The Union Invasion of Tennessee



U.S. Grant to Halleck, November 21, 1861

Cairo, Department of Ohio


"There are now at Columbus forty-seven regiments of infantry and two companies of light artillery, and over one hundred pieces of heavy ordinance. In addition, there are at Camp Beauregard, on the road about half way between Mayfield and Union City, some 8,000 more, of all arms. A gunboat reached Columbus and another is expected in a few days.


There is great deficiency in transportation. I have no ambulances. The clothing received is of inferior quality and lacking in quantity. The arms in the hands of the men are mostly the old flint lock. The Quartermaster's Department has been carried on with so little funds that Government credit have become exhausted."


Buell to McClellan, November 22, 1861



"My Dear Friend: The Kentucky regiments are being consolidated, some forty or fifty fragments worked into about twenty-two full regiments, Two Ohio regiments have arrived. Ohio Governor Dennison looks upon all Ohio troops as his army. He requires morning reports from them. I shall stop all this sort of thing.


And now to come to strategy: I have not abandoned the idea which you put forward (move into East Tennessee); I am studying it carefully and preparing for it, for I find some attraction in it; but neither have I determined on it absolutely.


Sherman still insists that I require 200,000 men. I am quite content to try with a good many less.


It will be important that Halleck (commanding Department of Missouri) shall strike at the same time that I do, and I think you agree that his blow should await my preparation.


The enemy is fortifying strongly at Bowling Green, and he has some batteries on the Cumberland and Tennessee. He can concentrate at Bowling Green in three or four hours some 20,000 or 30,000 men."


McClellan to Buell, November 25, 1861

Washington D.C.


"I am still firmly impressed with the great necessity of making the movement on East Tennessee with the least possible delay. Eight regiments have been ordered to report to you from Western Virginia, three from Ohio, and whatever is available in Indiana. I hope to place at your disposal early next week two divisions from Missouri, as well as other troops from Illinois.


The object to be gained is to cut the communication between the Mississippi Valley and Eastern Virginia; second, to protect our friends in the region; and to reestablish the national government. Louisville can be defended while you move into East Tennessee. I think a movement on Knoxville absolutely necessary."


Click to enlarge map

Buell's Department of the Ohio



McClellan to Buell, November 27, 1861


"What is the reason for concentration of troops at Louisville? I urge movement at once on Eastern Tennessee unless it is impossible."


Buell to McClellan, November 27 1861


"Louisville affords the best base that can be taken for land operations from the north upon any part of Tennessee. The railroad to Lebanon gives, in addition to the Nashville Railroad, three good pike roads which converge to a point of easy communication about Glasgow.


And now for the plan of campaign: First, I organize columns to march to the Salt River and concentrate at Bardstown. This allows me to establish a sufficient force in front of Bowling Green to hold the enemy there, while a column moves into East Tennessee by Somerset and then toward Knoxville. Alternatively, the column moving into East Tennessee can hold the enemy in its front while a column moves on Nashville by the turnpike via Gallatin. Or, I can hold the enemy in check at Bowling Green and move both columns forward simultaneously: one toward Nashville, the other toward Knoxville. The choice which movement to make depends entirely upon the existing circumstances.


In conjunction with whichever of these plans we execute, a movement of two flotilla columns should occur up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, so as to land and unite near the Tennessee state line, and cut off communications between Bowling Green and Columbus. A strong demonstration should at that same time be made on Columbus on the Mississippi. For the water movements means are necessary which I have not control of; that is, gunboats and transports.


There are at Indianapolis seven regiments ready for service, but demoralized by the want of discipline and instruction. I will form them at Bardstown into a camp of instruction, along with the Kentucky regiments only partially organized."


Henry Halleck (commanding the Department of Missouri) to McClellan, November 27, 1861

Saint Louis


"Affairs here in complete chaos. Troops unpaid; without clothing or arms, suffering from want of blankets. Utterly demoralized. Hospitals overflowing with sick.


Halleck's Department of Missouri


U.S. Grant (commanding District Southeast Missouri) To Halleck,  November 28, 1861



  "One of the two gunboats now in service was sent to St. Louis to meet two of the new ones then said to be ready to start for Cairo. The rebels have one gunboat at Columbus, and are now expecting a fleet of them from New Orleans, under command of Captain Hollis. I request the gunboats being built at Carondelet be brought here."


