Thursday, November 22, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Saturday, Nov. 23, 1861

“Life with ‘Old Brains’”

Badly rattled by the pressures of command in Kentucky, Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman reports to the headquarters of the Department of the Missouri in St. Louis. The department commander, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck (shown above), gives Sherman a position on his headquarters staff.

Now Halleck has under his orders two relatively unknown officers with unknown futures: Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the District of Southeast Missouri, and Sherman. How will he use these men?

Halleck is a smart man. He graduated third in his class at West Point and is the author of Military Art and Science. For his erudition, he is known throughout the Army as “Old Brains.” He is a skillful organizer and administrator, a man of paperwork and bureaucracy.

Like many other West Point graduates, Halleck retired from the calcified Army in the 1850s, discouraged by the limited opportunities for advancement. Originally from New York, he moved to California where he became a highly successful lawyer. With the outbreak of the Civil War, his reputed abilities won him a place on the Union military’s fast track, starting with a major generalship. Now he has a chance to put that book learning to work.

An old friend of Sherman’s, Halleck sympathizes with the frazzled Ohioan and promptly puts him in a “safe” staff position. Sherman’s first assignment: tour the state, count noses, and tell Halleck just how many soldiers he has, where they are, and how well equipped they seem to be. The job should not faze Sherman .

But it will, as Halleck will quickly learn.

>>> NOTE: Thanksgiving in 1861 will be observed next Thursday.

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