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requisite material of war could be gathered or CHAP. XI. detached under prevailing ideas would amount to indefinite postponement.
When at last, through Grant's importunity, the movement was actually begun by the advance to capture Fort Henry, a curious interest in the expedition and its capabilities developed itself among the commanders. Grant's original proposition was simply to capture Fort Henry and establish a large camp. Nothing further was proposed, and Halleck's instructions went only to the same extent, with one addition. As the reported approach of Beauregard with reënforcements had been the turning influence in Halleck's consent, so he proposed that the capture of Fort Henry should be immediately followed by a dash at the railroad bridges across the Ten- Halleck to nessee and their destruction, to prevent those reën- 1962. W.'R. forcements from reaching Johnston. But with the progress of Grant's movement the chances of success brightened, and the plan began correspondingly to expand. On the 2d of February, when Grant's troops were preparing to invest Fort Henry, Halleck's estimate of coming possibilities had risen a little. He wrote to Buell: “At present it is only proposed to take and occupy Fort Henry and Hallesk.to Dover [Donelson), and, if possible, cut the railroad Feb v232862. from Columbus to Bowling Green." Here we have Donelson added to Henry in the intention of the department commander. That the same intention existed in Grant's mind is evident, for, as already related, on the fall of Henry on the 6th he immediately telegraphed to Halleck, "Fort Henry is ours. . . I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th, and return to Fort Henry.” It is to be noted that,
Feb. 5, 1862.
W. R. Vol. VII.,
CHAP. XI. in proposing to destroy Fort Donelson, he still
limits himself to his original proposition of an intrenched camp at Fort Henry. At the critical moment Halleck's confidence in success at Fort
Henry wavered, and he called upon Buell with Jan. 23 importunity for sufficient help to make sure work Vol. VII, of it. But Buell, commanding 72,502 men, Meciellan, 46,150 of them “ fit for the field," —could only send
a single brigade to aid in a work which he had described as of such momentous consequence. Afterwards, indeed, he sent eight regiments more; but these were raw troops from Ohio and Indiana which McClellan, with curious misconception of their usefulness, had ordered to Buell, who did not need them, instead of to Halleck, who was trying to make every man do double duty.
McClellan, satisfied that Buell could not advance against Johnston's force at Bowling Green over the difficult winter roads, and having not yet heard of the surrender of Fort Henry, suggested to both Buell and Halleck the temporary suspension of operations on other lines in order to make a quick combined movement up the Tennessee and the Cumberland. This was on February 6. Buell's fancy at first caught at the proposal, for he replied that evening: “This whole move, right in its strategical bearing, but commenced by General Halleck without appreciation, preparation, or concert, has now become of vast magnitude. I was myself thinking of a change of the line to support it when I received your dispatch. It will have to be
made in the face of 50,000 if not 60,000 men, and Feb. 6, 1862. is hazardous. I will answer definitely in the mornpp. 587, 686. ing.” Halleck was more positive in his convictions.
Buell to McClellan,
Feb. 6, 1862.
W. R. Vol. VII.,
He telegraphed to McClellan on the same day: “If CHAP. XI. you can give me, in addition to what I have in this department, ten thousand men, I will take Fort Henry, cut the enemy's line, and paralyze Columbus. Give me 25,000, and I will threaten Nashville Halleck to and cut off railroad communication, so as to force the enemy to abandon Bowling Green without a battle.”
News of the fall of Fort Henry having been received at Washington, McClellan twenty-four hours later telegraphed to Halleck: "Either Buell or yourself should soon go to the scene of operations. Why not have Buell take the line of [the] Tennessee and operate on Nashville, while your troops turn Columbus! These two points gained, a combined movement on Memphis will be next in order.” The dispatch was in substance repeated to Buell, who by this time thought he had made up his mind, for two hours later he answered: “I cannot, on reflection, think a change of my line would be advisable. . . I hope General Grant will not require further reënforcements. I will go if necessary." Thus on the night of the 7th, with the sole aid from himself of the single drilled brigade from Green River and the eight raw regiments from Ohio and Indiana, he proposed to leave the important central line on which Grant had started to its chances.
A night's reflection made him doubt the correctness of his decision, for he telegraphed on the morning of the 8th: “I am concentrating and preparing, but will not decide definitely yet.” Halleck's views were less changeable: at noon on the 8th, he again urged that Buell should transfer the
Buell to Halleck, Feb. 12,
CHAP. XI. bulk of his forces to the Cumberland River, to
move by water on Nashville. To secure this coöperation, he further proposed a modification of department lines to give Buell command on the Cumberland and Hitchcock or Sherman on the Tennessee, with superior command for himself over both. No immediate response came from Washington, and three days elapsed when Halleck asked
Buell specifically: “Can't you come with all your Halleck to available forces and command the column up the 1862.w.R. Cumberland ? I shall go to the Tennessee this
week.” Buell's desire, vibrating like a pendulum between the two brilliant opportunities before him, now swung towards Halleck's proposal, but with indefiniteness and fatal slowness. He answered that
he would go either to the Cumberland or to the 1862. W.R. Tennessee, but that it would require ten days to
transfer his troops.
During his hesitation, events forced him to a new conclusion. News came that the rebels had evacuated Bowling Green, and he telegraphed:
“The evacuation of Bowling Green, leaving the Meciellan, way open to Nashville, makes it proper to resume 1862. w.R. my original plan. I shall advance on Nashville
with all the speed I can." From this last deter. mination Halleck appealed beseechingly to the General-in-Chief. He announced that Grant had formally invested Fort Donelson and that the bombardment was progressing favorably, but he further explained that since the evacuation of Bowling Green the enemy were concentrating against Grant. He claimed that it was bad strategy for Buell to advance on Nashville over broken bridges and bad roads, and this point he reiterated with
Halleck to McClellan,
emphasis. He telegraphed on February 16:“I am CHAP. XI. still decidedly of the opinion that Buell should not advance on Nashville, but come to the Cumberland with his available forces. United to Grant we can take and hold Fort Donelson and Clarksville, and by another central movement cut off both Columbus and Nashville. . . Unless we can take Fort Donelson very soon we shall have the whole force of the enemy on us. Fort Donelson is the turning- 1862. w.'R. point of the war, and we must take it at whatever pp. 624, 626. sacrifice."
But his appeal was unavailing. McClellan took sides with Buell, insisting that to occupy Nashville would be most decisive. Buell had, indeed, ordered Nelson's division to go to the help of Grant; but in the conflict of his own doubts and intentions the orders had been so tardy that Nelson's embarkation was only beginning on the day when Donelson surrendered. McClellan's further conditional order to Buell, to help Grant if it were necessary, offered a yet more distant prospect of Succor. If the siege of Donelson had been prolonged, assistance from these directions would, of course, have been found useful. In the actual state of facts, however, they show both Buell and McClellan incapable, even under continued pressure, of seizing and utilizing the fleeting chances of war which so often turn the scale of success, and which so distinctly call out the higher qualities of military leadership.
Amidst the sluggish counsels of commanders of departments, the energy of Grant and the courage and intrepidity of his raw Western soldiers had already decided one of the great crises of the war.