October 16, 1863 (Friday)
The Army of the Tennessee, commanded by General Ulysses Grant had been parceled here and there since the fall of Vicksburg in July. Most recently, troops under William Tecumseh Sherman were sent to reinforce The Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, leaving Grant in command of a force a mere fraction of what was gathered before the Southern defenses through the Spring and Summer.
This all changed, though slowly. Washington seemed to sense that their most successful western general was whiling away his days, as his troops were scattered. Towards the end of September, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, wanting to give Grant something to do, directed him to go to Memphis to oversee the transport of troops to Chattanooga. Two weeks later, on October 5, Grant was, instead, to steam to Cairo, Illinois, where he arrived on this date.
Though Grant did not yet know it, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was racing on a special train from Washington to meet with him. More than even President Lincoln, Stanton was irate over the way William Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, had handled his forces at the battle of Chickamauga. The whole thing was lost, believed Stanton, because Rosecrans fled for his life and didn’t stop until he reached Chattanooga, where he was yet holed up.
Through the end of September, Rosecrans called for reinforcements. This even Stanton did by sapping George Meade’s Army of the Potomac of two corps. But Chattanooga had become besieged, and with it came all the shortages of toils that could be associated with such warfare.
Prior to the battle, Stanton had dispatched his Assistant Secretary, Charles Dana, to the West to keep an eye on Rosecrans. Needless to say, he was not impressed with what he saw. By the end of September, Stanton was considering General George Thomas, one of the army’s corps commanders, to take control. This matter could not be accomplished all at once, of course, but time was certainly a factor.
Several days later, Rosecrans tried to explain why he couldn’t accept the two corps sent from Meade’s Army (and under the command of Joe Hooker) – he had not the transportation to move them or the food to feed them. The army, thought Rosecrans, was in no shape to take the offensive, even with Hooker’s troops, even with Sherman’s. Not long later, he was openly talking about abandoning Chattanooga and retreating even farther into Tennessee.
Rosecrans was out of his depths. On this date, even as Grant was arriving at Cairo, Assistant Secretary Dana wrote that “General Rosecrans seems to be insensible to the impending danger, and dawdles with trifles in a manner which can scarcely be imagined.” He was convinced that within two week’s time, Rosecrans, whom he described as “dazed and mazy,” would have to give up Chattanooga.
Of course, all had a feeling that General Grant would soon take over. This was why Stanton had sent him to Cairo. Halleck also had hinted that such an idea was in the works. Lincoln had been hesitant and bore in mind the Ohio elections, hoping that they would go his way and fearing that if he cut the Ohioan Rosecrans loose, he might wreak the havoc in his home state that Washington wished he could have dealt to the Rebels. But with the elections now in the bag, there was little reason to wait and every reason to act immediately.
Lincoln, as was his wont, wished for a compromise. Grant could take command, but he wanted Rosecrans to still maintain a position in the Army of the Cumberland. In the end, however, he would allow Grant to rule upon that matter, giving him two choices. He could keep either Rosecrans or Thomas. Both had served under him before and neither had won his favor. Nobody knew which he would choose.
For himself, Secretary Stanton loathed Rosecrans and wanted to do everything he could to see him ousted from the Army. It was probably because of that he decided to personally accompany the orders to Louisville.
The following day (the 17th), upon waking in Cairo, Grant would there be met with another message, ordering him to repair to Louisville where someone from the War Department would meet him to issue his formal instructions. He was to take with him his staff and be ready for field command.1
- Sources: Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword; The Shipwreck of their Hopes by Peter Cozzens; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel. [↩]