that these pigeons came home to roost. The massive real estate bubble suddenly popped. Over half of the nation's unregulated banks suddenly failed. And by January of 1838 half a million Americans were unemployed. Or to put it more simply, suddenly it was prom night and Martin Van Buren was Carrie. And like Carrie, Van Buren then made things worse by slashing out at everything in sight. Oh, he continued the unending expensive Seminole war. But he insisted on killing Federal funding for the National Road, which had reduced mail time between Washington and Indianapolis from several months to less than a week. Van Buren was so doctrinaire he even sold off the construction workers' picks and shovels. And for frontier farmers trying to get their produce to market, that made any economic recovery that much harder.
See, once across the Ohio border, the $7,000 a mile construction costs for the National Road was supposed to be supplied by land sales. But when the real estate bubble popped in 1837, that funding evaporated. Maintenance for the 600 mile road was paid for by the tolls of four to twelve cents (the equivalent of $2.50 today) for each ten mile long section, paid by the 200 wagons, horseback riders, farmers and herds of livestock that used each section of the road every day. But after 1837 that $36,000 a year (almost a million dollars today) had to do double duty, finishing the road and providing maintenance for the road  And it was not enough.
Particularly in Indiana, there were long sections beyond the two urban centers, ((Indianapolis and Richmond) where farmers using the road to drive their livestock to market faced forests of 14 inch high tree stumps. These provided clearance for the farmers' and emigrants' high riding Conestoga wagons, but between the stumps, the road bed was in such bad shape that constant repairs to their equipment bankrupted many of the 200 stagecoach lines trying to survive in Indiana. And every frontier farmer and businessman knew exactly who was to blame for all of this –“President Martin Van Ruin”.  As a result, in the election of 1840, in Hendricks County, (just southwest of Indianapolis), and along the National Road, Van Buren received 651 votes, while Whig candidate William Henry Harrison received 1,189 votes. Nationwide, Van Buren carried just 7 of the 26 states.
Normally this Hoosier hostility would not have mattered much, but just six months after taking office, the new President Harrison died of a pneumonia, and all previous assumptions had to be rethought . The Whigs had picked John Tyler as Vice President, mostly to get rid of him. Now, disastrously, he was the head of their party. The overjoyed Democrats began referring to Tyler as “His Accidency.” The adroit and dapper Martin Van Buren began thinking he could avenge his defeat and take the road back to the White House in 1844. All he needed was a cunning plan, which he just happened to have. 
In February of 1842, Van Buren (above) journeyed to Nashville, Tennessee, for an extended visit with his mentor Andrew Jackson, hoping some of Old Hickory’s popularity would rub off on him. It did not. Heading north, Van Buren then set off for a tour of the frontier states. He was well received in Kentucky, and the pro-slavery areas around Cincinnati, Ohio, but the closer he got to Indiana the more reserved the crowds became.
In early June he was met at the Indiana border by 200 loyal Democrats, and gave them a speech at Sloan's Brick Stage House on Main Street (the National Road) in Richmond, Indiana. But the vast majority of the local Quakers remained skeptical. And while Van Buren was speaking, noted the Richmond Palladium newspaper, “...a mysterious chap partially sawed the underside of the double tree crossbar of the stage...so that it would snap on the first hard pull…”
The next morning the stagecoach and its distinguished passenger headed for Indianapolis, the “Capital in the Woods”. But just two miles outside of Richmond, while bouncing over ruts and stumps, the carriage splashed into a great deep mud hole. And when the horses were whipped to yank the carriage out, the weakened cross brace snapped. Dressed in his silk finery, Martin Van Burn was forced to disembark into the foul waters and wade to shore.
There was no indication of any further sabotage on Van Buren's 74 mile ride across the mostly open prairie, which took the better part of three days. And the ex-President and candidate made it to the Hoosier capital in time to keep his appointments and make his speeches over the weekend of June 9-10. He took two more days to make political contacts, shaking hands and trading confidences, before, on Wednesday, June 13, he boarded yet another mail coach for the 75 mile journey to Illinois. But just six miles down the road, Van Buren had to pass through the Quaker bastion of Plainfield, Indiana.
