While the intention of the government to open the Mississippi River by a powerful expedition received additional emphasis through Halleck’s appointment, that general found no immediate means adequate to the task when he assumed command at St. Louis. Fremont’s regime had left the whole department in the most deplorable confusion. Halleck reported that he had no army, but, rather, a military rabble to command and for some weeks devoted himself with energy and success to bringing order out of the chaos left him by his predecessor. A large element of his difficulty lay in the fact that the population of the whole State was tainted with disloyalty to a degree which rendered Missouri less a factor in the larger questions of general army operations, than from the beginning to the end of the war a local district of bitter and relentless factional hatred and guerrilla or, as the term was constantly employed, “bushwhacking” warfare, intensified and kept alive by annual roving Confederate incursions from Arkansas and the Indian Territory in desultory summer campaigns.
Lincoln Directs Cooeperation—Halleck and Buell—Ulysses S. Grant—Grant’s Demonstration—Victory at Mill River—Fort Henry—Fort Donelson—Buell’s Tardiness—Halleck’s Activity—Victory of Pea Ridge—Halleck Receives General Command—Pittsburg Landing—Island No. 10—Halleck’s Corinth Campaign—Halleck’s Mistakes
Toward the end of December, 1861, the prospects of the administration became very gloomy. McClellan had indeed organized a formidable army at Washington, but it had done nothing to efface the memory of the Bull Run defeat. On the contrary, a practical blockade of the Potomac by rebel batteries on the Virginia shore, and another small but irritating defeat at Ball’s Bluff, greatly heightened public impatience. The necessary surrender of Mason and Slidell to England was exceedingly unpalatable. Government expenditures had risen to $2,000,000 a day, and a financial crisis was imminent. Buell would not move into East Tennessee, and Halleck seemed powerless in Missouri. Added to this, McClellan’s illness completed a stagnation of military affairs both east and west. Congress was clamoring for results, and its joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was pushing a searching inquiry into the causes of previous defeats.
To remove this inertia, President Lincoln directed specific questions to the Western commanders. “Are General Buell and yourself in concert?” he telegraphed Halleck on December 31. And next day he wrote:
“I am very anxious that, in case of General Buell’s moving toward Nashville, the enemy shall not be greatly reinforced, and I think there is danger he will be from Columbus. It seems to me that a real or feigned attack on Columbus from up-river at the same time would either prevent this, or compensate for it by throwing Columbus into our hands.”