July 27, 1863 (Monday)
“I can now look after the other work you desire done,” wrote Union General Ambrose Burnside to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck after relaying the news of John Hunt Morgan’s capture. General Burnside had sapped away thousands of his cavalrymen to track down Morgan’s Raiders, and while it worked, it also postponed some rather important business.
Halleck had been on Burnside about invading Eastern Tennessee for months now. Even during Morgan’s Raid into Ohio, he had made none-too-subtle hints that perhaps Burnside’s true objective wasn’t in a few hundred exhausted Rebels. When Burnside came west, taking over the Department of Ohio, he brought the IX Corps with him. A few months later, they were plucked from their bivouacs in Kentucky and lent to General Grant before Vicksburg. With the fall of Vicksburg, their future was very much in question. Burnside, whose identity was intimately linked with his IX Corps, wanted them back.
On July 18, as Morgan’s Raiders rampaged through Indiana and Ohio, Burnside wired Halleck, explaining that ten days prior, he had been promised by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that they would be returned. “I thought I was very happy at the success of General Grant and General Meade,” wrote the strange bewhiskered General to Secretary Stanton, “but I am still happier to hear of the speedy return of the Ninth Corps.”
Now (well, on the 18th), he was inquiring just where his dear corps was. “Have any orders been given for its return,” he asked in a bit of anxiety. “Please answer.”
Halleck did not answer, at least not right away. What he did do, was urge Burnside to gather whatever forces he could muster and invade Eastern Tennessee. To that, Burnside had no response at all. This was becoming a very strained relationship.
On the 24th, when Halleck finally got tired of waiting for Burnside to write him back, he wrote again. “You have not yet replied to my dispatch in regard to your movements toward East Tennessee,” Halleck reminded Burnside. “You will immediately report the position and number of your troops organized for that object. There must be no further delay in this movement. It must be pushed forward immediately.”
It must be kept in mind that on the 24th, Morgan was still on the loose, and though many of his number had been rounded up and captured at Buffington Island on the 19th, Burnside had no idea when the raid would end.
“You have not answer my dispatch of July 18, in reference to the Ninth Corps,” Burnside reminded Halleck, just three hours after the General-in-Chief tapped his message down the line. In answer to Halleck’s questions about troops for East Tennessee, Burnside had little to say.
“All my available cavalry have been after Morgan,” he explained. Other areas, such as the line along the Cumberland River and all of Eastern Kentucky, required a good many men to maintain. “A large number of mounted troops are necessary to guard our trains and keep communication open when we get to East Tennessee,” wrote Burnside of the uncertain future.
“I am not conscious of any unnecessary delay, but feel I have done everything in my power,” he continued, with a bit of snark. “I should be glad to be more definitely instructed, if you think the work can be better done.”
If he really had to give a figure for how many troops he had available to immediately enter East Tennessee, he’d only be able to piece together “about 6,000 troops ready to start.” Though they would “start very soon,” he couldn’t really say when. With the destruction of John Hunt Morgan’s force, and the capture of Morgan himself, things were looking up. Mostly, however, he just wanted his IX Corps back.
Not too surprisingly, Halleck wasn’t extremely amused by Burnside. “Whether the Ninth Corps will be returned to your department or sent to General Rosecrans will depend upon the enemy’s movements,” Halleck shot back on the 25th. “General Rosecrans’ advance will force Bragg to withdraw the rebel troops from East Tennessee. This is the time for your troops to advance and occupy that country, where, it is said, there are thousands ready to join our ranks. This present opportunity must not be lost. The column must be immediately organized and moved forward. It must not be stopped or caleld back by petty raids. The militia and Home Guards must take care of these raids.”
To wrap up the XI Corps mystery, President Lincoln personally followed up Halleck’s exasperated chastisement with a peek into just where Burnside stood in the grand scheme of things. “Let me explain,” Lincoln began. Following the fall of Vicksburg, Grant apparently made some comment about sending the IX Corps back to Burnside. “Thinking it would be pleasant to you,” Lincoln continued, “I asked the Secretary of War to telegraph you the news. For some reasons never mentioned to us by General Grant, they have not been sent, though we have seen outside intimations that they took part in the expedition against Jackson.”
Lincoln concluded the message by explaining that Grant was a “copious worker and fighter, but a very meager writer or telegrapher. No doubt he changed his purpose in regard to the Ninth Corps for some sufficient reason, but has forgotten to notify us of it.”
Basically, Grant came first, Lincoln came second, and Burnside fell in somewhere after that. It would be the last Burnside mentioned this for some time to come.
Henry Halleck mentioned General William Rosecrans’ advance against Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. It was not, however, just a passing thing. As with Burnside, Halleck had been prodding Rosecrans to move against the enemy. Across the summer months, Rosecrans had maneuvered against Bragg, forcing him all the way back to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a relatively bloodless affair (compared to the Gettysburg and Vicksburg Campaigns, which greatly overshadowed it), but an important one. Now, Halleck wanted to follow it up. If Bragg was destroyed, or even pushed southward into Georgia, Burnside could easily occupy East Tennessee. The movements, as far as Halleck was concerned, went hand-in-hand.
It would take another two weeks for any movement to begin.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 23, Part 2, p524, 543, 553, 558, 561; Six Armies in Tennessee by Steven E. Woodworth; Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword. [↩]