November 9, 1861 (Saturday)
Five railroad bridges aiding the Confederates in eastern Tennessee had been burned the previous night by Unionist citizens. Several more had been threatened. It was clear to those of Southern sympathy that an uprising was at hand.
While most of the bridge burners escaped and were awaiting the advance of the Union army from Kentucky that would never come, several participants in this direct action had been captured by Rebel and railroad authorities. Supplies for the Confederate army had to come by rail. With these bridges out and with the possibility that more bridges would be burned, the president of the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, John R. Branner, wrote to the Confederate Secretary of War, warning him that “unless the Government gives us the necessary aid and protection at once transportation over my road of army supplies will be an utter impossibility; it cannot be done.”
Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston, however, was convinced that it wasn’t an army problem. His Army of Central Kentucky was there to fight the Federals. To Johnston, the destruction of the bridges “cannot be the work of the enemy’s troops but of the disaffected in North Alabama and East Tennessee.” He wrote to Tennessee Governor Isham Harris “to use every exertion to ascertain the extent, power and organization of this insurrection,” urging him to “put arms into the hands of your unarmed levies.”1
Five bridges had been burned and armed Unionist were pouring into Carter and Johnson Counties in eastern Tennessee. All awaited the troops of General George Thomas, who were supposed to be marching to their support. They began forming themselves into companies and drilling, preparing to assist Thomas’s Union troops.2
Shaking Up the West
As the war was evolving, so were its Departments. To meet the needs along the Southern coast, the Confederate War Department established a military department, under General Robert E. Lee, comprised of the coast along South Carolina, Georgia and Eastern Florida.
In the west, Lincoln’s War Department had recently made some monumental changes, as well. General McClellan had replaced General Scott as overall army commander and General Fremont, commander of the Western Department, was sacked.
Though the department was under the temporary command of General David Hunter, it was clear that even more changes had to be made.
The Western Department comprised vast stretches of land, including all states and territories west of the Mississippi and east of the Rockies, as well as Illinois and New Mexico. Though General Fremont’s failure had much to do with General Fremont himself, some of the blame could go to commanding too much land.
First, to combat the quickly-gathering Rebel force in New Mexico under General Henry Sibley, the Department of New Mexico was established. Col. Edward Canby, a noted frontier fighter, was placed in charge.
General David Hunter, who had been placed in temporary command of the Western Department, was given the Department of Kansas. It included its namesake, as well as Indian Territory [Oklahoma] west of Arkansas, and the Territories of Nebraska, Colorado and Dakota. Hunter, still in command of the Army of the West after Fremont’s departure, had begun his movement away from Springfield to Rolla, following the orders of President Lincoln.3
The Department of the Cumberland, under General William Tecumseh Sherman, was being eliminated and split between two departments. The Department of the Ohio, under General Ormsby M. Mitchell, received eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and would now be commanded by General Don Carlos Buell.4
Western Kentucky, as well as the contested ground of Missouri, along with Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Arkansas, were placed under the Department of Missouri. General Henry W. Halleck was given the honor of command.5
Halleck had been General Winfield Scott’s first choice for the General-in-Chief position. It’s likely that he would have had his way, but Halleck had been en route to the east from California when Scott retired. Momentum, luck and politics were behind George McClellan, and so he got the job instead.
A successful lawyer and politician in civilian life, Henry Halleck was also one of the most respected military minds in America. He had taught at West Point and wrote a textbook on military strategy. He was a follower of the classic Napoleonic warfare school – something that might not mesh with the Missouri frontier.
As for General Sherman, he would remain in command in Louisville for nearly a week. That week, however, would be an incredibly trying one.6
- Official Records , Series 2, Vol. 1, p838. [↩]
- East Tennessee and the Civil War by Oliver Perry Temple. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p567. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p349. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p567. [↩]
- Days of Glory: The Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865 by Larry J. Daniel. [↩]