Grant’s Original Strategy

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant as a Lieutenant GeneralIn the late summer of 1863, Ulysses S. Grant was asked by then-General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to outline his plans on a broader strategy against the South. After all, Grant was the most successful commander that the Union Army had. He had led the Western armies in an almost unbroken series of victories against his nation’s foe. Why wouldn’t the high command in Washington wish to know his thinking?

Halleck had been Grant’s direct commander in the West and based on they way that he treated him thought little of his intellect and military knowledge. Either Halleck realized that his earlier judgments of Grant were wrong or he realized that change was in the air. He better begin to find out Grant’s thinking before he became the boss.

Grant responded with two letters to Halleck. In them he outlined a bold campaign scheme. Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command. Grant was widely viewed by the Easterners as a plodding butcher who achieved his victories by sheer overwhelming force. However, his views on strategy both in the Western Theater and in the overall war changed that dismissive attitude.

It turned out the Ulysses S. Grant was a strategic thinker of considerable ability and sophistication. Earlier, Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command.

He put forward a plan that called for his own Army of the Tennessee and Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf to start at Mobile and drive north to capture Montgomery, Alabama.

Meanwhile, General William S. Rosecrans was to advance overland from Chattanooga to Atlanta. All military resources in the area were to be destroyed, depriving the Confederacy of vital supplies.

Grant ran in to Lincoln’s desire to send Banks up the Red River to ‘show the flag.’ The French had installed  Maximillian, the archduke of Austria, as emperor in Mexico, a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Lincoln wanted to make it clear that the United States would defend its territory despite the Civil War. Grant’s military plans fell victim to Lincoln’s political plans.

In October 1863, all of the armies in the West, except Banks’ Army of the Gulf, were consolidated under Grant’s command. In November Grant was victorious at Chattanooga and he wasted little time in putting forward his strategic plan for the Western Theater. Grant once again proposed his Mobile to Montgomery campaign and once again Lincoln pointed out the needs of Union diplomacy with regards to Mexico.

Grant was encouraged by Washington to expand his plans to include the entire war zone. In his second letter Grant proposed what must have seemed like heresy to Eastern-centric high command. Grant proposed flanking Lee by moving deep into North Carolina and cutting off his supply lines from the South.

He proposed a starting point of Suffolk in southeastern Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina as the objective point. He proposed to use New Bern as his supply base until the strategic port of Wilmington, North Carolina could be captured. He proposed using a force of 60,000 men to carry out the destruction of the rail lines south of Richmond. Should Lee move South to counter this force, a large force would not be required on the Potomac.

Grant saw this line of attack as most productive. It would destroy key lines of communication and supply. It would also increase desertion rates among North Carolina troops who would be eager to defend their homes. Slaves would be encouraged to leave their plantations, further diminishing the Confederate supply base. Finally Grant felt that it would “virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee.”

In summation, Grant felt that there would no longer be the need for an attack on Richmond since it would be necessary for the Confederate government to abandon their capital. Once Lee would find it necessary to move South, Richmond would cease to be important to the enemy.

In putting forward his radical plan, Grant was making the point that the destruction of the Confederate armies were the objection rather than capturing cities and towns. Grant’s plans also emphasized the use of the offensive by the Union armies would deny the offensive to Lee who many in both armies viewed as an offensive genius.

Henry W. Halleck was conservative to the core and he viewed Grant’s plan both in the East and the West as too risky. Removing so many troops from northern Virginia would leave the capital defenseless in his view. Grant’s Western strategy would never be approved by Lincoln. The President had a continued desire to control more parts of Louisiana and the Tran-Mississippi Region. The troops that Grant had designated for the Mobile Campaign were sent to Banks for his ill-advised Red River Campaign.

In the next post we’ll look at how Grant’s strategy evolved in light of the risk-averse thinking in the Washington high command.

If you’re interested in reading about Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign, here is the link to the first post in the five-part series.



