The War In The West
Grant Takes Nominal Command
Of The Department Of The West
When Major-General Henry Halleck left Corinth, Mississippi, on July 17, 1862, for Washington, he retained command of the three armies that
had been concentrated at Corinth and which now were separated, engaged at his
direction in two distinct missions. The evidence clearly shows Halleck's state
of mind as to what he expected his role to be, in going east; he wished merely
to switch command of the Department of the West for command of the Department
of the East.
Corinth, Miss., July 10, 1862
Governor Sprague is here. If I were to
go to Washington I could advise but one thing—to place all the forces in North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington under one head, and hold that head responsible for
why instead did Lincoln make Halleck General-in-Chief? The only reasonable
explanation seems clearly to be that neither Halleck nor Lincoln wanted Grant,
who, with Halleck's departure, would be the ranking general in the West, to
command the Department of the West. Searching for direct proof of this fact,
though, is elusive.
In The Edge of Glory: a biography of William S.
Rosecrans, William Lamers, the book's author, writes: Halleck
"asked Washington, `Shall I relinquish command to the next in rank, or
will the President designate who is to be commander?" Where Mr. Lamers got
this quotation, the book does not say. In John F. Marszalek's book, A
Life of General Henry W. Halleck, he writes, Halleck "wondered
whether it was up to him to give command in the West to Grant or whether Lincoln wanted to make that decision himself. Eventually Halleck decided that neither
Grant nor Buell had the ability needed for overall command." Where Mr.
Marszalek got this, his book does not say. (Presumably, there exists a writing
somewhere in the Rebellion Record.) Certainly, the appointment of the
department's commander was not Halleck's decision to make. He was merely a
general in the chain of command which ended at the top with Lincoln. It was Lincoln's call and Grant was, in fact, the ranking general in the Department. Lincoln could have elevated a general of inferior rank over Grant's head, as he had done by
placing Pope in command of the new "Army of Virginia," but he chose
instead to keep Halleck managing the West as he undertook, at the same time, to
manage the East. This, in essence, allowed Lincoln to keep Buell's army
operating independently of Grant's. And it meant that Lincoln had not yet
grasped Grant's character, or at least he was unsure of it.
Grant expressed his take on this in his Memoirs:
"I was next in rank, and [Halleck]
telegraphed me [at Memphis] to report at department headquarters at Corinth. I . . . reached Corinth on the 15th of July. General Halleck remained until July
17th; but he was very uncommunicative, and gave me no information as to what I
had been called to Corinth for.
When General Halleck left to assume the
duties of general-in-chief (which at the time Grant did not know) I remained in
command of the district of West Tennessee (italics added.).
Practically I became a department commander, because no one was assigned to
that position over me and I made my reports direct to the general-in-chief; but
I was not assigned to the position of department commander until the 25th of October 1862." (That was a huge leap of belief to make!)
Note: This had to be Lincoln, thinking deeply about Grant. Lincoln knew the war could not be lost in the
West. Consolidating gains there, made largely by Grant's initiative, meant that
Grant would be in the background, not a bad place to be.
On July 17th, the day of Halleck's departure from Corinth, Grant caused an order to be published: "The undersigned takes the command of
all the troops embraced in the Army of the Tenn, the Army of the Miss, and
Districts of Miss and Cairo." This suggests that Grant knew he commanded West tennessee and Kentucky and had no operational command over Buell's army in East Tennessee.
Note: Now, by Lincoln's hand,
Grant has command of three "districts" which stretech from Cairo, Illinois, to Corinth, a distance of what? Three Hundred miles! Two Hundred!
Stretching from the Mississippi to the Cumberland. Vicksburg would have to
wait. Buell is charged with the duty of conquering East Tennessee, as close to
the Confederate heartland as you can get.
On July 23, Grant wrote Halleck, who by then was at Washington, addressing Halleck as "Commanding Department of the Mississippi."
William T. Sherman, Grant's recognized friend, reports the
true situation in his Memoirs:
On June 23, I was at Lafayette Station,
when General Grant, with his staff and a very insignificant escort, arrived
from Corinth en route for Memphis, to take command of that place and of the
District of West Tennessee. Up to that time I had received my orders direct
from General Halleck at Corinth, but soon after I fell under the immediate
command of General Grant. But on June 29th, General Halleck ordered me to
cooperate with General Rosecrans whose army corps was moving to Holly Springs. On July 2, Halleck ordered me to fall back from Holly Springs. On July 16th,
Halleck wired me to say he was going to Washington and that his command had
devolved upon General Grant and that I was to go to Memphis to take command of
the District of West Tennessee. (So, it seems that Grant's order conforms to
what Sherman has said, but not to what Grant said.)
At the time Halleck went to Washington, the army of the Ohio was marching toward Chattanooga and was strung out from
Eastport by Huntsville to Bridgeport, under the command of General Buell. In
like manner, the army of the Tennessee was strung along the same general line,
from Memphis to Tuscumbia, and was commanded by General Grant, with no
commander for both these forces. (This is statement is not true: Halleck [read Lincoln] was in command of both forces.)
In person, Grant had his headquarters
at Corinth, with the three divisions of Hamilton, Davies, and McKean, under the
immediate orders of General Rosecrans. General Ord had succeeded to the command
of McClernand's division, McClernand having gone to Washington. I had in Memphis my own and Hurlbut's divisions. (McClernand, a very important Illinois politician,
once Speaker of the House, was determined to have a separate command from
Grant's, taking advantage of Lincoln's call upon Illinois for 26,000 young men
and McClernand's ability to deliver them.)
