Did Grant Move Against Forts Henry and Donelson Without Orders?

diane

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I'd thought Grant moved on Fts Henry and Donelson despite McClellan and Halleck! McClellan believed the innuendos Halleck slipped him about Grant, especially that he might be hoisting the bottle a mite, and McClellan didn't goose Buell any - who was moving to support Grant with all the lightning speed a snail could muster. I can more easily picture McClellan lying on the ground with both hands around Grant's ankle and Grant moving along anyway!
 

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67th Tigers

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I'd thought Grant moved on Fts Henry and Donelson despite McClellan and Halleck! McClellan believed the innuendos Halleck slipped him about Grant, especially that he might be hoisting the bottle a mite, and McClellan didn't goose Buell any - who was moving to support Grant with all the lightning speed a snail could muster. I can more easily picture McClellan lying on the ground with both hands around Grant's ankle and Grant moving along anyway!
The idea that Grant moved without orders is commonly put around, but is of course completely false. Grant was a soldier and obeyed the lawful orders issued to him by his superiors. McClellan's 3rd January to Halleck kicked off the cracking of AS Johnston's line. As per McClellan's orders Halleck had Grant feint towards Columbus. During this feint CF Smith conducted a recce (on a gunboat) of Fort Henry and found it flooding. Smith and Foote were in accord that the gunboats could take Fort Henry if a small force of infantry could be provided to occupy it. Eventually Grant convinced Halleck, who had received a message from McClellan that an enemy force of 15 regiments had been sent to reinforce against Halleck. There was a small window of opportunity and Halleck went with it.

The move on Donelson was ordered by McClellan. McClellan also ordered Buell to reinforce Grant at Donelson, and almost a third of the troops that fought there came from Buell's army. Buell had capacity for 9 regiments on transports and sent them immediately to Grant on ships. Meanwhile, Nelson led an overland column which marched to Paducah. By the time they reached there Fort Donelson had precipitously surrendered, and hence Nelson enacted the rest of his orders which were to occupy Nashville. When Nelson's transports steamed past Clarkville, the "limit of exploitation" Halleck had set Grant, Grant took the opportunity to go follow Nelson.

Buell's forces were fairly important at Donelson. It was Buell's waterborne force that sealed the road to Nashville after the breakout attempt. Of course, it would appear Grant actually wanted the roads left open to provide a "golden bridge" and allow the rebels to escape providing Grant a victory. No-one expected the precipitous rebel surrender.

Grant's post-campaign problems were just that, after said campaign.

To bring this back to combat effectiveness, lets examine the Fort Donelson fighting.

The real thing that hamstrung the Federals was that for much of the fighting Grant was eight miles away, and he'd left peremptory orders to "stay quiet". This meant that there was essentially no coordinated response to the breakout.

The Donelson garrison was 16,071 present, of whom 13,536 were infantry, 1,091 artillery and 1,444 cavalry. In round figures there were ca. 10,500 "bayonets/ muskets". The formations that made the breakout attack excluded Head's and Heiman's bdes (left to man entrenchments), all the arty and Gantt's cavalry command. It was thus roughly 7,400 infantry "bayonets" and ca. 500 sabres of cavalry under Forrest.

McClernand's line was extended to encircle the Fort. With a third of Grant's army he had half the line to cover, and the part that had the bulk of the enemy troops. His 7,000 bayonets were covering a frontage of ca. 3 miles or three times what an untrenched force of that size could cover. Hence the rebels could easily mass more than 3:1 against the regiments on his lines far right, and once they were broken, roll them up like a wet towel.

There is a lesson here, if troops are spread too thinly then you give the enemy the opportunity to concentrate and break you.

However, at the other end of the field after Grant returned and order CF Smith to make an attack "to save appearances", Smith's division (2 bdes charged with ca. 4,500 bayonets) was stopped dead by a single strong (751 present) well entrenched regiment, the 30th Tennessee. They could not stop Smith gaining possession of their rifle pits, but the main trench line stopped Smith dead.

On the other flank Wallace and McClernand, after arguing with Grant's two retreat orders, reoccupy the position astride the road. This time they stay concentrated in a solid line leaving a large gap between Grant's left and right. This itself is vulnerable to being turned on the other flank. However the rebels decide to surrender instead.

In terms of combat effectiveness, the rebel troops showed much more effectiveness than the Federals, but still lost. They lost because their high command became demoralised and massively overestimated the enemy force. Fort Donelson should have been at worst a minor defeat for the rebels. It took an amazing display of incompetence to surrender to Grant.
 

