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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 the result.

                                                            H.W. HALLECK



So 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 the Mississippi.


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?)


Grant's 100 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 Chattanooga.


Buell's Means of Supply by Railroad


Waiting 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.



Stone 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 Appears at Chattanooga


Braxton 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.



Joe Ryan


What Happened in July 1862

The War In The East

The War In The West

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Joe Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg, several times.

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