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We may also conclude that another element of CH. XVIII. the confidence that prompted his language was the intimation lately received from the Secretary of War, who three days before had asked him to state “ the limits of a military department that would to Halleck, place all the Western operations you deem expedi- 1862. W.R. ent under your command." In fact, events in the East as well as in the West were culminating, which rather suddenly ended existing military conditions. The naval battle between the Merrimac and the Monitor, and the almost simultaneous evacuation of Manassas Junction by the rebel forces in Virginia, broke the long inactivity of the Army of the Poto
We cannot better illustrate how intently Mr. Lincoln was watching army operations, both in the East and the West, than by quoting his dispatch of March 10 to Buell: “The evidence is very strong that the enemy in front of us here is breaking up Lincoln to and moving off. General McClellan is after him. March 10, Some part of the force may be destined to meet you. VOL. X., Look out, and be prepared. I telegraphed Halleck, asking him to assist you if needed.”
McClellan's aimless march to capture a few scarecrow sentinels and quaker guns in the deserted rebel field-works, which had been his nightmare for half a year, afforded the opportunity for a redistribution of military leaderships, which the winter's experience plainly dictated. Slow and cautious in maturing his decisions, President Lincoln was prompt to announce them when they were once reached. On the 11th of March he issued his War 1862. W. R. Order No. 3, one of his most far-reaching acts of pp. 28, 29. military authority. It relieved McClellan from the duties of general-in-chief of all the armies, and sent
1862. W. R.
Order, March 11,
CH. XVIII. him to the field charged with the single object of
conducting the campaign against Richmond. This made possible a new combination for the West, and the same order united the three Western departments (as far East as Knoxville, Tennessee) under the command of Halleck. Under this arrangement was fought the great battle on the Tennessee that Halleck predicted, giving the Union arms a victory the decisive influence of which was felt throughout the remainder of the war; a success, however, due mainly to the gallantry of the troops, and not to any genius or brilliant generalship of Halleck or his subordinate commanders.
The Tennessee River expedition under Smith, which started on March 10, made good its landing at Savannah, and on the 14th Smith sent Sherman with a division on nineteen steamboats, preceded by gunboats, to ascend the river towards Eastport and begin the work of destroying railroad communications, which had been the original object of the whole movement. Sherman made a landing to carry out his orders; but this was the season of spring freshets a storm of rain and snow changed every ravine and rivulet to a torrent; the Tennessee River rose fifteen feet in twenty-four hours, covering most steamboat landings with deep water; and the intended raid by land and water was reduced to a mere river reconnaissance, which proved the enemy to be in considerable force about Iuka and Corinth, covering and guarding the important railroad crossings and communications. Sherman felt himself compelled to return to Pittsburg Landing, on the west bank of the Tennessee, nine miles above Savannah, which was on the east bank. The
place was already well-known to both armies, for Ch. XVIIL a skirmish had occurred there on the 1st of March between Union gunboats and a rebel regiment.
It would seem that General Smith had fixed upon Pittsburg Landing as an available point from which to operate more at leisure upon the enemy's railroad communications, and hence had sent Hurlbut's division thither, which Sherman found there on his return. The place was not selected as a battlefield, nor as a base of operations for a campaign, but merely to afford a temporary lodgment for raids upon the railroads. By a silent and gradual change of conditions, however, the intention and essential features of the whole Tennessee River movement underwent a transformation. What was begun as a provisional expedition became a strategic central campaign; and what was chosen for an outpost of detachments was almost imperceptibly turned into a principal point of concentration, and became, by the unexpected assault of the enemy, one of the hardest-fought battlefields of the whole war.
Halleck assumed command of his combined departments by general orders dated March 13, and after explaining once more to Buell that all his available force not required to defend Nashville should be sent up the Tennessee, he telegraphed him on the 16th of March: “Move your forces by land to the Tennessee as rapidly as possible. Grant's army is concentrating at Savannah. You must direct your march on that point so that the enemy cannot get between us."
The combined campaign thus set in motion was wise in conception, but its preliminary execution
W. R. Vol. X., Part II.,
Halleok to Buell, March 16, 1862. W.R.
Vol. X., Part II.,
CH. XVIII. proved lamentably weak; and the blame is justly
attributable, in about equal measure, to Halleck, Buell, and Grant. For a few days Halleck's orders were decided and firm; then there followed a slackening of opinion and a variance of direction that came near making a disastrous wreck of the whole enterprise. His positive orders to Buell to move as rapidly as possible and to concentrate at Savannah were twice repeated on the 17th; but on the 26th he directed him to concentrate at Savannah or Eastport, and on the 29th to concentrate at Savannah or Pittsburg, while on April 5 he pointedly consented to a concentration at Waynesborough. This was inexcusable uncertainty in the combinations of a great strategist, who complained that "hesitation and delay are losing us the golden opportunity.” These were not the firm strides of a leader who promised to “split secession in twain in one month."
It can hardly be claimed that Buell's march fulfilled the injunction to move “as rapidly as possible.” When his advanced division reached Duck River at Columbia on the 18th it found that stream swollen and the bridge destroyed, and set itself to the task of building a new frame bridge with a
deliberateness better befitting the leisure of peace W... than the pressing hurry of war. Buell arrived in
person at Columbia on the 26th. He manifested his own dissatisfaction with the delay by ordering the construction of another bridge, this time of pontoons, which was completed simultaneously with the first on March 30. Still further delay was projected by a proposition to halt for concentration at Waynesborough. It must be said in justice to
1862. W. R. Vol. X., Part II.,
Buell, that Halleck did not complain of the slow CH. XVIII. bridge-building at Columbia, and that he consented to the concentration at Waynesborough. Had it taken place, Buell's army would again have been “ too late " for a great battle. The excuse offered, that Buell supposed the Union army to be safe on the east bank of the Tennessee at Savannah, can scarcely be admitted; for on the 230 Buell received a letter from Grant which said: “I am massing troops at Pittsburg, Tennessee. There is every Grant to reason to suppose that the rebels have a large force March 19, at Corinth, Mississippi, and at many other points on the road towards Decatur.”
.” The bridges over Duck River were finished on the 30th. Meanwhile, General William Nelson had obtained permission to March'n, ford the now falling stream with his division in order to “have the advance and get the glory." pp. 329, 330. Since Halleck’s dispatches had by this time lost their tone of urgency, and their definiteness of direction, Buell's army pursued its moderate march; Nelson's advance division reaching Savannah on the 5th of April, and others on the 6th.
It reflects no credit on General Halleck or General Grant that, during the interim of Buell's march, the advanced post of Pittsburg Landing had been left in serious peril. Halleck was busy at St. Louis collecting reënforcements to send to Grant, with the announced intention to proceed to the field and take personal command on the Tennessee River. This implied a delay demanding either the concentration of the whole army at Savannah, as originally ordered by him, behind the safe barrier of the Tennessee, or strong fortifications for the exposed position of Pittsburg Landing, on the west