Grant put in his memoirs that on January 6 he wrote Halleck and asked permission to see Halleck in St. Louis. He did not actually visit Halleck at that time. Halleck gave him another assignment. In the ORs, vol. 7 page 534 is Grant’s letter to Halleck ending with “If it meets with the approval of the Gen. Comd.g the Department I would be pleased to visit Head Quarters on business connected with this command.”
However, on the same day, January 6, Halleck sent Grant an order, (ORs, vol. 7, page 533). “I wish you to make a demonstration in force on Mayfield and in the direction of Murray. Forces from Paducah and Fort Holt should meet at Mayfield and threaten Camp Beauregard and Murray, letting it be understood that Dover (i. e. Fort Donelson) is the object of your attack.” Halleck told Grant to avoid a battle as they were not ready. Nowhere in this order is Fort Henry mentioned.
Grant made preparations in response to the January 6 order from Halleck. Grant ordered a column from Cairo under BG John McClernand and a column from Paducah under BG C. F. Smith to make the demonstrations. In his instructions to C. F. Smith dated January 8, 1862 (Grant Papers, vol. 4, page 11) Grant wrote that he would send Smith a gunboat and Smith should send the gunboat and a transport carrying a section of Artillery and infantry up the Tennessee River. Grant made no mention of Fort Henry but thought it would aid in the deception and help prevent rebel reinforcements moving from Columbus to Bowling Green. On January 9, 1862, three days after Halleck ordered Grant to make the demonstration, Halleck wrote McClellan informing him that he had just received McClellan’s message from the third of January the previous evening. (ORs, vol. 7, page 539) Halleck did not receive McClellan’s so-called order from January 3 until the evening of January 8. By that time Halleck had already set Grant in motion to make the demonstrations. Halleck enclosed a copy of his orders to Grant for McClellan’s information.
On January 10 Halleck again wrote McClellan about McClellan’s letter of January 3. (OR. Vol. 7, page 543) This time Halleck alluded that if he followed the “order” of January 3 it would cause the loss of Missouri and did McClellan really want to do that?
McClellan replied to Halleck on January 13 that Halleck had not read the letter of January 3 “with much care.” McClellan declared “There is nothing in my letter that can reasonably be construed into an order…” McClellan claimed what he wanted from Halleck was his views on how to accomplish the stated goals. (ORs, vol. 7, page 547)
On January 1, 1862 the commander-in-chief, President Abraham Lincoln, telegraphed Halleck that McClellan was sick and should not be disturbed with business. Halleck was ordered by the President to work directly with Buell at once. (ORs, vol. 7, page 526)
Buell received the same admonitions from the President. He wrote a message to Halleck on January 3, 1862. (ORs, vol. 7, page 526). Buell declared that the power of the Confederacy is on the line from Columbus to Bowling Green and in the center the forts on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Buell wrote an attack on the flanks and center was of importance and should be done simultaneously so the Confederates could not move troops around. Buell stated that two gunboat expeditions should go the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. (hint, hint to Halleck). But Halleck did not have the troops for such expeditions and the ironclad gunboats were not ready for service. Buell pressured Halleck with; “whatever is to be done must be done in a few days.”
Halleck apparently got the impression Buell was, finally, going to move against Bowling Green. He could not mount the river expeditions but he could send Grant out on the demonstrations in order to prevent rebel reinforcements being sent from Columbus to Bowling Green. In his January 6, 1862 order to Grant, Halleck told Grant that was the object of the demonstrations. (ORs, vol. 7, page 534)
On January 6, 1862 Halleck sent a long synopsis to Lincoln and offered his opinion about an advance on Columbus while Buell moved on Bowling Green. It would be a repetition of the “strategic error which produced the disaster of Bull Run.” Halleck claimed such a plan would fail ninety-nine times out of hundred and was “condemned by every military authority I have [he had] ever read.” (ORs, vol. 7, page 533)
On the same day that Halleck wrote Lincoln about how dumb an attack on Columbus would be Feis (William Feis, Grant's Secret Service) wants us to believe Grant wrote Halleck for a meeting to propose just such an undertaking. Feis wrote “Instead of going to St. Louis that January to propose a campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson, it is more probable that Grant hoped to convince Halleck that the time had come to eliminate Columbus.” (page 60 of Feis book)
But Halleck had already pointedly stated that the true line of operations was to split the rebel defensive line in the center at the twin Forts Henry and Donelson. In late December Halleck had dinner with Sherman and Halleck’s aide, BG Cullom at the Planter’s House in St. Louis. Halleck laid a map on the table showing the rebel defensive line and asked his two guests where would be the best place to break it. They replied “in the center.” Halleck whole heartedly agreed and declared the true line of operations was to attack the rebel line on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
If Grant went to St. Louis to champion a movement against Columbus it is no wonder Halleck would toss him out. It seems to me that requesting permission from your superior officer to do something the superior officer had already condemned and told the President of the United States it would be a strategic error would not end well.
