April 30, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck combined three Federal armies in southwestern Tennessee to begin a methodical advance on the vital railroad town of Corinth, Mississippi, 22 miles away.
Following the horrifying Battle of Shiloh, Halleck, commanding all Federals between Kansas and Knoxville, left his St. Louis headquarters to personally take command at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. Stationed there were Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee and Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio.
Halleck arrived on the 11th and sent for Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi, fresh off victories at New Madrid and Island No. 10, to join the other two armies in giving Halleck a unified force to march on Corinth. Insisting that the armies, especially Grant’s, were too battered to resume the offensive, Halleck reorganized the forces and stabilized lines of communication and supply while officers trained and disciplined the men.
Grant remained the administrative head of the District of West Tennessee, but Halleck replaced him as commander of the Army of the Tennessee with Major General George H. Thomas, formerly a division commander in Buell’s army. Grant was “promoted” to Halleck’s second-in-command, but the position carried no real responsibility considering that Halleck rarely sought Grant’s advice.
Grant saw this as Halleck’s way of demoting him, especially since Halleck did not allow him to review any reports from Buell’s army on Shiloh (even though Grant had been the overall Federal commander during that battle). In addition, articles in northern newspapers began blaming Grant’s lack of preparedness for the high casualties at Shiloh; some reporters accused him and his officers of drunkenness or even cowardice. Frustrated, Grant decided to resign from the army but was talked into staying on by his friend, Brigadier General William T. Sherman.
At Corinth, General P.G.T. Beauregard regrouped his battered Confederate Army of Mississippi. Beauregard continued insisting that he won at Shiloh, but the enormous losses he sustained while failing to prevent Grant and Buell from joining forces indicated otherwise. Major General Earl Van Dorn, whose Confederate Army of the West did not arrive from Arkansas in time to participate at Shiloh, joined the Confederates at Corinth, giving Beauregard a total of about 50,000 men.
Beauregard planned to defend Corinth, a major transportation center, against the looming Federal threat. Recognizing the town’s importance, he wrote, “If defeated here, we lose the whole Mississippi Valley and probably our cause.”
Meanwhile, Pope’s army arrived to reinforce the other two at Pittsburg Landing. This gave Halleck 15 divisions from three armies totaling 120,172 men and over 200 cannon. This was the largest force ever assembled in North America up to that time, and it included the most impressive collection of Federal commanders of the entire war, including current or future army commanders Halleck, Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Buell, Pope, Philip Sheridan, and John B. McPherson. Special Field Orders No. 31 divided the new “Grand Army” into four sections:
- The right wing under Thomas consisted of Grant’s former army (except for the divisions of Generals John A. McClernand and Lew Wallace) and Thomas’s division
- The center consisted of Buell’s army (less Thomas’s division)
- The left consisted of Pope’s army
- The reserve under McClernand consisted of his and Wallace’s divisions
Grant would head the right wing and reserve, which meant little since those commanders often bypassed him to report directly to Halleck. Grant indicated his frustration by writing his wife Julia that he was “no longer boss. Gen. Halleck is here and I am truly glad of it. I hope the papers will let me alone in the future.”
Buell protested the reorganization because it left him with just three divisions after Thomas brought his own to his new command. Buell wrote to Halleck, “You must excuse me for saying that, as it seems to me, you have saved the feelings of others very much to my injury.”
Halleck’s Special Field Orders also included precise instructions on how to maintain discipline, distribute ammunition, and limit each regiment to just 13 wagons. Addressing the growing problem of sickness from contaminated food, Halleck directed company officers to inspect all food before distribution.
As Halleck reorganized his forces, Federal scouts reconnoitered the area west of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and the road to Corinth as far as Monterey, 12 miles from Pittsburg Landing. During that time, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton reminded Halleck that he still had not submitted an official report on the Battle of Shiloh:
“The President desires to know (w)hy you have made no official report to this department respecting the late battles at Pittsburg landing. An(d) whether any neglect or misconduct of General Grant or any other officer contributed to the sad casu(a)lties that befell our forces on Sunday.”
Grant had waited to give Halleck his report until Halleck allowed Grant to see the reports from Buell and his army. But Halleck told Grant that he was now being pressed by Washington and had no time to share Buell’s reports with him. So Grant relented and turned over his report.
Finally, after nearly three weeks of preparation, Halleck was ready to begin his drive on Corinth. He estimated that Beauregard had about 70,000 Confederates defending that town, or 20,000 more than were actually there. The Federal move began on April 29 when advance units occupied Purdy, Tennessee. The mobilization continued into May, with each commander receiving direct orders “not to bring on an engagement… It is better to retreat than fight.”
Although Corinth was just a two days’ march away, it would take Halleck nearly a month to get there.
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