Saturday, July 26, 2008

THIS WEEK IN THE CIVIL WAR: July 20-26, 1862

Initiative Lost

Major Generals Grant and Sherman are not enjoying the summer of 1862.
In their respective headquarters at Corinth, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, these two of Ohio are enduring sweltering heat, hostile neighbors, and unwelcome visits from Confederate raiders.

On paper, Grant and his Army of the Tennessee occupy large portions of western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, with Sherman holding down the area around Memphis, with—assisted by Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans (another Ohioan)—holding down the rest.

And “holding down”—or trying to—was about all Grant and his commanders could do.

Before Grant’s predecessor, Henry W. Halleck, departed for Washington and the post of general-in-chief, he essentially disbanded the huge force he had assembled for his advance on Corinth.
Committed to the European theory of winning wars by outmaneuvering the enemy instead of outfighting him, then holding onto captured territory, Halleck spread his forces thinly across the Western Department. “The great army…which General Halleck had so well assembled at Corinth, was out on the defensive,” Sherman wrote.

That left Grant holding a lot of territory occupied by unfriendly civilians and crisscrossed by Confederate parties, unable to marshal a big enough force to launch a serious offensive. As a result, the summer in ’62 in the Western Theater was a quiet one, disturbed mostly by skirmishes and small fights here and there, the sounds of mosquitoes being swatted, and frustrated soldiers grumbling.

When reports reached Grant’s ears that Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg was daringly moving across the region with a significant force, the Union commander could only stand by in frustration.

After the war, Grant wrote, “The most anxious period of the war, to me, was during the time the Army of the Tennessee was guarding the territory acquired by the fall of Corinth and Memphis and before I was sufficiently reinforced to take the offensive.”

And Sherman recalled, “At the time when general Halleck was summoned from Corinth to Washington…I surely expected of him immediate and important results.” But Halleck could not deliver, and “important results’ in the Western Theater would not occur until Grant was turned loose.

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