Catching Up with Halleck, Grant, Buell and Bragg in the West

July 6, 1862 (Sunday)

General Halleck

Following the nearly bloodless capture of Corinth, Mississippi by Union General Henry Halleck’s 100,000 men, he did little to exploit his gains. The Confederate Army of Mississippi, 50,000-strong, commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard and then by Braxton Bragg, retreated fifty miles south to Tupelo unmolested.

Halleck saw no reason to bring on a battle. He believed that his army’s true purpose was to protect the railroads. The three wings of Halleck’s vast army were commanded by Generals Ulysses S. Grant, John Pope, and Don Carlos Buell, none of whom agreed with Halleck’s strategy.

There were, of course, other options. He could move his force 200 miles east to Chattanooga to cover the railroads and finally come to the aid of Eastern Tennessee. President Lincoln, in fact, favored this option, hyperbolically saying that it was “fully as important as the taking and holding of Richmond.” But holding Chattanooga meant letting go of the Mississippi River.

Another option was to bypass Tupelo and march to Vicksburg, roughly 300 miles southwest, but this would leave Louisville, Cincinnati and Eastern Tennessee open to attack.

General Buell is movin' kinda slow.

Prior to becoming the leader of this 100,000-strong über-army, Halleck oversaw the Department of the Mississippi (formerly called the Department of Missouri), which contained three separate armies: The Army of the Tennessee, commanded by General Grant, The Army of the Ohio, under General Buell, and General Pope’s Army of the Mississippi. To cover all three options, he again divided his forces into the three separate commands.1

While Pope’s Army of the Mississippi held Corinth, General Grant was sent to Memphis to command the District of West Tennessee (in Halleck’s Department). His army had been sent in the direction to cover railroads and deal with guerrillas. General Buell’s army of 30,000 was sent east to to take Chattanooga. Poor logistics, bad discipline, and Buell’s typical sluggishness was making it a slow march. By this date, Buell’s army was spread out across seventy five miles of southern railroad, but headquartered at Huntsville, Alabama, still 100 miles from Chattanooga.

At Corinth, Halleck kept his men busy digging an incredibly elaborate series of entrenchments south of the city. When designed, Halleck apparently had plans to keep his entire army nearby, as the fortifications were so intricate that 100,000 were needed to properly fill them. With the departure of Grant to Memphis, and Buell towards Chattanooga, Halleck had 25,000 at Corinth (under Pope).2

General Rosecrans

General Pope had been called to Washington and now commanded the newly-formed Army of Virginia, operating in and around the Shenandoah Valley. This left General William Rosecrans in command of the Army of the Mississippi. With Halleck’s fortifications built, Rosecrans took notice that the army’s sick list encompassed nearly thirty-five percent of the whole. He moved the force six miles outside of the city and set up a cleaner hospital. He put them on a strict diet and soon the sick list fell to only twelve percent.3

The last day in June found Halleck in a precarious position. His huge army was scattered and he received a telegram from Washington asking for 25,000 men to help out General McClellan on the Virginia Peninsula. There was no way he could do it, unless he nixed Buell’s Chattanooga expedition. Since that was Lincoln’s pet project, the President backed down, adding that Buell’s progress was too slow. After further attempts to pull his troops away, Halleck told Lincoln to simply take them from the Shenandoah Valley.4

Map of Middle/Eastern Tennessee and very approximate troops positions.

Meanwhile, General Grant at Memphis felt detached from his army. Under Halleck at Corinth, he had basically been reduced to a figurehead. But any hopes at an independent command were dashed when, against military etiquette, Halleck issued orders directly to Grant’s army, countermanding Grant’s own orders. Grant was unhappy about the arrangement, but Halleck insisted that he would have to live with it, explaining that sending an order 100 miles west to Memphis and waiting for the 100 mile reply from Grant was cumbersome. “I will further add,” wrote Halleck to Grant, “that from your position at Memphis, it is impossible for you to exercise the immediate command in this direction.”5

General Braxton Bragg is surrounded by idiots.

Aside from various guerrillas, the main Confederate force opposing General Halleck was fifty miles south at Tupelo, under the command of General Braxton Bragg. After realizing that Buell was marching to Chattanooga, Confederate General Kirby Smith, at Knoxville, pleaded with Bragg for reinforcements. Richmond had suggested that Bragg do something to help Smith, but gave him no orders to do so. Finally relenting, Bragg sent 3,000 troops under General John McCown to Chattanooga, and by July 3rd, they had arrived.

Smith had spent most of the spring defending Cumberland Gap, but had more recently pulled back to Knoxville. Now, supplied with more men, he wanted to take the offensive. He seemed to have lost interest in defending Chattanooga, and figured that Bragg could cover it while he attacked Union General George Morgan (one of Smith’s oldest and dearest friends from before the war), recapturing Cumberland Gap and moving into Kentucky. He had already dispatched Col. John Hunt Morgan with 900 rangers into the Bluegrass State to pave the way.6

Forrest has a plan to git thar first.

With Smith planning to launch an offensive away from the cities he was to defend, Bragg realized that he would have to do something. But his command was in shambles. Aside from General William Hardee, he had hardly a commander that he could trust. He had already warned Smith not to trust McCown with any important position. To Richmond, he named Generals Crittenden, Cheatham, Carroll, Trapier and Hawes as “unsuited for their responsible positions.”

Through all of this, Bragg’s Army of Mississippi grew stronger in both number and moral at Tupelo. By this time in early July, is was ready to take the field.

And on this date, Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest departed with about 1,000 men for Middle Tennessee. General Buell’s army was being supplied from Union-held Nashville and Forrest, with his eyes on the railroad town of Murfreesboro, where Buell was holding a small force to defend the railroad.7

  1. The Darkest Days of the War; The Battles of Iuka & Corinth by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina, 1997. []
  2. Grant Rises in the West; The First Year, 1861-1862 by Kenneth P. Williams, University of Nebraska, 1952. []
  3. The Darkest Days of the War; The Battles of Iuka & Corinth by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina, 1997. []
  4. Grant Rises in the West; The First Year, 1861-1862 by Kenneth P. Williams, University of Nebraska, 1952. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p46, 68. []
  6. Army of the Heartland; The Army of Tennessee 1861-1862 by Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Louisiana State University, 1967. []
  7. The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn, University of Oklahoma Press, 1941. []
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Catching Up with Halleck, Grant, Buell and Bragg in the West by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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