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Chapter 8:

The current of the narrative has been somewhat broken and the sequence of events anticipated, in order to group the foregoing facts in what seems the best form for a good understanding of a subject which has never been made clear to Kentuckians, and in reference to which there has been no little incorrect representation. Pending the events which have been detailed as participated in by the Kentucky troops under General Breckinridge, important movements were in progress in other parts of the department of the Mississippi which were soon to change the whole aspect of affairs. The two opposing armies, which confronted each other at Corinth after Shiloh, passed through a season of inaction in which no definite policy could be discerned, and no considerable achievement was performed by either. Each seemed to wait on the other. Memphis had fallen, and the Federal forces were in undisputed possession of all Tennessee west of the Cumberland mountains. [84] They also occupied north Alabama and north Mississippi, Missouri, and the State of Arkansas north of the Arkansas river. The Mississippi river was open from the north to Vicksburg and from the gulf to Port Hudson.

This was the Federal situation on the 10th of June, 1862. General Halleck, in command of the department of the West, had at and near Corinth, Miss., an army of more than 100,000 men under Generals Grant, Buell and Pope. The Confederate army under General Beauregard was at Tupelo, Miss., forty-five miles south of Corinth, and numbered 45,000 men of all arms. The Confederates were content, apparently, to remain on the defensive, while the commander of the Federal forces hesitated to penetrate further south with a climate dangerous to his troops, a line of supply difficult to maintain, and with unprotected flanks inviting assaults from an enterprising cavalry. But as nothing is so demoralizing as inactivity in an army, and popular clamor at the North was loud in its demands for a more active campaign, the Federal commander suddenly roused himself from the lethargy which seemed to have been superinduced by the languor of the summer's heat. The activity of General McClellan in the east had been at this time in marked contrast, and confidence had grown sanguine that he would succeed in his operations against Richmond. But McClellan's advance had resulted in his defeat at Seven Pines on May 30th. Lee's great victories in the Seven Days battles followed, and the Federal armies were forced to retreat. Political necessity and the popular discontent required that the army of the West should shake off its lethargy.

A campaign in the West on a large scale was soon projected. On the 9th of June General Halleck had notified the war department at Washington that he would send all forces not required to hold the Memphis & Charleston railroad to reinforce General Curtis at Helena, Ark., and to East Tennessee, to which Secretary Stanton replied on the 11th: ‘The President is greatly gratified [85] at your contemplated movements mentioned in your telegram two days ago.’ At last it seemed that the Utopian scheme of rescuing East Tennessee from the Confederates was to be made the chief feature of the campaign. On the 10 General Halleck revoked his previous orders which had divided the army into right, center and left wings and directed Generals Grant, Buell and Pope to resume command of their respective corps, viz.: the armies of the Tennessee, of the Ohio and of the Mississippi.

General Buell's army of the Ohio consisted at that time of the Second division, Gen. A. McD. McCook, comprising the brigades of Generals Rosecrans, Richard W. Johnson and Colonel Frederick Stambaugh, with three batteries of artillery: the Third division, Maj.-Gen. O. M. Mitchel, composed of the brigades of Generals Turchin, Sill and Lytle, the Fourth Ohio cavalry and three batteries of artillery: the Fourth division, Brig.--Gen. William Nelson, containing brigades of Generals Ammen, Grose and Manson and three batteries of artillery: the Fifth division, Brig.-Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden, containing brigades of Gens. J. T. Boyle and VanCleve and two batteries of artillery: the Sixth division, Brig.-Gen. T. J. Wood, containing brigades of Generals Hascall, Garfield and Wagner and three batteries of artillery: the Seventh division, Brig.-Gen. Geo. W. Morgan, containing Carter's, Spears', De Courcy's and Baird's brigades, the Sixth cavalry and three batteries. Besides these organizations there were three independent infantry brigades commanded by General Negley, Colonel Lester and General Dumont, with four reserve batteries, a brigade of cavalry, eleven unattached regiments and three batteries of artillery. This by the tri-monthly report of June 10th showed present for duty 2,877 officers and 57,822 men.

