September 5, 1862 (Friday)
In Washington, as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was crossing the Potomac River north of the city, General John Pope, commander of the Union Army of Virginia, was ready to follow. The only problem was that John Pope had not a soldier to command.
Following the defeat at Second Manassas, and the retreat to the Federal capital, General George McClellan was placed in command of all troops. Technically, the order placing McClellan in command stated that it was only the troops in Washington. Both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia were in Washington, and so, by that order, McClellan was in charge. But should the Army of Virginia take the field, thought Pope, it would once again revert to his own command.
While this was being sorted out, Pope penned his official report of the battle, which, according to Naval Secretary Gideon Welles, read more like a manifesto than a report. In it, Pope leveled charges at McClellan, as well as Generals like Porter, Franklin, and Griffin. When presented to President Lincoln and his Cabinet, they requested a major rewrite before it be published. Still, the charges would stick – to everyone but McClellan.1
Things on the morning of this date moved at a rapid pace. General-in-Chief Henry Halleck ordered McClellan to move immediately as “there can be no doubt that the enemy are crossing the Potomac in force.” McClellan then sent General Pope an order to have his command ready to move out. The problem was, Pope had no idea what he commanded.
“McClellan has ordered my troops to take post at various places,” wrote Pope to McClellan’s chief of staff, trying to figure it out, “and I have never been notified in a single instance of their positions.”
He wrote a similar memo to Halleck. “What is my command, and where is it?” wrote Pope. “McClellan has scattered it about in all directions, and has not informed me of the position of a single regiment. Am I to take the field under McClellan’s orders?”
Morning turned to afternoon, and yet Pope had no idea what was going on. Things, however, seemed to be happening without him. Again, he turned to Halleck, voicing quite a bit more ire than before. “I must again ask your attention to the condition of things in this army,” Pope began. “By the present arrangement you are doing me more injury than my worst enemy could do. It is understood, and acted on, that I am deprived of my command, and that it is assigned to McClellan. An order defining his exact status here as well as my own is necessary at once. I send you an official protest against his action.”
In response, Pope received a single sentence from Halleck: “The armies of the Potomac and Virginia are being consolidated, you will report for orders to the Secretary of War.”2
While Pope was waiting, McClellan received the news in a confidential note from Halleck preceding official orders so that McClellan could “act accordingly in putting forces in the field.” He was told that “The President has directed that General Pope be relieved and report to War Department.” Generals Porter, Franklin, and Griffin, each named in Pope’s venomous report, were “to be relieved from duty till the charges against them are examined.”3
Perhaps to soften the blow, Halleck wrote a longer, gentler note to Pope. He apologized for the delay in the morning, but said that it was because he simply didn’t know what Lincoln was going to do with Pope. The true reasons for his dismissal, however, were because it was clear that he couldn’t work under McClellan – the two simply could not get along. Secondly, Pope’s testimony was required for the case being built against Generals Porter, Franklin, and Griffin.
“Do not infer from this that any blame attaches to you,” begged Halleck with more than a whiff of insincerity. “On the contrary, we think you did your best with the material you had. I have not heard any one censure you in the least.”4
With this, Pope gathered his papers from his headquarters in Alexandria and crossed the bridge into Washington.
Braxton Bragg and his Army of Mississippi had stopped for a few days in Sparta, Tennessee. For weeks he had hemmed and hawed over what the destination of his campaign would be. Should he hit Nashville, with its stores and Federal supply lines? Or should he strike into the heart of Kentucky, joining his compatriot, Kirby Smith, in a move upon Lexington.
Before leaving his base at Chattanooga, he had chosen the latter. But at Sparta, things began to change. First, there was a contingent of politicos, headed by disposed Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, hovering about, trying to convince him to move on Nashville. Bragg may or may not have considered it, but if he did, it was because the road he had planned to take into Kentucky was bereft of forage for his army.5
Besides, Union General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio was clearly moving to fortify Nashville, thinking that was Bragg’s objective and hoping that the Rebels would oblige him. They would not.6
But Buell had no intension of staying in Nashville. He hoped that Bragg would follow him, but more and more, it was looking like the Confederates were moving on Bowling Green, Kentucky. Buell, in a September 2nd letter to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, was determined to leave a defensive force at Nashville, while taking the rest of his army into Kentucky. Still, it wasn’t yet obvious to Buell just where Bragg was going. He had hoped to have his army in Murfreesboro, about thirty miles east of Nashville, by this date. This would allow his men to defend against whatever force Bragg might be throwing at the city. Instead, he decided to pull back almost all the way to Nashville.7
General Bragg had sent scouts to find a new road, and by this date, it seems that he had made up his mind – not over whether to attack Nashville or Kentucky, but about which road to take into Kentucky. Having deduced a passable route, he sent orders to Leonidus Polk, commanding a wing of his force to move immediately towards the Cumberland River via Gainesboro.8
Though General Buell was trying to figure out what to do and how to do it (and why), it didn’t mean that the road to Kentucky was wide open for Bragg’s Confederates. The rampaging force under Kirby Smith was causing quite a panic in the streets of Louisville and Cincinnati after thoroughly lashing the Union force under “Bull” Nelson at Richmond, Kentucky.
General Horatio Wright, commander of the Department of the Ohio, wasn’t counting on help from Buell. Instead, he appointed General Lew Wallace (later of Ben Hur fame) to organize troops in Cincinnati. Wallace got to work, conscripting every able-bodied man he could find as either a laborer or soldier. Soon, Wallace had upwards of 15,000.9
In and around Louisville, there were 25,000 Federal troops under the immediate command of General Jeremiah Boyle, who was once again overreacting. Just as when the Rebel raiders under John Hunt Morgan blew threw Kentucky, Boyle was predicting that Kirby Smith’s force of 30,000 (three times his actual number) would do the same. “The whole state will be in possession of Rebels if some efficient aid is not rendered immediately.”10
Far southwest in Mississippi, Confederate Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price, commanding Vicksburg and Tupelo, respectively, were trying to figure out a way to combine their forces and do something about the Federals under General Ulysses Grant along the Mississippi/Tennessee border.
Bragg wanted Price to keep the Federals under General William Rosecrans at Corinth and Iuka from joining with Buell at Nashville. Van Dorn, on the other hand, seemed less than enthusiastic about helping. After Bragg began his campaign, Price learned that Rosecrans’ force was pulling out of Iuka, heading north, probably to reinforce Buell. He could no longer wait for Van Dorn.11
- Diary of Gideon Welles, Vol. 1 by Gideon Welles, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p811-812. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 2, p182. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p812. [↩]
- Army of the Heartland Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Louisiana State University Press, 1967. [↩]
- Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel, Louisiana State University Press, 2004. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p470-471; also, Vol. 16, Part 1, p67. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p796. Though the order doesn’t specifically state Gainesboro, that’s where Polk wound up. [↩]
- War in Kentucky by James Lee McDonough, University of Tennessee Press, 1994. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p466, 484. [↩]
- The Darkest Days of the War by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina Press, 1997. [↩]