Henry W. Halleck and The Union’s Pragmatic Policy

This entry is part 9 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

General Henry W. HalleckThe chief proponent of the Union’s pragmatic policy was Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the Union commander of the key western Department of the Missouri. Halleck, known in the Army as “Old Brains” for his brilliance, had left the military in order to pursue more lucrative opportunities in law and business. He settled in California where he became a wealthy man as a lawyer and land speculator.

Halleck was a Democrat and was sympathetic to the South but was a strong Unionist. With a strong recommendation from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott he was appointed as the four most senior general after Scott, George B. McClellan, and John C. Frémont in August 1861. By November, he was named commander of the Department of the Missouri replacing Frémont.

Halleck’s initial orders from George McClellan who had succeeded Scott at about the same time were quite conservative. He was required “to impress upon the inhabitants of Missouri and the adjacent states, that we are fighting solely for the integrity of the Union, to uphold the power of our National Government, and restore to the nation the blessings of peace and good order.”

Halleck’s General Order No. 3 barred fugitive slaves from his lines. General Order No. 8 expressed his severe disapproval for numerous cases of “alleged seizure and destruction of private property.” According to Halleck this showed “an outrageous abuse of power and violation of the rules of war.” Halleck cautioned his area commanders to use restraint in the seizure of property from active rebels.

However, Halleck’s resolve would only last a few weeks. The constant attacks by Confederates and guerrillas against Unionists in Missouri forced him to change his policy. Thousands of Unionist refugees were streaming into St. Louis and they began demanding a response. Halleck collected the large sum of $11,000 from St. Louis secessionists in order to provide relief for the Unionist refugees.

Halleck announced to his troops, “Peace and war cannot exist together.” Halleck declared the need for retribution against bushwackers then secessionists must pay a price for these acts of violence. However, Halleck was against military actions that went beyond the scope of legitimate reprisals. He ion fact agreed with Confederate General Sterling Price that certain Union elements along the Missouri-Kansas border were carrying out attacks that were outside of the rules of war.

It was from these beginnings that the Union’s pragmatic policy began to take shape. Adherents to this pragmatic policy believed that the war had to be won militarily rather than those who saw the possibility of using civilian morale against the Confederacy. They did not see a large role for civilian morale in the war. They supported Unionists, punished secessionists and expected the remaining population to remain quiescent.

With this policy in place Halleck unleashed his forces into the interior of the Confederacy. He ordered a two-pronged assault led by Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis whose force embarked from Springfield, Missouri and defeated the Confederates in March 1862 at Pea Ridge. The Union force was outnumbered by their adversaries but nevertheless carried the day. The Union victory cemented their control over Missouri and northern Arkansas.

The second prong of the offensive was led by Ulysses S. Grant with a combined army-navy force that set off from Cairo, Illinois. Sailing up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, Grant captured Forts Henry and Donelson, the twin linchpins of the Confederates in Tennessee.

Missouri continued to see guerrilla warfare and retribution from both sides throughout the war but it increasingly became a backwater in the Western Theater. However, the policy that began there was carried by Union forces under Halleck as they moved from western Tennessee into northern Mississippi.





The Red River Campaign

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Red River Campaign

General Nathaniel P. BanksThe Red River Campaign was planned by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck and was a diversion from Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s overall strategy. He had planned to use Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ 30,000-man Army of the Gulf to surround and capture Mobile, Alabama, thereby eliminating a major Confederate Gulf port.

Halleck and Union strategists had other ideas. They saw an expedition up the Red River in western Louisiana and the occupation of the area would cut off Texas from the rest of the Confederacy. The Lone State State was a vital source of food, guns and supplies for the Confederate armies. There also seemed to be some concern about the 25,000 French troops that Napoleon III had sent to Mexico in order to aid the Emperor Maximillian.