The town earned its name from the “plain folk” who had laid out the town ten years earlier on the east bank of White Lick Creek. This Henricks county town was straddled by the National Road, which provided Plainfield's livelihood. Less than a quarter mile up Main Street from the  ford over the "crick", amidst a stand of Elms, the Quakers had built a camp ground and a meeting house. And here, that Wednesday morning, were gathered several hundred Wigs and Quakers, in their “Sunday, go to meeting clothes”, to see the once and maybe future President ride past. The crowd may have even been increased because the driver of this particular leg of the President's journey was a local boy, twenty-something Mason Wright. Soon, the crowd heard the blast of the horn from Mason's lips, warning of the VIP's bouncing approach down the gentle half mile slope toward White Lick Creek.
The disaster occurred abruptly. The coach rushed into view, with Van Buren's arm waving out of the coach's open window, while Teamster Wright whipped the horses to move faster. Faster? Shouldn't he be slowing down to let people get a view of the President?  And then, just as carriage came abreast of the center of the campground, the coach was forced to veer to the right to avoid a large "hog waller" mud hole in the very center of the dilapidated National Road. And as if  it had been planned, the right front wheel bounced over the hard knuckle of an exposed bare Elm root. The carriage teetered for an instant until the rear wheel clipped the same root. The teetering coach then careened past the point of no return.  Mason Wright leaped free while the coach crashed heavily onto its side into the very center of the smelly, sticky, hot black hog waller. Martin Van Buren had been dumped again.
A Springfield Illinois newspaper would note a few days later, “He was always opposed to that road, but we were not aware that the road held a grudge against him!” Wrote a more bitter Wig newspaper, “the only free soil of which Van Buren had knowledge (of) was the dirt he scraped from his person at Plainfield.”  The driver and witnesses blamed the Elm (above), which could not defend itself. Van Buren was uninjured, but once again had to extricate himself from his injured coach. After pouring the mud and other unidentified muck from his boots, Van Buren made his way on foot further west along the National Road to Fisher’s Tavern, at what is now 106 E. Main Street. There, Mrs. Fisher helped the President clean up his pants and coat, and wash the mud from his wide brimmed hat.
Back at the campground. the honest Quakers helped to right the stage, re-attach the horses, and carefully and respectfully deliver the coach to Fishers to collect the President. But it is hard to believe that, as Mr. Van Buren splashed across White Lick "crick" many of those Quakers were not smiling with the sly satisfaction of a job well done. 
A few days later Teamster Mason Wright was awarded a $5 silk hat, although it was never explicitly stated it was for his skill in staging a stage crash - call it political slapstick. But the tree who's root had provided the fulcrum for the prank would forever more be known as the Van Buren Elm.  In 1916 (above) the Daughters of the American Revolution even gave the tree a wooden plaque of its own.
But the hard winter of 1926 brought the Van Buren Elm down, and a local doctor lamented, “The many friends of the old historic tree are loath to have it removed from their midst.”
Van Buren (above) made it safely to Illinois without further accidents. He was  met a few miles outside of Springfield by a small delegation of legislators, including the young Abraham Lincoln. But Mr. Van Buren was never elected to public office again. The judgement of Hoosiers stood firm.
The Quakers' Meeting House still stands among the stand of Elms at 256 East Main Street (corner of Vine) in Plainfield.  After the original Buchan Elm fell, a replacement was planted, and it received a bronze plaque (above).  This inspired a local grade school to be named for the dapper Democrat who stumbled in their town, and a street was named after him as well. But in Plainfield the National Road (now U.S. Route 40), is still called Main Street. That is true of many Midwestern towns bisected by the National Road. It truly was America's Main Street. And Martin Van Buren had been wrong about that.
 - 30 -

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MR. UN-LUCKY

 I don't believe in curses, but the hard luck existence of Alfred James Brady may yet cause me to reconsider this conviction. Alfred was born on October 25, 1910 in the isolated crossroads of Kentland, atop the flatlands of northwest Indiana - four miles from the Illinois border and just about forever from anywhere else. Curse number two was delivered when Alfred was just two years old and his father, Roy Brady, died in a farming accident. His mother Clara eventually remarried, to Mr. John Biddle . He moved her and the boy 140 miles south on the Monon Railroad to New Salem, northwest of Indianapolis. At the age of sixteen Alfred suffered yet another loss, when Clara died in December of 1926. She was just 37. And in 1928 Alfred's stepfather also died. That was four strikes before Alfred was twenty.
