ON-THE-SPOT BATTLEFIELD DISPATCH AND MAP FROM THE BATTLE OF ARKANSAS POST WITH WRITING KIT AND IMPROVISED DISPATCH CASE

$7,600.00
Originally $9,500.00

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Item Code: 795-03

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This group of artifacts includes an original battlefield dispatch hastily written in pencil by General George W. Morgan in his own hand to Admiral David Dixon Porter regarding coordination of the navy and army forces in the developing attack upon Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post on January 11, 1863. The grouping also includes a battlefield map presented by Admiral Porter to General John McClernand, overall commander of the operation, along with a Hathaway patent writing kit and a dispatch case that seems to have been improvised from an artillery pass box.

In the Vicksburg Campaign Grant had to pay as much attention to maneuvering by General McClernand as to the Confederate forces. McClernand was a political appointee and rival. He was second in rank to Grant, but had managed to get approval from the War Department to lead the operation against Vicksburg and while Grant was distracted by Van Dorn’s capture of Holly Springs and Forrest’s interruption of his communications, McClernand arrived at Millikens Bend, created the “Army of the Mississippi,” consisting of the 13th Corps under General George W. Morgan and the 15th Corps under Sherman on January 3, 1863, and determined on a move against Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post. This was about 50 miles upriver from the mouth of the Arkansas River on the Mississippi, protected Little Rock, about 100 miles upriver, was a base for attacking shipping on the Mississippi, and was garrisoned by about 5,000 Arkansas and Texas troops.

The battle turned out to be a good example of Army-Navy cooperation. Admiral Porter transported the troops to a landing several miles below the fort on January 9, and did some damage to the Confederate works by bombardment on January 10 as the army troops struggled to get in position. The navy continued to inflict damage on the fort on January 11 as the infantry attacks began about 1:00 p.m. This grouping includes a wonderful dispatch from Morgan to Admiral Porter, hastily written in pencil by Morgan himself directly to Porter. Measuring about 5 by 8 inches, the dispatch regards preparations for the final assault and reads:

“Head Quarters 13 Army Corps Army of the Miss.

In the Field, January 11 1863

To Rear Admiral Porter

Admiral;

Pardon me for addressing you directly. I do so to save time. The moment your guns open, six guns of my [[corps]] command and six of Sherman’s, will open on the Fort, at a range of 850 yards.

When the assault is made, it will be made with a shout, and it is important that the boats attacking / should note the direction of the assaulting troops.

I am admiral your Obdt Serv George W. Morgan

Brig General Comdng  left Wing.”

 

The dispatch is accompanied by hand-drawn map of the battlefield in black ink showing the course of the river, location of the Confederate fort and prominent features such as a pond and high timber along the river bank, a Confederate raft and rifle pits. The map measures 15 by 15 ½  inches and is inscribed at upper right: “Maj. Gen. McClernand / with the compliments of / Rear Admiral D.D. Porter” in one hand, and below that: “copied for Corps d’Armee / Commanded by Genl. Geo. W. Morgan / by / Capt. Sidney S. Lyon / acting Topog. Engr.”

The map, like the dispatch, is an on-the-spot production giving the general layout of the land, without unnecessary details. Lyon was the Acting Topographical Engineer of Morgan’s 13th Corps, so it looks like Morgan had supplied the map to Porter, who in turn presented it to McClernand, likely as a souvenir of his victory, and Morgan’s dispatch to Porter seems to have gone back with it.

Accompanying the dispatch and map are two objects. The first is a Hathaway patent writing kit in very good condition and showing its 1861 patent date. These were convenient roll-up kits using central tin tube for holding pens, pencils, paper and inkwell, attached to a series of wood slats on a canvas backing that can be rolled around the tube for easy carrying or locked in place to make a solid writing surface. They were very popular among Civil War soldiers and officers. This one even includes its original 1862 patented inkwell. The pewter screw top was cleverly designed to open a small hole in which to dip a pen or close tightly to prevent spills when carried in the kit.

Lastly, the grouping includes a dispatch case that seems to be improvised from an artillery pass box. These cylindrical leather containers have a lid and long shoulder strap with buckle. Intended to carry the cloth cylinder powder charge from a powder room or magazine to a cannon, they are sturdy and waterproof. This one seems to have been used to carry the message, the map, or both, which would make sense for communications between land and naval forces, though whether from Morgan to Porter or Porter to McClernand, we can’t say.

After three hours of fighting on January 11, Confederate forces at Arkansas Post surrendered. Grant was initially furious with McClernand at an unnecessary diversion of resources, but settled for a victory, especially after it turned out Sherman had suggested the project. He did, however, order McClernand back to Mississippi and assumed personal command of the campaign against Vicksburg. The victory eventually freed additional Union troops for the Vicksburg campaign, but did nothing to alleviate strains between Grant and McClernand, which culminated in McClernand’s removal from command in June.

Battlefield communications such as this dispatch the accompanying map rarely survive. At best they were copied and improved for official records and the originals discarded. This is real opportunity to “hold history in hand.”  [sr]

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