DanSBHawk

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McClellan didn't place any strategic importance on Forts Henry and Donelson in January '62. In fact, McClellan stressed to Buell that the east Tennessee movement was the most important and chastised Buell on January 6 about attaching insufficient importance to east Tennesse:

"I was extremely sorry to learn from your telegram to the President that you had from the beginning attached little or no importance to a movement in East Tennessee.* I had not so understood your views, and it develops a radical difference between your views and my own, which I deeply regret.
My own general plans for the prosecution of the war make the speedy occupation of East Tennessee and its lines of railway matters of absolute necessity. Bowling Green and Nashville are in that connection of very secondary importance at the present moment. My own advance cannot, according to my present views, be made until your troops are solidly established in the eastern portion of Tennessee. If that is not possible, a complete and prejudicial change in my own plans at once becomes necessary."

As far as the actual fighting of the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, all credit goes to Grant and Foote and the troops/sailors under them. McClellan and Buell did not take any part in the battles.
 

67th Tigers

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McClellan didn't place any strategic importance on Forts Henry and Donelson in January '62.
Except of course he ordered expeditions against them.

Now, his interest was primarily directed against Fort Donelson. That of course is the real strategic key to the area. He wanted Halleck to send an expedition up the Cumberland. Halleck objected for weeks (see for example his 9th January claim that such an expedition would imperil the loss of the whole of Missouri). Pressure from all sides, McClellan above and Grant and others below, got Halleck to move eventually.

As far as the actual fighting of the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, all credit goes to Grant and Foote and the troops/sailors under them. McClellan and Buell did not take any part in the battles.
Of course not, but McClellan enabled said victory. He had been pushing for a movement against Donelson (which covered the Clarksville bridge, and hence joined the two halves of AS Johnston's army together) since December. His prodding got Halleck to move. He then had large reinforcements moved to Grant's expeditionary force in the field, which were his margin of victory.
 
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Except of course he ordered expeditions against them.

Now, his interest was primarily directed against Fort Donelson. That of course is the real strategic key to the area. He wanted Halleck to send an expedition up the Cumberland. Halleck objected for weeks (see for example his 9th January claim that such an expedition would imperil the loss of the whole of Missouri). Pressure from all sides, McClellan above and Grant and others below, got Halleck to move eventually.
What is the reference for this?
 

DanSBHawk

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Except of course he ordered expeditions against them.

Now, his interest was primarily directed against Fort Donelson. That of course is the real strategic key to the area. He wanted Halleck to send an expedition up the Cumberland. Halleck objected for weeks (see for example his 9th January claim that such an expedition would imperil the loss of the whole of Missouri). Pressure from all sides, McClellan above and Grant and others below, got Halleck to move eventually.



Of course not, but McClellan enabled said victory. He had been pushing for a movement against Donelson (which covered the Clarksville bridge, and hence joined the two halves of AS Johnston's army together) since December. His prodding got Halleck to move. He then had large reinforcements moved to Grant's expeditionary force in the field, which were his margin of victory.
No, this is not how it happened. In January '62, McClellan wanted Buell to move on east Tennessee. Buell kept making excuses why he could not. Buell was focused on the confederates in Kentucky, notably around Bowling Green. The demonstration/feint movement that Buell and McClellan suggested to Halleck was purely to prevent confederate reinforcements from Columbus to be sent to Bowling Green.

But the particulars of how the Henry/Donelson campaign actually got moving is also relevant to this thread about the effectiveness of the armies. Because it shows how the Army of the Tennessee, in its early incarnation, adopted a more aggressive posture than the two armies associated with Buell and McClellan.

On January 27, 1862, Lincoln ordered the Union armies to take offensive action within the next month.

Grant and Foote had already been bugging Halleck to move against Henry and Donelson. Halleck told them he would give them an answer after he received intel from CF Smith.

On January 29th, Halleck gave Foote and Grant the go-ahead.

On January 30th, Halleck notified Buell and McClellan, "I have ordered an advance of our troops on Fort Henry and Dover. It will be made immediately." Halleck had received no order from McClellan. He had made the decision based on the urging from Grant and Foote, the intel from CF Smith, and a false report that confederate reinforcements from the east would make the movement harder if he waited any longer.

Buell and McClellan were both taken by surprise by this offensive. On January 31, Buell wrote Halleck, "Please let me know your plan and force and the time, &c."

On Feb 2, Halleck replies to Buell, "At present it is only proposed to take and occupy Fort Henry and Dover [Donelson], and, if possible, cut the railroad from Columbus to Bowling Green."