McClellan to Buell, November 29, 1861


"I fully concur in your views. You have seized the true strategic base, and from Lebanon can move where you will. I believe in attacks by concentrated masses, but it seems to me, that you might attempt two movements, one on East Tennessee, say with 15,000 men, and a strong attack on Nashville, as you propose, say 50,000 men.


I think we owe it to our Union friends in East Tennessee to protect them at all hazards. First, secure that; then, if you possess the means, carry Nashville.


Twelve regiments have been ordered to you from West Virginia. I have telegraphed to Halleck today for information about his gunboats. You shall have a sufficient number of them to perform the operations you suggest. I will place C.F. Smith under your orders and replace his command by other troops.


Note: Buell was the first of the generals to articulate in writing the plan of attacking Fort Henry and then cutting the railroad communications of the rebel forces at Columbus and Bowling Green where the railroad crossed the Tennessee. McClellan's statement that Smith and the gunboats would come under Buell's command did not develop into reality.

Inform me some little time before you are ready to move, so that we may move simultaneously. I have also other heavy blows to strike at the same time. I doubt whether all the movements can be arranged so that the blows can be struck in less than a month or six weeks from the present time."


Note: Apparently, as of November 29, Mac was in fact thinking of moving on Johnston's force at Manassas, in conjunction with Buell's movements, Halleck's, and Burnside's. Then, again, perhaps as to himself he was not.


Grant to Halleck, November 29, 1861


"Information from Columbus today is to the effect the rebels have three gunboats. There seems to be a great effort making throughout the South to make Columbus impregnable."


Note: Hardly a surprise. Presently the Union river traffic that comes out of the mouth of the Ohio cannot turn down into the Mississippi. Nothing from the interior can get out to the Gulf. Commerce in therefore dead and will remain so until the obstructions—Columbus, New Madrid, and Vicksburg—can be removed.


C.S. Smith to Halleck's Staff, November 30, 1861



"I sent the Conestoga up the Tennessee to look after the rebel gunboat, which I understand had been making a reconnaissance below Fort Henry."


Grant to Halleck, December 1, 1861


"Polk's three gunboats made a Sunday excursion up to see us this evening; fired six shots. Our gunboats followed but could not get near enough to engage them."


Smith to Halleck's Staff, December 1, 1861


"Our main reliance against the enemy's attempts by gunboats by way of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers must be by the flotilla, though at present all we have is the Conestoga."


McClellan to Buell, December 3, 1861


"I am sure you agree with me in my intense regard for the noble Union men of East Tennessee; and that you will devote all your energies towards the salvation of these men. I must still urge the occupation of East Tennessee as a duty we owe our friends. Please send, then, with the least possible delay, troops enough to protect these men. Today I ordered 10,000 excellent arms to be sent to you by Louisville."


Halleck to McClellan, December 3, 1861


"The cold here is very severe, and our troops in miserable tents and poorly clothed, suffer very much and the sick list is enormous."


McClellan to Buell, December 5, 1861


"Give me at once your views as to the number of gunboats necessary for the water movement, the necessary land forces etc. Would not C.F. Smith be a good man to command that part of the expedition? When should they move?


Let me again urge the necessity of sending something into East Tennessee as promptly as possible."


Flag-Officer Foote to Halleck, December 6, 1861



"Telegraphed to General McClellan that there are twelve gunboats, of which three are in commission and nine in the contractors' hands. I will have them ready for service in ten days, provided I am given the 1,000 men I need to man them. The last of the gunboats from St. Louis not yet received."


Halleck to McClellan, December 6, 1861


"Our army is utterly disorganized, clamorous for pay, but refusing to be regularly mustered in, in many places mutinous and disbanding. I will restore order if you give me time. We are not prepared for any important expedition out of the state, it would imperil the safety of Missouri. Wait until we are ready.


This, General, is no army, but rather a military rabble. I am almost destitute of regular officer. Your telegram indicates your intention to withdraw a portion of our troops from Missouri. This cannot be done safely at this time. We are destitute of arms, organization, and discipline."


Note: Mac's telegram is missing from the Rebellion Record. It is obvious from this train of correspondence that McClellan was, in fact, prepared to take away from Halleck command of Grant's force at Cairo and Paducah, and with it under Smith, and, with Foote's gunboats, give it all to Buell to control as a movement up the Tennessee; this for the purpose of inducing Buell to move on East Tennessee. Halleck checked Mac in this simply by claiming everything in his department was in chaos.


