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Chapter 19.

  • Lincoln Directs cooperation
  • -- Halleck and Buell -- Ulysses S. Grant -- Grant's demonstration- -- victory at mill River -- Fort Henry -- Fort Donelson -- Buell's tardiness -- Halleck's activity- -- victory of Pea Ridge -- Halleck Receives General command -- Pittsburg Landing -- Island no.10 -- Halleck's Corinth campaign -- Halleck's mistakes
    Toward the end of December, 1861, the prospects of the administration became very gloomy. McClellan had indeed organized a formidable army at Washington, but it had done nothing to efface the memory of the Bull Run defeat. On the contrary, a practical blockade of the Potomac by rebel batteries on the Virginia shore, and another small but irritating defeat at Ball's Bluff, greatly heightened public impatience. The necessary surrender of Mason and Slidell to England was exceedingly unpalatable. Government expenditures had risen to $2,000,000 a day, and. a financial crisis was imminent. Buell would not move into East Tennessee, and Halleck seemed powerless in Missouri. Added to this, McClellan's illness completed a stagnation of military affairs both east and west. Congress was clamoring for results, and its joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was pushing a searching inquiry into the causes of previous defeats.

    To remove this inertia, President Lincoln directed specific questions to the Western commanders. “Are [263] General Buell and yourself in concert?” he telegraphed Halleck on December 31. And next day he wrote:

    I am very anxious that, in case of General Buell's moving toward Nashville, the enemy shall not he greatly reinforced, and I think there is danger he will be from Columbus. It seems to me that a real or feigned attack on Columbus from up-river at the same time would either prevent this, or compensate for it by throwing Columbus into our hands.

    Similar questions also went to Buell, and their replies showed that no concert, arrangement, or plans existed, and that Halleck was not ready to cooperate. The correspondence started by the President's inquiry for the first time clearly brought out an estimate of the Confederate strength opposed to a southward movement in the West. Since the Confederate invasion of Kentucky on September 4, the rebels had so strongly fortified Columbus on the Mississippi River that it came to be called the “Gibraltar of the West,” and now had a garrison of twenty thousand to hold it; while General Buckner was supposed to have a force of forty thousand at Bowling Green on the railroad between Louisville and Nashville. For more than a month Buell and Halleck had been aware that a joint river and land expedition southward up the Tennessee or the Cumberland River, which would outflank both positions and cause their evacuation, was practicable with but little opposition. Yet neither Buell nor Halleck had exchanged a word about it, or made the slightest preparation to begin it; each being busy in his own field, and with his own plans. Even now, when the President had started the subject, Halleck replied that it would be bad strategy for himself to move against Columbus, or Buell against Bowling Green; but he had nothing to say about a Tennessee River expedition. or [264] cooperation with Buell to effect it, except by indirectly complaining that to withdraw troops from Missouri would risk the loss of that State.

    The President, however, was no longer satisfied with indecision and excuses, and telegraphed to Buell on January 7:

    Please name as early a day as you safely can on or before which you can be ready to move southward in concert with Major-General Halleck. Delay is ruining us, and it is indispensable for me to have something definite. I send a like despatch to Major-General Halleck.

    To this Buell made no direct reply, while Halleck answered that he had asked Buell to designate a date for a demonstration, and explained two days later: “I can make, with the gunboats and available troops, a pretty formidable demonstration, but no real attack.” In point of fact, Halleck had on the previous day, January 6, written to Brigadier-General U. S. Grant: “I wish you to make a demonstration in force” ; and he added full details, to which Grant responded on January 8: “Your instructions of the sixth were received this morning, and immediate preparations made for carrying them out” ; also adding details on his part.