It might be well to pause here to discuss the differences between Alfred Brady and that other Hoosier handful, John Herbert Dillinger (above), who grew up forty-one miles south of North Salem in Mooresville, Indiana. Dillinger – or Public Enemy Number One as the FBI liked to refer to him - was seven years older than Alfred, and his mother had died when he was three. But perhaps the most interesting thing these two men had in common was that Dillinger's Prussian born father ran a grocery store, and four months after his own stepfather's death, Afred Brady sought his fortune by walking into a grocery store. He pretended to have a gun in his pocket and demanded all the money in the till. The clerk pulled his real gun and opened fire. Alfred got shot three times, and was arrested – strike number five.
Afred served six months on the Indiana State Prison Farm, learning how to shovel horse manure, and upon his release tried to go straight. Despite the depression Alfred (above) found work as a delivery boy for a hot tamale stand, a stock boy in a men's clothing store, a welder in an automobile factory, and later, in a mattress factory. Alfred's dissatisfaction with entry level jobs reached a crescendo on July 10, 1934, when he was arrested for vagrancy. Alfred was adrift and looking for a career.
The turning point in Alfred's life came when he met James Dalhover. James was a five foot four inch tall career criminal, four years older and two inches shorter than Alfred. James' skill set was mostly at making moonshine, which financed his purchase of a farm outside of Hanover, Indiana -  strategically located along the distribution route between Louisville and Cincinnati. But revenue agents had recently shut down this home industry and James had just been released from the State Farm. This setback, plus his time in jails in New Mexico, Kentucky and Ohio, tempted James to team up with Alfred.
Their first joint venture was robbing a movie theater 50 miles south of Indianapolis, in Crothersville, Indiana. Unfortunately they chose a Monday night for their holdup, and the cash register contained just $18. The two crooks marked this up to a learning curve, and did better on the following Saturday night, October 19th , when they robbed a grocery in Sellersburg, Indiana, about ten miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. This time they walked out with $190 dollars (the equivalent of $3,000 today). The Brady Gang, as it would later be referred to, was in business.
The boys brought in twenty year old Clarence Shaffer, who stood five feet five inches tall. And the new gang began a regular Saturday night robbery routine around southern Indiana and Ohio. James would later boast that by the spring of 1936 they had successfully robbed about 150 gas stations and groceries, and they began to aim higher. On Wednesday, March 4, 1936 they hit a jewelry store in Lima, Ohio for $8,000. So on Monday, April 27, 1936, they returned to the scene of that crime and robed the same store again, this time making off with $27,000 in jewelry. And then, the next morning , fifty miles away, outside of the little town of Geneva, Indiana, Alfred's curse struck again.
In a farmer's field, Geneva Police retrieved one of the numbered boxes taken from the Ohio jewelry store. This meant the proceeds of the felony had crossed state lines. And J.Edgar Hoover, the bureaucrat running the FBI, used that slim opening to label Alfred Brady as the new Public Enemy Number One. You see, 1936 had been a presidential election year, and under pressure, Roosevelt had pulled back on New Deal spending. To ward off those budget cuts, Hoover needed a replacement for his very successful John Dillenger, Public Enemy Number One campaign.  And Dillenger's “neighbor” Alfred Brady looked like the perfect fit.  Hoover's F.B.I. issued wanted posters and held press conferences, and on Wednesday, May 11th, the Indianapolis Police arrested Alfred and Clarence Shaffer. Four days later James Dalhover was arrested in Chicago, where he had gone to fence the jewelry.
To their shock, the three crooks were charged with the murder of an Indianapolis Police Officer. Whether they actually committed this murder is questionable. They were prolific crooks, and they did carry guns, and sooner or later somebody was going to get shot. But if Alfred was so cold blooded, why didn't he shoot the would-be hero who interrupted the robbery by jumping on Alfred's back? In any case Alfred must have realized it was too late now. The F.B.I. had labeled the trio as “mad dog killers”. It was enough to make you think Alfred Brady was cursed.
On Sunday morning, October 11, 1936 a sheriff in the Hancock County Jail was delivering breakfast to the three men when they hit him over the head with an iron bar, stole his .38 revolver and made their escape in his car. If anybody thought to ask, they might have wondered why the blood-thirsty Alfred Brady had left behind the living injured sheriff. But Hoover and the Indianapolis police made certain nobody gave that little conundrum more than a passing thought.
The trio, now permanently allied by circumstances and the police, fled to Baltimore, Maryland. Here they attempted to establish quiet, respectable lives under assumed names. James Dalhover and Clarence Shaffer even married a pair of nice Italian sisters (despite James still having a wife and two children back in Hanover). For his part, Alfred bought himself a bar. Oh, they periodically returned to Indiana to rob grocery stores and banks, but that was just “what” they did. It wasn't “who” they were. It became who they were on May 27, 1937.