On Feb 4, Grant arrives in a steamer at Fort Henry and lands forces 3 miles away.

On Feb 6, McClellan wrote, "Halleck telegraphs that Fort Henry is largely re-enforced from Columbus and Bowling Green. If road so bad in your front, had we not better throw all available force on Forts Henry and Donelson? What think you of making that the main line of operations ? Answer quick." So the campaign has already begun before McClellan even suggests the importance of making Henry and Donelson the main line of operations.

Buell replied: "This whole move, right in its strategical bearing, but commenced by General Halleck without appreciation—preparative or concert—has now become of vast magnitude. I was myself thinking of a change of the line to support it when I received your dispatch. It will have to be made in the face of 50,000 if not 60,000 men, and is hazardous." So Buell admits to McClellan that this whole Henry/Donelson movement is ALL Halleck. McClellan did nothing to bring about this offensive, and while Buell talked about it a few weeks earlier, he now seemed cowed by the "magnitude" of the operation.

Halleck, Buell, McClellan... Armies of the Tennessee, Cumberland, Potomac. The aggression and action shown by Halleck, involuntary as it might have been, contrasted with the caution and inaction shown by McClellan and Buell.

This is why the Army of the Tennessee was more effective. It assumed this aggressiveness earlier in the war than the others, and it was the commanders that made the difference.
 

67th Tigers

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No, this is not how it happened.
Whilst there is room for debate on some of the finer details, it is broadly how things happened.

With McClellan's 3rd January you're confusing McClellan's motivation with what he ordered. He did indeed order Halleck to make a demonstration against Columbus (which he started on 6th January), and then make a move up the Cumberland (i.e. against Dover/ Ft Donelson) perhaps while feinting against the Tennessee position (i,e. Fort Henry). That his objective point was Nashville, as Lincoln wanted, does not change the fact that said operation was ordered. Indeed, a broader reading of the February operations reveal they end with Nelson's division occupying Nashville as per McClellan's intent.

Halleck objected to McClellan's plans to attack. On the 10th he writes that sending the expedition against Donelson would lose the state of Missouri for the Union:

Halleck to McClellan said:
SAINT LOUIS, January 10, 1862.

General MCCLELLAN:

Do you insist upon my withdrawing troops from Missouri for the purpose indicated in your letter of the 3d instant? If so, it will be done, but in my opinion it involves the defeat of the Union cause in this State. I will write more fully what I have done and can do to assist D. C. Buell.

H. W. HALLECK.
On the same day Halleck writes to Buell about the demonstration against Dover (i.e. Fort Donelson):

Halleck to Buell said:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI, Saint Louis, January 10, 1862.

Brig. Gen. D. C. BUELL, Louisville, Ky.:

Troops at Cairo and Paducah are ready for a demonstration on Mayfield, Murray, and Dover. Six additional regiments will be there next week. Fix a day when you wish the demonstration, but put it off as long as possible, in order that I may increase the strength of the force.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.
In the intervening days it's clear that Halleck is opposed to such a movement, and he only has Grant prepare three regiments for the Dover operation. On 13th January McClellan writes:

McClellan to Halleck said:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, January 13, 1862.

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Commanding Department of Missouri:

GENERAL: Your telegram of the 10th would have been replied to ere this but for the fact that my state of health has thus far permitted me to attend only to the most pressing business. I do not think you had read my letter of the 3d with much care when you sent the telegraphic reply. My letter states what I consider it desirable to accomplish, and in conclusion I ask your views and the time necessary to prepare, as well as the force you can use for the purpose. If you can spare no troops it is only necessary to say so, and I must look elsewhere for the means of accomplishing the objects in view. There is nothing in my letter that can reasonably be construed into an order requiring you to make detachments that will involve the defeat of the Union cause in Missouri.

I have now to request that, if you have not already done so, you will send to me as soon as possible a statement of the numbers, positions, and conditions of the troops in your department, together with the same information in regard to the enemy, as far as you can give it.

I am, very truly, yours,

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General, Commanding U. S. Army.
McClellan discusses the matter in person with Lincoln on the 14th and reiterates on the 15th:

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI, Saint Louis, January 20, 1862.

Maj. Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN, General-in-Chief of the Army, Washington:

GENERAL: The cavalry sent to vicinity of Springfield found the enemy in force and were obliged to fall back to Waynesville. The whole force at Rolla was ordered in advance to re-enforce them and attack Price. Additional troops were ordered from here to Rolla, increasing General Curtis’ army to about 12,000. I have just received a dispatch informing me that a council of Generals Curtis, Sigel, and Asboth had decided that they required six regiments in addition to those ordered. I can send no more at present from Saint Louis, and consequently have ordered General Pope to dispatch one division from {p.509} near Sedalia to join General Curtis at Lebanon. This will make his effective force over 15,000.