    Ulysses. S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822, was graduated from West Point in 1843, and brevetted captain for gallant conduct in the Mexican War; but resigned from the army and was engaged with his father in a leather store at Galena, Illinois, when the Civil War broke out. Employed by the governor of Illinois a few weeks at Springfield to assist in organizing militia regiments under the President's first call, Grant wrote a letter to the War Department at Washington tendering his services, and saying: “I feel myself competent to command a regiment, if the President in his judgment [265] should see fit to intrust one to me.” For some reason, never explained, this letter remained unanswered, though the department was then and afterward in constant need of educated and experienced officers. A few weeks later, however, Governor Yates commissioned him colonel of one of the Illinois three years regiments. From that time until the end of 1861, Grant, by constant and specially meritorious service, rose in rank to brigadier-general and to the command of the important post of Cairo, Illinois, having meanwhile, on November 7, won the battle of Belmont on the Missouri shore opposite Columbus.

    The “demonstration” ordered by Halleck was probably intended only as a passing show of activity; but it was executed by Grant, though under strict orders to “avoid a battle,” with a degree of promptness and earnestness that drew after it momentous consequences. He pushed a strong reconnaissance by eight thousand men within a mile or two of Columbus, and sent three gunboats up the Tennessee River, which drew the fire of Fort Henry. The results of the combined expedition convinced Grant that a real movement in that direction was practicable, and he hastened to St. Louis to lay his plan personally before Halleck. At first that general would scarcely listen to it; but, returning to Cairo, Grant urged it again and again, and the rapidly changing military conditions soon caused Halleck to realize its importance.

    Within a few days, several items of interesting information reached Halleck: that General Thomas, in eastern Kentucky, had won a victory over the rebel General Zollicoffer, capturing his fortified camp on Cumberland River, annihilating his army of over ten regiments, and fully exposing Cumberland Gap; that the Confederates were about to throw strong reinforcements [266] into Columbus; that seven formidable Union ironclad river gunboats were ready for service; and that a rise of fourteen feet had taken place in the Tennessee River, greatly weakening the rebel batteries on that stream and the Cumberland. The advantages on the one hand, and the dangers on the other, which these reports indicated, moved Halleck to a sudden decision. When Grant, on January 28, telegraphed him: “With permission, I will take Fort Henry on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there,” Halleck responded on the thirtieth: “Make your preparations to take and hold Fort Henry.”

    It would appear that Grant's preparations were already quite complete when he received written instructions by mail on February I, for on the next day he started fifteen thousand men on transports, and on February 4 himself followed with seven gunboats under command of Commodore Foote. Two days later, Grant had the satisfaction of sending a double message in return: “Fort Henry is ours. . . . I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the eighth.”

    Fort Henry had been an easy victory. The rebel commander, convinced that he could not defend the place, had early that morning sent away his garrison of three thousand on a retreat to Fort Donelson, and simply held out during a two hours bombardment until they could escape capture. To take Fort Donelson was a more serious enterprise. That stronghold, lying twelve miles away on the Cumberland River, was a much larger work, with a garrison of six thousand, and armed with seventeen heavy and forty-eight field guns. If Grant could have marched immediately to an attack of the combined garrisons, there would have been a chance of quick success. But the high water presented unlooked — for obstacles, and nearly a week [267] elapsed before his army began stretching itself cautiously around the three miles of Donelson's intrenchments. During this delay, the conditions became greatly changed. When the Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston received news that Fort Henry had fallen, he held a council at Bowling Green with his subordinate generals Hardee and Beauregard, and seeing that the Union success would, if not immediately counteracted, render both Nashville and Columbus untenable, resolved, to use his own language, “To defend Nashville at Donelson.”

    An immediate retreat was begun from Bowling Green to Nashville, and heavy reinforcements were ordered to the garrison of Fort Donelson. It happened, therefore, that when Grant was ready to begin his assault, the Confederate garrison with its reinforcements outnumbered his entire army. To increase the discouragement, the attack by gunboats on the Cumberland River on the afternoon of February 14 was repulsed, seriously damaging two of them, and a heavy sortie from the fort threw the right of Grant's investing line into disorder. Fortunately, General Halleck at St. Louis strained all his energies to send reinforcements, and these arrived in time to restore Grant's advantage in numbers.

