Henry Wager Halleck Essay, Research Paper
Henry Wager Halleck
Dissension Among Generals
Glen R. Hees
Henry Wager Halleck, or “Old Brains” as he was called, served as general in chief of the Union armies in the Civil war. His nickname referred to his “theoretical brilliance” although there were severe doubts as to his field skills. General Halleck was the source of many other General?s difficulties and his actions portrayed a man obsessed with self service. His indecision and lack of tactical competence would lead strife among the very troops he was supposed to lead, and among his peers as well. Indeed, the battle at Fort Donelson might have gone much smoother for the Union had there been a more competent leader of Western Troops.
Halleck shared command in the West with another General named Buell. Although the two were supposed to work with eachother, much of the time was spent outdoing the other, or making the other look bad in order to gain recognition. Halleck?s ultimate scheme was to have the entire western Union forces under his command alone. President Lincoln rejected this idea and continued to encourage the cooperation of Halleck and Buell. The tensions between Halleck and Buell unwittingly brought Grant into the middle, bringing the wrath of Halleck upon Grant. This effectively caused operations in the West to grind to a halt. Refusing to work together, Grant had trouble discerning which General to listen to, but ultimately favored Buell. This angered Halleck, who was already jealous of Grant?s recent fame after the taking of Fort Henry. Halleck immediately wrote a letter to Washington, denouncing Grant and starting the rumor that Grant had taken up his drinking again.
Halleck?s procrastination was known to many in the Union, and was the reason that many commanders made their own decisions and tried to justify them later. One such incident involved Foote, a naval commander. When it was learned that Halleck was making a decision on movement to Fort Henry, Foote took it upon himself to prepare everything and begin movement. Halleck tended to wait until the last moment when he would be forced to make a decision, even with the suggestions of his subordinate leaders and peers. Halleck had the tendency to think himself significantly better than his peers, and would often get jealous at their successes. His actions even had Grant contemplating leaving the army and turning over his command.
Even while the Union army had better equipment, and superior discipline among its troops, it?s leadership was in shambles. Just before the attacks on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Halleck had made the decision to attack without telling Buell. When Buell learned of the plan, he asked Halleck if he needed any cooperation, which Halleck refused. Later, as the going got tough though, Halleck asked Buell to serve under him. Clearly, the reasons for this were self-serving, and it was obvious that Halleck was out to advance his military fortunes. It was at this point that Buell began to find reasons why he could not help, and when he finally moved, it was to Nashville.
The victory at both Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were a direct result of Grant?s attacks. Halleck, sitting at his desk in St. Louis, had directed the whole operation but often without knowing what was truly going on. He claimed credit for the taking of the two forts and demanded that he be made commander of all the armies in the West. His boss, McClellan curtly replied that he believed Buell could command his troops better than Halleck could from behind a desk in St. Louis. Halleck recommended promotions for Grant and Buell, even though he claimed the credit for the victories. Grant?s promotion would come, but on the President?s own initiative and with a great deal of interest in the up and coming General.
Halleck, a cautious man by nature, was not prone to making immediate decisions except when it came to supply and resupply. The one thing that can be said for the general is that he kept Grant supplied with men and weapons during his battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. During the battles themselves, Halleck did not contribute much, and Grant was able to use his tactical skills without much hindrance. If Halleck would have been more decisive earlier on the battles would have been much easier on the Union troops and probably would have allowed them to gain a momentum that would clear the confederates out of the area much quicker.
The battle of Fort Donelson was important in ridding the Tennessee area of Confederate troops, yet a reader of history can only wonder what would have come about had there been cooperation among the commanders and better lines of communication. Individuals cannot make the best use out of a large army, nor can they have control of an army that is hundreds of miles away. As a supply officer, Halleck might have excelled, but as a commander of troops in battle, he was outshined by his peers with better tactical field experience.
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