George Eggleston.

The History of the Confederate War, Its Causes and Its Conduct. Volume 2 of 2

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Halleck's Treatment of Grant

When Halleck assumed command at Pittsburg Landing after the battle of Shiloh he seemed intent, not only upon depriving Grant of the privilege of vigorously following up the victory he had won but also upon "snubbing," ignoring and humiliating that successful general in every way possible. If Grant's tremendous and at last successful struggle to force Beauregard back to his defenses at Corinth had been a crime instead of a heroic achievement, his commanding general could scarcely have punished it in more annoying and humiliating ways than he did.

It was a sore affliction to Grant to have command taken from him at the moment when he saw before him a perfect opportunity to pluck the ripe fruits of his obstinate fighting by pressing forward in overwhelming force for the completion of the conquest for which that fighting had provided an easy and certain way. It was still more severely painful to him to sit still and see all the easy possibilities of the situation he had created, deliberately thrown away by martinet incapacity.

To a man like General Grant, simple minded and sincere, a man whose sole ambition was to force the war to a successful conclusion within the briefest possible time, and whose vigor in action seemed to make that result certain with the masterful means now in hand at Pittsburg Landing, this foolish frittering away of the opportunity he had created by his splendid fighting, must have been the most painful of all the punishments which Halleck at that time inflicted upon him for his impertinence in wresting a great victory from a calamitous defeat, before his superior officer could reach the field and reap the credit for himself.

But Halleck had other humiliations in store for his impertinently successful lieutenant the late Galena clerk, and the now admired and applauded officer of volunteers. Grant even yet had no rank in the regular army, and he had ventured to advise the temporary dissolution of the regular army in order that the skill and training of its officers might be utilized – with capacity alone as the test – in making the volunteers, who after all constituted the country's chief reliance for its salvation, as effective in the field as if they had been regulars.

We have seen how, after Grant's conquest of Forts Henry and Donelson, and the complete rupture of the first Confederate line of defense, Halleck forbade him to gather the fruits of his victory, suspended him from command and seemingly threatened him with arrest. After Shiloh it would not have been prudent for Halleck again to suggest the arrest of a general whose name was on every lip as that of the one Federal commander who was capable of winning victories while all others were meeting conspicuous defeats. But Halleck had other arrows in his quiver. He left Grant as nominally his second in command, and, in form at least, assigned him specifically to the command of the right wing of the army.

But he proceeded from the beginning to ignore his second in command. He summoned him to none of those councils and consultations to which he invited Grant's own subordinates. Even in the matter of orders to that wing of the army which he had technically placed in Grant's charge, he ignored all the courtesies and flagrantly violated all the usages of war, by sending his commands directly to division generals, instead of sending them through General Grant's headquarters – thus rivaling the discourtesy of Judah P. Benjamin in his dealings with Stonewall Jackson. This left Grant in humiliating ignorance even of the orders issued to divisions which were supposed to be under his command, and for whose movements and conduct he was held responsible. His situation was unendurable, even to a man of his robust habits of mind, and by way of relief he finally asked permission to establish his headquarters as District Commander, at Memphis, a city which had by that time come into Federal control.

These details are recited here, not by way of apology or defense of General Grant. His fame needs no defense, and very certainly his conduct in war needs no apology. Moreover all these circumstances, and others that reflect still more unfavorably upon Halleck's extraordinary treatment of the only Federal general who at that period of the war seemed able to achieve victories, are calmly and fully set forth in General Grant's own memoirs. But such details are necessary here, in explanation of that fair and full, and impartial history of the Confederate war, which is intended in these volumes.

There were repeated occasions in the course of the struggle when vigor of generalship on the one side or upon the other, would very certainly have brought the war to an early conclusion, sparing both sides the tremendous sacrifices which a lack of capable generalship in the end entailed upon both.

This post-Shiloh imbecility was one of those conspicuous, and conspicuously neglected occasions. There is not room for doubt that if Halleck had remained in his St. Louis headquarters, and had permitted Grant with the now combined armies of himself, Buell and Pope, to prosecute an instant and vigorous campaign, the whole Mississippi Valley would have been speedily brought under Federal control, with all the consequences that such a conquest must have involved.