Then Feis misleads us by claiming McClellan called for a demonstration against Columbus on January 3, 1862. In addition, McClellan wanted Halleck to send expeditions up the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers to freeze troops at Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and Clarksville. If that was not enough McClellan wanted Halleck to seize Columbus if the place seemed vulnerable. Feis wrote; “Then to accomplish this mission, Halleck ordered Grant to march east of Columbus toward Mayfield and Murray…”
What is not stated is that Halleck had neither the men nor the gunboats to “accomplish this mission.” Halleck ordered Grant out with the demonstrations to keep any reinforcements moving from Columbus to Bowling Green.
Feis then noted Halleck ordered Grant (Feis did not give the date but it was Jan. 6) to “make a demonstration in force on Mayfield and in the direction of Murray” using forces from Cairo and Paducah. Grant is to act like he is an advance guard of a larger force and after the demonstration is deemed finished the forces should slowly retreat back to a Paducah. Nowhere in Halleck’s instructions is there a mention of Fort Henry.
Then Feis wrote “Halleck cautioned against engaging the enemy and conveniently neglected to mention McClellan’s instructions to take Columbus if the opportunity arose.” Since Halleck did not receive McClellan’s letter mentioning Columbus until the night of January 8 how could he have passed along McClellan’s instructions in an order he prepared for Grant on January 6? Feis did not explain how that would be possible. Feis also does not mention McClellan writing Halleck that only a pea-brained nincompoop would have considered McClellan’s letter of January 3 as instructions. (ORs, vol. 7, page 547)
As of January 6, Halleck was not considering making any movements towards rebel strongholds until he had the situation in Missouri under control. Halleck estimated that would be around mid-February. Halleck wrote McClellan on January 20, just as Grant was returning to Cairo from the demonstration, and outlined his plan for future operations. (ORs, vol. 8, page 509)It did not include a direct assault on Columbus. He thought that was impracticable and “not a proper line of operations.” Halleck declared that a more feasible plan would be expeditions up the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers towards Nashville. That would turn Columbus and cause the rebels to evacuate Bowling Green. Halleck noted he had thoroughly studied the defenses of Columbus and found them strong. Halleck wrote it would take a large siege train and a “terrible loss of life” to take Columbus. To send expeditions up the two rivers Halleck estimated it should not be attempted with no less than 60,000 men. There were only 15,000 troops available at Cairo and Paducah at that time and the gunboats were looking for crews.
It has been noted that nowhere in Halleck’s order to Grant and Grant’s order to C. F. Smith is Fort Henry mentioned as a place to be threatened. The instructions from Halleck were to act as if Dover (Fort Donelson) was the target of the movement.
Feis showed on page 61 of his book why one should always be skeptical of authors who are quoting short segments of reports with parts not included. Feis wants to present the idea that there was a lost opportunity to take Columbus according to McClernand’s report to Halleck of January 24.
Feis wrote: “As Union troops neared Columbus during the operation, McClernand interpreted the “non-appearance” of any significant Confederate resistance to mean the enemy was “closely collected around camp fires within their entrenchments, and indisposed to take the field.” That moment, he later wrote, was perhaps the most “favorable time…for [a] successful attack and the capture of Columbus.” After observing the disappointment evinced by his men when the demonstration ended without an attempt to storm the stronghold, McClernand urged Halleck to launch an immediate attack while the enemy remained vulnerable.” (Feis book page 61)
In the ORs, vol. 7, page 69 we find what McClernand wrote from which Feis cherry-picked quotations to make the claim of the “lost opportunity” to take Columbus by storm. “It was discovered that an abatis of fallen timber a half mile in width surrounded the enemy’s intrenchments. The rigor of the weather and the non-appearance of any considerable rebel force led to the belief that they were closely collected around camp fires within their intrenchments, and indisposed to take the field. It is believed that with suitable preparation on our part a favorable time was thus afforded for successful attack and the capture of Columbus.”
Note Feis left out “It is believed that with suitable preparation on our part…” What McClernand noted was if the Union army had made suitable preparations they might have been able to make a successful attack on Columbus. But the army was conducting a demonstration against Columbus with no intention to attack it. Feis claimed that after McClernand stated the rebels were “indisposed to take the field” he later wrote that at that moment it was maybe the most “favorable time” to had made a successful attack. I guess technically that is true but the two referenced sentences are in the same report adjacent to each other so it was probably no more than 30 seconds.
