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Lincoln's Chief of Staff

Stephen E. Ambrose

Publication Year: 1996

“Halleck originates nothing, anticipates nothing, to assist others; takes no responsibility, plans nothing, suggests nothing, is good for nothing.” Lincoln’s secretary of the navy Gideon Welles’s harsh words constitute the stereotype into which Union General-in-Chief Henry Wager Halleck has been cast by most historians since Appomattox. In Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, originally published in 1962, Stephen Ambrose challenges the standard interpretation of this controversial figure. Ambrose argues persuasively that Halleck has been greatly underrated as a war theorist because of past writer’s failure to do justice to his close involvement with three movements basic to the development of the American military establishment: the Union high command’s application—and ultimate rejection—of the principles of Baron Henri Jomini; the growth of a national, professional army at the expense of the state militia; and the beginnings of a modern command system.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. v-vi

This study centers its attention on three movements basic to the development of the American military establishment: the application, and ultimate rejection, of the theories and principles of Baron Henri Jomini to the art of war as practiced in the United States; ...

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I. The Formative Years

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pp. 3-10

Hs story is the story of the Civil War. His hand shaped strategy in every theater of the war. No man on either side took part in more campaigns, and in 1861 no one of the generals whose names later became household words was better prepared for the war than Henry Wager Halleck. ...

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II. From Chaos to Order

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pp. 11-22

It was a brisk November afternoon in the nation's capital. Major General Henry Wager Halleck was talking with McClellan about his new post, the Department of the Missouri, a command that included the key state of Missouri and the important area of Western Kentucky. ...

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III. "Give Me Command in the West"

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pp. 23-40

A much more feasible plan" than an advance by both Buell and Grant, Halleck instructed McClellan on January 20, 1862, "is to move up the Cumberland and Tennessee, making Nashville the first objective point." His strategy was based on a principle put forth in his Elements of Military Art: ...

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IV. The Siege of Corinth

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pp. 41-54

The Confederates enjoyed no rest after evacuating Fort Donelson. The Yankees drove them south from Columbus, Bowling Green, Nashville, all of Kentucky and the western half of Tennessee. On the left flank Gram's army, now under Smith, pushed forward relentlessly; ...

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V. Consolidating Recent Gains

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pp. 55-63

I do not, however, propose to pursue him far into Mississippi," Halleck said of the retreating Beauregard,1 and thereby established a pattern for six weeks of campaigning in the West. Rather than plan offensive action, he spent his time organizing the department, improving the health of his troops, repairing railroads and obtaining new cars. ...

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VI. McClellan, Pope, and Second Bull Run

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pp. 64-78

There was reason, indeed, for Lincoln to urge the western commander to Washington to assume his anomalously elevated position. McClellan was on the James River, within a few miles of Richmond, moaning that he was greatly outnumbered; Pope was south of Manassas Junction with his newly formed Army of Virginia; ...

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VII. The Guillotine for Unsuccessful Generals

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pp. 79-93

The reverberations of Pope's defeat pounded in Halleck's eardrums. He "scarcely slept" for four nights and was "almost worn out." Two days after the battle, September 2, struggling to regain his composure, he assured his wife: "Everybody now admits that if I had not brought McClellan's army here when I did, we should have been lost." ...

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VIII. Burnside and Rosecrans

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pp. 94-107

On November 7, 1862, the day he took command of the Army of the Potomac, Burnside outlined his plans for Halleck's consideration. He wanted to concentrate east of the Valley, give the impression he was about to attack Culpepper or Gordonsville, accumulate four or five days' supplies for the men and horses, then move by rapid march on Fredericksburg. ...

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IX. Intrigue Along the Mississippi

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pp. 108-122

The Mississippi River was the key to the war in the West. By seizing control of the Father of the Waters, the North would accomplish two major objectives: eliminating Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas from the war, and freeing navigation from St. Louis to New Orleans. The resulting change in morale would hold even greater significance. ...

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X. Concentrate on Important Points

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pp. 123-136

The auspicious note on which 1863 had begun would not be prolonged. Although Rosecrans' victory at Stone's River and Grant's success at Vicksburg heralded hope that the Union might win the war within the year, the North's momentum soon dwindled. Friction and inertia marked the month of June, 1863; frustration and despair furrowed Old Brains' brow. ...

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XI. Gettysburg and Vicksburg

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pp. 137-149

Halleck, a thoroughly practical soldier not inclined to pessimistic musing, still may well have wondered on July 1, 1863, if the North would ever win the war. Indeed, would it even be able to hold its capital? Studying his map and plotting the spread of Lee's army over the rich farm land of southern Pennsylvania, Halleck had cause to despair. ...

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XII. Responsibility and Odium

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pp. 150-161

Old Brains felt justified in comparing Rosecrans and Buell; Rosecrans had done almost nothing since the first day of the new year. In June, after repeated threats from Halleck, Rosecrans had forced Bragg south of the Tennessee River, but since the brief excursion his army remained immobile. ...

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XIII. Chief of Staff

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pp. 162-180

Old Brains' new position as chief of staff to the Army, Hooker decided, was "very much like a fellow marrying a woman with the understanding that he should not sleep with her." Hooker expressed the feelings of many of his fellow officers. There was uncertainty about the responsibilities of the new office. ...

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XIV. Total War

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pp. 181-195

A transformation had taken place. It culminated when Sherman took Atlanta and deliberately and relentlessly destroyed it. The shackles of Eighteenth Century limited warfare had been broken. From his Washington headquarters Old Brains sent his highest approval. ...

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XV. Victory

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pp. 196-212

Thomas' victory brightened the situation for the Northern high command. Lee now commanded the only sizeable Confederate army in existence—the North had two forces, Thomas' and Sherman's, with which the generals could do literally what they wished. Sherman might march through South Carolina and North Carolina to join Grant, or take transports from Savannah directly to City Point. ...


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pp. 213-218


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pp. 219-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780807155394
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807120712

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 1996