After the battle of Shiloh Grant had by his own estimate 120,000 men at and near Pittsburg Landing, or within easy call. For in addition to Buell's army Pope had reinforced him with 30,000 men. Beauregard had about 30,000 effectives at Corinth – or after Van Dorn reinforced him, perhaps 47,000. Grant's own expert opinion expressed in print, is that within two days he could and would – if let alone – have captured Corinth, driving the Confederate forces there into disorderly retreat if not compelling their surrender, and capturing all their stores. He would then have been in position to move in overwhelming force upon Vicksburg and Port Hudson, points not yet strongly fortified or heavily garrisoned. Capturing them, as he easily could have done, he would have made the Federals masters of the Mississippi above Baton Rouge, while Farragut was making himself master of all the lower reaches of the river. In the meanwhile Grant would have prevented that concentration and recruitment of Beauregard's army for which Halleck gave generous leisure to his enemy by delaying his own advance from Pittsburg Landing for three weeks of preparation and then consuming an entire month in pushing a force of three men to his adversary's one over an unobstructed and undefended space of less than twenty miles only to find when he got to his destination that his enemy, greatly strengthened, had in leisurely fashion retired to another position, taking with him every pound of provisions and every round of ammunition he possessed.

Here were seven of the most precious weeks of the war lost, and the loss is very inadequately measured by that statement. It is not too much to say that Halleck's extraordinary deliberation and delay alone made possible and certain all the terrible fighting and all the losses of human life incident to the Vicksburg campaign, just as the paralyzing incapacity of his orders after the capture of Fort Donelson, made needlessly possible and destructively certain the tremendous battling of the Confederates at a later period at Nashville, Chattanooga, Franklin, Lookout Mountain, Chickamauga and in the Atlanta campaign.

If military etiquette upon either of these occasions had permitted General Grant, with the support his words would undoubtedly have had from Sherman, Buell and Thomas, to set forth clearly the conditions, needs, and opportunities in the Western Department, the authorities at Washington would pretty certainly have set Halleck's embarrassing authority aside, thus giving demonstrated capacity the license it desired to achieve results of incalculable benefit to the National arms. But Halleck alone of all the generals in that quarter enjoyed the privilege of direct communication with the War Department, and Halleck so adroitly represented – perhaps he did not consciously or intentionally misrepresent – the facts of the situation, that presently, on the eleventh of July, he was appointed to succeed McClellan as Commander in Chief of all the Union armies.

This was perhaps the most astonishing, not to say the most unwise, appointment made on either side during the entire course of the war, unless we except Mr. Jefferson Davis's appointment of Pemberton after he had lost Vicksburg, to the position of military adviser of himself, with apparent authority to control and command even Robert E. Lee.

In the meanwhile Halleck had done all that was possible to him to humiliate General Grant and to deny him everything in the shape of opportunity. General Grant, in his "Memoirs," (page 219), pathetically says:

Although next to him [Halleck] in rank, and nominally in command of my old district and army, I was ignored as much as if I had been at the most distant point of territory within my jurisdiction; and although I was in command of all the troops engaged at Shiloh, I was not permitted to see one of the reports of General Buell or his subordinates in that battle until they were published by the War Department long after the event.

Again on page 225, General Grant tells of an occasion when he suggested a military movement to General Halleck – a thing that the second in command might very well have been expected to do. After explaining to his readers what his suggestion was, General Grant adds: "I was silenced so quickly that I felt that possibly I had suggested an unmilitary movement."

Yet when Halleck was ordered to Washington to assume chief command he saw clearly that it would not be prudent in the existing state of the public mind to make any other than Grant the commander at Corinth. He therefore sent word to Grant in Memphis to report at Corinth. But he said nothing whatever to him about his own appointment to the command of all the armies, or about his intended departure for Washington, or even about his intention that Grant should assume command at Corinth. He merely directed him to report there, leaving it entirely to uninformed conjecture whether he was merely to report in person for some instruction or was to remove his headquarters from Memphis to that point. In this uncertainty Grant telegraphed asking whether or not he was to take his staff with him. To this Halleck curtly and discourteously replied: "This place will be your headquarters. You can judge for yourself."