This winter campaign will be a hard one on account of the weather and roads, but they will either beat Price or drive him from the State. Of the two divisions left at La Mine I purpose sending one across the Missouri at Booneville to march through the secession counties of Howard, Boone, Callaway and Montgomery to Saint Charles and this city for transportation to Cairo. They cannot be brought here by railroad, and the road north of the river is much the best. Moreover, their presence in the counties named is important to break up secession bands and to assist the Union men in organizing as State Militia. The condition of ice in the river is such that I have been able to send only three of the five regiments ordered from here to Cairo. I hope to dispatch some more this week. I hear nothing of the two regiments ordered from North Missouri to Cairo more than a week ago. It is very probable that they cannot cross the river at Hannibal. General Schofield hopes to be able to spare me two regiments from his command on the North Missouri Railroad in a week or two. These will also be sent to Cairo.

I have received no information in respect to the general plan of campaign, and I therefore feel much hesitation in recommending any line of operations for these and other troops which I may be able to withdraw from Missouri. Of course this line must be subordinate to some general plan. I take it for granted, general, that what has heretofore been done has been the result of political policy rather than military strategy, and that the want of success on our part is attributable to the politicians rather than to the generals.

So far it seems to me the war has been conducted upon what may be called pepper-box strategy-scattering our troops so as to render them inferior in numbers in any place where they can meet the enemy. Occupying the circumference of a great circle, with the enemy within that circumference and near the center, we cannot expect to strike any great blow, for he can concentrate his forces on any one point sooner than we can ours. The division of our force upon so many lines and points seems to me a fatal policy. I am aware that you, general, are in no way responsible for this, these movements having been governed by political expediency and in many cases directed by politicians in order to subserve particular interests; but is it not possible with the new Secretary of War to introduce a different policy and to make our future movements in accordance with military principles? On this supposition I venture to make a few suggestions in regard to operations in the West.

The idea of moving down the Mississippi by steam is, in my opinion, impracticable, or at least premature. It is not a proper line of operations, at least now. A much more feasible plan is to move up the Cumberland and Tennessee, making Nashville the first objective point. This would turn Columbus and force the abandonment of Bowling Green, Columbus cannot be taken without an immense siege train and a terrible loss of life. I have thoroughly studied its defenses; they are very strong. But it can be turned, paralyzed, and forced to surrender. This line of the Cumberland or Tennessee is the great central line of the Western theater of war, with the Ohio below the mouth of Green River as the base and two good navigable rivers extending far into the interior of the theater of operations. But the plan should not be attempted without a large force, not less than 60,000 effective men.

In connection with this movement I would move a small column of, say, 10,000 men from from Ironton on Pocahontas and Jacksonport in Arkansas, to cut the armies of Price and McIntosh from their depots of supplies at these places. Price would be thus compelled to fall back on Fort Smith or to advance to the relief of these towns. In either case Southwestern Missouri would be relieved of his presence. The forces I have sent against him will drive him out of this State, but they cannot pursue him into Arkansas on the line of his retreat; that would be folly on our part. I would also take and hold New Madrid, so as to cut off river communication from the South with Columbus. The occupation of New Madrid would entirely relieve Cairo, and almost the whole garrison could be withdrawn from that place. This plan would require the occupation of Green River with only a small force. Johnston and Buckner would not venture to cross that river with a large army in their rear on the Cumberland. If they did, their fate would be sealed.

I am ignorant of General Buell’s forces or plans. If he is strong enough to fight the enemy at Bowling Green or to turn that place and force him to fall back in the direction of Nashville the same object may be accomplished; but to operate both on Green River and on the Cumberland with the enemy at Bowling Green is to move on converging exterior lines with the enemy inside of the angle-always a most hazardous operation, unless each of the exterior forces is superior to the enemy. Under any circumstances it is bad strategy, because it requires a double force to accomplish a single object.

To carry out the plan proposed would make it necessary to suspend all minor operations. I understand troops are being concentrated at Fort Leavenworth to move on Western Arkansas and Texas. Such a project, if it be contemplated, is contrary to every military rule. Troops must be sent to a base hundreds of miles from any enemy at an immense cost of transportation. The line of operation is exterior and beyond relief, and the expense of supplies must be enormous. It can lead to no possible military result, unless made so large as to cripple or paralyze any movement on a truly strategic line. It certainly is not a military operation. It may, however, be intended to gratify some political partisan. If it be intended to check Price’s army, that can be much better accomplished by a line parallel to or near to the main one, viz, on Pocahontas and Jacksonport, the depots of his supplies.

