150 years ago: the Army of the Cumberland’s first orders

I’ll turn again to Halleck’s orders to Rosecrans on October 24, 1862. After relating the President’s orders placing Rosecrans in command and then announcing his assigned objective, Halleck continued for several more paragraphs to detail, if not overly manage, Rosecrans. Continuing from yesterday’s post … (OR, Series I, Vol. 16, Part II, Serial 23, pages 640-1).

… Two means of reaching East Tennessee have been proposed. First, to push a small force on the rear of Bragg’s army to drive him into Tennessee and move the main army on such lines as to cover Nashville; second, to go directly to Nashville and make that the base of your operations, by McMinnville or Cookville. Adopting the first plan, the route by Somerset to Montgomery, if practicable, would be the most direct; if not practicable, it would then be necessary to move by Columbia or Glasgow to Sparta, &c. If the second plan be adopted, you will be obliged to move twice the distance in order to reach your objective point and at the same time afford the enemy an opportunity to resume his raids into Kentucky. Moreover, it would give the appearance of a retreat, which would encourage the enemy, while it would discourage our own troops and the country. Nevertheless, the difficulty of the roads, the pressure of the enemy upon Nashville, the position in which you find General Buell’s army, and the difficulty of supplying it in a mountainous and sparsely populated country may compel you to adopt this line. In either case it will be necessary for you to repair and guard the railroad, so as to secure your supplies from Louisville until the Cumberland River becomes navigable.

You will fully appreciate the importance of moving light and rapidly, and also the necessity of procuring as many of your supplies as possible in the country passed over. Where you cannot obtain enough by purchase of loyal men or requisitions upon the disloyal you will make forced requisitions upon the country, paying or receipting, as the case may be, for the supplies taken. The time has now come when we must apply the sterner rules of war, whenever such application becomes necessary, to enable us to support our armies and to move them rapidly upon the enemy. You will not hesitate to do this in all cases where the exigencies of the war require it.

Great care, however, must be taken to prevent straggling and pillaging and a strict account must be kept of all property taken. On this subject your attention is called to recent general orders and also to the system adopted in the French Army.

In connection with your proposed operations in Middle and East Tennessee, a column of about 20,000 men, under General Cox, is moving up the Kanawha River, and it is hoped that they will be able to cut the railroad near Newbern or Wytheville. This movement may possibly draw off a portion of Bragg’s forces for the protection of that road.

Moreover, if the enemy’s forces in Mississippi now operating against General Grant should be drawn east to re-enforce Bragg or to operate in Tennessee General Grant may be able to render you important assistance.

Although the Department of the Ohio covers a portion of your theater of operations this will in no respect interfere with your movements in the field nor the command of your army. Moreover, you will call upon General Wright for any assistance or supplies which you may require.

It is possible that Bragg, having failed of his object in Kentucky, may leave only a small force in East Tennessee and throw his main army into Mississippi against General Grant. His railroad communications from Knoxville to Holly Springs and Tupelo will enable him to make this movement with great rapidity. In that case a part of your forces must be sent to the assistance of General Grant, either by railroad to Decatur or by water, should the Cumberland be navigable, to Columbus or Memphis. Every effort should be made to ascertain Bragg’s movements by pressing him closely.

I need not urge upon you the necessity of giving active employment to your forces. Neither the country nor the Government will much longer put up with the inactivity of some of our armies and generals.

Halleck provided the standard “your obedient servant” closing to these orders.

In those 780 some odd words, Halleck has outlined a proposed campaign. He wanted Rosecrans to move quickly into middle Tennessee, keeping pressure on Confederate General Braxton Bragg. He wanted Rosecrans to use Nashville as his base, and firmly secure transportation routes north to keep the army well supplied. But he wanted the army to live off the land, drawing sustenance from Tennessee. The “hard war” would continue. Yet he didn’t want the army to pillage. In short, Halleck wanted some perfectly balanced execution.

Looking at the grand stage of the Western Theater, Halleck, much as he had between Buell and Grant earlier in the year, urged coordination and cooperation. But there’s a point where Halleck’s attempts to synchronize efforts must be held against geography. The Western Theater, at this time in particular, was in reality three distinct areas of operation – East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and the Mississippi Delta – each the size of the Virginia “seat of war”. If Halleck could not influence McClellan to action, how could he hope to “wire guide” three separate commanders to align their efforts in the west?

But that last line from Halleck bears repeating, “Neither the country nor the Government will much longer put up with the inactivity of some of our armies and generals.”

That line could well be aimed at McClellan, Burnside, Cox, Rosecrans, Grant, McClernand, or Curtis.


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