Buell to McClellan, December 8, 1861


"We are gradually getting into position. Zollicoffer's force has crossed the river near Somerset, it is said, with six regiments and eight guns.  I send reinforcements to check him. I do not want to be diverted right now from my main objective, the organization of my forces which are now little better than a mob.


Buckner last night requested I allow his wife and the corpse of his child to pass to Louisville. I declined to allow it."


McClellan to Halleck, December 10, 1861


"If you had informed me that you had available troops I intended to propose to you a movement in concert with Buell. His project, though very important, must either be deferred or be carried out in some other way. Can you form any idea of the time necessary to prepare an expedition against Columbus and one up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, in connection with Buell's movements?"


Buell to McClellan, December 10, 1861


"I assure you I will pursue your views . And now to the other side of the field: I feel more anxiety about it than any other, because I have less control over the means that ought to bear on it. I do not rate Smith highly. The object is not to fight great battles and storm impregnable fortifications, but by demonstrations and maneuvering to prevent the enemy from concentrating his scattered forces. I suppose that 10,000 men, with two batteries, would be a reasonable amount to use for each river. The expedition should go as rapidly as possible to the nearest point to where the road crosses the peninsula; that is to Dover and Fort Henry. And the first thing to be done is to destroy the bridges and ferries; then act on the defensive. The demonstration on Columbus should be of a scale that it can be converted into a real attack."


Buell to McClellan, December 15, 1861


"Captain Prime was taken prisoner at Somerset. We are gradually moving up, and have exchanged shots with pickets. We shall in a few days have two bridges over Green River; have one now at Munfordville. Zollicoffer, whose has 6,000, has gone back to his bridge at Mill Springs. Our advanced force is between Somerset and Fishing Creek."


Buell to McClellan, December 17, 1861


"We are at Munfordville and Bacon Creek, doing pretty well. Zollicoffer is retiring toward Cumberland Gap as we approach."


Buell to Adjutant General, December 23, 1861


"Our returns show an aggregate of some 70,000, about 57,000 fit for duty. The efficient force may be set down now at about 50,000. The plan which I propose for the troops here is one of defense on the east and of invasion on the south."


Note: What happened? As Mac saw it Buell was to invade the east and stand on the defense on the south.


About this time, McClellan became sick and took to his bed for about ten days. Everything seems to have been put on hold. One thing is clear, Mac wanted Buell to move into East Tennessee as eagerly as did Lincoln.


Special Order, Halleck's Dept: December 23, 1861


"Brigadier-General W. T. Sherman is hereby assigned to the command of the camp of instruction and post at Benton Barracks. He will have every armed regiment and company in his command ready for service at a moment's warning."


U.S. Grant to Buell, December 26, 1861


"I enclose for you an order defining the limits of my command. I will cooperate with you as far as practicable."


Buell to McClellan, December 29, 1861


"It startles me to find myself still in Louisville. It has taken time to get necessary supplies, but transportation is the great trouble.


I intend to move a column of 12,000 men for East Tennessee; but it is impossible to fix the time for it to be there, so much depends on circumstances. My advance to Green River has so startled the enemy that I am informed they had shifted two brigades, with 12 guns, say, 6,000 men, from the Columbus sector to Bowling Green, and I have information that Floyd's division, 6,000 men, arrived also. I have information that 10,000 men from Mississippi also arrived. There are doubtless now 30,000 men at Bowling Green; and, unless checked by demonstrations on Columbus and up the rivers, there will be 50,000 before I can get there.


It is my opinion that all the force that can possibly be collected should be brought to bear on that front of which Columbus and Bowling Green are the flanks and Fort Henry the center. The center is the most important point in the whole field of operations."


Lincoln to Halleck and Buell, December 31, 1861


"General McClellan is sick. Are you acting in concert?"


Halleck to Buell, January 2, 1862


"All my available troops are in the field except those at Cairo and Paducah, which are barely sufficient to threaten Columbus. A few weeks hence (Halleck said this to Mac six weeks ago) I will be able to help you."


