The History of the Confederate War, Its Causes and Its Conduct. Volume 2 of 2
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Curiously enough no explanation of this costly blunder has ever been suggested. We know of course that Halleck's first appointment to command in the West was made upon General Scott's recommendation, at a period of the war when nobody knew or could know what officers of the old army were capable of achieving results and what ones were unfit for command. General Scott's mistake in selecting Halleck for a highly responsible command was pardonable under the circumstances. But after his extraordinary dealings with the victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and still more conspicuously after his phenomenal failure to seize upon the opportunity that came to him ready made by the results achieved at Shiloh, it is absolutely impossible for the most imaginative critic to conceive of a reason which might have justified the administration at Washington in selecting this man with his doubly demonstrated incapacity to direct all the armies of the Union in their operations.
Not only was Grant left upon the defensive with a force too small to permit aggression of any kind on his part, but even this scant force was rapidly and very dangerously depleted by orders from Halleck's Washington headquarters. The Confederates and guerrillas were daily threatening his communications and frequently attacking his defensive detachments in force. He was confronted on the south by an effective force of 35,000 men under Van Dorn and Price, threatening Memphis, Corinth, Bolivar and other points. Grant's concern for the safety of Memphis, isolated as that post was by the Confederate occupation of Grand Junction – between Memphis and Corinth – was lightened only by the fact, as he himself suggestively put the matter, that "it was in Sherman's hands."
Under this stress of circumstances, and with extraordinary disregard of what disastrous consequences there might be involved, Halleck on the fourteenth of August ordered Grant still further to weaken himself by sending two more divisions to Buell on his tedious march eastward. Again on the second of September, Grant received orders to send still further reinforcements to Buell, and two days later Gordon Granger's division was detached and sent, by orders from Washington, to Louisville. On the twenty-second Colonel Rodney Mason, whom Grant had forgiven for arrant cowardice at Shiloh, made a dastardly surrender of Clarksville with half a regiment or more.
Thus the one commander who had thus far shown himself capable of conceiving campaigns and conducting them to success, was left with a totally inadequate and constantly diminishing force, to waste his time in guarding a vast territory while Bragg was marching from Rome, Georgia, with a strong Confederate army toward Chattanooga, meaning to seize that position before Buell could get there. In his "Memoirs" General Grant gives expression to his regret that he was not permitted to move, instead of sitting still, at a time when even with the depleted force under his command, he still felt confidant of his ability to crush and destroy Bragg's force, thus forestalling and rendering unnecessary the very severe and bloody campaigns which were destined to follow for lack of such a timely blow.
The Confederates, early in the spring, had enacted and enforced a conscription law which had resulted in putting every man in the South capable of bearing arms, into the army.At the North – largely because of the defeat of McClellan and Pope in Virginia, and of Halleck's astonishing failure to follow up the Shiloh campaign with aggressive operations – the volunteering had so far ceased that Mr. Lincoln's call for an additional 300,000 men met with a meager and unsatisfactory response. In several states – New York among them – the quotas were not furnished by volunteering and it was necessary to order a draft to fill up the ranks depleted by battle and disease. The North at this time had more than twice as many men in the field as the South could muster. But with every southward advance of Federal armies more and more men must be withdrawn from the active work of aggression and set to guard places captured, to maintain lines of communication and to hold regions that had been overrun. Moreover the Southerners were mainly fighting on the defensive, which in some degree compensated for their lack of equal numbers. Still again the enlistment of every man at the South was to endure to the end of the war, while very large numbers of men at the North were enlisted for shorter terms, some of them for only three months or a hundred days, scarcely time enough in which to discipline and train them into effectiveness.
Without offense, also, – and certainly no offense is intended – it is fair to say that the volunteers and conscripts who at this period of the war came into the Confederate service, were in many cases morally superior to the men brought by draft processes into the armies of the Union. They were all Americans for one thing, while great multitudes of those enlisted or drafted into the service at the North were recent immigrants from Europe who neither knew nor cared for the issues involved in the contest but who entered the service as they might have accepted any other employment, for the sake of the money returns promised. These money returns included, besides pay, rations and a clothing allowance, a bounty of extraordinary liberality, amounting in many cases to a larger sum of money than its recipients had ever dreamed of owning, as the price of substitution. For while at the South every man included within the terms of the conscription law must shoulder his musket and go to the front, whatever his wealth or social position might be, the case was very different at the North. There men who had the means of buying a substitute very often did so. Many who lacked the means or were unwilling to pay the high price exacted by those who stood ready to sell themselves as substitutes, emigrated to Canada or went to Europe to escape the military service.
