Sunday, June 22, 2008

These Days in the Civil War: June 8-21, 1862

Back in the Saddle Again

Only a few days ago (June 3), a frustrated Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was packing his belongings, bent on quitting Halleck’s command in Corinth, Mississippi. He had spent a month in limbo, twiddling his thumbs in a meaningless “second-in-command” position under Halleck. "I have stood it as long as I can, and can endure it no longer," he said.

Grant’s suspension from command of his Army of the Tennessee was, in fact, a clumsy compromise. It was punishment for allowing himself to be surprised by the Confederates at Shiloh, without dismissing him from the army. Lincoln had said, “I cannot spare this man; he fights.” Halleck only made things worse by refusing to to frankly explain to Grant why he was being suspended from command.

So Grant asked for leave and got it, but probably did not intend to return to Halleck's command, perhaps using his leave to appeal to higher authority. It was a risky move, but in the nick of time, Grant was talked out of it by another son of Ohio, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Since Shiloh, a friendship had blossomed between Grant and Sherman, when each refused to blame the other for the Confederate surprise attack. When Sherman found Grant packing, he argued Grant’s departure, reasoning that Grant’s fortunes could change in an instant. Grant sat quietly, listened, and within hours decided to stay. On receiving the news, Sherman "rejoiced."

Sherman’s prediction came true sooner than expected. Having captured Corinth, Halleck had to decide what to do next. Probably the best thing he could have done would have been to keep his massed forces together, pursue, and destroy Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s forces, which would have crushed the Confederacy in the Western theater and hastened the end of the war. Instead, however, Halleck chose war by the book, the book being the doctrine that war was best waged by taking and holding enemy territory while avoiding battle as much as possible. To do that, Halleck had to give back the Army of the Tennessee to Grant and charge him with holding western Tennessee.

On June 10, Grant was restored to command and soon cheery letters were flowing in Julia Grant’s direction. “It is bright and early,” the happy general wrote her on June 12. “I am very well….This is apparently an exceedingly fine climate and one to enjoy health in”—a misperception if there ever was one. Plagued by terrible water conditions, Corinth, Mississippi, was a pesthole of disease. But Grant was too happy to acknowledge it, full of vim and vigor—and optimism. “In my mind there is no question but that this war could be ended at once if the whole Southern people could express their unbiased feelings untrammeled by their leaders,” he told Julia..

So Grant moved his headquarters to Memphis, arriving there June 23 “tired and dusty.” With only a small escort, he had travelled there by horseback, narrowly escaping capture by Confederate forces roaming the area.

Sherman remained in Mississippi, repairing railroad bridges and salvaging equipment the retreating Confederates had attempted to destroy. The Confederates were not the only enemy Sherman had to deal with: Lt. Gov. Benjamin Stanton of Ohio had visited Union forces after the battle of Shiloh and loudly opined that Grant and another general ought to have been court-martialed and shot for allowing themselves to be surprised.

In an angry letter to Stanton, Sherman wrote, “The accusatory part of your published statement is all false, false in general, false in every particular, and I repeat, you could not have failed to know it false when you published that statement.”

This brought an angry, accusatory reply from Stanton, which he took care to published in a Cincinnati newspaper, followed by another furious response from Sherman.

So went the practice of warfare in the 1860s.

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: On June 8 and 9, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson scored two final victories in the Shenandoah Valley—at Cross Keys and Port Republic and then left to reinforce Lee on the Virginia Peninsula. It was several days before Union forces in the Shenandoah were sure Jackson was gone. Adding to the humiliation of the Federals in the Shenandoah was a humiliation of McClellan on the Peninsula: from June 12 to 15, Confederate cavalry commander J. E. B. Stuart led a thousand-man reconnaissance force on a ride completely around the Army of the Potomac. Stuart made it a raid: destroying considerable property and taking prisoners.

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