Next Feis told us that McClernand’s men were disappointed they were denied the opportunity to attack Columbus and that McClernand wanted Halleck to make an immediate attack while the rebels were vulnerable. But McClernand’s report does not say the men were disappointed they did not attack Columbus. They were disappointed that they were recalled to Cairo. I doubt the men were disappointed they were not allowed to attack through a half mile of abatis during terrible weather against intrenchments manned by an unknown number of Confederates.
McClernand wrote that the advance by the Union forces was welcomed by Unionists in the area. With the withdrawal from the area McClernand was concerned of the reprisals that might be visited on the Unionists. McClernand wrote: “This consideration, with others having great weight with me, prompts me in conclusion to presume upon your indulgence so far as to urgently recommend a renewed advance of our forces, if not immediately upon Columbus, at least so far as to regain the ground we recently occupied.” McClernand went on to describe a scenario where the army could lay siege to Columbus avoiding the need to actually attempt to carry the works. The Union army did not lose an opportunity to take Columbus during the demonstrations because that was never the intent and they were not prepared to do so.
Feis next lets us know that “Grant also lamented the lost opportunity. “My orders were such and the force with me also so small,” he complained, “that no attack [upon Columbus] was allowable.” This was a letter to his sister. (Grant Papers, vol. 4, page 96) Feis put [upon Columbus] into the quotation. Grant did not mention a specific location where he was not allowed to attack. The “no attack” order was placed on both McClernand and C. F. Smith. Grant’s orders to not attack applied to the whole area of the demonstrations. Halleck cobbled together as many troops as he could for the demonstration but the force was too small to attack Columbus.
In Grant’s memoirs he wrote that Smith reported he thought it practicable to capture Fort Heiman. Smith sent two letters to Grant, one dated Jan. 21 and the other Jan. 22. The letters were forwarded to Halleck in St. Louis on January 23. (Grant papers, vol. 4, page 90) Neither of these letters mentioned Fort Heiman. The Confederates did not start serious work on Fort Heiman until around January 15. A citizen alerted Sidney Johnston of that fact and he telegraphed Tilghman to immediately intrench at Fort Heiman and work all night. (Johnston biography by Johnston, page 423) Fort Heiman was not finished and no cannon were in place when Smith did his demonstration.
The attack plan used by Grant put no emphasis upon seizing Fort Heiman before attacking Fort Henry. Grant is not always correct in his memoirs and this could be an example of his memory not quite getting it right. It is Smith’s letter of Jan. 22 where he described his approach to Fort Henry and how easy it would be to take it with just two gunboats. It should also be noted that Smith decided to take a look at Fort Henry because he had a day to kill as the troops unloaded a steamer full of supplies 20 miles north of Fort Henry.
On page 62 of his book Feis claimed that because Grant declared the mission a success before receiving a report from Smith proves that Grant was fixated on Columbus. Fort Henry and Donelson were secondary. On January 18 Grant sent a letter to McClernand starting with “The object of the expedition having been accomplished all the forces will now be withdrawn…” Grant informed Halleck the day before that he had heard from Columbus and no forces had left there for several days. That was the object of the mission – to prevent any troops from moving from Columbus to Bowling Green.
On January 20 Grant wrote Halleck upon Grant’s return to Cairo the same day. Grant wrote he would prepare a report of the expedition but if Halleck would allow him to visit headquarters he would make the report in person. Grant mentioned he had not received anything official from C. F. Smith but he had information that Camp Beauregard had been destroyed (it was, by the rebels) and that the small expedition that had gone up the Tennessee River had landed two and a half miles below Fort Henry.
Feis wants us to believe that since Grant requested a face-to-face meeting with Halleck before having a report from Smith that meant Grant had Columbus foremost on his mind as opposed to Forts Henry and Donelson. What Feis does not tell us is that, while Grant did not have a report from Smith, he had a report from Lt. Phelps detailing how Phelps had feigned an attack on Fort Henry on January 17 with two gunboats and a steamer with 500 infantry aboard under the orders of Smith. (ORs of the navy, page 507) The premise that Grant asked for a meeting with Halleck without any information about Smith’s foray up the Tennessee is false because Phelps made a foray up the Tennessee and he made a report on it.
Feis argued that Grant was fixated on Columbus and one of his reasons stated was “the lack of attention paid to the rivers before January.” That statement would come as a surprise to Flag-Officer Foote and Lt. Phelps.
