The Federal Military Shakeup

The U.S. War Department issued General Orders Number 97, which authorized a major military reorganization. The orders were intended to divide the various military departments west of the Alleghenies into more manageable jurisdictions. Previously, the Western Department had included all states west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains (as well as Illinois and the New Mexico Territory). The orders divided the organization into several smaller departments:

  • The Department of Missouri, commanded by Major General Henry W. Halleck
  • The Department of Kansas, commanded by Major General David Hunter
  • The Department of New Mexico, commanded by Colonel Edward R.S. Canby

Halleck’s department headquarters were at St. Louis. His command consisted of Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky west of the Cumberland River. Halleck’s primary tasks were to reorganize John C. Fremont’s former command, stamp out secessionism in Missouri, and direct operations on the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers.

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit:

Halleck had taught at West Point and written a textbook on military strategy; his reputation as a respected military theorist earned him the nickname “Old Brains.” Former General-in-Chief Winfield Scott had thought highly of Halleck, and President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary John Hay wrote that the president and his advisors “are taking his measure, that they may cut out a piece of work for him to do.” Halleck quickly replaced corruption and mismanagement with efficiency and discipline, but his Napoleonic concepts of strategy did not necessarily translate to the frontier-style of war in the West.

Halleck’s department included, among others, the District of Southeastern Missouri under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, headquartered at Cairo, Illinois. Halleck combined this district with that of Brigadier General Charles F. Smith covering the mouth of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers at Paducah, Kentucky. This was renamed the District of Cairo, with Grant commanding.

David Hunter had been the interim commander of the Western Department. His new command embraced Kansas and the Indian, Colorado, Nebraska, and Dakota territories. Colonel James H. Lane’s independent command operated in this region, and Lane had lobbied to have this department created. Being passed over by Hunter as commander disappointed him. Hunter quickly noted that the command of Lane, a former politician, was “in a state of demoralization, ignorant of the most basic principles of soldiering–drill, paperwork, and discipline.” Lane’s raids in western Missouri had, according to Halleck, “turned against us many thousands who were formerly Union men. A few more such raids will make this State unanimous against us.”

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit:

Edward R.S. Canby, an officer with frontier fighting experience, was suited for command in the New Mexico Territory. His primary objective was to confront the rapidly gathering Confederates under Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley. The department consisted of New Mexico (now New Mexico and Arizona), including the western New Mexico Territory, which had formerly been part of the Department of the Pacific.

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit:

In addition to dividing the Western Department, Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell was assigned to command the new Department of the Ohio, with headquarters at Louisville. This absorbed the former Departments of the Ohio and the Cumberland, and it consisted of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky east of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. Buell replaced Brigadier General William T. Sherman, who had suffered a nervous breakdown while commanding in Kentucky; Sherman was assigned to report to Halleck at St. Louis.

Gen Don Carlos Buell | Image Credit:

Flaws were soon exposed in this new organization, especially regarding the jurisdictions of Halleck and Buell. Both men resisted cooperating with each other and each man wanted to be in command of the combined area.


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