The Union had four goals at the start of the campaign:

  1. To destroy the Confederate Army commanded by Taylor.
  2. To capture Shreveport, Louisiana, Confederate headquarters for the Trans-Mississippi Department, control the Red River to the north, and occupy east Texas.
  3. To confiscate as much as a hundred thousand bales of cotton from the plantations along the Red River.
  4. To organize pro-Union state governments in the region.

The commander of the Union forces was Nathaniel Banks, a 48-year old political general. Banks had been Congressman and Speaker of the House. Resigning his seat in December 1857, he then served as Governor of Massachusetts until January 1861. Banks was appointed as one of the first major generals of volunteers on May 16, 1861.

He was initially resented by many of the generals who had graduated from the United States Military Academy, but Banks brought political benefits to the administration, including the ability to attract recruits and money for the Union cause.

Banks’ career in the Union army was not filled with successes. He was defeated by Stonewall Jackson in the Valley and again at Cedar Mountain where he was saved by the arrival of Maj. Gen. John Pope with reinforcements. After a short assignment commanding the Washington defenses, he was sent to the Gulf with 30,000 new recruits, replacing General Benjamin Butler in New Orleans.

Halleck’s plan for the campaign required a number of moving parts and the cooperation of other commanders. Banks was to take 20,000 troops west and north from New Orleans to Alexandria, on a route up the Bayou Teche (in Louisiana, the term bayou is used to refer to a slow moving river or stream).

There they would meet 15,000 troops from Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s forces in Vicksburg, Mississippi. They were under the under the command of Brigadier General A.J. Smith. These forces were available to Banks only until the end of April, when they would be sent back east where they were needed for other Union military actions. The combined force would be commanded by Banks and be supported by Rear Admiral Halleck's Plan for the Red River CampaignDavid Dixon Porter‘s fleet of gunboats.

At the same time, 7,000 Union troops from the Department of Arkansas under the command of Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele would be sent south from Arkansas to rendezvous with Banks in his attack on Shreveport, and to serve as the garrison for that city after its capture.

The Union force consisted of the following component units:

1. Troops from the Department of the Gulf, commanded by Maj Gen Banks, consisting of two infantry divisions from the XIII Corps, two infantry     divisions from the XIX Corps, a cavalry division, and a brigade of US Colored Troops. In total approximately 20,000 men.

2. 10,000 men from XVI Corps and XVII Corps from the Army of the Tennessee under A.J. Smith.

3. The Mississippi flotilla of the US Navy, commanded by Admiral Porter, consisting of ten ironclads, three monitors, eleven tinclads, one     timberclad, one ram, and numerous support vessels.

4. 7,000 men under General Steele in the Department of Arkansas.

The Confederate forces were under the overall command of General Edmund Kirby Smith who commanded the Trans-Mississippi Department. The Confederate senior officers were confused as to whether the Red River, Mobile, Alabama, or coastal Texas was the primary Union target for the spring 1864 campaign. Smith dispatched troops to the Shreveport area in order to defend the vital capital city of Louisiana.

The Confederates used a fluctuating number of troops and on all occasions were outnumbered by their adversary. Their forces consisted of:

1. District of West Louisiana, commanded by Richard Taylor, contained approximately 10,000 men consisting of two infantry divisions, two cavalry brigades and the garrison of Shreveport.

2. District of Arkansas, commanded by Sterling Price, contained approximately 11,000 men consisting of three infantry divisions and a cavalry division. As the campaign began, Smith ordered two of Price’s infantry divisions to move to Louisiana.

3. District of Indian Territory (Oklahoma), commanded by Samuel Maxey, contained approximately 4,000 men in three cavalry brigades

4. District of Texas, commanded by John Magruder, 15,000 men, mostly cavalry. As the campaign began, Smith ordered Magruder to send as many men as he could. Over the course of the campaign almost 8,000 cavalry came from Texas to aid Taylor in Louisiana, however it arrived slowly and not all together.

5. The Confederate Navy based in Shreveport had the ironclad CSS Missouri, the ram CSS Webb as well as several submarines.