On the 12th of June General Buell's department was announced in orders as embracing the States of Kentucky and Tennessee east of the Tennessee river, except Forts [86] Henry and Donelson, and such portions of north Alabama and Georgia as were or might be occupied by the Federal troops. About the same time General Buell was directed to move eastward and take possession of East Tennessee. General Halleck preferred that he should go by way of Chattanooga, but left it entirely to General Buell's judgment to select his route, and as will be seen later, he gave preference to the more northern route by way of McMinnville, about half way between Nashville and Chattanooga. As part of this plan Gen. George W. Morgan had already been sent with his division to Cumberland Gap, to co-operate by a movement upon Knoxville from that point. As the operations of the armies of Generals Grant and Pope will not come under further observation in these pages, it is not necessary to enter into details as to their organization. The former was assigned to Memphis and to the relief of General Curtis in Arkansas, and the latter to Corinth, apparently to watch, if not to move against, the Confederate army at Tupelo.

Against such an organization, with such reserves to draw upon, such resources of equipment and supply, and such facilities for transportation, the student of to-day with the full official publications before him will wonder that any further effective resistance could be opposed to the occupation of any part of the South in possession of the Confederates, upon which a movement should be made. Since the disastrous loss of Kentucky and Tennessee, and the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh, in which, apart from the territorial loss, the sacrifice of life both in number and merit had been grievous, there had been no Confederate victory to offset these multiplied disasters; and by all the rules which would seem to govern human action it would be inferred that the hopelessness of despair would have settled down upon the Southern people and rendered them incapable of further resistance. But it was not so. Instead of being overwhelmed in spirit, [87] their courage and fertility of resource rose, and new and more energetic means of resistance were projected which turned defeat into victory, and wrung even from their bitterest detractors reluctant applause.

The body of the Confederate strength, as has been said, was at this time at Tupelo, Miss., under malarial conditions, which gave more apprehension than the overshadowing reputation of General Pope, soon to be hailed as the ‘coming man’ and the successor of McClellan. There were no other troops west of the Cumberland range of any consequence, except those already referred to at Vicksburg, and contiguous territory. In East Tennessee, towards which the formidable army of General Buell was about to move, there was a force not larger than that of Gen. G. W. Morgan, soon to occupy its strongest defense. Gen. E. Kirby Smith, a trained soldier, was in command of the department of East Tennessee with headquarters at Knoxville. The force under him consisted only of the two small divisions of Gen. C. L. Stevenson and Gen. D. Leadbetter, with a small but efficient body of cavalry. Gen. G. W. Morgan, of Buell's army, had already moved with his division against Cumberland Gap, and by flanking it through gaps to the south, had reached the valley on the east side, threatening to immure Stevenson in the gap as Morgan was later by the Confederates. General Smith moved from Knoxville to meet Morgan, if he should turn in that direction; but on the 18th Stevenson was compelled to evacuate the gap before Morgan's superior numbers, and the Federals occupied the Gap. General Smith, who had been apprised of the Federal movement from Corinth, now realized the full scope of Buell's plan for the occupation of East Tennessee. His situation was so critical that on the 12th of June, prior to the occupation of the Gap, he had applied to General Beauregard for aid, stating that his department was threatened from Cumberland Gap and Middle Tennessee. Beauregard replied that it would be fatal to detach any troops [88] from his army. The situation was indeed alarming. General Morgan had requested General Buell to make a demonstration against Chattanooga, and on the 14th of June a part of Gen. O. M. Mitchel's division had occupied Stevenson, and on the 18th had made a demonstration opposite Chattanooga as if intending to cross. At this time the only force at Chattanooga consisted of a part of Leadbetter's division with no other infantry nearer than that confronting General Morgan at Cumberland Gap. A vigorous movement on Chattanooga would have resulted in its capture, and the consequences would have been very disastrous to the Confederate cause. General Halleck seems to have contemplated that this contingency might arrive, as in a letter to Secretary Stanton of June 12th (Rebellion Records, Vol. XVI, part 2, page 14), he says: ‘General Buell's column is moving toward Chattanooga and Cumberland Gap. If the enemy should have evacuated East Tennessee and Cumberland Gap, as reported, Buell will probably move on Atlanta. It will probably take some time to clean out the guerrilla parties in West Tennessee and North Mississippi, and I shall probably be obliged to use hemp pretty freely for that purpose.’ This Utopian view of the expected millennium when hemp could be substituted for bayonets indicated a very optimistic but erroneous diagnosis of the situation.

