After Shiloh and the capture of New Orleans, the pace of Union success slowed, but Federal armies were still on the move. By the end of May 1862, Halleek's enormous army of over 100,000 troops had cautiously inched its way to Corinth, Mississippi, thinking that the Confederates had regrouped and would give battle. Beauregard, however, was in no position to fight Halleck and deceptively evacuated the small rail town during the night of 29 May, heading south to Tupelo, Mississippi, some 80 miles (130km) away. In one of the great ruses of the war, the entire operation was carried out so skillfully that Halleck and his commanders were oblivious.
When Halleck rode into Corinth on the afternoon of 30 May, he found an empty town. At one point he noticed a blue uniform stuffed with straw hanging by the neck from a scrubby tree limb. Nearby a pine board was nailed fast, and on it was written 'Halleck outwitted - what will old Abe say?' Nonetheless, Halleck claimed that the capture of Corinth the following day was as 'brilliant and important a victory as any recorded in history.' Lincoln was impressed.
The Union's capture of Corinth broke the Memphis and Charleston railroad and disabled the Confederates' east-west link. Memphis, Tennessee, was now vulnerable to Union gunboats on the river and foot soldiers from the east, who pushed their way toward the city. As thousands of people lined the river bluffs early on the morning of 6 June to witness what they believed would be the final river fight, Commodore Charles Davis steamed downriver and opened the fight. After two hours of furious gunboat warfare, the fighting ended at 7.30 am. The Federals had completely destroyed the Confederates and a few hours later the mayor surrendered the city. With Memphis in Union hands, the Federals could use it as a supply base as they moved downriver. The Mississippi was now open all the way to Vicksburg, Mississippi, considered
This portrait of William T. Sherman conveys the image of the Union general as described by a contemporary, who wrote that Sherman was 'the most American looking man I ever saw, tall and lank, not very erect, with hair like thatch.' (Ann Ronan Picture Library)
by Confederates to be the 'Gibraltar of the West.'
By June 1862, no commander in either army could boast of successes like Halleck's in the Western Theater of war. With Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and much of Arkansas in Federal hands, 'Old Brains', as Halleck was commonly known before the war (an inference due to the size of his forehead and his intellect), had become the architect of success. Northern hopes for an end to the war escalated. But as the rivers began to shrink due to the summer heat, so too did Union activity in the west begin to decelerate.
Waging a limited war for limited goals, at a time when Union armies were now poised to strike at the South's vital slavery districts in the west, proved cumbersome for Union commanders whose armies occupied a region
about the size of France. Fighting in battle constituted one brand of warfare, but attempting to maintain supremacy in the occupied regions while respecting the constitutional rights of Southern civilians, including their right to own slaves, would soon demoralize soldiers and Northern civilians alike. Thus the summer of 1862 was a defining period not so much in combat, but rather in how far Union authorities
Or the morning of 6 June 1862, thousands of residents lined the river bluffs to view the Battle of Memphis. It took less than two hours for the Union fleet to reduce the city, and the Union used the Mississippi River city as a base for the Vicksburg expedition. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)
and the Union populace would go in continuing to support Lincoln's desire to fight a war that made ultimate peace and reunion possible.
By mid-June, with the rivers no longer at his disposal, Halleck had dispersed his large army overland and turned his sights to securing the fruits of his army's labors. He ordered Buell and his 31,000 soldiers east toward Chattanooga, an important Tennessee city on the edge of the Appalachians, through which passed the Memphis and Charleston railroad and the Tennessee River. Because his army would be marching in the same direction as the railroad, Halleck considered the use of the iron horse to be an asset to Buell's campaign. But the railroad in this case proved to be a curse, and Buell's army would have serious difficulty in moving east. In the meantime, Halleck used Grant and Sherman to police West Tennessee with the 67,000 soldiers left in his grand army. The string of victories ceased.
By mid-July. Lincoln had made Halleck his chief-of-staff, which left Grant the command in West Tennessee and Buell the command of his soldiers stalled in northern Alabama. Because of the disposition of their forces, neither commander was prepared to continue the momentum of offensive warfare. The recalcitrant temper of the Southern populace, guerrilla activity, and the frustration of protecting long and vulnerable supply lines and railroads all combined to stall operations.
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