Running Out Of Time, Halleck Orders Grant to Take Fort Henry

January 30, 1862 (Thursday)

Things were moving swiftly for Henry Halleck, Union commander in Missouri. His plan to fall upon Fort Henry along the Tennessee River had been echoed by General Grant, who wanted to strike immediately. Halleck wanted to hold off until he had 60,000 men and a commander who wasn’t Ulysses S. Grant.

It was moving swiftly when President Lincoln stepped in and ordered that mortar boats be used when assailing the fort. When Lincoln issued orders for a mass movement of armies on February 22nd, things had seemed to slow down a bit for Halleck. But, the next day, when not only Grant, but Flag-Officer Andrew Foote both nearly insisted they move upon Fort Henry, Halleck had to make a decision.

His decision was made somewhat easier by a telegram received from General-in-Chief George McClellan. In it, McClellan wrote that, according to a Rebel deserter, General P.G.T. Beauregard, Southern hero of Fort Sumter and Manassas was coming west to Kentucky with fifteen regiments. While this was only partially true (Beauregard was coming west, but not with even a single regiment), Halleck realized that he needed to act quickly, before the Rebels in Tennessee were reinforced.1

Halleck and Grant were barely on speaking terms, so the former answered only Flag-Officer Foote’s message, telling him that he (Halleck) was waiting on further reconnaissance from General Smith, who had already conferred with Grant and Foote. Once received, wrote Halleck, he would issue the order.2

There it was. With less troops than he wanted, General Halleck was about to give the order to take Fort Henry before it was too late.

On the same day that Halleck replied to Foote (January 29th), Grant again wrote to his commander, explaining why Fort Henry had to be taken with due speed. Halleck, having already arrived at the same conclusion, on this date, ordered Grant to make his “preparations to take and hold Fort Henry.”

In a much longer letter written this same day, Halleck detailed the basic plan of attack. While leaving a sufficient force to guard against an attack from the Rebels in Columbus, Kentucky, down the Mississippi River, Grant was to ship his force by steamer up the Tennessee River. Halleck directed that “Fort Henry must be taken and held at all hazards.”3

It was true that Halleck was going forward with fewer troops than he wanted, but it was also true that he was stuck with Grant. Also on this date, he gave Grant command of the force, ordering him to organize his force into brigades and divisions. He also cautioned Grant against “political influences” when sorting this out. “Don’t let any political applications about brigades and divisions trouble you a particle,” wrote Halleck in conclusion. “All such applications and arrangements are sheer nonsense and will not be regarded.”4

After informing General McClellan of his plans, Halleck wired General Don Carling Buell, Union department commander in Kentucky, that he had ordered an advance on Fort Henry. Though Grant was under Halleck, he was technically working within Buell’s Department of the Ohio. Buell’s Army of the Ohio, roughly 45,000-strong, was mostly along the Green River, opposite the Rebels at Bowling Green, Kentucky.

There was a time not too long ago that Halleck had attempted to get Buell to co-operate with him, but Buell fell silent. This time around, with Halleck acting independently, Buell quickly replied, asking to know the plan, the force involved and when the advance would be launched.5

Halleck would answer the following day.


Jackson Ordered to Withdraw Loring and Abandon Romney

Things were also moving fast in Richmond, though in a slightly more self-destructive sort of way. The complaints against Stonewall Jackson had mounted and found their way to President Davis. General William Loring, commander of the Army of the Northwest, had been ordered to reinforce Jackson for his Romney Expedition. Loring and eleven of his officers complained of their poor treatment and of being isolated in Romney, while Jackson’s pet Stonewall Brigade had moved into more comfortable winter quarters in Winchester.

This, combined with the rumors of a Union advance to cut Loring’s force off from Jackson’s, created quite a political stir. Davis, who had been approached by two different officers from Loring’s command (Taliaferro and Rust), met with Secretary of War Judah Benjamin. During that meeting it was decided and Secretary Benjamin wired Jackson that evening.

“Our news indicates that a movement is being made to cut off General Loring’s command. Order him back to Winchester immediately.
-J.P. Benjamin6

The message wouldn’t reach Jackson until the following day.

Meanwhile, there was no Union force moving to cut off General Loring’s command. If General Frederick Lander, Federal commander in Cumberland, Maryland, had had his way, he would have attacked Jackson long ago. Standing in his way, however, was General George McClellan, who wanted to take a defensive position along the Potomac.

General McClellan wasn’t Lander’s only obstacle, however. He lacked supplies and lacked the staff to sort out what little supplies had filtered in. He had no wagons, no quartermaster, no medical director to care for the hundreds of sick troops. He knew that the Rebels under General Loring were isolated at Romney and was doing everything in his power to attack them.7

Richmond, of course, had no inkling what Lander was trying to plan. Wherever the rumors of a Union advance originated, they were grossly delusive. Very soon would Richmond discover the dangers of such inventions.


Also on this date, the USS Monitor was launched from Greenpoint, Long Island.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p571. []
  2. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 22, p525. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p121-122. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p572. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p574. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1053. []
  7. Frederick W. Lander: The Great Natural American Soldier by Gary L. Ecelbarger, LSU Press, 2000. []
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Running Out Of Time, Halleck Orders Grant to Take Fort Henry by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “Running Out Of Time, Halleck Orders Grant to Take Fort Henry

    1. Oh my.. thank you. That’s a big one, actually. But I assure you, it’s a typo. I’m not sure how or why my fingers typed Carling instead of Carlos, but they did.

      Thanks for the catch!


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