In response to Lincoln’s and Buell’s urging, and before he could even have seen the dispatch from McClellan, Halleck wrote back to the President to explain why he couldn’t send troops against Columbus. He’s got his hands full in Missouri, he lacks equipment and troops, and — renowned military theoretician that he is — he takes the opportunity to give the President a little lesson in strategy.
From the Official Record:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI,
Saint Louis, January 6, 1862.
To His Excellency the President:
In reply to your excellency’s letter of the 1st instant, I have to state that on receiving your telegram I immediately communicated with General Buell and have since sent him all the information I could obtain of the enemy’s movements about Columbus and Camp Beauregard. No considerable force has been sent from these places to Bowling Green. They have about 22,000 men at Columbus, and the place is strongly fortified. I have at Cairo, Fort Holt, and Paducah only about 15,000, which, after leaving guards at these places, would give me but little over 10,000 men with which to assist General Buell. It would be madness to attempt anything serious with a force, and I cannot at the present time withdraw any from Missouri without risking the loss of this State. The troops recently raised in other States of this department have without my knowledge been sent to Kentucky and Kansas.
I am satisfied that the authorities at Washington do not appreciate the difficulties with which we have to contend here. The operations of Lane, Jennison, and others have so enraged the people of Missouri, that it is estimated that there is a majority of 80,000 against the Government. We are virtually in an enemy’s country. Price and others have a considerable army in the Southwest, against which I am operating with all my available force.
This city and most of the middle and northern counties are insurrectionary — burning bridges, destroying telegraph lines, &c., — and can be kept down only by the presence of troops. A large portion of the foreign troops organized by General Fremont are unreliable; indeed, many of them are already mutinous. They have been tampered with by politicians, and made to believe that if they get up a mutiny and demand Fremont’s return the Government will be forced to restore him to duty here. It is believed that some high officers are in the plot. I have already been obliged to disarm several of these organizations and I am daily expecting more serious outbreaks. Another grave difficulty is the want of proper general officers to command the troops and enforce order and discipline, and especially to protect public property from robbery and plunder. Some of the brigadier-generals assigned to this department are entirely ignorant of their duties and unfit for any command. I assure you, Mr. President, it is very difficult to accomplish much with such means. I am in the condition of a carpenter who is required to build a bridge with a dull ax, a broken saw, and rotten timber. It is
true that I have some very good green timber, which will answer the purpose as soon as I can get it into shape and season it a little.
I know nothing of General Buell’s intended operations, never having received any information in regard to the general plan of campaign. If it be intended that his column shall move on Bowling Green while another moves from Cairo or Paducah on Columbus or Camp Beauregard, it will be a repetition of the same strategies error which produced the disaster of Bull Run. To operate on exterior lines against an enemy occupying a central position will fail, as it always has failed, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. It is condemned by every military authority I have ever read.
General Buell’s army and the forces at Paducah occupy precisely the same position in relation to each other and to the enemy as did the armies of McDowell and Patterson before the battle of Bull Run.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. HALLECK,