Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Tuesday, March 11, 1862

Back in the Saddle

Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s immediate superior, is a desk jockey who soldiers by the book (which he wrote) and has never met a bold idea that didn’t scare him. A few days ago, he removed Grant from command of an important expedition up the Tennessee. The reasons had as much to do with Halleck’s personal ambitions and jealousies as a breakdown in communication (which was not Grant’s fault).

Today, however, Grant has learned that Halleck will be sending him more troops for the Tennessee River expedition and that Grant should "be ready...to take the general command." Grant's time in purgatory is over.

(Grant is pictured above, on top and looking rather tired, as a newly minted major general, and below, in idealized form.)

At first, Grant, who is still upset and confused, considers refusing the restoration to command, but before the day is over he is issuing orders and writing to Julia, “Soon more troops will join us, then I will go in command of the whole.”

He gives Julia no further explanation of his strange removal, then restoration, because he himself has yet to understand it. Years later, however, he will write in his memoirs that it was Halleck’s “own reports that had created all the trouble.”

The troubles began with Halleck’s desire to take overall command of western forces instead of dividing them, awkwardly, with Brig. Gen. Don Carlos Buell. Halleck based his appeal to Washington on his claim of the Fort Donelson victory, although the credit properly belonged to Grant. When a disloyal telegrapher disrupted communications between Grant and Halleck, the latter used the situation to remove Grant from command of the Tennessee River expedition.

On March 11, however, President Lincoln formally issues his General War Order No. 3. In the West, departments are consolidated under Halleck, just as he wished. In the East, Maj. Gen. George George B. McClellan is relieved of overall command of Union forces, ostensibly so the slow-footed McClellan can concentrate his energies on moving the Army of the Potomac against the Confederate capital of Richmond. For the time being, no general-in-chief is appointed. In western Virginia, a new Mountain Department is created under the problematical but politically powerful John Charles Fremont.

So Halleck has what he wanted and, moreover, President Lincoln is asking for proof of Grant’s alleged dereliction of duty (of which there is none). That could be embarrassing--to Halleck--so he folds his cards and moves on. Thus, Grant regains the position that never should have been taken away from him. And once again we learn how politics, jealousy, and personal ambition are so often part of the story in the conduct of war.

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, refuses to accept the reports of Generals Floyd and Pillow, who cravenly fled Fort Donelson before its surrender. They are relieved from duty, as well they should be.

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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