The original plan had been to rob a bank in Sheldon, Illinois, but that institution had failed in the 1937 economic downturn. So instead they robbed a bank in Goodland, Indiana, less than ten miles from Alfred's birthplace in Kentland. They walked out with all of $2,528. And in criss-crossing back roads making their getaway, the gang stumbled upon an intersection called Royal Center, where their careers collided with Indiana Highway Patrol Offiicer Paul Minneman (above) and Cass County Sheriff's Deputy Elmer Craig. In the ensuing fulsade of gunfire, Officer Minneman was killed and Deputy Craig was severely wounded. After the attack, Craig reported one of the gangsters approached the car, pointed a rifle at him and asked, “Shall I finish this guy too? ” Another gang member responded, “No, come on, let's get the hell out of here.” Trooper Minneman left behind a wife and an as yet unborn daughter.
Whatever the truth about Alfred Brady's responsibility in the previous killings attributed to the Brady Gang, there can be no doubt about this one. Even if he had not pulled the trigger, or had been the one telling the gunman not to shoot the wounded deputy, he was now legally responsible for the murder of a police officer. Time Magazine quoted Captain Matt Leach, head of Indiana's State Police, as saying that "because of their viciousness and the way they operate, the Brady mob is going to make Dillinger look like a neophyte.” Reading that, Alfred must have known how it was going to end. The only question was “when”.
In late September, the three men drove to Bangor, Maine, looking to purchase guns and ammunition, telling clerks in at least two sporting goods stores that they were hunters. But nobody in Maine could mistake these Indiana hoods for outdoors men. They returned to Bangor in early October to buy even more guns, and paid the owner of Dakin's Sporting Goods for additional ammunition that was not in stock. The store owner told the men to return in a week.  And that was why, at 8:30 on the Tuesday morning of Columbus Day, October 12, 1937, the “Brady Gang” pulled their black Buick sedan over to the curb in front of 25 Central Street, Bangor. Alfred was in the passenger seat. Clarence and James Dalhover got out, with James entering the store.
James Dalhover approached a clerk and asked, “Where's the stuff I ordered?” His answer came when F.B.I. agent Walter Walsh (above) poked a gun into the back of his head. Instinctively James turned, and Walsh hit him across the bridge of the nose with the pistol. Dalhover fell, and immediately struggled to regain his feet.
Outside, Clarence Shaffer saw the assault, and began firing through the store's windows. He hit agent Walsh in the shoulder. But as he did F.B.I. and Maine State Police “marksmen” stationed on the rooftops along Central Street, opened up.
Several stories under those snipers, 19 year old Poppy Valiades was sitting before the front window of her family's restaurant, the Paramount Cafe, typing up the day's menues. She saw Clarence staggering into the street. “ "I saw his clothes - oh, blood spilling out – bullets...he went into a kind of a coil as he moved into the street. I was probable 10 to 15 feet from him when he dropped.”
Inside the store, James Dalhover broke for the back door, and ran right into the arms of two Bangor city cops, who placed him under arrest. Meanwhile, two agents approached either side of the big Buick. They called for Al Brady to give himself up. Alfred put up his hands and responded, “Don't shoot, don't shoot, I'll get out." But he came out of the car firing and running.
He didn't hit anybody and he didn't get very far. The concentrated gunfire from the rest of the fifteen F.B.I. Agents, and 15 Indiana and Maine State Police Officers, dropped the newest Public Enemy Number One in the very middle of the busy street. Alfred had in his cold dead hand the .38 revolver taken from the holster of murdered Officer Minnemen.
Seventy-four years later, Andrew Taber, who had been on his way to the Dakin's when the shooting exploded on the street, remembered seeing Alfred Brady's body lifted into the wicker basket used to transport fatalities. He watched the silver coins glinting in the brisk morning sunlight as they fell out of Alfred's pocket onto the pavement. The two dead gang members had over sixty wounds in their bodies.
The second the shooting stopped people rushed from all over to have a look; Kalil Ayoob was having breakfast in Main Street that morning, and he remembered, “It looked like the running of the bulls in Spain.”
The only surviving member of the “Brady Gang”, James Dalhover, was tried and convicted of the murder of Officer Minneman. And that was the only murder any member of the gang was ever convicted of. James had the dubious distinction of being the last of nine men executed in Indiana's electric chair in 1938, on November 18th, at the Indiana State Penitentiary, Michigan City.
