Henry W. Halleck: Savior of the Union?

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When George McClellan retakes control of the main eastern Union army in early September 1862 there are 14,000 federal troops in the Shenandoah Valley at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry, Virginia. McClellan repeatedly asks General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to evacuate these men and add them to his command, but Halleck refuses and the men stay in their Shenandoah garrisons.

Lee’s intention for his campaign is to move into the Shenandoah/Cumberland Valley and use it to invade Pennsylvania, but first he must clear out the 14,000 federals stationed at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. At Frederick, Maryland, on September 10 Lee divides his army, sending most of it to capture the federal troops in the Shenandoah Valley, while keeping the rest of it around Boonsboro and Hagerstown. Four days later, the confederates are still divided.

Without those Union men in the Shenandoah Valley, Lee would have crossed South Mountain, moved north to Hagerstown, and then marched into Pennsylvania with a united army, far ahead of McClellan. God knows how that would have played out.

If Lee is still in the North on Election Day, then the Democrats would probably win the House, which means that Lincoln couldn’t raise taxes or troops. Unable to capture Atlanta, Lincoln would lose reelection, and the Union would lose the war.

Halleck’s decision to keep his men in the Shenandoah Valley compels Lee to halt at Boonsboro and divide his army, thereby giving McClellan the time to catch up to him and the opportunity to defeat the confederate army in detail. McClellan’s poor performance at South Mountain, and in the days following, almost ruins this opportunity, but he does engage the confederates soon enough at Sharpsburg that Lee doesn’t have his whole army on the morning of the battle of Antietam, which greatly helps the federals win and force the confederates back to Richmond. Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation. Republicans maintain complete control of Congress. The Union wins the war.

Thank you, General Halleck!
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BlueandGrayl

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Sir this belongs in the "What If?" forum not the main "Battle of Antietam" forum since this is an alternate outcome for either Antietam or Atlanta and not how they unfolded in OTL.

As far as my opinion of him I don't think Halleck could be the savior of the Union while he was involved in some significant victories he was more of a "first-rate clerk" desk job type of general that Lincoln described him than an active field commander especially in the later months of the Western Theatre up until September 1862 and in the Eastern Theatre when he was the main general.
 

Andy Cardinal

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I think Halleck could be labeled savior if that was in fact his intention in maintaining the garrisons. I have seen no evidence that this was the case; the only justification Halleck ever gave (to my knowledge) is that Harper's Ferry was too important to be given up and must be held at all costs. Unless you can show that Halleck left the garrison in place with the intention of forcing Lee to divide his army, then this is more of a blind squirrel finding an acorn situation. It was a questionable decision that had a useful outcome (at the cost of thousands of soldiers and a mountain of supplies).
 
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jackt62

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Haven't heard of Halleck being called "Savior of the Union." He was an able administrator, who would have done very nicely in the 20th century by which time the US military had a more formal general staff organization.
 

Andrew

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I think Halleck could be labeled savior if that was in fact his intention in maintaining the garrisons. I have seen no evidence that this was the case; the only justification Halleck ever gave (to my knowledge) is that Harper's Ferry was too important to be given up and must be held at all costs. Unless you can show that Halleck left the garrison in place with the intention of forcing Lee to divide his army, then this is more of a blind squirrel finding an acorn situation. It was a questionable decision that had a useful outcome (at the cost of thousands of soldiers and a mountain of supplies).
Halleck's order to defend Harpers Ferry was certainly consequential, but I agree with Andy's summation above. Halleck was of the opinion that Lee's troops in Maryland were a decoy. The real threat in Halleck's mind was the large body of troops massing in Virginia, getting ready to attack McClellan's left flank and/or cut him off from and threaten the capital. So, splitting Lee's army in Maryland would have been inconsequential and not something Halleck would have done to prevent Lee from moving further north. Of course, Halleck was mistaken about this, as there were no troops of any consequence south of the Potomac.
 
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the only justification Halleck ever gave (to my knowledge) is that Harper's Ferry was too important to be given up and must be held at all costs.
Why did Halleck think Harpers Ferry was so important? Was it because it blocked a confederate invasion of the North? If so, then Halleck can certainly be given credit for allowing McClellan the time to catch up to Lee. The dividing of the confederate army was an error by Lee, but it was a forced error, even if it wasn’t exactly Halleck’s intention.