William Rosecrans, another witness to the state of things,
had arrived at Shiloh after the battle of April 6th, his position in the East
having been usurped by Lincoln's appointing Frémont to command the
"Mountain Department." When Pope went east, several of the divisions
of the Army of Mississippi had been sent to Arkansas and Halleck put Rosecrans in
command of those that remained. According to Lamers, "as Halleck left
Corinth, Grant was assigned to command the district of West Tennessee,
including Cairo, Illinois, that part of the Mississippi occupied by Union
troops, that part of Alabama that might be occupied, and the forces heretofore
known as `the Army of the Mississippi.' However, these orders did not liquidate
the Army of the Mississippi." As a result of these orders, Grant, whether
or not the actual head of the Department of the West, commanded now about 105,000
men, 65,000 of which composed the Army of the Tennessee and 40,000 the Army of
Note: Now, suddenly, Ulyesses S.
Grant, an allegedly broken down drunk but three months ago, was in actual
command of over one hundred thousand men, as many as McClellan had, with the
responsibility of covering a just conquered territory extending from the
Mississippi border to the Ohio River, as far east as the Cumberland River. And
his success depended upon getting over 400 miles of railroad within that
territory, operational—only then can the Union expect to get to Vicksburg from land. In other words, Lincoln knew he did not have control over the
conquered territory and that had to be secured before it would be prudent to
push forward, for the coup du grace.
As Lamers tells the story, after this change of command, Rosecrans
would ride to Grant's headquarters and, in dining with him, found that
"Grant seldom joked, and rarely laughed, and whittled or smoked with a
listless, absorbed air." (Don't you know what he was thinking?)
Mile Front, From Memphis to Corinth
Don Carlos Buell Approaches Chattanooga
While Grant was sitting on his hands at Corinth, the troops
under his command, according to Halleck's orders, scattered all through West
Tennessee and Kentucky, rebuilding the railroads and guarding them from the
depredations of roaming rebel cavalry, Buell had reached Decatur, Alabama, on
the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, one hundred miles or so shy of
of Supply by Railroad
for him was Ormsy Mitchel, in command of a division, who had been trying to
keep open the Nashville & Decatur Railroad and its companion branch
terminating at Stevenson. In a barren country devoid of meaningful water
supply, with the temperature soaring into the hundreds, Buell was trying to feed
his 40,000 man army by relying on a railroad system that was broken by rebel
cavalry on a daily basis and which, when in operation, lacked sufficient
locomotive and rolling stock to deliver the tonnage of supplies required. Having
struggled mightily to get as far as Huntsville, using the Memphis &
Charleston Railroad—as Halleck had dictated—to supply his troops, he expected
to use the Nashville railroads to support his movement to Stevenson and
Chattanooga; but, no sooner did he arrive at Decatur than the rebel cavalry
destroyed the stone bridge carrying the Nashville & Decatur Railroad over
the Elk River.
Bridge, Elk's River
On July 12, Buell reached Stevenson where a train load of
supplies reached him, and he ramped up for the final movement to Chattanooga; but, on July 13, Bedford Forest's rebel cavalry swooped down upon Murfreesboro and destroyed both the Union depot full of supplies but the railroad, too. By
July 14, Buell's men were back to eating hand to mouth.
Note: As Buell was arriving at
Stevenson, Halleck was getting the message Lincoln wanted him to come east. So,
when Halleck left on the 17th Halleck and Lincoln knew Buell was at Stevenson,
and from there it was a leap of faith to Chattanooga.
It was not until July 29, that the Nashville-Stevenson line
opened and supply trains arrived to relieve the army. To reach Chattanooga, Buell still had to get his army across the Tennessee River, and, as he was in
the process of doing this, he received the news that Braxton Bragg had arrived
at that place with 30,000 men.
Braxton Bragg Moves from Tupelo to Chattanooga by Rail
Bragg assumed command of the Confederate army of Mississippi from Beauregard,
when, after the retreat from Corinth, Beauregard became too sick to continue in
command. Concentrating at Tupelo, Mississippi, Bragg realized by early July
that the Union forces, under Grant's command, were standing on the defensive,
their concentration broken up by dispersal over the rail net that fed them
supplies from Cairo, Illinois. At this time Kirby Smith, with about 10,000 men,
was at Chattanooga, Sterling Price, with 15,000 men was at Tupelo, and Van Dorn
was at Vicksburg, with about 16,000. Accepting the risk that the enemy holding
the line—Memphis to Corinth―might move on the offensive against either
Tupelo or Vicksburg in his absence, President Davis, with General Lee's
consultation, decided that Bragg would move the main body of his force―about
30,000 men—to Chattanooga, in order to cooperate with Smith in an offensive
movement against Buell either directly, or indirectly against his
communications by a movement into East Tennessee.
Strangely, given his acumen as a professional soldier,
President Davis, at this time, refused to incorporate Kirby's Smith's
department into Bragg's. This left Smith apparently free to act in cooperation
or not with Bragg, as he thought best. In essence, given Davis's decision,
Bragg was operating in Smith's department, rather than Smith operating in his.
This division of command function would come back to bite the Confederate
Government at the worst possible moment in the impending campaign, a campaign
that reversed the fortune of the Confederacy.
What Happened in July 1862
The War In The East
The War In The West