Union advances in Kentucky

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, while both presidents attempted to steer armies around the state, secessionist Governor Beriah Magoffin also repudiated Lincoln's request for troops. Still, he allowed the Unionist legislature to exercise a degree of power throughout the summer. Nonetheless, recruiting for both sides went on in the state until Confederate fears over possible Union occupation of the region along the Mississippi River forced the Confederates to seize Columbus, Kentucky. Major-General Leonidas Polk was ordered to seize the strategic town, positioned on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Although he was prompted to strike because of the town's military importance, the political consequences were monumental. Declaring that the Confederacy had invaded the

George B. McClellan commander of the Army of the Potomac and generai-in-chief of the Union army from 5 November 1861 to 11 March 1862 was an advocate of fighting a limited war. He impressed this attrtude on the commanders whom he appointed to commands in the west, including Don Carlos Buell and Henry Wager Halleck. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)

Bluegrass state, Kentucky's Union authorities pledged their support for the Union and forced Magoffin to resign. Federal forces under Major-General Ulysses S. Grant immediately occupied Paducah, Kentucky, near the mouth of the Tennessee River and connected to Columbus by railroad. Although the Union held only a thin strip of Kentucky's border, its strategic significance far outweighed its small size.

As in Missouri, Union and Confederate authorities moved quickly to shore up strategic points in the state, federal forces immediately took Louisville, the largest city, and Frankfurt, the Kentucky capital. Major-General Robert Anderson commanded Louisville until he was replaced in September by Major-General William T. Sherman. As Union politicians contemplated how best to occupy the region they now held militarily, significant changes were occurring in military personnel.

In early November, Major-General George B. McClellan replaced General Winfield Scott

Henry Halleck was known in the regular army before the Civil War as 'Old Brains' for his impressive intellect McClellan appointed him commander of the Department of Missouri in November 1861 and his leadership in the western campaigns so impressed Lincoln that he became the President's chief of staff in July 1861. (Massachusetts Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion and the US Army Military History Institute)

A close prewar friend of McClellan, who shared his superior's limited-war beliefs, Don Carlos Buell became commander of the Department of Ohio and played an instrumental role in bringing about success in the west. (Arm Ronan Picture Library)

Henry Halleck was known in the regular army before the Civil War as 'Old Brains' for his impressive intellect McClellan appointed him commander of the Department of Missouri in November 1861 and his leadership in the western campaigns so impressed Lincoln that he became the President's chief of staff in July 1861. (Massachusetts Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion and the US Army Military History Institute)

as general-in-chief of the Union armies. McClellan was a youthful, self-absorbed, but vigorous and intelligent commander who shared the President's political and strategy vision of a limited war for limited goals. He moved quickly to stabilize the political and military situation in the west. He appointed like-minded commanders for the war's most important commands.

McClellan replaced John C. Fremont, who had issued an unauthorized emancipation proclamation in Missouri, with MajorGeneral Henry Halleck. At 46, Halleck, a West Point graduate, had already demonstrated brilliance as a writer of military theory. When the war broke out, he was perhaps the most sought-after Union commander. He would be sent to St Louis to bring some semblance of order to the chaos. As a result of the reorganization of military departments in the west, Halleck

A close prewar friend of McClellan, who shared his superior's limited-war beliefs, Don Carlos Buell became commander of the Department of Ohio and played an instrumental role in bringing about success in the west. (Arm Ronan Picture Library)

would be responsible for the area that stretched westward from the Cumberland River through Missouri.

Major-General Don Carlos Buell commanded the newly organized Department of the Ohio, which included the region stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Cumberland River, but included all of Kentucky. Since his graduation from West Point in 1841, Buell was one of the few regular army officers in the western command and was a staunch advocate of limited war. He had acquired eight slaves through his prewar marriage and was a conservative Democrat, like McClellan and Halleck. McClellan thought that sending him to Kentucky might placate Kentuckians. Although its command in the west was divided, the Union had twice the number of troops as the Confederates with which to conduct affairs in the respective departments, which stretched some 500 miles (800km).

The Confederates meanwhile sought to unify the command of the western region

In 1861, Albert Sidney Johnston was regarded as one of the nation's finest military commanders, but his Civil War career was one of the great disappointments of the Confederacy. He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and bled to death while his staff physician was attending to wounded Southern and Northern soldiers. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)

In 1861, Albert Sidney Johnston was regarded as one of the nation's finest military commanders, but his Civil War career was one of the great disappointments of the Confederacy. He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and bled to death while his staff physician was attending to wounded Southern and Northern soldiers. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)

under the leadership of Major-General Albert Sidney Johnston. A charismatic Texan, with outstanding credentials, having graduated from West Point eighth in his class and having served in the Black Hawk War, the Mexican War, and the Mormon War of 1858, Johnston was an excellent choice. Moreover, he was a good friend of President Davis. On his shoulders would fall the responsibility of defending the 500-mile (800km) line that stretched from the Appalachians to the Ozarks in the west across the Mississippi river. He constructed a defensive cordon that ran from Columbus on the Mississippi to Cumberland Gap in the Appalachians.

Besides the daunting task of defending such a vast line, Johnston was also strapped with the liability of having a core of subordinates whose authority exceeded their abilities. Polk, the commander of the western stronghold at Columbus, was also a West Point graduate, but left the military to become an Episcopal Bishop before the war.

On the extreme of the Confederate defensive line was Brigadier-General Felix Zollicoffer, a prewar journalist who advanced his Southern forces into eastern Kentucky. To block a Union invasion from Louisville, the Confederates occupied Bowling Green in the center of the state and command of the forces there went to Simon Bolivar Buckner. To assist in holding the front, Johnston had two political generals, Gideon Pillow and John B. Floyd, who proved wholly incompetent as military commanders.

Trying to defend a huge expanse of territory with inept leadership, Johnston's task was further handicapped by a lack of resources - a problem that would plague the Confederacy throughout the war. East of the Mississippi River, Johnston could concentrate at any one place only about 45,000 men. and west of the river, perhaps 15,000 soldiers. Still, once they occupied Kentucky, the Confederates enjoyed excellent railroad connections that gave them the distinct advantage of interior lines. They could reinforce any one region quickly by moving troops through these interior lines and a maze of tiny installations. To buoy this strength, Johnston's troops had built two forts on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers just below the Kentucky-Tennessee line. Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River were designed to inhibit Federal navigation on these rivers.

While Halleck and Buell considered the best avenue by which to penetrate the South, Grant decided to head down the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois. On 7 November, some 3,000 troops were ferried downriver to Belmont, Missouri, opposite the bluffs of Columbus, Kentucky. Although Grant's troops moved swiftly to capture the tiny river hamlet, driving the defenders away, General Polk sent reinforcements across the river and soon forced Grant's troops to retreat. Aside from the casualties, which cost Confederates and Federals about 600 men each, Grant came to appreciate the strength of Columbus and the viability of using the Mississippi as an avenue of invasion south. Another route would have to open up.

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