June 11, 1862 – Washington officials informed Major General Henry W. Halleck that President Abraham Lincoln was “greatly delighted” with Halleck’s division of his “Grand Army,” as well as his plan to capture Chattanooga.
After capturing Corinth, most of Halleck’s army occupied the town and the vital junction between the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio railroads. Halleck’s forces under Major Generals John Pope and Don Carlos Buell cautiously probed southward in search of withdrawing Confederates, with skirmishing at Rienzi, Mississippi. As the Federals continued reconnoitering, farmers on the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers began burning enormous amounts of cotton to prevent Federal capture.
When Pope reported to Halleck that 10,000 Confederate deserters may soon enter his lines, Halleck reported to Washington on the 4th: “General Pope, with 40,000, is 30 miles south of Corinth, pushing the enemy hard. He already reports 10,000 prisoners and deserters from the enemy and 15,000 stand of arms captured.” Halleck’s assumption that the prisoners had already been taken infuriated Pope because it gave him a reputation as a liar and braggart.
Meanwhile, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard continued withdrawing his Army of Mississippi, falling back through Baldwin and eventually stopping to make a defensive stand at Tupelo. President Jefferson Davis, resentful of Beauregard for giving up Corinth so easily, wrote to Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus, “My efforts to provide for the military wants of your section have been sadly frustrated.”
On the 9th, Halleck notified his superiors at Washington that he would return his “Grand Army” to its three original armies:
- Don Carlos Buell would resume command of the Army of the Ohio. He would link with Federals in northern Alabama and advance on Chattanooga, the vital railroad city linking Virginia and Georgia. From there, Buell would be within striking distance of Knoxville and Atlanta.
- John Pope would resume command of the Army of the Mississippi, which would occupy Corinth and vicinity.
- Ulysses S. Grant would resume command of the Army of the Tennessee. Two of his divisions under William T. Sherman were to occupy Memphis, and two divisions under John A. McClernand were to occupy Jackson, Tennessee. Sherman and McClernand were to secure the railroad and assure “all country people that they will be permitted to take their cotton freely to market and that the ordinary channels of trade will be immediately reopened.”
Halleck would remain in Corinth and coordinate the movements of the three armies. Although Grant was the senior commander among Halleck’s subordinates, the only offensive that Halleck approved was Buell’s to capture Chattanooga.
Preliminary movements toward Chattanooga had begun earlier in June when Buell’s detached division under Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel advanced from Huntsville, Alabama. On the 7th, a 6,000-man force from Mitchel’s command under Brigadier General James S. Negley approached Chattanooga from the northwest and began shelling the city from across the Tennessee River.
The Confederates defending Chattanooga, led by Major General Edmund Kirby Smith, had been assigned to guard all of eastern Tennessee from Chattanooga to Cumberland Gap. They repelled the Federal attack, but this indicated that Smith needed more men to defend the region. He called on both the Army of Mississippi and Richmond for reinforcements, arguing that his men were exhausted from marching the 180 miles back and forth between Chattanooga and Cumberland Gap.
On the 12th, Halleck reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that Buell would arrive at Decatur, Alabama, the next day. Halleck wrote, “If the enemy should have evacuated East Tennessee and Cumberland Gap, as reported, Buell will probably move on to Atlanta.” But Buell’s advance was stalled at Decatur; he partly blamed this on Mitchel for destroying railroad tracks and bridges that Buell’s men needed to advance.
By June 23, Buell had only advanced to Tuscumbia, Alabama. It had taken him two weeks to advance just 50 miles, with Chattanooga still 170 miles away. Buell’s Federals next advanced to Athens, Alabama. Bureaucratic errors prevented supplies from reaching the troops there, causing more delays.
Learning about the Federal pillage of Athens a month ago, Buell court-martialed Colonel John B. Turchin for waging war on non-combatants in violation of the rules of war. Turchin was dismissed from the army, but President Lincoln later reinstated him and promoted him to brigadier general.
The campaign against Chattanooga slowly continued into July, but it would be abruptly halted when the Confederates took the offensive.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 179, 181; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 542, 559; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162, 164, 166; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 198; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 222-23, 225, 228; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 428; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 486-87; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-17, 21; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642