George Eggleston.

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:

General Buell had left Corinth about the tenth of June to march upon Chattanooga. Bragg, who had succeeded Beauregard in command, sent one division from Tupelo on the twenty-seventh of June for the same place. This gave Buell about seventeen days' start. If he had not been required to repair the railroad as he advanced, the march could have been made in eighteen days at the outside, and Chattanooga must have been reached by the national forces before the rebels could have possibly got there.

On page 240 we have this careful estimate of the situation at the beginning of September:

On the seventh of September I learned of the advance of Van Dorn and Price, apparently upon Corinth. One division was brought from Memphis to Bolivar to meet any emergency that might arise from this move of the enemy. I was much concerned because my first duty after holding the territory acquired within my command, was to prevent further reinforcing of Bragg in Middle Tennessee. Already the army of Northern Virginia had defeated the army under General Pope, and was invading Maryland. In the center General Buell was on his way to Louisville and Bragg marching parallel to him with a large Confederate force for the Ohio river. I had been constantly called upon to reinforce Buell until at this time my entire force numbered less than 50,000 men of all arms. This included everything from Cairo south within my jurisdiction. If I too should be driven back the Ohio river would become the line dividing the belligerents west of the Alleghanies while at the east the line was already farther north than when hostilities commenced at the opening of the war. It is true Nashville was never given up after its first capture, but it would have been isolated and the garrison there would have been obliged to beat a hasty retreat if the troops in West Tennessee had been compelled to fall back. To say, at the end of the second year of the war the line dividing the contestants at the east was pushed north of Maryland, a state that had not seceded, and at the west beyond Kentucky, and this State which had been always loyal, would have been discouraging indeed. As it was many loyal people despaired in the Fall of 1862 of ever saving the Union. The Administration at Washington was much concerned for the safety of the cause it held so dear.

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.

Bragg's Campaign Against Louisville

Strategically considered there was no point in the middle South so important to either side at that time as Chattanooga. Either side having possession of that place could hold it against a force outnumbering its garrison many times. More important still, its possession by the Confederates opened to them three or four different routes of advance into Kentucky, which no enemy with anything like an equal force could effectually guard or defend. To hold one of these routes was to open another. Confederate possession of Chattanooga at that period of the war meant therefore the possible and even probable conquest of all eastern Kentucky, the isolation and fall of Nashville, the reconquest of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, and the enforced retirement of Grant's advanced army to the line of the Ohio river.

All these consequences, as General Grant has said, were the probable results of a Confederate occupation of Chattanooga in force, and had Bragg succeeded in the campaign he directed from that point all these consequences would have been morally certain to befall the Union arms, as General Grant saw at the time and afterwards set forth in his "Memoirs."

On the other hand the seizure of Chattanooga by a Federal force of consequence, would have closed and barred the gate to all further advances of the Confederates into Tennessee and Kentucky. It would have made the southern boundary of Tennessee permanently the most northerly military line of division between North and South, making of Kentucky a state completely saved to the Union and of Tennessee a state completely recovered to it.

General Halleck had sagacity enough to see, at least in some degree, the strategic necessity of seizing upon Chattanooga. Accordingly he ordered Buell to march upon and occupy that place. But he seems to have forgotten that there were energetic men in command of Southern armies, men quite as capable as he was of recognizing an opportunity. Instead of sending Buell post haste to occupy the place, as General Grant has pointed out that he should have done, leaving the repair of the Memphis and Charleston railroad to details of troops to be made after the main point was gained, he threw away the advantage of a seventeen days' start and a shorter line than that of his enemy, and kept Buell for many weary weeks repairing bridges and culverts while Bragg was hurrying with all possible speed to throw a commanding force into Chattanooga.

The result was that Bragg captured the commanding strategic position and Buell was left "in the air," as military men say, not knowing where to concentrate or in what direction his enemy was to be expected. The story of his haltings, his hesitations, his confusion of mind, his orders and counter orders, as given in General Van Horne's "History of the Army of the Cumberland," and in the accompanying documents, is pitiful in its revelation of the perplexities of an earnest, sincere and very capable officer who had been made the victim of "orders" from an incapable but relentlessly exacting "superior."

It would be an idle and wearisome waste of space to recount here all of Buell's marchings and counter-marchings, all the orders given and countermanded, and given again only to be again rescinded, which marked the progress of that campaign. For the purposes of history it is enough to say that Bragg, with his Confederates, in the end succeeded in maneuvering Buell out of Tennessee and across Kentucky to the neighborhood of Louisville, while sending a dangerously strong detachment into eastern Kentucky to threaten Covington and Cincinnati. The purpose of this detachment was to compel Buell to divide his force and send a part of it up the river to defend Cincinnati, thus weakening the defense of Louisville, which city Bragg intended to assail and confidently hoped to capture.

That purpose failed. The moment that Cincinnati was threatened, men in multitudes, who had not before thought of enlisting, swarmed to the point of danger and freely offered themselves for its defense. It was not necessary for Buell to spare a single regiment for Cincinnati's protection, beyond those already holding eastern Kentucky, and even these, when Bragg's campaign developed its purpose against Louisville, were able to spare considerable detachments to aid Buell in Louisville's defense. But all this is an anticipation of events. Let us tell the story as it occurred.

During the spring and summer of 1862, and after Buell's main army had marched westward to reinforce Grant at Pittsburg Landing, there had been almost ceaseless campaigning and fighting along the upper Tennessee river, in Alabama, and around Cumberland Gap. Generals O. M. Mitchell, G. W. Morgan and Negley were the active agents in this campaigning on the Federal side; Kirby Smith was the Confederate chieftain with John Morgan and N. B. Forrest for his enterprising cavalry raiders. The fighting was often severe and the maneuvers brilliant on both sides, but in the absence of strong armies it was after all scarcely more than skirmishing, involving no battle of importance and no movement of strategic consequence enough to require mention in a general history of the war. The struggle was the outcome of a purpose on either side to maintain the strategic status quo, or if possible to improve it here and there where opportunity offered. Substantially the result was to leave matters about as they had been, except that the continual activity and the frequent encounters of arms served to discipline and steady the raw recruits who were coming in on both sides. The operations of that spring and summer served to make soldiers of the new men North and South.

It was not until after Halleck sent Buell to seize upon the strategic position at Chattanooga, and Bragg, seventeen days later, withdrew his main body from Grant's front and set out by the roundabout way of Mobile to anticipate Buell, that the war in that part of the country again assumed strategic and historical importance.

Buell's march eastward was necessarily very slow and halting, and during its continuance he was compelled to scatter his forces in a very dangerous fashion. There had been two blunders made at the outset – both of them made by General Halleck against General Buell's protest. One of them was in making Corinth the base of supplies for Buell's army and depending for communication upon a long east and west line of badly broken railroad which was exposed at almost every point to frequent and destructive incursions of the enemy. Buell had asked to make Nashville his base instead. That point was connected with Louisville by rail and still more securely by river, and the river route was at all points adequately guarded against interruption by an effective gunboat fleet. From Nashville south and east there were railroads which Buell could have guarded effectually with one fifth the force necessary to the very ineffectual protection of the east and west line of the Memphis and Charleston road.

But Halleck was imperative in his orders and Buell had to submit, with the ultimate result of having to scatter his forces widely in order to guard both lines and repair both, on pain of bringing actual starvation upon his army.

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