Here is a list showing the number of times the Navy sent a gunboat up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers to “pay attention” to what was going on at Forts Henry and Donelson. This list is based on reports in the Official Records of the Navy. There could have been other trips.
September 8, 1861 – (ORs, vol. 4, page 404). Right after Grant occupied Paducah a Lincoln gunboat was reported to have been seen on the Tennessee River 30 miles below Fort Henry. Grant left two gunboats at Paducah. Early on gunboat captains were warned to proceed cautiously up the rivers lest they encounter rebel masked batteries.
October 19, 1861 – (ORN, vol. 22, page 374) – Lt. Phelps steamed the Conestoga up the Cumberland to Eddyville where low water prevented him from going further.
October 27, 1861 – (page 379) – Lt. Phelps returned to Eddyville with a steamer transporting 300 infantry to attack a rebel camp near Eddyville. C. F. Smith (page 380) also wrote a report.
October 30, 1861 – (page 396) – Commander Porter took the New Era up the Cumberland River to Ingram’s Shoals where the Confederates had blocked the river with sunken barges. Ingram Shoals was approximately 30 miles below Dover. Porter was to pick up volunteers who wanted to join the US army. Porter wrote he heard about Fort Henry and that with his boat they could take it.
November 6, 1861 – (page 394) Lt. Phelps managed to get his boat over Ingram Shoals and proceeded to within three miles of Fort Donelson. Phelps returned to Paducah, made his report and noted he was leaving again, immediately, to the same location to try to stop the trading going on.
On page 427 of the ORN is a report by C. F. Smith of November 8, 1861 giving details of the forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Smith noted that Lt. Phelps is constantly moving his vessel up and down the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
November 17, 1861 – (page 435) – Lt. Phelps wrote a long report about his trip up the Cumberland River to as close to Fort Donelson he could get. He noted that he had done this several times already.
On page 451 is a report by Foote dated December 5 noting that four gunboats have arrived and he needs men to man them. As soon as he gets them he wants to go up the Tennessee River and destroy rebel boats and a battery.
December 8, 1861 – (page 457) – Lt. Phelps again steamed up the Cumberland to Fort Donelson and wrote a long report about his trip.
December 10, 1861 – (page 461) – Lt. Phelps returned to Paducah and then immediately turned around and went back up the Cumberland to pick up refugees. He, again, made it close to Fort Donelson.
January 6, 1862 – (Page 486) – Low water hampered operations on the rivers. Lt. Phelps wrote a long report about his close visit to Fort Henry. He added more information on Fort Donelson. He did this report on the same day Halleck wrote the order to Grant to make the demonstrations.
I guess what constitutes “lack of attention” is in the eyes of the beholder.
It took Halleck two days to approve Grant’s visit to St. Louis. He sent a telegram to Grant on January 22. C. F. Smith wrote letters about his undertakings on January 21 and 22. The January 21 letter spoke of the lousy road conditions. The January 22 letter is the one Smith mentioned that Fort Henry could be taken with two gunboats. Both of these letters were forwarded to Halleck on January 23. Grant made plans to leave for St. Louis the night of the January 23. Grant did not have Smith’s letters when he made the request for a visit to Halleck but he had them when he left for St. Louis.
The idea that Feis put forth about Grant being a Johnny-come-lately to the idea that the true line of operations should be up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers is contradicted by Col. John W. Emerson in a series of stories in the Jan-Apr-June issues of The Midland Monthly. The title is “Grant’s Life in the West.” Starting on pages 114-119, continued on 219-221, Emerson recounts the circumstances of how Grant, in August of 1861, identified the true line of operations for Federal advance to be the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Grant laid out a plan and through his benefactor, Elihu Washburne, submitted it to President Lincoln. Of interest on pages 409-411 is an account of Grant’s meeting with Halleck in St. Louis.
Emerson referenced an account by John Thayer in McClure’s magazine, Vol. V, June to Nov. 1895, “Grant at Pilot Knob,” 433-437. Thayer wrote about Grant having plans about a campaign up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers while he was at Pilot Knob in August 1861.
Luckily, I had a copy of Bruce Catton’s. Grant Moves South. Catton discusses the Emerson and Thayer articles. (pages 28-30) Catton points out some inconsistencies but does not downright reject these accounts as these are men who were there. However, there are some aspects in the accounts which are new to me and I had not heard them before so a little more digging is required.
The point is that Grant, like many others, recognized the military significance of expeditions up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Grant also discussed attacks on Columbus from early on.
Grant wrote in his memoirs that on January 6 he wanted to meet with Halleck and present a plan for expeditions up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The idea that he was going to convince Halleck to let him move against Columbus makes no sense.