McClellan to Halleck, January 3, 1862


"It is very important that the rebel troops in west Kentucky be prevented from moving to the support of the force in front of Buell. To accomplish this an expedition should be sent up the Cumberland River to act in concert with Buell's command, of sufficient strength to defeat any force that might be brought against it. The gunboats should be supported by at least one and perhaps two divisions of your best infantry, taken from Paducah and other points from which they can be spared. At the same time such a demonstration should be made on Columbus as will prevent the removal of any troops from that place; and, if a sufficient number has already been moved, the place should be taken. It may be well to make a feint on the Tennessee River, with a command sufficient to prevent disaster under any circumstances"


Note: Now this is indeed a tall order, "under any circumstances." Is this in fact an "order?" Halleck has Grant and Smith's 15,000 men available, to use as a force to go up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, but Halleck appears not to have any additional available force to "demonstrate" against Fort Columbus held by Polk with about 17,000 men. Therefore, the key to Confederate success in defense of Fort Henry, is for Polk to come out of the fort, as Sidney Johnston proposed, and operate against Grant's force moving up the Tennessee River. Whatever force is moving up the Cumberland must come to Grant's aid, to ward off Polk. Why Polk failed to follow Johnston's direction is explained by Polk himself.


McClellan to Buell, January 6, 1862


"My own plans make it imperative that you occupy East Tennessee and its railroads. Bowling Green and Nashville are of very secondary importance at the present moment. My own advance cannot be made until your troops are solidly established in East Tennessee. Halleck will not soon be ready to support a movement up the Cumberland. Why not make the movement (in to East Tennessee) independently of and without waiting for that."


Note: By January 6th, Mac has begun to articulate his plan of operations, as being a movement of the Army of the Potomac down to the Yorktown Peninsula by water and then, using the headwaters of York River as his base, move up to Richmond and lay siege. He wants the Virginia-Tennessee Railroad under Union control when he does this. Buell's objective all along was to move against Nashville—Johnston's base of operations—by cutting the rebels communications at the railroad bridge crossing the Tennessee above Fort Henry.


Halleck to Lincoln, January 6, 1862


"The rebels have about 22,000 men at Columbus. No considerable force has been sent from there to Bowling Green. I have at Cairo and Paducah about 15,000 men, which after leaving guards at various points, would give me about 10,000 to use in assisting Buell. It would be madness to attempt anything serious with such a force, and I cannot at the present time withdraw any forces from Missouri without risking the loss of the state. Price and others have a considerable army in the southwest, against which I am operating with all my available force.


I know nothing of Buell's intended operations. If he intends to move his column to Bowling Green while another moves from Cairo or Paducah on Columbus, it will be a repetition of Bull Run all over again."


Note: Despite the negative tone of his message, no sooner has he written it than he has Grant moving into the field to make a demonstration against Polk's forces at Columbus. Halleck knows what Buell wants to do and he knows the proper thing to do is use Grant's infantry force and Foote's gunboats, now coming on line, to help him.


Halleck to Buell,January 6, 1862


"Under the circumstances it would be madness for me to attempt any serious operation against Columbus. Probably I can send additional troops to Cairo in a few weeks to help you but not now. If you think cooperation is essential then you should delay your movement on Bowling Green. (Of course Lincoln and McClellan want Buell to move on East Tennessee but no way does Buell intend to do that.)"


Don Carlos Buell

Halleck to Grant, January 6, 1862


"Make a demonstration in force on Mayfield and in the direction of Murray. Forces from Cairo and Paducah should meet at Mayfield and threaten Murray. Do not advance far enough to expose your flank and rear to an attack from Columbus and by all means avoid a serious engagement. The object is to prevent reinforcements from being sent to Bowling Green. Be very careful to avoid a battle, we are not ready for that."


Lincoln to Buell, January 7, 1862


"Name as early a day as you safely can move southward in concert with Halleck."


Grant to Halleck, January 8, 1862


"Your instructions received. Two gunboats will go up the Tennessee with a transport. Smith will move on Mayfield and threaten Murray. I will occupy the ground in his rear and protect him from attack from Columbus. The continuous rains for the last week have rendered the roads extremely bad and will make our progress slow"


Halleck to McClellan, January 9, 1862


"I can make with the gunboats and available troops a pretty formidable demonstration, but no real attack. The gunboats are not ready, but probably will be within a week or two. With good luck, and the receipt of the 11,000 arms ordered by you a month ago, we can be ready by the early part of February to throw some 15,000 additional troops on that line."


Halleck to Buell, January 10, 1862


"Troops at Cairo and Paducah are ready for the demonstration."


McClellan to Buell, January 13, 1862


"You have no idea of the pressure brought to bear here for a forward movement. It is so strong it seems absolutely necessary to make the advance on East Tennessee at once. (Mac won't give up.) Your possession of the railroad there will surely prevent the main army in my front from being reinforced. Halleck is yet in condition to give you the support you need to advance on Bowling Green."


