Tuesday, March 18, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Little Anxiety

Barely, just barely, you can feel nerves beginning to tingle, all the way from Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck’s command post at St. Louis, Missouri, to Ulysses S. Grant’s Tennessee River expedition headquarters at Savannah, Tennessee.

Something big—“a big lick,” as Grant calls it—is going to happen, although no one knows when or exactly where. But it almost certainly is going to happen somewhere in this poor, swampy land of creeks, cornfields, and small farms in western Tennessee, just north of the Tennessee-Mississippi border.

Yesterday, Grant sent a letter to Halleck reporting the scattered locations of his various divisions, as he found them on his arrival here on Monday. Today, he sends Halleck a brief telegram about the use of gunboats on the river. Tomorrow, Halleck will reply by wire, stating “I do not fully understand” (a not uncommon Halleck reply), followed by an imperative with the sound of urgency about it: “By all means keep your forces together until you connect with General Buell…Don’t let the enemy draw you into an engagement now.”

Grant has proven, at Fort Donelson, to be an aggressive commander who moved faster than Halleck might have wished. Probably the ever-cautious Halleck is worried Grant might slip the leash again. But Grant is trying to be careful and he admits something about himself when he writes Brig. Gen. Don Carlos Buell. Buell’s Army of the Ohio is who-knows-where and moving slowly from Nashville to Grant. Buell is being delayed by a swollen river and burned bridges. But then, something was always delaying Buell.

Sounding a tad fretful in his message to Buell, Grant writes, “Feeling a little anxious to learn your whereabouts, and as much as possible of your present movements, I send two scouts…to you. Any information you will send by them I will be glad to receive.”

Buell will eventually arrive, and just in the nick of time. In the meantime, there will be anxiety at Savanna and at Pittsburg Landing, but, in one of the war's great ironies, not enough.

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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