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PORTRAIT OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, FROM DAGUERREO-
Second Stage of the War Initiated — The President Takes a
Hand in Affairs at the West — Mill Springs — Stanton
Personally, General McClellan had not been idle. He worked with zeal at his headquarters, and was also much in the saddle, riding rapidly with his staff from post to post of his long line, frequently returning at a late hour of the night. These cavalcades along the malarious borders of the Poiomac, added to the neverending cares of his office, were more than even his robust powers could well endure. Before the close of December he had a violent attack of fever. For three weeks he kept his bed, and was still longer detained from regular duty.
Early in November he had given detailed instructions to the commanders of the two Western armies.
General Buell, in Kentucky, was to occupy Eastern Tennessee and “cut off all railway communication between Eastern Virginia and the Mississippi,” but was ordered to remain on the defensive until the proper time to move his army "by rapid marches, by the Cumberland Gap, to Knoxville.” General Halleck, in Missouri, was to extend his lines no farther southward than Rolla, the terminus of railway communication with St. Louis
concentrating his main forces for operations on the Mississippi River. Evidently, McClellan was intending no important movement at the West before spring.
The Confederate lines in Kentucky extended from Columbus in Halleck's department (which included all of that State west of the Cumberland River), through Bowling Green in Buell's, to the head of steam navigation on the Cumberland, near Somerset. Buell in person remained at his headquarters in Louisville, his advance being at Munfordsville. On the last of December the President telegraphed to Halleck, informing him of McClellan's illness, and inquiring: “Are General Buell and yourself in concert?” The answer was that he had “never received a word from General Buell." Yet both, in parts of their lines, were confronted by the same Confederate army. If he should advance on Bowling Green, Buell said in reply to an inquiry from Lincoln, there was nothing to prevent Bowling Green being reinforced from Columbus, unless a military force was brought to bear on the latter place.
On New Year's Day the President wrote to Halleck:
General McClellan is not dangerously ill, as I hope, but would better not be disturbed with business. 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 upon Columbus from up the river at the same time would either prevent this or compensate for it by throwing Columbus into our hands. I wrote General Buell a letter similar to this, meaning that he and you shall communicate and act in concert, unless iť be your judgment and his that there is no necessity for it. You and he will understand much better than I how to do it. Please do not lose time in this matter.
Complying with the President's wishes, Buell and Halleck opened telegraphic communication with each other, but there was no hearty accord between them. Halleck disapproved Buell's plan of advancing on Bowling Green, and could not well spare him “any help from Missouri.” Buell wanted gunboats and soldiers sent up the Tennessee and the Cumberland, to attack the center of the line from Columbus to Bowling Green, on which “the great power of the rebellion in the West” was arrayed, and said “whatever is done should be done speedily — within a few days.”
On the 6th, Lincoln wrote to the Kentucky General regarding his proposed advance:
Your dispatch of yesterday has been received, and it disappoints and distresses me. I have shown it to General McClellan, who says he will write you to-day. I am not competent to criticise your views, and therefore what I offer is merely in justification of myself. Of the two, I would rather have a point on the railroad south of Cumberland Gap than Nashville - first, because it cuts a great artery of communication, which Nashville does not; and secondly, because it is in the midst of a loyal people who would rally around it, while Nashville is not. Again, I can not see why the movement on East Tennessee would not be a diversion in your favor rather than a disadvantage, assuming that a movement toward Nashville is the main object. But my