Buell to McClellan, January 13, 1862


"I will now content myself with holding Bowling Green in check. The presence of Zollicoffer at Mill Springs affords a reason for sending a force to that point. I have sent Thomas there with some 14,000 men. I will establish a depot at Somerset and commence the movement when I do."


Note: By January 17th Grant was in the field, going about 35 miles around Columbus and then returning. Smith, with Foote, went up the Tennessee to within sight of Fort Henry and came back down.


Smith to Grant, January 22, 1862


"I think two gunboats can make short work of Fort Henry."


Halleck to Grant, January 22, 1862


"All additional forces sent to you will be stationed at Smithland. You have permission to visit headquarters."


Note: Grant went to St. Louis and shared the information he had gained from the excursion. Though Halleck treated him curtly, it is apparent that Halleck now began to give serious attention to the idea of Grant returning to Fort Henry. Several facts would have motivated his mind to do this: first, the gunboats were now all operational, and, second, by Foote's report, it seemed that there was only 4,000 to 6,000 men, if that, manning the fort; third, no rebel infantry force had appeared to contest Grant's progress overland, between Columbus and Murray; fourth, this last fact existed probably because Polk had in fact transferred a substantial amount of his troops to Bowling Green.


Buell to Washington, January 27, 1862


"My order to Thomas was to attack the enemy at Mill Springs. It took him 18 days, because of the weather, to get there. We cannot go further. With all the means we have it has been barely possible to keep the force at Somerset from starving. Any advance beyond Somerset is at present impossible."


Flag-Officer A.H. Foote to Halleck, January 28, 1862


"Commanding General Grant and myself are of opinion that Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, can be carried with four iron-clad gunboats and troops to permanently occupy. Have we your authority to move for that purpose when ready?"


Flag Officer A.H. Foote


Grant to Halleck, January 28, 1862


"With permission, I will take Fort Henry, on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there."


Grant to Halleck, January 29, 1862


"In view of the large force now concentrating in this district and the present feasibility of the plan I would respectfully suggest the propriety of subduing Fort Henry near the Kentucky and Tennessee line, and holding the position. From Fort Henry it will be easy to operate either on the Cumberland, only 12 miles distant, Memphis, or Columbus."


McClellan to Halleck, January 29, 1862


"A deserter just in from the rebels says Beauregard was under order to go to Kentucky with 15 regiments."


Halleck to Grant, January 30, 1862


"Make your preparations to take and hold Fort Henry."


Halleck to Grant, January 30, 1862 (written instructions by mail)


"Sir: You will immediately prepare to send forward to Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, all your available force at Smithland, Paducah, Cario, Fort Holt, Bird's Point, etc. Sufficient garrison must be left at those places against an attack from Columbus. As the roads are almost impassable for large forces, and your command is very deficient in transportation, the troops will be taken by steamers up the Tennessee River as far as practicable. Supplies will also be taken up in steamers. Fort Henry should be taken and held at all hazards. I shall immediately send you three additional companies of artillery from this place.


It is very probable that an attempt will be made from Columbus to reenforce Fort Henry.


Having invested Fort Henry, a cavalry force will be sent forward to break up the railroad from Paris to Dover. The bridges should be rendered impassable, but not destroyed.


A telegram from Washington says that Beauregard left Manassas four days ago with fifteen regiments for the line of Columbus and Bowling Green. It is therefore of the greatest importance that we cut that line before he arrives."


Approaches to Fort Henry


Halleck to McClellan, January 30, 1862


"I enclose a copy of instructions I have sent this day to Grant in relation to the expedition up the Tennessee River. Grant has been reinforce with eight regiments of infantry and several others, with three batteries of artillery, are under orders to join him. I will send down every man I can spare. Fort Henry has a garrison of about 6,000 and is strongly fortified. Possibly reinforcements from Columbus will be sent there as soon as we move."


Note: What induced Halleck, suddenly, to find the troops the day before he could not find? News that Beauregard was coming with 15 regiments? Or was it Grant's and Foote's reports of their experience in the field?


Halleck to McClellan, January 30, 1862


"Your telegram respecting Beauregard is received. Grant and Foote will be ordered to immediately advance, and to reduce and hold Fort Henry, and also to cut the railroad between Dover and Paris. The roads are such that movement will be slow and difficult."





What Happened in the Civil War January 1862

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