The main central line will also require the withdrawal of all available troops from this State; also those in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio, which are armed and still to be armed, and also the transfer to that route or near it of all the Kentucky troops not required to secure the line of Green River.

The force at Cairo and on the Ohio River below the mouth of Green River is now about 15,000. Seven regiments have just been ordered there from Missouri. By the middle or last of February I hope to send about 15,000 more. If 30,000 or 40,000 can be added from the sources indicated there will be sufficient for holding Cairo, Fort Holt, and Paducah, and to form the column proposed. The troops at Ironton could threaten Pocahontas until a sufficient force could be detached from Curtis’ army at Springfield to take and hold New Madrid and Jacksonport. So long as the enemy controls the Mississippi below Columbus it might not be safe to attempt the occupation of New Madrid before moving up the Cumberland or Tennessee, as otherwise a large force might at any time be thrown across the river from Columbus to retake that place if once captured by us.

{p.511}
These suggestions are hastily written out, but they are the result of much anxious inquiry and mature deliberation. I am confident that the plan, if properly carried out, would produce important results. I also believe it to be feasible.

I have not designated any particular line or lines of movement. That must be a matter of farther study if the general idea should be approved. Perhaps the main column should move from Smithland, between the rivers, by Dover, &c. Perhaps the line east of the Cumberland or that west of the Tennessee would be preferable. These questions, however, are matters easily determinable.

I have been sick for more than a week with the measles, and several members of my staff are unable to attend to any duty. Under these circumstances some delay must occur in answering the communications from the Adjutant-General of the Army.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.
On the 29th January McClellan endorsed this "welcome letter" that "fully agreed with [McClellan's] own ideas from the beginning" and indicated he'd have further comments in a few days (he was writing the general campaign plan for the whole nation out at the time). [Said letter is not in the OR for easy copy and pasting]

The same day McClellan warned Halleck and Buell that Beauregard was going west, and he had 15 regts with him (which I'll skip). This was the catalyst to get Halleck moving. Halleck states that outright in his orders:

Halleck's orders to Grant said:
SAINT LOUIS, January 30, 1862.

Brigadier General U. S. GRANT,

Cairo, Ill.

Make your preparations to take and hold Fort Henry. I will send you written instructions by mail.

H. W. HALLECK,

Major-General.

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI, Saint Louis, January 30, 1862.

Brigadier General U. S. GRANT,

Cairo, Ill.

SIR: You will immediately prepare to send forward to Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, all your available forces from Smithland, Paducah, Cairo, Fort Holt, Bird's Point, etc.. Sufficient garrisons must be left to hold these places against an attack from Columbus. As the roads are almost impassable for large forces, and as your command is very deficient in transportation, the troops will be taken in steamers up the Tennessee River as far as practicable. Supplies will also be taken up in steamers as far as possible. Flag-Officer Foote will protect the transports with his gunboats. The Benton and perhaps some others should be left for the defense of Cairo. Fort Henry should be taken and held at all hazards. I shall immediately send you three additional companies of artillery from this place.

The river front of the fort is armed with 20-pounders, and it may be necessary for you to take some guns of large caliber and establish a battery on the opposite side of the river. It is believed that the guns on the land side are of small caliber and can be silenced by our field artillery. It is said that the north side of the river below the fort is favorable for landing. If so, you will land and rapidly occupy the road to Dover and fully invest the place, so as to cut off the retreat of the garrison. Lieutenant-Colonel McPherson, U. S. Engineers, will immediately report to you, to act as chief engineer of the expedition. It is very probable that an attempt will be made from Columbus to re-enforce Fort Henry; also from Fort Donelson at Dover. If you can occupy the road to Dover you can prevent the latter. The steamers will give you the means of crossing from one side of the river to the other. It is said that there is a masked battery opposite the island below Fort Henry. If this cannot be avoid or turned it must be taken.

Having invested Fort Henry, a cavalry force will be sent forward to break up the railroad from Paris to Dover. The bridges should be rendered impassable, but not destroyed.

A telegram from Washington says that Beauregard left Manassas four days ago with fifteen regiments for the line of Columbus and Bowling Green. It is therefore of the greatest importance that we cut that line before he arrives. You will move with the least delay possible. You will furnish Commodore Foote with a copy of this letter. A telegraph line will be extended as rapidly as possibly from Paducah, east of the Tennessee River, to Fort Henry. Wires and operators will be sent from Saint Louis.