Clarence Shaffer's family sent for his body, and had it brought home to Indiana. But Alfred Brady had no family. In the end,  he was lowered into a charity unmarked grave in Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor. However his brain continued to reside in a jar at the Eastern Maine General Hospital, along the Penobscot River, where curious nursing students could wonder if its convolutions hid an explanation for the violence of its lifetime -  until it finally disappeared. And with it, perhaps the Brady curse also died. As the longtime caretaker for the Mount Hope cemetery often told author Stephen King, “In the end, there's always Hope”.
- 30-

Sunday, August 28, 2011

GENIUS - THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY

FRIDAY, MAY 1, 1863
In Northern Virginia, Union General Joseph Hooker crosses the Rapidan River and throws his army against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But after splitting the Rebels between the town of Fredericksburg and the tiny crossroads of Chancellorsville Clearing , Hooker halts his advance, hoping Lee will take the opportunity to throw his troops against the now dug in Union army to his front. Lee does not oblige.
Meanwhile, Col. Benjamin Grierson’s nine hundred fifty Midwesterners are just west of Magnolia, Mississippi when they stumble into Rebel Cavalry under Major James De Baun. After a brief skirmish both sides withdraw.
As dawn breaks over the Mississippi River valley the largest amphibious operation in American history prior to the World War Two invasion of  Normandy, begins. The  24th and 46th Indiana regiments of McClerand’s 13th Corp rush ashore at Bruinsburg, south of Port Gibson. By evening 17,000 men have occupied the bluffs above the river and have begun to push down the road southward, toward the vital bridge crosses over the Bayou Pierre. This road then turns north and heads for Grand Gulf,  and Vicksburg beyond.
The heavily wooded country is divided by steep drainages (100’ deep), with the few roads running along the crests of ridgelines. It is a strong position for a defense,  but General Bowen has barely a fraction of the troops he needs. If Grant gives him time, Bowen knows reinforcements can be sent down from Vicksburg, Grant has no intention of giving Bowen any time at all.
Grant pushes McPherson Corp forward as quickly as they can be issued ammo and rations. They join McClernand’s corps already engaged with the Rebels. At about 8:00 am on May First the Union forces had hit the Rebels. General Bowen knows this is the best place to stop the Union forces, and he insists that his men refuse to give ground. At one point Col. Cockrell even leads a fierce counter attack that sets McClerand’s men back on their heels. But on the opposite flank McPherson’s men outflank the Confederates and force Bowen to order a general retreat. He burns the Bayou Pierre Bridge before abandoning Port Gibson. Union losses are 131 dead and 719 wounded, with 25 missing. Confederate losses are unknown.
SATURDAY, MAY 2, 1863
At about 4:30 pm, at Chancellorsville Clearing, on Virginia's Rapidan River, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, leading 28,000 men on a long sweeping march, falls on the left flank and rear of the Union Army like a sledgehammer. He takes 4,000 prisoners before the Federal soldiers even have time to form a line of battle. Jackson's men drive the Union troops back two miles before darkness finally brings the fight to a close. It is an overwhelming Confederate victory, confirmed even to the confused General Hooker after two more days of indecisive fighting.
But the triumph is darkened by tragedy for the South even before the assault begins. As the 18th North Carolina Infantry prepares to advance they spot what might be Federal Cavalry to their front and challenge them. The reply is unclear and the regiment fires a volley. But it is not Union cavalry to their front but General Jackson and his staff making final preperations for his masterstroke. Many of the staff members and their horses are killed, and Jackson is wounded three times. He is carried from the field on a stretcher
In Mississippi, in the morning, Col. Grierson’s men cross Sandy Creek, where they surprise and capture a small detachment of Rebel Cavalry. Further on they surprise and capture 40 more Confederate cavalrymen. Six miles out side of Baton Rouge Grierson (above) calls a halt for his weary men – and himself. He relaxes by playing the organ in a local church (he was a music teacher before the war), until he is informed of approaching cavalry. It is Union troopers. Grierson has reached the Union lines outside of Baton Rouge, and his raid has ended.
Over 16 crucial days Grierson’s 950 men have covered 600 miles of Rebel territory, destroyed an estimated 50 miles of railroad track, and distracted all of Pemberton’s cavalry and almost a third of his infantry, all at the exact moment Grant is moving to gain the eastern bank of the Mississippi River. And all of this was achieved for a cost to Grieson's men of three dead, seven wounded and nine men missing.