It was a questionable decision that had a useful outcome (at the cost of thousands of soldiers and a mountain of supplies).
Calling the repulse of the confederate invasion a “useful outcome” is a bit of an understatement. It probably guaranteed a Union victory in the war. Also, I think a large amount of the blame for the capture of the garrison at Harpers Ferry goes to McClellan for all but abandoning it after finding the Lost Order, but that’s maybe the subject of another thread.
 

Andy Cardinal

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Why did Halleck think Harpers Ferry was so important? Was it because it blocked a confederate invasion of the North? If so, then Halleck can certainly be given credit for allowing McClellan the time to catch up to Lee. The dividing of the confederate army was an error by Lee, but it was a forced error, even if it wasn’t exactly Halleck’s intention.


Calling the repulse of the confederate invasion a “useful outcome” is a bit of an understatement. It probably guaranteed a Union victory in the war. Also, I think a large amount of the blame for the capture of the garrison at Harpers Ferry goes to McClellan for all but abandoning it after finding the Lost Order, but that’s maybe the subject of another thread.
The "useful outcome" was Lee's dividing his army; the losses I referred to was the garrison at Harper's Ferry.
 
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Sir this belongs in the "What If?" forum not the main "Battle of Antietam" forum since this is an alternate outcome for either Antietam or Atlanta and not how they unfolded in OTL.
The subject of the thread is the amount of credit that Halleck should get for the success of the Maryland campaign, and thus union victory in the war. I just use a “what if” scenario as part of my argument for why success in the Maryland campaign meant victory in the war.
 
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BlueandGrayl

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The subject of the thread is the amount of credit that Halleck should get for the success of the Maryland campaign, and thus union victory in the war. I just use a “what if” scenario as part of my argument for why success in the Maryland campaign meant victory in the war.
But it sounds like it and to be fair I think the Maryland Campaign was very significant given the political, military, and foreign ramifications it would have and a no Lost Order scenario is a personal favorite of mine.
 
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thomas aagaard

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No it didn't when he was General in Chief in the East things didn't exactly go well for the Union Army of the Potomac especially in Bull Run/Manassass II.
Halleck was not in tactical command at the mentioned battle.

Pope didn't loose because he lacked the numbers. He was responsible for his own tactical blunders.
 
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Ole Miss

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Halleck was a complex individual. He was a talented administrator but an inept field commander. Among his greatest foibles was a nasty habit of accepting praise intended for others and casting blame to save his own reputation. He was very adverse to giving written orders which may have come back to assign him responsibility or, horrors of horrors, blame.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was not impressed with Halleck as displayed by this quote:
"(he) originates nothing, anticipates nothing. . . . takes no responsibility, plans nothing, suggests nothing, is good for nothing."

Lincoln himself was so disappointed that he wrote a letter to Halleck dated January 1, 1863:
“Gen. Burnside wishes to cross the Rappahannock with his army, but his Grand Division commanders all oppose the movement. If in such a difficulty as this you do not help, you fail me precisely in the point for which I sought your assistance. You know what Gen. Burnside’s plan is; and it is my wish that you go with him to the ground, examine it as far as practicable, confer with the officers, getting their judgment, and ascertaining their temper, in a word, gather all the elements for forming a judgment of your own; and then tell Gen. Burnside that you do approve, or that you do not approve his plan. Your military skills is useless to me, if you will not do this.”* Halleck's feeling were hurt so Lincoln withdrew the letter.

I believe Lincoln's letter answers the question posed by this thread.
Regards
David
*http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincolns-contemporaries/abraham-lincoln-and-henry-w-halleck/
 
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Bee

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Halleck was not in tactical command at the mentioned battle.

Pope didn't loose because he lacked the numbers. He was responsible for his own tactical blunders.
Yes. Pope was singularly responsible for the blunders of Second Manassas. Chief on that list would be the delusion that every time Jackson's or Longstreet's troops were spotted on the move, Pope convinced everyone that they were retreating. Possibly a distant second to Pope's blunders is the fact that McClellan took his sweet time arriving- possibly due to his disdain for Pope. This is all covered in John Hennessy's stellar book, Return to Bull Run.
 
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Henry Hunt

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Without those Union men in the Shenandoah Valley, Lee would have crossed South Mountain, moved north to Hagerstown, and then marched into Pennsylvania with a united army, far ahead of McClellan. God knows how that would have played out.
Very interesting thread. I just came across this line in McClellan's letters: "If he does go to Pennsylvania I feel quite confident that I can arrange things that the chances will be that he will never return."[1] Sounds like McClellan was daring him to go into Pa!?!

[1] Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, edited by Stephen W. Sears (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989), 449-450.
 
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