    Serious disagreement among the Confederate commanders also hastened the fall of the place. On February 16, General Buckner, to whom the senior officers had turned over the command, proposed an armistice, and the appointment of commissioners to agree on terms of capitulation. To this Grant responded with a characteristic spirit of determination: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner complained that the terms were ungenerous [268] and unchivalric, but that necessity compelled him to accept then; and Grant telegraphed Halleck on February 16: “We have taken Fort Donelson, and from twelve to fifteen thousand prisoners.” The senior Confederate generals, Pillow and Floyd, and a portion of the garrison had escaped by the Cumberland River during the preceding night.

    Since the fall of Fort Henry on February 6, a lively correspondence had been going on, in which General Halleck besought Buell to come with his available forces, assist in capturing Donelson, and command the column up the Cumberland to cut off both Columbus and Nashville. President Lincoln, scanning the news with intense solicitude, and losing no opportunity to urge effective cooperation, telegraphed Halleck:

    You have Fort Donelson safe, unless Grant shall be overwhelmed from outside; to prevent which latter will, I think, require all the vigilance, energy, and skill of yourself and Buell, acting in full cooperation. Columbus will not get at Grant, but the force from Bowling Green will. They hold the railroad from Bowling Green to within a few miles of Fort Donelson, with the bridge at Clarksville undisturbed. It is unsafe to rely that they will not dare to expose Nashville to Buell. A small part of their force can retire slowly toward Nashville, breaking up the railroad as they go, and keep Buell out of that city twenty days. Meantime, Nashville will be abundantly defended by forces from all south and perhaps from here at Manassas. Could not a cavalry force from General Thomas on the upper Cumberland dash across, almost unresisted, and cut the railroad at or near Knoxville, Tennessee? In the midst of a bombardment at Fort Donelson, why could not a gunboat run up and destroy the bridge at Clarksville? Our success or failure at Fort Donelson [269] is vastly important, and I beg you to put your soul in the effort. I send a copy of this to Buell.

    This telegram abundantly shows with what minute understanding and accurate judgment the President comprehended military conditions and results in the West. Buell, however, was too intent upon his own separate movement to seize the brilliant opportunity offered him. As he only in a feeble advance followed up the retreating Confederate column from Bowling Green to Nashville, Halleck naturally appropriated to himself the merit of the campaign, and telegraphed to Washington on the day after the surrender:

    Make Buell, Grant, and Pope major-generals of volunteers, and give me command in the West. I ask this in return for Forts Henry and Donelson.

    The eagerness of General Halleck for superior command in the West was, to say the least, very pardonable. A vast horizon of possibilities was opening up to his view. Two other campaigns under his direction were exciting his liveliest hopes. Late in December he had collected an army of ten thousand at the railroad terminus at Rolla, Missouri, under command of Brigadier-General Curtis, for the purpose of scattering the rebel forces under General Price at Springfield, or driving them out of the State. Despite the hard winter weather, Halleck urged on the movement with almost peremptory orders, and Curtis executed the intentions of his chief with such alacrity that Price was forced into a rapid and damaging retreat from Springfield toward Arkansas. While forcing this enterprise in the southwest, Halleck had also determined on an important campaign in southeast Missouri.

    Next to Columbus, which the enemy evacuated on March 2, the strongest Confederate fortifications on [270] the Mississippi River were at Island No.10, about forty miles farther to the south. To operate against these, he planned an expedition under Brigadier-General Pope to capture the town of New Madrid as a preliminary step. Columbus and Nashville were almost sure to fall as the result of Donelson. If now he could bring his two Missouri campaigns into a combination with two swift and strong Tennessee expeditions, while the enemy was in scattered retreat, he could look forward to the speedy capture of Memphis. But to the realization of such a project, the hesitation and slowness of Buell were a serious hindrance. That general had indeed started a division under Nelson to Grant's assistance, but it was not yet in the Cumberland when Donelson surrendered. Halleck's demand for enlarged power, therefore, became almost imperative. He pleaded earnestly with Buell:

    I have asked the President to make you a major-general. Come down to the Cumberland and take command. The battle of the West is to be fought in that vicinity . ... There will be no battle at Nashville.

    His telegrams to McClellan were more urgent. “Give it [the Western Division] to me, and I will split secession in twain in one month.” And again: “I must have command of the armies in the West. Hesitation and delay are losing us the golden opportunity. Lay this before the President and Secretary of War. May I assume the command? Answer quickly.”