Grant at Corinth

When Grant took command at Corinth he found matters in an exceedingly confused and embarrassing condition. In the first place his authority was so ill defined that he could do nothing of importance without risk of subjecting himself to censure and perhaps even to a trial by court martial for having exceeded his authority, while if he left anything undone by reason of his uncertainty as to the scope of his command, he must do so at equal risk of censure or court martial for neglect.

Halleck had been in command of the entire department and of all the forces within its borders. In leaving General Grant as his successor he did not invest him with a similarly comprehensive authority. Neither did he make it clear that such authority was denied to him. So far as his orders indicated Grant was still only a district commander, having authority only over troops within the district of West Tennessee, whose eastern boundary was the Cumberland river, beyond which Halleck had sent a large part of the forces that had been under his command at Corinth. And yet Grant was practically a department commander. His own exposition of the situation is so clear, succinct and complete, that no paraphrase can better it or equal it. On page 233 et seq. of his "Memoirs," General Grant wrote:

I left Memphis for my new field without delay and reached Corinth on the fifteenth of the month. General Halleck remained until the seventeenth of July; 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 I remained in command of the District of West Tennessee. 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 twenty-fifth of October. General Halleck, while commanding the Department of the Mississippi, had had control as far east as a line drawn from Chattanooga north. My district only embraced West Tennessee and Kentucky west of the Cumberland river. Buell, with the Army of the Ohio, had as previously stated, been ordered east towards Chattanooga, with instructions to repair the Memphis and Charleston railroad as he advanced. Troops had been sent North by Halleck along the line of the Mobile and Ohio railroad to put it in repair as far as Columbus. Other troops were stationed on the [Mississippi Central] railroad from Jackson, Tennessee, to Grand Junction, and still others on the road west to Memphis. The remainder of the magnificent army of 120,000 men which entered Corinth on the thirtieth of May, had now become so scattered that I was put entirely on the defensive in a territory whose population was hostile to the Union.

One of the first things I had to do was to construct fortifications at Corinth better suited to the garrison that could be spared to man them. The structures that had been built during the months of May and June were left as monuments to the skill of the engineer, and others were constructed in a few days, plainer in design, but suited to the command available to defend them.

In brief Halleck had completely thrown away one of the most brilliant opportunities of the war. He had found an army of 120,000 men, flushed with victory and full of spirit, concentrated at a point in the center of the Confederacy, from which it was not only possible but easy to advance in overwhelming force in any direction, while the inflow of recruits at that time was great enough to make good and even to double the losses that battle might involve. On the other hand the Confederates had lost so heavily at Shiloh that they did not venture to make a stand in their intrenchments at Corinth, even though Halleck's extraordinary dilatoriness gave them seven weeks of precious time in which to recruit their army, strengthen their defenses and receive reinforcements of 17,000 seasoned and veteran troops that were presently sent to them.

General Grant has pronounced the positive and unhesitating opinion that an energetic advance immediately after the Shiloh battle, with the enormously superior forces then concentrated at that point would have resulted beyond a peradventure in the conquest of Corinth within two days, with the capture of all the stores and ammunition there as a necessary incident and the capture of Beauregard's army as at least a promising possibility. By consuming three weeks in preparation for an advance which ought to have been made at once and by wasting a whole month more in an advance by parallels, where an advance at the quickstep with fixed bayonets, was all that was needed, Halleck had completely thrown away this opportunity.