The campaign commenced on March 10, 1864 as the Union forces began their march from New Orleans. It would last for almost 2 1/2 months and end in an overall Confederate victory.




The Siege of Corinth

The Siege of Corinth

The Battle of Shiloh was followed by the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi. This long drawn-out exercise took place from April 29 to May 30, 1862 and involved some 185,000 soldiers. Yet, for all of the time and soldiers that the two sides invested, the casualties were minimal.

After the blood affair at Pittsburg Landing, the battered Confederate Army withdrew south to the important rail center at Corinth. Ulysses Grant was bumped up to second-in-command of the Department of  the Mississippi by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the department commander. Halleck was seeking to remove Grant from his command position in order to General Henry W. Halleckreap the credit for himself.

Halleck took direct command of his three armies: the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Mississippi. The three armies added up to a staggering 120,000 men. Facing them in Corinth was a Confederate Army under General P.G.T. Beauregard that numbered 65,000.

Located just south of the Tennessee-Mississippi border, the small town of Corinth was the site of a strategic rail crossing. The north-south line was the Mobile & Ohio Railroad that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Chicago. The east-west line was the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. It was the first railroad to link the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean. These two rail lines gave the side that controlled the town tremendous control of this entire area.

Halleck reorganized his new army into four component parts. The left wing was composed of the Army of the Mississippi, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope. The center was the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell.

He removed Maj. Gen. George Thomas’ Division and placed on the right wing with 4 divisions from the Army of the Tennessee. By doing Thomas, who outranked the other division commanders, would be in charge of the right wing.

Finally, he placed Maj. Gen. John McClernand’s 1st Division and the 3rd Division of the Army of the Tennessee as the reserve, with McClernand in command. Grant was relegated to a superfluous position.

Reorganized and ready to go the 20 miles to Corinth, Halleck’s juggernaut advanced at an average of 1,200 yards a day. Rail lines of the United StatesIf they had marched straight there, they would have arrived at noon on the second day. Instead, Halleck ordered the army to construct endless rifle pits and fortifications all of the way to Corinth.

One Iowa major pointed out that at least the men learned how to build breastworks. An Illinois soldier wrote, “What under the sun our Halleck is waiting for we can’t guess.” Meanwhile, Grant considered himself little more than an observer. In fact, when Sherman found out that Grant was leaving to go on leave in St. Louis, he managed to dissuade him from going. This may have been Sherman’s greatest service to the winning of the war.

As the Union forces advanced, they were involved in constant low-grade skirmishing with the Confederates. Halleck saw this as a stubborn defense while to the troops it was a nuisance.

On May 29th, one month into the so-called campaign, the Union Army arrived at the outskirts of Corinth. That night the troops heard unusual noises and explosions coming from the town. Sherman ordered one of his brigades to probe into Corinth. The Confederate fortifications were deserted. The enemy had evacuated and destroyed ammunition that they were unable to carry with them.

The Rail Crossroads of the ConfederacyThey used the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to carry the sick and wounded, the heavy artillery, and tons of supplies. When a train arrived, the troops cheered as though reinforcements were arriving. They set up dummy Quaker Guns along the defensive earthworks. Camp fires were kept burning, and buglers and drummers played. The rest of the men slipped away undetected, withdrawing to Tupelo, Mississippi.

Halleck moved his army into Corinth and occupied it. He built a massive system of fortifications around the town and manned it with a greater portion of his army. Assuming that the Confederates would assault his fortifications, Halleck initially garrisoned his entire force in the town. Eventually, he parceled them out to various locations in West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi.

Halleck abandoned his grand army concept and returned the component armies to their former organizational structures. On June 10th, Grant was returned to the Army of the Tennessee. On July 23, 1862, Lincoln summoned Halleck east and appointed him General-in-chief. He oped that Halleck could prod his subordinate generals into taking more coordinated, aggressive actions across all of the theaters of war, but he was quickly disappointed, and was quoted as regarding him as “little more than a first rate clerk.”