The lack of Confederate Cavalry at the battle of Port Gibson allowed General Bowman’s men to be outflanked. And for that reason alone, the raid was an unqualified success. But Grierson also learned a fundamental lesson in the raid, a lesson that Grant is about to learn as well - a lesson that would shape the course of the war over the next year and a half. As Grierson observed upon his return to Union lines  – “The Confederacy is hollow”.
Grant’s troops enter Port Gibson on the morning of May 2nd, and immediately begin rebuilding the Bayou Pierre Bridge, by dismantling the town’s buildings for wood. Now reinforced to almost two full corps, the troops push ahead eight miles up the road, reaching the outskirts of Grand Gulf by nightfall.
SUNDAY, MAY 3, 1863
Rebel skirmishers take advantage of every twist and turn in the narrow road to delay Grant’s advance toward Grand Gulf. There are brief, vicious and bloody skirmishes at Grindstone, Hankinson’s Ferry and the crossing of the Big Black River. But these fights are only covering General Bowen’s evacuation from  Grand Gulf. When the Confederates set off the fort's powder magazines, Grant hears the explosion while on the road from Port Gibson. He instantly knows what it means.
That evening Marines from Admiral Porter’s river squadron occupy the town and fort of Grand Gulf. Grant arrives shortly thereafter,  to get a bath and receive communications. It is here that he receives a letter from Sherman (above)  warning him not to attempt to supply his army down the single road.  Sherman’s men are now following to Grand Gulf. He warns his commander,  “…stop all troops till your army is…supplied with wagons, and then act as quick as possible; for this road will be jammed, as sure as life."  It is also here that Grant learns that because of Confederate resistence, General Banks does not anticipate bringing siege against Port Hudson for another two weeks.
Grant’s (above) original plan had been to capture Port Hudson and establish that as a supply base, and perhaps Grant could then borrow a corps of men from Bank’s command to assist in his attack on Vicksburg. But with Bank’s delay,  Grant decides he must come up with a new plan on the run. But now he also has in hand Grierson’s initial report of his Mississippi raid, containing the key phrase; “The Confederacy is hollow”. Grand decides to gamble. He will cut himself loose from any base and risk taking on Pemberton with only his own troops. He tells Sherman to hurry forward, and writes him “…What I do expect is to get up what rations of hard bread, coffee, and salt we can, and make the country furnish the balance.”
Grant has still not decided which way to turn - toward Jackson or toward Vicksburg. But he is confident enough to let Pamberton make that choice. Almost the last thing Grant does before leaving Grand Gulf is to send a message to Washington detailing his intentions. And then, at 5:00 am the next morning, he leaves to rejoin his army at 14 mile Creek - before Washington can argue with his decision.
General Pemberton (above), meanwhile, feels he cannot move directly against Grant. First, he is still not convinced the Union movement at Port Gibson is not just an elaborate feint. And even if it is the main axis of Grant’s attack, Pemberton dare not weaken the vital postion at Haynes Bluff above Vicksburg. A Union coup de main on Haynes Bluff would lead to the fall of Vicksburg in a matter of hours. And Pemberton still has no idea where Sherman’s Corps has moved too. Could he be about to fall on the city of Vicksburg itself?
Pemberton’s orders from Jefferson Davis were quite clear.  He must hold Vicksburg at all costs. And since he does not have enough men to hold the city (and Haynes Bluff) and maneuver against Grant at the same time, Pemberton seeks a third alternative. He leaves two divisions behind, to improve the defenses at Vicksburg, and pushes his remaining three divisions forward over the Big Black River to Edwards, Mississippi.  He orders them to dig in there and wait to see which way Grant advances.
MONDAY, MAY 4, 1863
As the Union Army retreats once more from the Rapidan River crossings in Northern Virginia, the final cost  is added up; 17,000 Union and 13,000 Confederate causalities. And this day the last brigades of John Longstreet’s corps, which Lee had been forced to disperse to the tidewater areas of Southern Virginia and North Carolina to forage during the winter, cross the Blackwater River to rejoin the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee is gathering his strength for an invasion of Pennsylvania.
In Mississippi,  Grant orders a reconnaissance in force to move toward Vicksburg, to convince Pemberton that the “Gibraltar of the South” is his immediate target. In truth he is still not certain which way he will turn. When Sherman's Corps crosses the Mississippi River and rejoins the main body, Grant will have 42,000 men in Mississippi. It is a razor thing majority over Pemberton's total force. But Grant never intends to face Pemberton's strength.