On the 17th of June General Beauregard, who had long been an invalid, was given leave of absence to recuperate his health and General Bragg succeeded to the command of the Confederate army at Tupelo, Miss. Of this army the Federal commander in front of it did not seem to have any very high opinion. In fact, he scarcely thought it worth going after, although not more than a day or two's march south of him. He was yearning for bigger game and doubtless looking forward then to meeting General Lee, as he did later in the Second Manassas campaign as the successor of General McClellan, with his [89] headquarters in the saddle. General Pope, whose special province it was to keep his eye on Beauregard, when interrogated by General Halleck as to the truth of a rumor that reinforcements were being sent by Beauregard to Richmond, sent this answer:

Headquarters Army of the Mississippi, Near Danville, June 12, 1862.
Major-General Halleck:
If any portion of Beauregard's army has left this country, except the numerous deserters who have returned to their homes, the testimony of agents and deserters is worthless. I myself do not doubt that of what is left of his army, two-thirds is now scattered along the road to Columbus for 60 miles in no condition for service anywhere. Beauregard may possibly have 35,000 reliable troops, though I consider that a large estimate, but they are fully occupied in securing his rear, protecting the artillery and supplies and preventing the entire dispersion of the remainder. Without abandoning everything except their arms no considerable portion of them can now be transferred elsewhere. Such at least is my opinion from all the information I can obtain.

John Pope, Major-General.

It is a maxim as sound in war as in peace never to underestimate one's enemy. Yet here was a man deemed fit to command the army of the Potomac, who looked upon the army in front of him as a lot of tatterdemalions, and spoke of them as contemptuously as if they were no more to be feared than a swarm of yellow-jackets. How fatal the mistake! From that very body was soon to form the nucleus of an army which within less than 90 days would force Buell back to the Ohio and yet leave enough to hold the line of Tupelo.

General Bragg, on assuming command, after having considered the possibility of striking General Buell on his right flank as he proceeded eastward through North Alabama, and finding the movement too hazardous on account of the protection afforded by the Tennessee river, adopted the bolder design of transferring the bulk of his [90] army to Chattanooga, and by flanking Buell ere he got to East Tennessee, in conjunction with a similar movement by Kirby Smith, to take possession of Kentucky and force the evacuation of Tennessee, Kentucky and all the territory south of the Ohio river. Having received from Richmond full authority to make the necessary dispositions, on the 27th of June he sent Gen. John P. McCown with his division to Chattanooga via Mobile, who arrived on the 4th of July and assumed command. Then by con-cert of action with General Smith he began his preparation for transferring to Chattanooga the best part of his army, his scheme requiring his artillery and trains to go by country roads over the rough intervening territory four hundred miles, while his troops would in due season be moved by rail by way of Mobile and Montgomery. In the retrospect it seems impossible that such a movement could be effected without being discovered and thwarted by a vigilant enemy, especially with the means at his command, even discrediting the report of General Pope as to the effete condition in which the Confederate army was said to be. Leaving these preparations to be carried into execution, it is proper to pass in review another agency which had been overlooked by the Federal commanders, and which was to prove such an important factor in the expedition and in the future service of the Confed-erate army. [91]

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