Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 23, 1863 (Saturday): The Not Quite General-In-Chief

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton
Washington, D. C., May 23, 1863.
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
SIR: In your letter of to-day, just received, you propose four questions for answer:
     1. What provision, in the present condition of the Army of the Potomac and the forces around Alexandria, Baltimore, and Washington, should be made to guard against such raids?
    The disposition of the forces in and around Alexandria and Washington is as stated in my letter of the 18th. I do not think that this disposition can be improved unless the position of the Army of the Potomac, or of its cavalry, be changed. General Heintzelman has been directed to block up the roads of approach by felling trees, and to remove the paroled prisoners, now south of the Potomac, to Annapolis, or to the north side of the river. They cannot fight, and will only be in the way where they are. General Schenck has been directed to concentrate his troops upon fewer points, so that they can be more available against raids.
    2. Whether proper precautions have been taken to guard against such raids?
    In addition to the disposition above stated General Heintzelman has stopped all passage of the brigades during the night, has barricaded them, and placed at them strong guards with artillery. The planking of Chain Bridge is ordered to be taken up every night. Staff officers are directed to visit the guards, forts, and pickets frequently, to see that all are on the alert.
     The guards of the public stores in the city are directed to be held in readiness to act on any threatened point. As an additional precaution, I suggest that all clerks and employes of the Government should be directed to assemble at their several departments, in case of an alarm, to be armed, and replace the guards at the public stores and buildings.
      3. What dispositions of our cavalry force should be made under present circumstances?
      All available cavalry forces in the Department of Washington are kept on and in front of the outer line of pickets south of the Potomac, scouts being sent out on the roads to feel the enemy and give notice of his movements. I do not think a better disposition can at present be made of these forces.
      4. Any other suggestions you deem proper to make in respect to the above-mentioned forces for offense or protection. You will also state what cavalry force now belongs to the Army of the Potomac, where it is, and on what duty engaged.
     The last return received of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac is dated April 10. The aggregate was then 22,253, of which 13,398 was reported present for duty. Since then this force has been weakened by an extensive raid against the enemy. Probably not more than 9,000 or 10,000 could now be taken into the field. When I last saw General Hooker, I understood from him that he intended to station this cavalry near the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, in rear of the Rappahannock, to provide against raids, and protect that line of supplies. I was told by General Stoneman, on the 21st, that only a picket guard had been left there, and that the remainder of the cavalry had been withdrawn to Belle Plain, some 35 or 40 miles from the Rappahannock Station. If so, it could not reach this road without a hard day's march.
     In my opinion, this cavalry, if the Army of the Potomac contemplates no immediate movement, should either be stationed nearer to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, or be employed in again attacking and breaking up the enemy's cavalry. It is rumored that Stuart and Lee are collecting a cavalry force at Culpeper. If so, it is probably for a raid upon Alexandria or into the Valley of the Shennadoah, which the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac should be prepared to prevent.
    Since writing the foregoing, I learn verbally from General Butterfield that two divisions of the Cavalry Corps are stationed near the Orange and Alexandria Railroad; that two regiments have been sent to clean out the country between the Rappahannock and the Occoquan, and that two other regiments have been sent for the same purpose down the neck of land between the Potomac and Rappahannock.
     If a mere cavalry raid should be made upon Alexandria, the only serious apprehensions would be for our stores at that place, while, on the other hand, the enemy's retreat ought to be cut off by the cavalry of General Stahel and that of the Army of the Potomac. If the enemy should attack in large force, we must rely for assistance mainly upon the army under General Hooker.
     The efficiency of the defenses south of the Potomac would be greater if there was a more experienced officer in command of the forts and artillery. I therefore respectfully renew my recommendation that Colonel De Russy be made a brigadier-general of volunteers, in order that he may be assigned to that command.
In regard to the Army of the Potomac, I must respectfully refer you to my letter of the 18th. I have not now, nor have had since General Hooker assumed the command, any information in regard to its intended movements other than that which I have received from the President, to whom General Hooker reports directly.
     Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

     H. W. HALLECK,

MAY 24, 1863.
   Respectfully referred to the President for his orders. The opinion that the large cavalry forces of the Army of the Potomac should be so disposed as to afford protection against the enemy's cavalry raids upon our military depots and exposed points is concurred in by the general commanding the department, Major-General Heintzelman, and the Quartermaster-General, who, under my direction, has just made a personal examination as to the defenses of our depots at Alexandria. As General Halleck, for reasons stated, does not deem himself authorized to give orders to General Hooker, it is submitted to the President whether the circumstances do not require him to give such directions as upon consideration of the within report may appear to be necessary.


     Secretary of War.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 25, Part 2, Page 516.

It is worth noting Halleck, commander of all U.S. armies,did not consider himself authorized to give orders to Hooker.  It was an unworkable situation, created by Lincoln himself.  It placed the General-In-Chief of the armies in a role most accurately described as an administrator.

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