H. W. HALLECK,

Major-General.
Grant of course does as ordered.

Before Grant even reported success at Fort Henry, McClellan had decided to make Grant movement the main effort in the west. There are a series of telegrams directing Buell to reinforce Grant's expedition on the 6th February. On the 7th the news of Ft Henry's fall arrives and McClellan sends:

SAINT LOUIS, February 7, 1862.

Maj. Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN:

Gunboats and cavalry ordered up the Tennessee River to destroy bridges. I think the enemy is collecting forces at Paris to prevent this by threatening our right flank. Paris must be taken. I am throwing in additional forces as rapidly as possible, and want all I can get. Fort Donelson will probably be taken to-morrow. Possibly a dash can be made on Columbus, but I think not. It is very strong. I shall endeavor to cut the railroad at Union City, and if possible occupy New Madrid, so as to cut off supplies by the river; but these movements {p.592} must depend upon the arrival of troops and the condition of the roads, which are now almost impassable.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.
McClellan congratulates, and believing Fort Donelson is a done deal as Halleck has told him (and Grant has told Halleck) writes about a movement on Columbus:

McClellan to Halleck said:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY, February 7, 1862-7.15 p.m.

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Saint Louis, Mo.:

Dispatch received. I congratulate you upon the result of your operations. They have caused the utmost satisfaction here. I would not undertake a dash at Columbus now. Better devote everything towards turning it; first collecting a sufficient force near Forts Henry and Donelson to make success sure.

Either Buell or yourself should soon go to the scene of operations. Why not have Buell take the line of Tennessee and operate on Nashville, while your troops turn Columbus? Those two points gained, a combined movement on Memphis will be next in order. The bridges at Tuscumbia and Decatur should at all hazards be destroyed at once.

Please number telegraphic dispatches and give hour of transmittal. Thank Grant, Foote, and their commands for me.

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General, Commanding.
We then get into the period, Grant is sitting at Fort Henry for a few days, and McClellan is urging reinforcement from Buell. As discussed above, on the strength of promises from McClellan of reinforcements, on 10th February Halleck orders Grant to invest Fort Donelson. Grant puts it to a vote on the 11th and starts on the 12th.

McClellan was apparently not certain about the result, and was pushing for Buell to sent more reinforcements:

McClellan to Buell said:
FEBRUARY, 13-7.15 p.m.

Brig. Gen. D. C. BUELL, Louisville:

How many batteries have you fully equipped and ready for the field? What number of cavalry, armed, equipped, and mounted? How many infantry?

Watch Fort Donelson closely. I am not too certain as to the result there.

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General, Commanding.
Buell reassures McClellan that Grant has sufficient men to be safe:

Buell to McClellan said:
LOUISVILLE, February 14, 1862-6 p.m. (Received 4 a.m. February 15.)

Major-General MCCLELLAN:

I have sent one brigade from Kentucky and eight regiments from Ohio and Indiana. I have made preparation and start myself on Monday with two divisions, but intelligence from them or from my advance towards Bowling Green in the mean time may affect that matter.

General Grant cannot any longer be in danger. From what I have heard within three days, he must have some 30,000 men. The only apprehension I have now is for his gunboats. My advance will be within 15 miles or less of Bowling Green to-night, which was as far as I meant it should go, except for reconnaissance, until matters were closed up a little in the rear; but General Mitchel has information which may carry him farther and affect my movements.

General Halleck telegraphs me that General Grant would attack yesterday or to-day. There is not more than 10 feet in the Cumberland River now. It will take two months or more to prepare the gunboat; by that time I hope the navigation of these rivers or the Ohio River will no longer require that sort of protection; but it is best to be prepared. I believe such boats will be more efficient every way.

D. C. BUELL, Brigadier-General.
McClellan writes Halleck to tell him he's awaiting the news of the fall of Fort Donelson:

McClellan to Halleck said:
HEADQUARTERS OF TEE ARMY, Washington, February 14, 1862.

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Commanding Department of Missouri:

GENERAL: I have just received your gratifying dispatch that our forces occupy Springfield, and am in hourly expectation of having similar news in regard to Fort Donelson. Your proposition in regard to the formation of a Western Division has one fatal obstacle, viz, that the proposed commander of the new Department of Missouri ranks you. I would be glad to hear from you in detail as to the troops from your department now in the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

Do you learn anything as to Beauregard’s whereabouts and what troops (if any) he took with him?

