Henry Halleck was a senior commander in the Union army during the American Civil War when he fought in the ‘Western Theatre’. By the end of the American Civil War, Halleck was Chief of Staff for the army.
Halleck spent time in California developing defences. While in California he worked for the Governor General there, General Riley. Halleck served as Military Secretary of State and it was in this position that he had a major input into California’s state constitution. While in California he also joined a law firm, despite his army commitments. Halleck so enjoyed his legal work that he resigned from the army in 1854. He became a wealthy man who also involved himself in land speculation. Halleck became the owner of a 30,000-acre ranch in Marin County. However, he kept his military contacts as he served as a major general in the California militia.
When the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, Halleck was still involved in his Californian business ventures. He was a strong believer in the whole concept of a nation’s unity and believed the Union to be inviolable. Senior army commander pushed for Halleck to be offered a full time commission and in August 1861, he was appointed a major general in the regular army – the fourth highest-ranking officer in the North’s army. Halleck was given command of the Department of the Missouri.
Halleck proved to be a very good organiser and planner. However, he was a very difficult man to work with. He frequently made decisions off the cuff and failed to discuss issues with his immediate subordinates. Most of the work he did was by himself. However, if anything went wrong with his plans, Halleck was quick to blame his subordinates for failing to fully carry out his orders or failing to fully understand what was required. One of his subordinates was Ulysses Grant, the future overall commander of the Union Army. Grant wanted the armies under Halleck’s command to be more aggressive in their approach. This clashed with Halleck who preferred a more planned and cautious approach so that a victory was more or less guaranteed. His approach was similar to General McClellan’s who tried to persuade President Lincoln that his army, the Army of the Potomac, only had to lose once on a major scale, and Washington would become a threatened capital. Halleck had the same approach. However, Lincoln wanted his generals to be more dynamic and aggressive and supported Grant’s approach. Halleck gave way and it resulted in Grant capturing two Confederate held forts, Henry and Donaldson, and capturing 14,000 Confederate troops. The victories – the first for the Union – were well received by Lincoln who used them to justify his belief in aggressive campaigns. Halleck tried to advance his own position off the back of Grant by requesting the command for the whole of the Western Theatre as opposed to ‘just’ the Department of the Missouri. It was refused, but it was a sign of the way Halleck’s mind worked.
Halleck’s armies continued to perform well in and around Missouri. Halleck provided the Department of the Missouri with clear and concise planning, one of his great strengths, and men such as Grant, Pope andSherman held him in the highest of regards. Their victories certainly did Halleck’s position a great deal of good and they benefited from his ability to organise his armies and he also had a talent for skilfully using what resources he had.
In July 1862, Lincoln appointed Halleck General-in-Chief of all the Union armies to be based in Washington. Lincoln’s perception was that Halleck would cajole Union generals in the field into being more aggressive in their campaigns. The President was wrong in his assessment. Halleck used his position to continue his campaign against Grant. Halleck had always looked down on Grant because of the latter’s well known drinking issues. Halleck transferred divisions of men in Grant’s army to other generals who called on Halleck for more manpower. By September 1862, Grant commanded an army of 46,000 men. Just six months earlier, Grant had command over 100,000 men.
However, as General-in-Chief, Halleck continued to excel in administrative tasks and maintaining the required resources for his rapidly growing armies. However, he had no overall grand strategy. His generals in the field also failed to carry out his orders and adjusted them to suit themselves. The Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run was blamed on Halleck’s inability to motivate his generals into carrying out his orders.
If Halleck had cultivated a better relationship with the Union’s press, he may have been given a better write-in in Union newspapers. However, he had kept the press at an arm’s length and frequently riled them with what they perceived as his arrogant behaviour. Rather than report on the fact that Union generals in the field had failed to carry out orders from a senior officer, they blamed the defeat at Bull Run on Halleck’s lack of inspirational leadership.
Halleck remained in the US Army until he died. He was given command of the Division of the Pacific in California and then of the Division of the South. He held this command until his death.
Henry Halleck died on January 9th 1872.