TUESDAY, MAY 5, 1863
Lt. General John C. Pemberton (above) now faces a crises, made worse because his immediate superior,  General Joe E.Johnston, has just sent a telegram to tell Pemberton that his army is more valuable than the town of Vicksburg.  But Davis had appointed a man much like himself – a man without much imagination. And having such a man as the commander of an independent, distant and vital outpost, that is a recipe for disaster.
After misjudging Grant’s move downstream, Pemberton now compounds his mistake by underrating Grant’s audacity.  The jugular of Vicksburg, its reason de arte as a military objective, is the Vicksburg, Jackson & Brandon Railroad that runs west to Jackson, Mississippi. There it crosses the Central Mississippi Railroad, which connects the wharehouse of the Vicksburg docks with the rest of the Confederacy. A Federal army across the tracks of the Vicksburg - Jackson railroad cuts that supply line permanently. And if that happens  Vicksburg’s value to the Confederacy would be reduced by half.
As Lincoln observed the year before, cut that railroad and supplies from Arkansas, Texas and Western Missouri, carried to the Western banks of the Mississippi River on the Vicksburg & Shreveport Railroad, then ferried across the river to Vicksburg, would then have to be loaded onto wagons and transported the painful, tortuous 44 miles by road to the state capital at Jackson, Mississippi, where it would have to be reloaded on the Central Mississippi Railroad. What can be traversed today by automobile in less than an hour, in 1863 required five long exhausting days to cover; it required horses and men and, after two years of war, the Confederacy was running short of both. So it was vital not only that Vicksburg be held, but that the Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad be held. And the only way that could be done, now that Grant was on the eastern side of the river, was to defeat Grant’s army and force him to retreat.
Grant thus expects Pemberton to come out of Vicksburg for the fight, and to do so before Sherman can be ferried across the Mississippi to reinforce him. At the moment Grant has only two corps with him, perhaps 28,000 men. Pemberton had in Vicksburg, 5 divisions – perhaps 35,000 men. 
But Pemberton has divided his force, as if tempting Grant to attack him . And he instructs that all reinforcements (which had finally begun hurrying to his aid) to disembark at Jackson and advance to Raymond, Mississippi -  about 20 miles West of Jackson – just under half way between Jackson and Edwards, Mississippi.
But it was here that the April Federal cavalry raid by Col. Grierson re-enters the story. Late in his raid, Grierson's troopers had cut the Central Mississippi Railroad at several places around Brookhaven, Mississippi. Because of that, a Confederate infantry brigade, ordered from Port Hudson to Jackson, (a total travel distance of 200 miles) has to cover 85 miles of that on foot. A one day trip by rail had been turned into a week long, exhausting odyessy. The first of these infantry reinforcements, an over-strength brigade of 3,000 men commanded by General Gregg,  will not arrive in Jackson until May 9. Two others will not arrive until even later.
Because of this delay, the only offensive force in Jackson responding to Pemberton's commands is a regiment of cavalry under Daniel Weisiger ("Wirt") Adams (above), a combative Kentucky lawyer. And Adams now takes his entire brigade, not to Raymond as Pemberton has ordered, but all the way to the watering station at Edwards –almost 2/3 of the way to Vicksburg. Perhaps he is attempting to cover the Vicksburg & Jackson Railroad, but more likely Adams is just looking for a fight. But because "Wirt" Adams makes this advance without notifying Pemberton (or anyone else) he is also fatally weakening the defense of Jackson, Mississippi.
 WEDNESDAY, MAY 6, 1863
General William Tecumseh Sherman (above) arrives at the head of his corps at Hard Times Landing and begins transporting his men across the Mississippi to Grand Gulf. When word of his arrival reaches Grant, he gives the go ahead to McPherson and McClernand to begin moving their men across the Bayou Pierre, to regain contact with the rebel army. Grant has now decided what his initial target will be, but to keep Pemberton in the dark for as long as possible.
Sherman’s road to Vicksburg really began ten years earlier when he floated into San Francisco Bay on the overturned hulk of a sinking lumber schooner. It was the beginning of a decade of failure. Sherman’s father had died when he was nine, and the boy known as Tecumseh had been adopted by Thomas Ewing, a powerful Whig senator from Ohio. Sherman had graduated from West Point in 1840 and attained the rank of Captain, but he resigned from the army in 1853 when he was offered the presidency of a San Francisco bank. On his way around the South America, Sherman was shipwrecked twice, the last time just outside of San Francisco. Then, in the panic of 1857 Sherman’s bank fails, leaving him broke and far from home. He then moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he failed as a lawyer.