What disposition do you intend to make of Hitchcock? If you do not go in person to the Tennessee and Cumberland, I shall probably write Buell to take the line of the Tennessee, so far as Nashville is concerned. If his advance on Bowling Green must be done, it may well be necessary to throw a large portion of the troops up the Tennessee, in which case he is entitled to their command.

Burnside has been very successful. All seems to go well.

Very truly, yours,

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General, Commanding U. S. Army.
Halleck replies that all looks well and that he was not planned to go beyond Clarksville:

Halleck to McClellan said:
SAINT LOUIS, February 15, 1862.

Major-General MCCLELLAN:

Everything looks well. Grant says we can keep them in till mortar boats arrive, Commodore Foote will immediately return from Cairo with two more gunboats. Troops are moving very rapidly to Fort Donelson.

H. W. HALLECK.

–––

Saint Louis, February 15, 1862-11 a.m.

Maj. Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN:

I have no definite plan beyond the taking of Fort Donelson and Clarksville. Subsequent movements must depend upon those of the enemy. He is undoubtedly evacuating Bowling Green, but whether to fall back on Nashville or to concentrate on me is uncertain. I have only about 30,000 men in the field but am pushing forward re-enforcements as rapidly as possible. The siege and bombardment of Fort Donelson are progressing satisfactorily.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.
Halleck then asks for more troops. McClellan tells him he's ordered

McClellan and Halleck said:
SAINT LOUIS, February 15, 1862-4 p.m.

Major-General MCCLELLAN:

Garrison of Fort Donelson is 30,000. Enemy has completely evacuated Bowling Green, and is concentrating on the Cumberland. I must have more troops. It is a military necessity.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.

–––

WASHINGTON, February 15, 1862-8 p.m.

Major-General HALLECK, Saint Louis:

Have telegraphed to Buell to help you by advancing beyond Bowling Green on Nashville; or, if that be too slow, via Cumberland.

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General.

–––

SAINT LOUIS, February 15, 1862-8 p.m.

Maj. Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN:

General Buell telegraphs that he purposes to move from Bowling Green on Nashville. This is bad strategy. Moreover, the roads are very muddy and all the bridges destroyed. His forces should come and help me to take Fort Donelson and Clarksville and move on Florence Ala., cutting the railroad at Decatur. Nashville would then be abandoned, precisely as Bowling Green has been, without a blow.

With troops in mass on the right points the enemy must retire, and Tennessee will be freed, as Kentucky has been; but I have not forces enough to make this new strategic move and at the same time observe Columbus. Give me the forces required, and I will insure complete success. Price is still in retreat, with General Curtis in pursuit.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.

–––

FEBRUARY 15-10 p.m.

Major-General HALLECK, Saint Louis:

Buell will move in force on Nashville as rapidly as circumstances will permit. If Grant’s position renders it absolutely necessary Buell will re-enforce him with three brigades and three batteries to-morrow, but I think them better employed in the direct advance upon Nashville.

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General, Commanding.

–––

WASHINGTON, February 15-11 p.m.

Major-General HALLECK, Saint Louis:

Yours of 8 p.m. received. Your idea is in some respects good. But if Buell can rapidly advance on Nashville he will take it and cut off the enemy who are near Fort Donelson, if they do not retreat immediately. His advance in force beyond Bowling Green will at once relieve Grant. His orders are to re-enforce Grant if he cannot reach Nashville in time. The immediate possession of Nashville is very important. It can best be gained by the movement I have directed. The possession of Decatur will not necessarily cause the rebels to evacuate Nashville; you must also threaten to occupy Stevenson to accomplish that. I do not see that Buell’s movement is bad strategy, for it will relieve the pressure upon Grant and lead to results of the first importance. If the destruction of the railroad is so extensive as to make the operation impracticable or very difficult and slow, I have provided for the alternative in my instructions to Buell. Enable Grant to hold his own, and I will see that Buell relieves him. The Decatur movement and one on Memphis are the next steps in my programme.

I am arranging to talk with Buell and yourself over the wires to-morrow morning, and would be glad to have you at the telegraph office when all is ready. Buell will also be in Louisville office, and we can come to a full understanding.

GEO. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General, Commanding.
Essentially McClellan is telling Halleck that all is fine. Grant is strong enough not to be overwhelmed, and he's neutralised a large enemy force. McClellan is looking at Buell cutting off the line of retreat from Donelson by moving towards Nashville.

(Note: Buell had 4 divisions in the field after sending large forces to Grant. Thomas was in East Tennessee. Crittenden and McCook were advancing on Bowling Green and hence to Nashville. Nelson's division was sent by water to Grant, but the surrender of Fort Donelson meant they went on and captured Nashville)

Then the enemy randomly surrenders. Buell's forces carry out McClellan's instructions to seize Nashville. McClellan's further plans are stymied by Halleck's ascent to command in the West.

