Grant Takes Command in the West (Sort of)

July 16, 1862 (Wednesday)

Halleck: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

The time had come for General Henry Halleck to leave the west. President Lincoln had called him to Washington to claim the position of General-in-Chief. The post had been held by General George McClellan before to being removed by Lincoln under the auspices of needing to focus attention upon his field command.

General Halleck must have been feeling a bit sentimental on this day. Since being placed in command of the western armies, he had been undeniably victorious. He was in command when Forts Henry and Donelson fell; when Nashville was taken, and Island No. 10 subdued. The battles of Pea Ridge and Shiloh as well as the siege of Corinth were all executed while he oversaw the department. His leadership saw the Rebels retreat farther and farther south, giving up ground and river after river.

Through this, he had made at least one friend. Halleck had taken a liking to General William Tecumseh Sherman, whom he would visit during the siege of Corinth. Since then, Sherman and his troops had been in the field, operating near Memphis. On this day, Halleck said his good-byes to Sherman, after telling him that he (Sherman) would take over General Ulysses S. Grant’s position commanding from that city, as Grant was taking over for Halleck.

Sherman: Yes, who could replace you, Halleck?

“I have done my best to avoid it,” wrote Halleck, telling Sherman that he planned to leave the following day. “I have studied out and can finish the campaign in the West. Don’t understand and cannot manage affairs in the East. Moreover, do not want to have anything to do with the quarrels of Stanton and McClellan.”

In all likelihood, Halleck was being honest. He was doing well in the west and had no desire to be embroiled in the melodrama of the east.

General Sherman replied the same day. This was the first he had heard about Halleck’s promotion and new headquarters. “That success will attend you wherever you go I feel no doubt,” comforted Sherman, “for you must know more about the East than you did about the West when you arrived at Saint Louis a stranger. And there you will find armies organized and pretty well commanded, instead of the scattered forces you then had.”

But Sherman’s hopeful outlook was reserved only for Halleck. “I attach more importance to the West than the East,” he continued. “The man who at the end of this war holds the military control of the Valley of the Mississippi will be the man. You should not be removed. I fear the consequences. […] You cannot be replaced out here, and it is too great a risk to trust a new man from the East.”1

Grant: You rang?

But Halleck was being replaced. General Grant had reached Corinth on the 15th and hoped to receive some indication from Halleck about why he (Grant) was called from Memphis. All that Halleck had told him was that his headquarters would now be in Corinth. Nobody said anything about Halleck’s move to Washington or that Grant would now be in command. Halleck would leave Corinth before clearing it up, giving Grant one last snub for old time’s sake.2

On this date, Halleck issued orders enlarging Grant’s District of Western Tennessee to include not only the land of its namesake, but also the Districts of Cairo and Mississippi. This gave Grant command not only of his Army of the Tennessee, but also the Army of the Mississippi, commanded by General William Rosecrans. It did not, however, give him command of General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which was slowly creeping its way towards Chattanooga, in the eastern part of Tennessee. For the time being, at least, Buell would have an independent command, reporting directly to Washington.3

Buell: Remember me?

This made Grant a department commander in everything but title. The army that had once boasted 120,000 at Corinth had been scattered all across the Mississippi Valley and Tennessee. Some units had even been ordered to reinforce General Curtis in Arkansas and General Buell in Eastern Tennessee.

Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, over which he maintained personal command had just over 38,000 men. Rosecrans’ Army of the Mississippi had only 25,000. The army that Grant inherited was spread so thin that he had little choice but to take the defensive and wait. 4

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p100-101. []
  2. Personal Memoirs by Ulysess S. Grant, C.L. Webster & Co., 1885. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p101. []
  4. The Darkest Days of the War; The Battles of Iuka & Corinth by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina, 1997. []
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Grant Takes Command in the West (Sort of) by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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