These facts undoubtedly created a disparity between the two contending armies, which had not existed during the earlier part of the war. The immigrants and the purchased substitutes who joined the Federal armies after the campaigns of 1862 were over, were not morally the equals of the native or long naturalized Americans who had fought so heroically around Richmond, at the second battle of Manassas, at Sharpsburg, and at Shiloh. For this as well as for the other reasons indicated, the North had need of larger numbers than the South, in order to carry the war to success.
The Confederates now held a smaller section of the Mississippi than before, but they held that more strongly. A general of capacity, after Shiloh, might easily have wrested its possession from them, as General Grant has pointed out. Under a general incapacity, nothing was done to that end and the Confederates, thus favored by Federal neglect, had so far fortified their strongholds that the dislodgment which would have been easy in the spring could now be accomplished only by one of the severest, bloodiest and most perilous campaigns of the war. Thus all that had been gained above or below, towards the reconquest of the Mississippi, had gone for next to naught. For the possession of its mouth on the one hand, and the control of its upper reaches on the other, meant nothing so long as the Confederates held Vicksburg and Port Hudson, thus obstructing a river whose sole value was as a highway.
In Virginia the Southern arms had been successful in an extraordinary degree. McClellan's splendid army of 120,000 men had been broken and beaten back from the very gates of Richmond, and sent hurriedly northward to defend the National capital itself against threatened capture. Pope, at the head of an army quite equal to any that the Confederates could muster, had been outmaneuvered, outfought and overthrown at Manassas, and hurled back upon the defenses of Washington as a needed refuge. Lee had invaded Maryland, his cavalry amusing themselves by unopposed marches into Pennsylvania. Finally Burnside's attempt at Fredericksburg with an army overwhelming in its numbers, had resulted in fearfully bloody failure.
As the autumn drew on Grant was left at Corinth, by no fault of his own but because of Halleck's orders, with a force barely sufficient, if sufficient at all, to hold the railroads and outlying posts which he was set to guard. In his front there lay a threatening army stronger than any that he could hope to bring together at any one point. To the eastward Buell, under paralyzing orders, was slowly marching toward Chattanooga, while Bragg with a strong Confederate army was hastening northward to seize that commanding strategic position and to push thence northward with high hopes and fair prospects of making the Ohio river before the year was out, the dividing line between the Northern and Southern forces, replacing the line which by Grant's successes had been drawn the whole width of two states further south.
On these points the testimony of General Grant is too direct, too conclusive and too valuable to be omitted here, or to be given otherwise than in his own carefully chosen words. On page 237 et seq. of the "Memoirs" he writes:
This was a most trying time for a man of General Grant's overmastering instinct of activity. The task set him of guarding a vast territory and three railroad lines against a ceaselessly active and enterprising enemy, gave him occupation enough it is true. But the situation forbade him to concentrate anywhere, or to do anything indeed except repel assaults first upon one insignificant point and then upon another. A mere catalogue of the actions fought at this time in that quarter would occupy pages of print. Only one of them had enough significance to require mention in this history. On the thirteenth of September the Confederate general, Sterling Price, with a considerable force occupied Iuka, a town on the Memphis and Charleston railroad, about twenty miles east of Corinth. The fact was a significant commentary upon the unwisdom of the orders which delayed Buell's march on Chattanooga, in the end defeating its purpose, in order to repair a railroad, any point upon which the Confederates could seize at will in spite of Grant's utmost diligence in an impracticable and indeed impossible defense.
Grant feared that the object of Price's movement might be something of vastly more importance than the destruction of a railroad station, as indeed it was. Price's purpose in seizing Iuka was to get control of the railroad east of that point long enough to enable him to send heavy reinforcements to Bragg, who was at that time pushing Buell back upon Louisville, with the prospect, if reinforced in timely fashion, of capturing that city, compelling Grant's retirement to Cairo, and establishing the Ohio river as the northern boundary and the military line of the Confederacy. Accordingly Grant dangerously weakened several exposed points in order to concentrate under Rosecrans a sufficient force to drive Price out of Iuka before the main body of the Confederate army south of Corinth could join him there.
The operation resulted in some strenuous fighting. Price was driven back and his scheme was defeated. The details of the battle need not be recounted here. They belong to the domain of minute history, covering special campaigns. For the purposes of a general history of the war, it is sufficient to point out the only strategic purpose involved in the movement, and its defeat by a timely and judicious activity.