So, Forts Henry and Donelson were certainly nothing to do with Grant's strategy. He was a piece on McClellan's and Halleck's chess board, and a fairly important one.
 

DanSBHawk

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Whilst there is room for debate on some of the finer details, it is broadly how things happened.

With McClellan's 3rd January you're confusing McClellan's motivation with what he ordered. He did indeed order Halleck to make a demonstration against Columbus (which he started on 6th January), and then make a move up the Cumberland (i.e. against Dover/ Ft Donelson) perhaps while feinting against the Tennessee position (i,e. Fort Henry). That his objective point was Nashville, as Lincoln wanted, does not change the fact that said operation was ordered. Indeed, a broader reading of the February operations reveal they end with Nelson's division occupying Nashville as per McClellan's intent.

Halleck objected to McClellan's plans to attack. On the 10th he writes that sending the expedition against Donelson would lose the state of Missouri for the Union:



On the same day Halleck writes to Buell about the demonstration against Dover (i.e. Fort Donelson):



In the intervening days it's clear that Halleck is opposed to such a movement, and he only has Grant prepare three regiments for the Dover operation. On 13th January McClellan writes:



McClellan discusses the matter in person with Lincoln on the 14th and reiterates on the 15th:



On the 29th January McClellan endorsed this "welcome letter" that "fully agreed with [McClellan's] own ideas from the beginning" and indicated he'd have further comments in a few days (he was writing the general campaign plan for the whole nation out at the time). [Said letter is not in the OR for easy copy and pasting]

The same day McClellan warned Halleck and Buell that Beauregard was going west, and he had 15 regts with him (which I'll skip). This was the catalyst to get Halleck moving. Halleck states that outright in his orders:



Grant of course does as ordered.

Before Grant even reported success at Fort Henry, McClellan had decided to make Grant movement the main effort in the west. There are a series of telegrams directing Buell to reinforce Grant's expedition on the 6th February. On the 7th the news of Ft Henry's fall arrives and McClellan sends:



McClellan congratulates, and believing Fort Donelson is a done deal as Halleck has told him (and Grant has told Halleck) writes about a movement on Columbus:



We then get into the period, Grant is sitting at Fort Henry for a few days, and McClellan is urging reinforcement from Buell. As discussed above, on the strength of promises from McClellan of reinforcements, on 10th February Halleck orders Grant to invest Fort Donelson. Grant puts it to a vote on the 11th and starts on the 12th.

McClellan was apparently not certain about the result, and was pushing for Buell to sent more reinforcements:



Buell reassures McClellan that Grant has sufficient men to be safe:



McClellan writes Halleck to tell him he's awaiting the news of the fall of Fort Donelson:



Halleck replies that all looks well and that he was not planned to go beyond Clarksville:



Halleck then asks for more troops. McClellan tells him he's ordered



Essentially McClellan is telling Halleck that all is fine. Grant is strong enough not to be overwhelmed, and he's neutralised a large enemy force. McClellan is looking at Buell cutting off the line of retreat from Donelson by moving towards Nashville.

(Note: Buell had 4 divisions in the field after sending large forces to Grant. Thomas was in East Tennessee. Crittenden and McCook were advancing on Bowling Green and hence to Nashville. Nelson's division was sent by water to Grant, but the surrender of Fort Donelson meant they went on and captured Nashville)

Then the enemy randomly surrenders. Buell's forces carry out McClellan's instructions to seize Nashville. McClellan's further plans are stymied by Halleck's ascent to command in the West.

So, Forts Henry and Donelson were certainly nothing to do with Grant's strategy. He was a piece on McClellan's and Halleck's chess board, and a fairly important one.
Twice you describe McClellan sending a message, yet you quote something Halleck wrote.

Regardless, a demonstration is not the same as taking a fort. A feint is not the same as taking a fort. McClellans January request (not order) was just repeating what Buell had asked him: to have Halleck feint and demonstrate along the front between Bowling Green and Columbus, in order to keep the confederates from reinforcing Bowling Green.

Hallecks Jan 30 order to commence the operation had far more to do with Lincolns Jan 27 order to go on the offensive, than it did with McClellan.

Halleck deserves credit for giving the order, but really Grant, Foote, and CF Smith deserve the credit for encouraging, planning and carrying out the operation. McClellan deserves no more credit than anyone else who was in Washington at the time.
 


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