And then, in 1859, he secured an appointment as the Superintendent of the Louisiana State Military Academy (above). Just a year later, as secession spread, Sherman famously wrote a Southern friend, “You are rushing to war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on earth – right at your doors. You are bound to fail.” On resigning his post he told the governor, “On no account will I do any act or think any thought hostile…to the…United States.”
The coming of war seemed to offer Sherman opportunities. But they all seemed to lead to even more failure. He served as a colonel at First Bull Run where he was wounded in the knee and shoulder. In May of 1861 he was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and placed in command of the Department of the Cumberland. But all he could see were shadows of threats,  and in the fall of 1861 Sherman was relieved of duty, suffering a nervous collapse. While contemplating suicide at home in Ohio, he was saved when General Halleck offered Sherman the command of Grant’s army. Instead Sherman offered to serve under Grant.
At Shiloh (above), on April 6, 1862, Sherman was commanding a division when his unprepared men were overrun by Confederate troops. Sherman barely managed to prevent his men from being driven into the Tennessee River. It seemed yet another confirmation of his failure. But that night, when he reported to Grant’s command post, half expecting to be relieved, and confessed “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we”, Grant calmly replied, “Yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.” And with that stoic exchange Sherman’s luck had changed, although he did not yet understand it how fully that was so. From this night, he might disagree with Grant on some specific approach, but he would always “...co-operate with zeal”.
THURSDAY, MAY 7, 1863 
Over night on the 6/7 of May Sherman’s Corps was fully transported across the Mississippi. Grant now has 42,000 men in Mississippi and is ready to begin offensive operations. McPherson pushes his corps toward Jackson, and, as always, Grant moves with McClernand’s 13th Corps, which advances to within 10 miles of Harkinson’s Ferry. The movements are designed to confuse Pemberton as to which target Grant is after, either Jackson or Vicksburg. But whichever way he turns, Grant's job would be far easier if he did not have to deal with Union General McClernand.
Major General John Alexander McClernand has been described by one biographer as “brash, energetic, assertive, confident, and patriotic”, but also as ”ever the politician.” As such he was given to frequent communications with his fellow politicians (in particular with the President), something which infuriated his fellow military officers who had to take orders from those same politicians. In a way John McClernand was Lincoln's dopplganger, and would end his life not far from where Lincoln himself would be laid to rest.
Raised in Illinois - like Lincoln - and a lawyer - like Lincoln -,  in 1835 McClernand founded the “Shawneetown Democrat Newspaper” and used it as a springboard to first the Illinois statehouse in Springfield - like Lincoln - and later the U.S. House of Representative - like Lincoln. But unlike Lincoln,  McClernand was a Stephen Douglas Democrat, a strong union man and, as such, politically valuable to Lincoln...if he could be controled.
In 1860 McClernand resigned from congress and raised a brigade of men in Illinois to fight for the Union. He was commissioned a brigadier General of Volunteers in May of 1861. At Fort Donelson and at Shiloh (both times under Grant) he displayed at best modest skills in command, but extraordinary ambition, campaigning to replace Grant and even George McClellan, then commander of the Army of the Potomac.
In October 1862 he convinced Lincoln to let him raise troops for an independent command against Vicksburg, and in January of 1863 he managed to use not only his own 13th Corp but to also commandeer Sherman’s and McPherson’s corps and Admiral Andrew Footes’s River squadron for operations against Arkansas Post, an outpost of the Vicksburg defenses. The operation was a success but all three officers warned Grant that they considered McClernand unfit for command.
The problem was that, thanks to Lincoln’s political need for McClernand, no one in the theatre outranked McClernand – except Grant (above). Secretly, Grant carried in his pocket permission fom his superior, General Hallack, to remove McClerand at any time. Grant was too politically savy to fire the man until the  time was right. But, from this point forward Grant’s headquarters stayed as close to McClernand as possible.
Which is why McClernand's Corp was always in the lead, during this campaign. Still, even a week into Grant's movement against Vicksburg, the letters continued to flow out of McClernand’s tent, spreading rumors of Grant’s drinking and criticizing his handling of the army. McClernand was just one more difficulty Grant would have to overcome if he was going to capture Vicksburg.
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