Gillmore’s Marching Orders: “…move, with all possible dispatch, so much of your forces as… can be safely spared…”

On this day (April 4) in 1864, Major-General Henry Halleck issued orders for Major-General Quincy Gillmore to depart from the Department of the South:

Washington, D.C., April 4, 1864.
Maj. Gen. Q. A. Gillmore,
Department of the South:
General: Lieutenant-General Grant directs that you move, with all possible dispatch, so much of your forces as in your judgment can be safely spared from the Department of the South to Fort Monroe, Va., and report to Maj. Gen. B. F. Butler, who will have orders in regard to your future operations. You will turn over the Department of the South, and the troops which you may deem necessary to leave there, to Brig. Gen. J.P. Hatch. You will be joined at Fort Monroe by the regiments and fractions of regiments belonging to the Department of the South which have been on furlough at the North and are now rendezvousing here preparatory to their return to your command. The troops which you bring with you and those which join you at Fort Monroe will constitute the Tenth Army Corps.

You will bring with you their arms, baggage, and transportation. Fractional portions, now North, of such regiments as you may leave in the Department of the South, will be sent by you from Fort Monroe to their proper commands in the South. Of course the arms, baggage, &c., of such parts of organizations will not be brought north. The selection of the troops to be brought north for active operations in the field is left entirely to your own judgment. The lieutenant-general, however, expects, from your own reports, that your effective command, on its arrival at Fort Monroe, will be from 7,000 to 11,000 men. This corps, increased by such forces as we may be able to give it, will be commanded by you in the field.

General Grant hopes that your command will reach Fort Monroe by the 18th instant; if not by that time, as soon thereafter as possible. The troops should arrive ready in every respect for the field. Apply to Major-General Butler for such supplies as you may require. Should he not be able to meet your requisitions, telegraph immediately, on ascertaining that fact, to the proper departments in Washington.

The Twenty-sixth U.S. Colored and the Twenty-ninth Connecticut Colored Regiments will be immediately sent to the Department of the South; they number about 900 each. Possibly another colored regiment will be sent to that department, but do not rely on it. General Meigs is collecting vessels to assist in bringing up your forces and their transportation.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. Halleck,
Major-General, Chief of Staff.

Lengthy, but not as long and detailed as some other “marching orders” issued during the Civil War.  Notice the strings left untied in this order.  Gillmore was to move the Tenth Corps, but what constituted the Tenth Corps was left up to Gillmore to decide… expecting it would number between 7,000 and 11,000 men.

The orders gave Gillmore two USCT regiments to fill in where veteran white regiments were withdrawn.  But he was told not to rely on arrival of a third.  This presented a problem in regard to planning what units would stay behind.  The Department of the South consisted of several detached posts with only a loose brigade organization.  Gillmore was, by that situation, forced to issue orders to individual regiments to support the move north.  Not knowing if two or three regiments would arrive as replacements was thus a significant gap for the detailed planning to overcome.

Gillmore was to turn over the Department of the South to Brigadier-General John P. Hatch.  But at the same time, Gillmore had to be aware of misgivings from Grant on down about turning a department over to Hatch.  If this were simply a Johnny detail, that would matter little.  But this was a department spread across three states, and Gillmore had to start the “knowledge transfer” promptly.  And if Hatch were only the interim seat warmer, a simple “check your inbox” would not suffice.

The entire movement plan itself, even as sparsely detailed by Halleck, was complex and confusing.  Parts of regiments stayed at Fort Monroe, as they returned from leave.  Other parts would stay at Fort Monroe waiting transportation south.  Some muskets came north to be reunited with their soldiers. And other muskets remained south waiting their assigned shoulders.  In many cases, these regiments, though designated infantry, had performed duties in the siege lines and later fort garrisons.  The units had to then sort equipment needed for the forthcoming field campaign prior to departing.

And regarding ships, the Department of the South lacked sufficient transportation in theater to perform the move.  Months earlier, the transfer of troops from Hilton Head to Florida occurred in batches.  Now the move was from Hilton Head to the Chesapeake.  The orders indicated Brigadier-General Montgomery Meigs, Quartermaster-General, would provide additional transport. But much of those steamers called upon were in New York, and would require days for passage.  And if that were not enough, a storm in early April delayed initial movement of transports out of the Chesapeake (the same storm kept Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant away from Culpeper a few days, BTW).

But the most significant problem with these orders is not IN the orders – rather in the means by which these were issued.  No telegraph to Hilton Head existed.  So the orders went by dispatch vessel.  Issued in Washington on April 4, Captain William W. Smith hand carried the orders.  Not until April 12 did Gillmore issue a flurry of orders starting the movement north.  Some have mentioned this gap of over a week as a delay induced by Gillmore.  But on April 13, Gillmore wrote to Halleck,

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatches of the 4th and 5th instant, by the hands of Captain Smith, of your staff.  They arrived on the 11th…. The Tenth Army Corps will commence leaving for Fortress Monroe this evening.

Grant may have wanted Gillmore’s troops in Fort Monroe by April 18, but those troops could not get the word to move until April 12 at the earliest.  And “commence leaving” is not to say “boarding ships and departing.”  Complex movements, limited details in the orders, and sluggish communications were proximate causes of Gillmore’s delay.  There were other causes – namely Gillmore’s concern over congressional approval of his rank – but if we stick to interpreting just the “paper” here, those examples derived from the April 4 order were the most significant.

Setting aside the Tenth Corps’ delayed movement, which would have a bearing on later events in Virginia, the April 4 orders marked somewhat an official end to the efforts against Charleston.  While the sector remained active, the main effort against the Confederacy would land elsewhere.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 34 and 50.)

3 thoughts on “Gillmore’s Marching Orders: “…move, with all possible dispatch, so much of your forces as… can be safely spared…”

  1. […] Back in the fall of 1862, when General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived in Charleston to command the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, he saw the promise to lead in an active theater of war, with the expectation of Federal attack growing by the day.  After just over eighteen months, give or take, the situation changed to revert Charleston and the rest of the department to backwater status.  The Federals, having sent ironclads, shovels, and 200-pdr Parrott shells against Charleston, reduced their strength.  Beauregard’s primary adversary, Major-General Quincy Gillmore, had orders sending him and a corps-worth of men to Virginia. […]

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