Ever since Henry W. Halleck went to Washington to become general-in-chief in July, Major General Ulysses S. Grant had operated in Halleck’s old department in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi without an official designation. Grant’s forces were dangerously spread thin, as evidenced by the recent battles at Iuka and Corinth. The troops needed to be centralized and bolstered.
Near mid-October, the Lincoln administration assigned Grant to command the newly revived Department of the Tennessee. Grant immediately set about gathering resources for a drive on Vicksburg, one of the last remaining Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi. But first he had to deal with a disgruntled subordinate.
Major General William S. Rosecrans commanded the Federal Army of the Mississippi within Grant’s command. This army was stationed in and around Corinth. Since this force had an army designation, Rosecrans tended to consider it an independent command under his authority alone. Grant wanted to make it clear that this was not so.
On October 21, Grant issued General Orders Number 88, congratulating the Federals for their conduct during the Corinth campaign. Rosecrans took offense at this order because he felt that Grant had minimized his contribution. Also, Rosecrans believed that Grant had falsely suggested that there might be animosity between himself and Major General E.O.C. Ord. Rosecrans protested the order, and his allies in the press applauded his efforts while seemingly ignoring Grant’s.
When Grant requested that Rosecrans send him rifles for cavalry posted at different locations within the new department, Rosecrans snapped that the cavalry in his command needed them more. Grant angrily responded:
“Your remarkable telegram is just received. If the troops commanded by you are not a part of my command, what troops are? The Eastern District is the same to me and I have no partiality for any portion of it, over any other portion. General, I am afraid from many of your dispatches that you regard your command giving privileges held by others commanding geographical divisions. This is a mistake.”
Grant refused Rosecrans’s demand for an apology; instead, he accused Rosecrans of “ignoring higher authority” and, referring to the pro-Rosecrans press reports, called his staff “leaky… as evidenced by newspaper correspondents and their attempt to keep up an invidious distinction between the armies of the Mississippi and the Tennessee.”
Rosecrans angrily denied Grant’s allegations and added:
“There are no headquarters in these United States less responsible for what newspaper correspondents and paragraphists say of operations than mine. This I wish to be understood to be distinctly applicable to the affairs of Iuka and Corinth. After this declaration I am free to say that if you do not meet me with the frank avowal that you are satisfied, I shall consider that my ability to be useful in this department has ended.”
Grant’s staff urged him to relieve Rosecrans of command. Chief of Staff John Rawlins and other officers even went so far as to try to get Grant’s wife Julia to persuade him to oust Rosecrans. But Grant still believed that Rosecrans was a valuable commander whom he did not want to lose, even if his “action was all wrong.”
Grant may have wanted to keep Rosecrans, but that did not mean Rosecrans wanted to stay. In a private message, Rosecrans bypassed Grant and wrote to General-in-Chief Halleck about “the spirit of mischief among the mousing politicians on Grant’s staff.” Rosecrans continued:
“I am sure those politicians will manage matters with the sole view of preventing Grant from being in the background of military operations. This will make him sour and reticent. I shall become uncommunicative, and that, added to a conviction that he lacks administrative ability, will complete other reasons why I should be relieved from duty here.”
Halleck responded by issuing an order to Grant on the 23rd: “You will direct Major-General Rosecrans to immediately repair to Cincinnati, where he will receive orders.” Grant knew the reason for the reassignment, even if Halleck did not specify. Rosecrans would be replacing Major General Don Carlos Buell, in whom the Lincoln administration had lost faith, as commander of the Army of the Ohio. Rosecrans was glad to be given a truly independent command, and Grant was glad to have this tense situation resolved. But the animosity between the two commanders would persist until it came to a head once more a year later.
- Catton, Bruce, Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, Inc., 1960.
- Cozzens, Peter, The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth. The University of North Carolina Press (Kindle Edition), 1997.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Pritchard, Russ A. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Stanchak, John E. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Woodworth, Steven E., Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2005.