August 10, 1863 (Monday)
General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had ordered both Generals William Rosecrans and Ambrose Burnside to advance south from their positions in Tennessee and Kentucky. The order was peremptory, it was to be obeyed at once.
It was, however, no great surprise that on this date, five days after issuing the orders, neither force had budged. To Halleck, Rosecrans’ move was more important. Burnside was to clear East Tennessee and guard Rosecrans’ left flank, but both would be relatively easy tasks compared to assaulting Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Halleck and Rosecrans had been engaged in a paper war, sending letters and telegrams, ever increasing the needless drama. On the 4th, Halleck issued his final order to Rosecrans, and wanted that to stand as his final statement. When Rosecrans responded, however, Halleck couldn’t bear to let it go.
On the 9th, Halleck responded to Rosecrans’ accusations that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had it out for him. In answering, he quickly took the opportunity to remind Rosecrans of the subject at hand. “I do not think he [Stanton] would willingly do you any injustice,” he began, “but, as I have before written, neither the President nor the Secretary have been satisfied with your long delays. […] In my communications I have in no case exaggerated the feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction which has been manifested to me [by the Secretary and President].”
Halleck did his best to convince Rosecrans that the authorities in Washington were not making war on him. “I know of no one here who has not the kindest and most friendly feelings for you,” he assured the General. “Nevertheless, many of your dispatches have been exceedingly annoying to the War Department.”
In closing, Halleck quoted someone in Washington as saying that Rosecrans “does not draw straight in the traces, but [is] continually kicking our or getting one leg over.” This folksy type of analogy was most often associated with President Lincoln, who added his own words to Rosecrans on this date.
Lincoln, as was his wont, first tried to smooth down any feathers that may have been ruffled. “I am sure you, as a reasonable man, would not have been wounded, could you have heard all my words and seen all my thoughts, in regard to you,” began the President. “I have not abated in my kind feeling for and confidence in you.”
This was a delicate situation. Lincoln had to deal with not only his own, but also Halleck’s and Stanton’s insistence that Rosecrans move. But he also had to bear in mind Rosecrans’ feelings of exasperation, which were, no doubt growing with each passing day.
Lincoln explained the basic idea that he had been fearful that, during the Siege of Vicksburg, Joe Johnston’s Rebels would attack Grant’s Army and ruin everything. That had no happened, but now he was worried that Johnston would join forces with Bragg.
The exact proper time for Rosecrans to attack had been during the siege of Vicksburg, before Johnston would have the opportunity to reinforce the Rebels in Tennessee. Rosecrans, remembered Lincoln, disagreed and did nothing. This, said the President, “impressed me very strangely.”
He then got to the present point:
“Since Grant has been entirely relieved by the fall of Vicksburg, by which Johnston is also relieved, it has seemed to me that your chance for a stroke, has been considerably diminished, and I have not been pressing you directly or indirectly.”
This wasn’t quite true, of course. Lincoln had been pressing upon Stanton and Halleck to get Rosecrans on the road. But now, he may have been reconsidering. “The question occurs,” he wondered, “Can the thing be done at all?”
From casting wonder, Lincoln quickly moved to casting doubt, but first wanted Rosecrans to understand that he was not “casting blame upon you.”
Lincoln fully believed “by great exertions, you can get to East Tennessee. But a very important question is, ‘Can you stay there?'”
For himself, Lincoln would not order Rosecrans to do anything. In truth, he didn’t have to. Halleck had already ordered him forward and that should have been enough.
In closing, Lincoln wished to part with some kind words: “And now, be assured once more, that I think of you in all kindness and confidence: and that I am not watching you with an evileye.”
Lincoln’s lack of evil eye, not withstanding, it was already clear to Rosecrans that he really did need to get his ducks in a row. He had the makings of a, of which he wrote General Burnside in a message the latter received on this day. Rosecrans would soon move one of his corps (Crittenden’s) across the Tennessee. As for the others, he wasn’t sure where they could cross.
It wasn’t much of a plan, or even really the makings of a plan. But it was infinitely more than he had the day Halleck ordered him forward.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 23, Part 2, p601-602; Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 6, p377-378. [↩]