    But McClellan was in no mood to sacrifice the ambition of his intimate friend and favorite, General Buell, and induced the President to withhold his consent; and while the generals were debating by telegraph, Nelson's division of the army of Buell moved up the Cumberland and occupied Nashville under the orders of Grant. Halleck, however, held tenaciously to his views and [271] requests, explaining to McClellan that he himself proposed going to Tennessee:

    That is now the great strategic line of the western campaign, and I am surprised that General Buell should hesitate to reinforce me. He was too late at Fort Donelson ... . Believe me, General, you make a serious mistake in having three independent commands in the West. There never will and never can be any cooperation at the critical moment; all military history proves it.

    This insistence had greater point because of the news received that Curtis, energetically following Price into Arkansas, had won a great Union victory at Pea Ridge, between March 5 and 8, over the united forces of Price and McCulloch, commanded by Van Dorn. At this juncture, events at Washington, hereafter to be mentioned, caused a reorganization of military commands, and President Lincoln's Special War Order No. 3 consolidated the western departments of Hunter, Halleck, and Buell, as far east as Knoxville, Tennessee, under the title of the Department of the Mississippi, and placed General Halleck in command of the whole. Meanwhile, Halleck had ordered the victorious Union army at Fort Donelson to move forward to Savannah on the Tennessee River under the command of Grant; and, now that he had superior command, directed Buell to march all of his forces not required to defend Nashville “as rapidly as possible” to the same point. Halleck was still at St. Louis; and through the indecision of his further orders, through the slowness of Buell's march, and through the unexplained inattention of Grant, the Union armies narrowly escaped a serious disaster, which, however, the determined courage of the troops and subordinate officers turned into a most important victory. [272]

    The “golden opportunity” so earnestly pointed out by Halleck, while not entirely lost,, was nevertheless seriously diminished by the hesitation and delay of the Union commanders to agree upon some plan of effective cooperation. When, at the fall of Fort Donelson, the Confederates retreated from Nashville toward Chattanooga, and from Columbus toward Jackson, a swift advance by the Tennessee River could have kept them separated; but as that open highway was not promptly followed in force, the flying Confederate detachments found abundant leisure to form a junction.

    Grant reached Savannah, on the east bank of the Tennessee River, about the middle of March, and in a few days began massing troops at Pittsburg Landing, six miles farther south, on the west bank of the Tennessee; still keeping his headquarters at Savannah, to await the arrival of Buell and his army. During the next two weeks he reported several times that the enemy was concentrating at Corinth, Mississippi, an important railroad crossing twenty miles from Pittsburg Landing, the estimate of their number varying from forty to eighty thousand. All this time his mind was so filled with an eager intention to begin a march upon Corinth, and a confidence that he could win a victory by a prompt attack, that he neglected the essential precaution of providing against an attack by the enemy, which at the same time was occupying the thoughts of the Confederate commander General Johnston.

    General Grant was therefore greatly surprised on the morning of April 6, when he proceeded from Savannah to Pittsburg Landing, to learn the cause of a fierce cannonade. He found that the Confederate army, forty thousand strong, was making an unexpected and determined attack in force on the Union camp, whose five divisions numbered a total of about [273] thirty-three thousand. The Union generals had made no provision against such an attack. No intrenchments had been thrown up, no plan or understanding arranged. A few preliminary picket skirmishes had, indeed, put the Union front on the alert, but the commanders of brigades and regiments were not prepared for the impetuous rush with which the three successive Confederate lines began the main battle. On their part, the enemy did not realize their hope of effecting a complete surprise, and the nature of the ground was so characterized by a network of local roads, alternating patches of woods and open fields, miry hollows and abrupt ravines, that the lines of conflict were quickly broken into short, disjointed movements that admitted of little or no combined or systematic direction. The effort of the Union officers was necessarily limited to a continuous resistance to the advance of the enemy, from whatever direction it came; that of the Confederate leaders to the general purpose of forcing the Union lines away from Pittsburg Landing so that they might destroy the Federal transports and thus cut off all means of retreat. In this effort, although during the whole of Sunday, April 6, the Union front had been forced back a mile and a half, the enemy had not entirely succeeded. About sunset, General Beauregard, who, by the death of General Johnston during the afternoon, succeeded to the Confederate command, gave orders to suspend the attack, in the firm expectation, however, that he would be able to complete his victory the next morning.

