Wednesday, January 30, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 1862

Calm before a Storm

Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is excited, which means he appears even calmer than usual. This curious ability of Grant’s—to act calmly in situations where fellow generals get excited—will manifest itself repeatedly throughout the war and contribute to his success. “Very much crestfallen” scarcely 24 hours before, Grant now sees the possibility of his leading a significant military action against the Confederates. His cautious superior, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, had just thrown cold water on Grant’s plan to attack and take Fort Henry, when, at almost the same moment President Lincoln issued his General War Order No. 1, demanding the Union’s generals go on the attack at last. Halleck has been trumped.

Today, Grant is busy in his Cairo headquarters, wrapping up business before he embarks on the expected Fort Henry campaign. Short, crisp orders and communiqués go out in every direction. These routine matters range from the handling of prisoners to the troublesome case of a Capt. William J. Kountz, arrested for disobedience and disrespect to a superior officer. The most important message goes to General Halleck, and is a slightly enlarged reiteration of yesterday’s one-sentence declaration by wire, “With permission I will take Fort McHenry (Henry) on the Tennessee River and hold &establish a large camp there.”

In today’s message, Grant presses Halleck for a quick decision on the “permission” requested. He warns the Confederates will probably reinforce their positions soon and briefly points out some of the benefits of acting now, but concludes, “The advantages of this move are as perceptible to then Gen. Comd.g Dept. as to myself therefore further statements are unnecessary.” Clearly, Grant feels he has won his case.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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