There were about 13,000 men at Columbus behind fortifications and abatis. On January 6 Halleck wrote the President and informed him that he had 15,000 men at Cairo, Fort Holt and Paducah. Leaving guards at those places meant his available force was around 10,000 which is about the number he ordered out on the demonstrations. As Halleck wrote it would be madness to try to do anything significant (like attack Columbus) with such a small number.
Grant asked for a meeting with Halleck in a letter dated Jan. 20. That does not mean he was going to take off for St. Louis without having heard from C. F. Smith. He wanted to give Halleck a report of the demonstrations in person. Grant made his departure after he received Smith’s letters. Grant has the sequence wrong in his memoirs because he did ask for the meeting before reading Smith’s letter which confirmed his view.
Feis’s claim that Grant was fixated on Columbus and only changed his direction later is an analysis too contrived for me. When you factor in all the mistakes Feis made in his book and other evidence not included his conclusion fails.
For instance, Feis wrote on page 63 that Smith found the roads horrible and that Grant, therefore, “knew that any reinforcements sent from Columbus to aid Fort Henry would be unable to get there very fast.” But any infantry going from Columbus to Fort Henry could have taken the railroad from Columbus to Danville on the Tennessee River where Tilghman, commander at Fort Henry, could have sent a couple steamboats to pick up the troops and take them to Fort Henry.
Grant and Foote formed a tag team to hound Halleck to let them move against Fort Henry. But Foote claimed that Grant originally wanted to go up the Cumberland against Fort Donelson. Early reports had Fort Donelson as weaker than Fort Henry. Foote wrote in a report (ORN, page 314) to Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, November 13, 1862, that when four of the ironclads were ready Foote proposed to Grant to take the boats and 6,000 troops and attack Fort Henry. Foote wrote that Grant preferred to attack Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. Foote claimed he convinced Grant to attack Fort Henry if Halleck’s agreement could be obtained. No dates are given but I assume this occurred before Grant went to see Halleck in St. Louis.
Grant returned to Cairo after his rebuff from Halleck the morning of Jan. 28. Perhaps it is on his return that Foote convinced Grant to get Halleck to agree to let them attack Fort Henry for it is on Jan. 28 that both Grant and Foote sent telegrams to Halleck to let them take Fort Henry. (Grant Papers, vol. 4, page 99) Grant followed through with another telegram on Jan. 29 and Halleck, finally, gave his consent on Jan. 30.
Halleck’s time frame had him ordering an advance in mid-February. What convinced him to go now was not the telegrams from Foote and Grant. But those telegrams showed Halleck that those two were ready and itching to attack the rebels now. On Jan. 29 Halleck received a short telegram from McClellan (ORs, vol. 7, page 571) passing along information from a deserter that Beauregard was ordered to Kentucky to assist Johnston and that he was coming with 15 regiments. Of course, it wasn’t true but Halleck acted as if it was.
He sent McClellan a telegram on January 30 (ORs, vol. 7, page 571) telling him that his telegram had been received and that Grant and Foote would be immediately ordered to attack Fort Henry so as to take possession before Beauregard showed up. As further confirmation that it was the Beauregard news that prompted Halleck to act on February 6 Halleck telegraphed McClellan and ended with the sentence “I was not ready to move, but deemed best to anticipate the arrival of Beauregard’s forces.”
I have searched in vain for any reaction from Halleck to the fact he sent out the demonstrations in early January based on his belief Buell was about to move against Bowling Green and that never happened. Then Halleck ordered the advance on Fort Henry because McClellan told him Beauregard was coming west with 15 regiments and that never happened either.
When Grant wrote his memoirs it was 20 years after the events. He has some details wrong but his remembrance that when he requested to meet with Halleck in January of 1862 to propose a movement up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers because that was the true line of operations is not fiction. Sure, Grant was interested in taking Columbus but in early January there were more Confederates at Columbus behind fortifications and abatis than Grant could muster against them. Anyway, Halleck was calling the shots, not Grant, and Halleck had no intention of sending a force against Columbus.
The movement against the center of Johnston’s defensive line was an obvious military objective. The idea was put forth by many people so no one is given the credit for thinking of it. Grant noted this when he wrote to his benefactor, Elihu Washburne, on March 22, 1862. From Bruce Catton’s, Grant Moves South, page 29; “Grant wrote to Washburne saying that it was idle to give credit for the move up the Tennessee to any specific general; the strategic soundness of the plan was obvious, he said—‘General Halleck no doubt thought of this route long ago, and I am shure I did.’”