Major General Henry Wager Halleck
Henry Halleck, a native of Westernville, NY, ran away from home at an early age because he didn’t want to be a farmer. He graduated third in the West Point class of 1839. He had an eventful pre-war career and authored or translated a number of military texts. In 1854 he resigned from the army and joined a successful law firm in California, declining a number of powerful political appointments. He wrote more books on law and acquired a fortune in business.
At the outset of the war he was appointed a major general in the regular army and was the fourth highest ranking officer in the U.S. Army. Much was expected of him.
Halleck was sent to Missouri and quickly rose to command the department. Subordinates of his won important victories at Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Shiloh and Island No. 10. Though present at none of these battles he somehow managed to take credit for the triumphs. The high expectations were put to the test when Halleck took to the field to personally lead the Siege of Corinth.
Halleck is often criticized for the slow pace of the siege, a methodical advance that took thirty days to move twenty-eight miles. In his defense there were several factors that contributed to his less-than-rapid movement. First, some of his troops, those in Pope’s Army of the Mississippi, were on the outskirts of Corinth in just two days. Incessant rain, however, slowed the columns of Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Every stream and creek had to be bridged, often in several places, and muddy roads had to be courderoyed, a laborious process of laying tree trunks side by side to create a wooden road. Also to be considered was the logistics involved in feeding an army group of nearly 120,000 soldiers. Each soldier received a ration of two pounds of food a day; each of the 17,000 horses and mules got 26 pounds of grain and hay. This adds up to 341 tons of rations for a single day. Of course these rations had to be transported by wagons which took more horses and mules; it was a logistical nightmare for not only did the quartermasters have to deliver the food, they had to move bullets, telegraph wire, horseshoe nails, candles and a thousand other items needed for an army on campaign.
Halleck was also not going to be surprised, especially after a large engagement
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells succinctly described him; “[Halleck] originates nothing, anticipates nothing…takes no responsibility, plans nothing, suggests nothing, is good for nothing.” General George B. McClellan was even less generous, describing Halleck as “the most hopelessly stupid of all men in high position.”
Halleck set a slow methodical pace, never taking the least chance, and eventually his labors paid off with Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard abandoning the city on the evening of May 29/30. The following day the Union army began their occupation of the city.
The general did not move into the Verandah House immediately. He was stricken with dysentery and wrote to Gen. John Pope, “I would come and see you but have for several days been confined to my tent with the ‘evacuation of Corinth. ‘”
It was from the rooms of the Verandah House that Halleck issued the orders to break up the largest army on the continent. Buells’ Army of the Ohio was dispatched east toward Chattanooga while other troops were sent west to rebuild the railroad to Memphis.
Halleck’s stay in the Verandah House would not be a long one. On July 11 he was summoned east to Washington to become general in chief of all the armies of the United States. He summoned Gen. Grant from Memphis to report to Corinth immediatly. Unsure of what was in the wind, Grant asked if he should bring his staff along as well. Halleck answered with a telegram. “This place will be your headquarters. You can judge for yourself.”
Halleck spent two days with Grant, never telling him why he had been summoned to Corinth. He departed on July 17th, never to return.
As for Grant, he set up his headquarters across Childs Street in the home of Mr. Houston Mitchell