August 4, 1863 (Tuesday)
Though General Burnside’s beloved IX Corps was finally on the road back to its figurehead and master, things were still hardly looking up in the mind of General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, far to the east in Washington. For months now, he had been urging Burnside and William Rosecrans to advance south from Tennessee and Kentucky. General Rosecrans was to move on the Confederate forces helmed by Braxton Bragg, while Burnside was to cover his left and occupy East Tennessee.
For a time in the middle of July, Rosecrans seemed only to be waiting for Burnside to make the move. Though the operation would “involve a great deal of care, labor, watchfulness, and combined effort” to come off as successful, by all appearances, Rosecrans was ready. It had been up to General Halleck to hurry Burnside along.
And it was since the middle of July that Halleck had been frustrated. “General Burnside has been frequently urged to move forward and cover your left,” he wrote to Rosecrans on the 13th. “I do no know what he is doing. He seems tied fast to Cincinnati.”
Two things were actually happening and Halleck more than likely deduced them both. First, Burnside had been waiting for the return of his IX Corps. Second, Confederate Cavalry under John Hunt Morgan had crossed into Indiana and Ohio on their daring, but ultimately ill-fated ride.
With Morgan in chains and Burnside’s IX Corps about to return, however, Rosecrans had little reason to wait. On the 24th, General Halleck tried a bit of encouragement to get Rosecrans to move.
“You must not wait for Johnston to join Bragg,” he said, “but must move forward immediately against the latter.” He gave to him tips on what to take with him and how to organize his commissaries. The Army of the Cumberland was to live off the land as much as possible. Still, Halleck had to turn ominous. “There is great disappointment felt here at the slowness of your advance,” he wrote in conclusion. “Unless you can move more rapidly, your whole campaign will prove a failure, and you will have both Bragg and Johnston against you.”
In a private letter sent the next day, General Halleck was even more frank. On the 25th of July, Rosecrans replied, saying “We shall move promptly, and endeavor not to go back.” But that was not all he said. Barely between the lines, Rosecrans was broiling over the fact that Halleck was hounding him to a hasty move. He confessed that he would like to “avoid such remarks and letters as I am receiving lately from Washington, if I could do so without injury to the public service.”
Halleck seemed hardly moved at all by Rosecrans’ words. “While I am blamed here for not urging you forward more rapidly,” he countered, “you are displeased at my doing so.” He insisted that Rosecrans had “no possible grounds” for his “tone of displeasure toward me,” but agreed to let the matter rest. After all, there was a war on.
It took several days for Rosecrans to receive and reply to Halleck’s more forward and private letter. While he thanked Halleck for his support and confidence, and was relieved to know “that the injustice which I have experienced from the War Department” was not extended to General Halleck, he was ready to do his duty and resign if that is what Washington wanted.
“I say to you frankly,” wrote Rosecrans, “that whenever the Government can replace me by a commander in whom they have more confidence, they ought to do so, and take the responsibility of the result.”
He then went on to explain why an advance could not start right away. The railroads needed to be opened; depots needed to be established and guarded; a crossing of the Tennessee River had to be figured out. Rosecrans tried to assure Halleck that “these things would have to be done by any commander, and I think we are doing them as rapidly as our mean will admit.”
A few days passed without much communication from Halleck, Rosecrans, or Burnside. Then, on the 3rd of August (the previous day), Halleck ordered both to report to him the position of their troops. Both complied and gave little, if any, commentary, neither making any promises or hinting at when they might move.
On this date, Burnside added a bit to his report, and tried to convince General Halleck that due to Morgan’s Raid, his forces were scattered and only by weakening the garrisons could he move into East Tennessee. He also took the opportunity to remind Halleck that if these garrisons had been weakened prior to Morgan’s Raid (as Halleck had originally ordered), the Confederates “would have broken them.”
General Rosecrans, however, gave only the most literal of replies. Knowing that it was Rosecrans and not Burnside who would be spearheading this advance, Halleck finally took at solid stand.
“Your forces must move forward without further delay. You will daily report the movement of each corps till you cross the Tennessee River.”
In Halleck’s mind, it truly was that simple. But to Rosecrans, who replied later this day, it was unfair: “As I have been determined to cross the river as soon as practicable, and have been making all preparations, and getting such information as may enable me to do so without being driven back, like Hooker, I wish to know if your order is intended to take away my discretion as to the time and manner of moving my troops?”
Halleck, in his reply, wasted no words. “The orders for the advance of your army, and that its movements be reported daily, are peremptory.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 23, Part 2, p529, 531, 553, 554-555, 565, 571, 585, 586, 590, 592; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel. [↩]