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Perry Cuskey

Did Halleck miss his chance?

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Following the fall of Fort Donelson, the Confederate situation in Kentucky and Tennessee was basically one of chaos. Little appeared to exist in the way of planning or organization beyond a general idea to get south of the Tennessee & Cumberland rivers and somehow regroup.

While this was going on, Halleck, instead of undertaking or at least planning his next move, instead spent a fair amount of time trying to convince Buell to join him in an advance into the Mississippi Valley. Buell, for his part, seemed more concerned about goings-on in his own department, and showed little inclination to cooperate with Halleck.

But should Halleck have waited so long? Instead of working so hard for a unified command in the West, even if it was a good idea, should he instead have basically said to heck with Buell and moved forward in his own department, with his own forces? He claimed that he did not have the means to do so without Buell's help, but the evidence would seem to suggest otherwise.

What do you think? Granted that Halleck wasn't exactly the type to take the initiative very often, but given the situation after Fort Donelson fell, should he have at least made more of an effort? What form do you think it should have taken? An advance down the Mississippi? Or maybe along the Tennessee, as occurred in reality? Or how about advancing down one of the railroads? Had he acted quickly what do you think the result would have been?

Perry

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Perry:

Don't forget that Halleck was an administrator of a department and not a active commander of a field army. As such he was more involved in department affairs and left the strategy mostly to the army commanders. His viewpoint of military affairs were of a different nature than that "on the ground". True, he did oversee operations but from a very lofty and remote location in St. Louis. After Ft. Donelson, he was more preoccupied with getting command of all the federal armies in the west. Also, he was busy punishing Grant for perceived acts of insubordination and disloyalty. Halleck was too busy with his world and failed to observe that Grant was the one winning the battles. The really true act of salvation for the federal forces in the west was when Halleck was called to Washington where he became the federal version of the confederate Samuel Cooper, heard but not seen.

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Hi Ron,

Good points all. I'm not a big Halleck fan, so I suppose my opinion is biased, but I do tend to see him doing more harm than good to the Union cause between Fort Donelson and Shiloh. Largely for the reasons you outline. He was more of a remote administrator than anything else, as you point out, and tended to think in terms of territorial gains rather than destruction of enemy armies. And he was dead set on getting overall command in the West.

I'm always surprised at the tone he takes in his correspondence with McClellan et al, asking for overall command. Really pushy about it. It isn't that he didn't have a good point, but it seems to have consumed far more of his attention and efforts than it should have. And his self-important attitude is something.

Do you think it would have made any real difference had he been given overall command sooner, say, right after Fort Donelson? Or maybe even sooner than that?

Perry

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Halleck was too cautious in field operations and above all, his military reputation. He wanted the tactical situation to be perfect before he would make a move. In early 1862, he ordered the Ft Henry move only when he received the mistaken intelligence that Beauregard was coming west and bringing many soldiers with him. Beauregard arrived only with his staff. Halleck made the move to beat any move by the reinforced (he thought) rebels using the troops and resources already organized by Grant and Flag Officer Foote. After the FTs Henry and Donelson campaign, Halleck moved down the Tennessee slowly in limited strength. He imposed many restrictions on Grant and even relieved him for awhile from command. He was still conspiring against Grant and Grant's success which was, as Halleck considered, a threat to himself. Operations in March and April 1862 would have been very much the same as did occur. They would continue so until the federal command situation improved.

The ability of the union forces to move south towards Corinth was also hampered by the necessity of getting control of the Mississippi river, at least down to Memphis. They needed the river as a better supply line and a point from which to threaten the rebels further south.

In short, Halleck would have moved very slow, as he did, while arranging all of the supporting forces. The real question becomes when would this perfect arrangement be achieved. If he stayed in the west instead of going to Washington DC, his operations probably would not have proceeded below Corinth until the fall of 1862.

Ron

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Great what-if there, Ron. What if Halleck stays out west instead of heading back to DC to take over as General-in-Chief. In reality he dispersed his his large, powerful army and turned it into a giant occupation force. All the momentum they'd built up after Fort Henry and Fort Donelson came to a grinding halt.

I imagine if he stays in command out west, the same thing will happen. How long before he moves and what he focuses on, is hard to say. Vicksburg is an obvious choice, but with Lincoln's preoccupation with eastern Tennessee and Halleck's penchant for foot-dragging until everything is just right, and his focus on occupying territory, it might have been a long time indeed before any real progress was made.

The Confederates took advantage of that very thing in the fall of 1862, and they would probably do so with Halleck still calling the shots for the Union out west instead of Grant and Buell.

I'd have to think about it for a while, but at this point I'd guess that while the details would change, the overall result would be pretty similar to what happened in reality, if Halleck is still running the show out west. Good points though, and good what-if.

Perry

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