    But in this hope he was disappointed. During the day the vanguard of Buell's army had arrived on the opposite bank of the river. Before nightfall one of his brigades was ferried across and deployed in front of the exultant enemy. During the night and early [274] Monday morning three superb divisions of, Buell's army, about twenty thousand fresh, well-drilled troops, were advanced to the front under Buell's own direction; and by three o'clock of that day the two wings of the Union army were once more in possession of all the ground that had been lost on the previous day, while the foiled and disorganized Confederates were in full retreat upon Corinth. The severity of the battle may be judged by the losses. In the Union army: killed, 1754; wounded, 8408; missing, 2885. In the Confederate army: killed, I728; wounded, 8012; missing, 954.

    Having comprehended the uncertainty of Buell's successful junction with Grant, Halleck must have received tidings of the final victory at Pittsburg Landing with emotions of deep satisfaction. To this was now joined the further gratifying news that the enemy on that same momentous April 7 had surrendered Island No.10, together with six or seven thousand Confederate troops, including three general officers, to the combined operations of General Pope and Flag-Officer Foote. Full particulars of these two important victories did not reach Halleck for several days. Following previous suggestions, Pope and Foote promptly moved their gunboats and troops down the river to the next Confederate stronghold, Fort Pillow, where extensive fortifications, aided by an overflow of the adjacent river banks, indicated strong resistance and considerable delay. When all the conditions became more fully known, Halleck at length adopted the resolution, to which he had been strongly leaning for some time, to take the field himself. About April 10 he proceeded from St. Louis to Pittsburg Landing, and on the fifteenth ordered Pope with his army to join him there, which the latter, having his troops already on transports, succeeded in accomplishing by April 22. Halleck [275] immediately effected a new organization, combining the armies of the Tennessee, of the Ohio, and of the Mississippi into respectively his right wing, center, and left wing. He assumed command of the whole himself, and nominally made Grant second in command. Practically, however, he left Grant so little authority or work that the latter felt himself slighted, and asked leave to proceed to another field of duty.

    It required but a few weeks to demonstrate that however high were Halleck's professional acquirements in other respects, he was totally unfit for a commander in the field. Grant had undoubtedly been careless in not providing against the enemy's attack at Pittsburg Landing. Halleck, on the other extreme, was now doubly overcautious in his march upon Corinth. From first to last, his campaign resembled a siege. With over one hundred thousand men under his hand, he moved at a snail's pace, building roads and breastworks, and consuming more than a month in advancing a distance of twenty miles; during which period Beauregard managed to collect about fifty thousand effective Confederates and construct defensive fortifications with equal industry around Corinth. When, on May 29, Halleck was within assaulting distance of the rebel intrenchments, Beauregard had leisurely removed his sick and wounded, destroyed or carried away his stores, and that night finally evacuated the place, leaving Halleck to reap, practically, a barren victory.

    Nor were the general's plans and actions any more fruitful during the following six weeks. He wasted the time and energy of his soldiers multiplying useless fortifications about Corinth. He despatched Buell's wing of the army on a march toward eastern Tennessee, but under such instructions and limitations that long before reaching its objective it was met by a Confederate [276] army under General Bragg, and forced into a retrograde movement which carried it back to Louisville. More deplorable, however, than either of these errors of judgment was Halleck's neglect to seize the opportune moment when, by a vigorous movement in cooperation with the brilliant naval victories under Flag-Officer Farragut, commanding a formidable fleet of Union war-ships, he might have completed the overshadowing military task of opening the Mississippi River.

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    Fort Donelson (Tennessee, United States) (15)
    Edgefield (Tennessee, United States) (14)
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    Fort Henry (Tennessee, United States) (9)
    Pittsburg Landing (Tennessee, United States) (8)
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