General Grant Removed from Command for Insubordination!

March 4, 1862 (Tuesday)

Union General Henry Halleck, commander of the Department of Missouri and General Ulysses S. Grant’s superior, was in an especially foul mood. Soon after the Federals took Nashville, Grant had visited the city without orders to do so. While he was merely meeting with the senior General in the field, Don Carlos Buell, Halleck blew it out of proportion.

On the 1st of March, Grant was ordered by Halleck to return to Fort Henry and, from there, to launch an expedition up the Tennessee River to the state of Mississippi. The objective was the destruction of several key railroad bridges. Grant was to “avoid any general engagement with strong forces,” and was told that it was “better to retreat than to risk a general battle.” Halleck suggested that General C.F. Smith’s brigade make the expedition, which would turn on Paris, Tennessee after the Mississippi bridges were taken care of.1

An unfortunate series of events culminated in Halleck turning just plain mean. It probably began when General Buell ordered General C.F. Smith’s brigade (from Grant’s army) to occupy Nashville. Halleck, who ultimately held rule over the brigade, was surprised that it wasn’t with Grant. When he heard no word from Grant for a week and then received a message stating that Grant himself was in Nashville, he decided to wire General-in-Chief George McClellan in Washington to shake things up.2

He reported to McClellan Grant’s unauthorized visit to Nashville, his lack of communication, and that “his army seems to be as much demoralized by the victory of Fort Donelson as was that of the Potomac by the defeat of Bull Run.”

It should be remembered that Grant and his army had just come off of two great victories at Fort Henry and Donelson. Halleck had this well in mind, telling McClellan that it was “hard to censure a successful general immediately after a victory,” but added that Grant “richly deserves it.” In closing, he made a recommendation of who should take Grant’s place with the sour comment of “C.F. Smith is almost the only officer equal to the emergency.”3

General McClellan immediately sided with Halleck. “Grant should at once be checked,” he replied, as if Grant was some mutual enemy. “Do not hesitate to arrest him at once if the good of the service requires it,” boldly wrote McClellan.4

Halleck had the night to think it over, but by the next morning (this date), another rumor touched his ear. He wired McClellan that Grant, once dismissed from the old army for drinking, “has resumed his former bad habits.” However, Halleck didn’t believe that Grant needed to be arrested. Placing C.F. Smith in command over the troops, to “restore order and discipline,” for a move up the Tennessee River, was enough.5

To Grant, Halleck had little to say but a direct order: “You will place Maj. Gen. C. F. Smith in command of expedition, and remain yourself at Fort Henry.” Setting aside the myriad things that must have been bugging him, Halleck focused upon one, the lack of communication. “Why do you not obey my orders to report strength and positions of your command?”6

When he received the dispatch from Halleck, removing him from command, Grant was surprised. He could not remember ever being asked by Halleck to report the strength or position of his army7, and yet he remembered doing all that he could to get the returns of the strength of his (Grant’s) command, reporting his every move to Halleck’s chief of staff.8

“Thus in less than two weeks after the victory at Donelson,” Grant later summarized in his Memoirs, “the two leading generals [Halleck and McClellan] in the army were in correspondence as to what disposition should be made of me, and in less than three weeks I was virtually in arrest and without a command.”9

After a night of whatever rest he could get, Grant would order Smith to command and reply to Halleck.



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p674. []
  2. Grant Rises in the West; The First Year by Kenneth P. Williams. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p679-680. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p680. Halleck sent his message on March 2nd and McClellan replied on the 3rd. This catches us up nicely. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p682. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, p3. Hey! It’s a new volume of the OR! []
  7. Memoirs by Ulysses Grant, p326. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, p15. []
  9. Memoirs by Ulysses Grant, p328. []
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General Grant Removed from Command for Insubordination! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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One thought on “General Grant Removed from Command for Insubordination!

  1. 2 worse generals General-in-Chief George McClellan and General Henry Halleck telling one of the greatest general he was a insubordinate, lol. If Grant ran the Army first year of the war i bet the war would be won alot earlier.

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