But even then, even after wasting seven weeks in reaching Corinth, it was not too late to achieve results of the most momentous consequence. On page 227 of his "Memoirs," General Grant gives this expert opinion of the situation and the opportunity:

The Confederates were now driven out of West Tennessee, and on the sixth of June, after a well contested naval battle, the National forces took possession of Memphis, and held the Mississippi river from its source to that point. The railroad from Columbus to Corinth was at once put in good condition and held by us. We had garrisons at Donelson, Clarksville and Nashville on the Cumberland river, and held the Tennessee river from its mouth to Eastport. New Orleans and Baton Rouge had fallen into the possession of the National forces, so that now the Confederates at the West were narrowed down for all communication with Richmond to the single line of road running east from Vicksburg. To dispossess them of this, therefore, became a matter of the first importance. The possession of the Mississippi by us, from Memphis to Baton Rouge, was also a most important object. It would be equal to the amputation of a limb in its weakening effect upon the enemy. After the capture of Corinth a movable force of 80,000 men, besides enough to hold all the territory acquired, could have been set in motion for the accomplishment of any great campaign for the suppression of the rebellion.11
  The italics are not General Grant's, but are placed by the author of the present work, upon words that seem to him to be pregnant of criticism and explanation.

In addition to this, fresh troops were being raised to swell the effective force.

But the work of depletion commenced. Buell, with the Army of the Ohio, was sent east, following the line of the Memphis and Charleston railroad. This he was ordered to repair as he advanced – only to have it destroyed by small guerilla bands or other troops as soon as he was out of the way. If he had been sent directly to Chattanooga, as rapidly as he could march, sending two or three divisions along the line of the railroad from Nashville forward, he could have arrived with but little fighting, and would have saved much of the loss of life which was afterwards incurred in gaining Chattanooga. Bragg would then not have had time to raise an army to contest the possession of Middle and East Tennessee and Kentucky; the battles of Stone river and Chickamauga would not necessarily have been fought; Burnside would not have been besieged in Knoxville without the power of helping himself or escaping; the battle of Chattanooga would not have been fought. These are the negative advantages, if the term negative is applicable, which would probably have resulted from prompt movements after Corinth fell into the possession of the National forces. The positive results might have been, a bloodless advance to Atlanta, to Vicksburg, or to any other desired point south of Corinth in the interior of Mississippi.

Will the reader bear in mind, that these military criticisms are not made by the author of the present work, although they fully commend themselves to his judgment, but are the calm and deliberate utterances of Ulysses S. Grant, by all consent the ablest general that ever commanded a Federal army, and a general minutely familiar with every detail of the situation which presented itself after Shiloh? They bear the authority both of intimate knowledge and of demonstrated military skill. Reduced to their lowest terms they amount to this: If Halleck had been an officer fit to command an army, he would have rushed upon Corinth with his three to one force on the very day on which he assumed command. The result could not have been in the least degree doubtful. But even after he had wasted seven precious weeks – three of them in preparation for an advance for which he was already fully prepared, and four more in an advance over a wholly undefended space of nineteen miles which he ought to have covered in one day or a day and a half at most, – there was still open to a capable general an opportunity which Halleck utterly failed to see or to seize. He had under his command 120,000 veteran troops, of the very best fighting quality and subordinately commanded by such masters of the military art as Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Buell, Lew Wallace, Nelson, Prentiss and their fit fellows. Making the most liberal allowance for detachments to guard railroads and to hold every acre of country conquered, General Grant says he could have mustered an effective army of 80,000 men or more for aggressive operations in any direction that might have seemed best to him, against which the Confederates could not have opposed more than 30,000 or 40,000 at the utmost. The whole central South lay before him where to choose. His opportunity was one the like of which came to no other commander North or South, during the whole course of the war. He threw it utterly away. He scattered his superbly overwhelming army to the four winds, under orders that rendered their courage and their enterprise futile, and left Grant in a hopelessly defensive position, with no army capable of any measure of aggression, and with an authority so ill defined that he could not order a concentration even in the smallest way.

And yet, this man, Halleck, who had never fought a battle in his life, and who had never commanded an army except to scatter and waste it, was chosen to command all the armies of the United States.

Surely the country could not have been worse served if the administration had been intent upon losing the war instead of carrying it to success. And very certainly the long domination of this peculiarly incapable man served to embarrass "enterprises of great pith and moment," and to prolong the destructive, fratricidal struggle for long after the time during which, under wiser counsels, it would have endured.

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