Maj. Gen. John Alexander Mcclernand Biography
 
Maj. Gen. John Alexander Mcclernand
 
 
Born:  Saturday, May 30, 1812 nr Hardinsburg Kentucky
Died:  Saturday, September 20, 1890 Springfield Illinois
Age:  78
Buried:  Oak Ridge Cemetery Springfield, Sangamon County Illinois
Plot:  Block 14, Lot 77
 
Pre War:  Black Hawk war, lawyer, politician, US congressman.
 
War Service:  May 1861 appointed Brig. Gen. of Volunteers, Belmont, commanded 1st Divn at Fts Henry and Donelson, March 1862 promoted Maj. Gen. of Volunteers, commanded 1st Divn/Dist of West Tennessee at Shiloh, Vicksburg campaign, Arkansas Post, commanded XIII Corps at Vicksburg, removed from command by Grant, commanded XII Corps in Red River campaign, resigned November 1864.
 
Post War:  Politician
 
 
When President Abraham Lincoln appointed general officers for the U.S. Army in 1861, he considered many factors, including military experience and political persuasion. Those men with a military background were needed to fight the war, but influential politicians were also important. A powerful politician might receive a general’s commission for his abilities to recruit troops and speak in defense of the war effort. The latter was particularly important in the border state areas that might have strong Southern sentiment. One such individual was John Alexander McClernand of Illinois.

John A. McClernand was born in Kentucky in 1812, and his family moved to the southern Illinois town of Shawneetown shortly thereafter. His only military experience before the Civil War was during the Black Hawk War in 1832. He enrolled for ninety days and served in Captain Harrison Wilson’s company, 1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, Illinois Mounted Volunteers. Shortly after enlisting, McClernand was appointed assistant brigade quartermaster with the temporary rank of colonel. He saw virtually no action and was mustered out after serving about sixty days.

McClernand began his political career in 1836 when he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives as a Jacksonian Democrat. After several terms in the Illinois General Assembly, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843. As a congressional representative in the 1840s and early 1850s McClernand was in the middle of some of the most important legislative battles that led to the Civil War. He was Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas’s spokesman in the House, and the two played pivotal roles in negotiating the Compromise of 1850. McClernand left Congress in 1851, but returned in 1859 and was a central figure in the contentious 1859 speakership battle. Throughout the 1860 election and the early period of the secession crisis McClernand worked for compromise and conciliation. When that failed, he supported war.

McClernand received a general’s commission for his support of the war. President Lincoln needed men like McClernand, a Democrat, to recruit troops and speak for the war effort. His commission came through on 7 August 1861 to date from 17 May 1861. McClernand was assigned to the Western Department, which was commanded by Major General John C. Fremont. He was given command of a brigade of Illinois regiments and stationed at Cairo, Illinois, part of the District of Southeast Missouri, which was commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant. McClernand was Grant’s second-in­command. Although both Grant and McClernand fought on the same side, by the end of their association the two men were bitter enemies.

The first combat experience for General McClernand was the battle of Belmont on 7 November 186l. McClernand commanded the 1st Brigade, which consisted of 2,072 men, fully two-thirds of the expeditionary force. During the engagement, a rebel ball struck one of McClernand’s pistols and two of his horses were shot from under him. After capturing the Confederate camp, the Federal troops retired from Belmont and returned safely to Cairo. McClernand’s first combat experience was successful, and his superior, General Grant, commended him in his official report.

The day after the engagement, McClernand wrote directly to General-in-Chief George B. McClellan in Washington. This was a disturbing habit that McClernand continued throughout the war-disregarding the official chain of command. When this happened, McClernand most frequently corresponded with President Lincoln. Yet another disturbing habit McClernand started after Belmont was his writing congratulatory orders to his troops. After every battle, McClernand congratulated his men and often failed to mention that any other troops participated in the fight. These two habits served to alienate many officers in the Federal army and ultimately caused Grant to remove McClernand from his command in June 1863. From the very beginning of the war, McClernand mixed war and politics and was unable to separate politics from the military.

General McClernand next commanded Grant’s 1st Division in capturing Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862. After the surrender of Fort Donelson, McClernand, promoted to major general, led his division to Pittsburg Landing, where Grant was concentrating his army for an invasion into the Confederate heartland. It was McClernand who warned General William T. Sherman of the presence of Confederate troops nearby. Precautions were not taken, and the Federal Army of the Tennessee was surprised on 6 April 1862, beginning the two-day battle of Shiloh. After ably leading his division during the battle, McClernand was given command of the Reserve Corps when General Henry Halleck assumed control of the army. McClernand held that position throughout the snail-like advance on Corinth.

After the capture of Corinth, McClemand served garrison duty in Bolivar, Mississippi, and Jackson, Tennessee. This did not suit McClernand, as he was restless and wanted to fight. He finally received orders to report to Illinois governor Richard Yates in Springfield to aid in recruiting troops. Yates requested McClernand to accompany him to the East and the general gladly agreed. This gave McClernand an opportunity to lobby in person for the one thing he wanted badly-an independent command. By September 1862 McClemand had presented a plan to President Lincoln for the capture of Vicksburg. After considerable politicking, on 21 October General McClemand was given command of an independent expedition to capture the formidable Confederate fort.

After spending two months recruiting troops in the Midwest, McClernand assumed command of his troops, styled the Army of the Mississippi, on 2 January 1863. Instead of moving immediately upon Vicksburg, McClernand captured the Confederate outpost on the Arkansas River called Arkansas Post. The capture of the fort on 11 January 1863 was the zenith of McClernand’s Civil War career. By the end of January, McClernand’s command was reduced to the XIII Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee. In that capacity he participated in the capture of Vicksburg. Throughout this campaign, the relations between McClemand and Grant deteriorated to the point where Grant removed McClernand on 18 June 1863. The reason: McClemand wrote a congratulatory order and published it in the newspapers without first sending it through command channels.

After six months of inactivity, McClernand was reassigned to his XIII Corps in January 1864. His troops were part of General Nathaniel Banks’s Department of the Gulf in Texas. Playing almost no role in the Red River campaign, McClernand became ill with malaria in May 1864 and returned home, never again to fight in the war.

John A. McClernand’s Civil War experience was dominated by mixing politics with war. He never separated the two and that alienated many high-ranking civil and military officials. It ultimately led to his removal in June 1863. He habitually circumvented the military chain of command and wrote directly to political figures, most frequently to President Lincoln. The most common theme in this correspondence was to request an independent command. In spite of his insubordinate activities, McClernand was a competent commander; he made no great blunders and was always willing to fight the enemy.
 
My Source:  Encyclopedia of the American Civil War - Christopher C. Meyers