Friday, May 11, 2012

Kentucky's Neutrality in the Balance

General Halleck's decision to advance on Corinth with such overwhelming force is having far-reaching consequences on this the twelfth day of his twenty-two mile march.  He had assumed that light garrison forces would be sufficient to hold the vast areas of central Tennessee, southern Kentucky and northern Alabama that he now occupied.  From Forts Donelson and Henry, Clarksville, Nashville and southward through Columbia to Pittsburg Landing and Huntsville, Alabama, small groups of rebels are having free reign of the countryside making bold and daring attacks on the Union supply lines-  most notoriously the raids conducted by John Hunt Morgan.

The frustration at Halleck's continuing refusal to relinquish any of his Corinth armies to protect occupied Tennessee and neutral Kentucky from such incursions is demonstrated in these missives to Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton on this day in 1862.  The first is from Lincoln's Military Governor of Occupied Tennessee, Andrew Johnson.

NASHVILLE, May 11, 1862.
Honorable E. M. STANTON:

I am compelled to repeat and call the attention of the Secretary of War to my former dispatches in regard to amount of military force which should have been left in and about this place, to be disposed of as circumstances might require. The very fact of the forces being withdrawn from this locality has inspired secession with insolence and confidence and Union men with distrust as to the power and intention of the Government to protect and defend them. They have not arms; secessionists have. If there had been a military force left at this place sufficient to meet and suppress any uprising of disunionists, combined with returning troops from Corinth and other points and that fact being well known and understood through the whole country, there would have been no further difficulty and trouble in Tennessee. The whole moral power has been lost, and, in fact, we are here now almost in a helpless condition. Had my request been complied with, there would have been no Morgan raids through Middle Tennessee and Kentucky-no battles at Lebanon. This evening we hear of the capture of a train at Cave City, Ky. If these things had [not] occurred, on tomorrow we would have one of the largest Union meetings ever held in the State. As it is, I think there will be a very decided demonstration, which will do much good. The people are in a condition when they are satisfied the Government will sustain them in their efforts to restore their former position in the Union. We are doing all we can, and think we have done much. May God crown your efforts to save the country with success.


John Hunt Morgan was born in northern Alabama and served as a lieutenant in the US Army before settling in Lexington, Kentucky and becoming a captain of his own militia.  When Kentucky failed to secede in 1861, Morgan went south  and as of April 4th was a colonel in the Confederate Army.  In the area between Lexington and Huntsville he had a great deal of local support and his familiarity with the terrain made his highly mobile force of 900 men an awesome problem for the Unionists.

Morgan's primary goal was to draw Kentucky into secession by demonstrating how little the United States was willing to commit to their defense.  General George Morgan (US) commanded a division of volunteers (under Buell) near Lexington and his previous appeals to Halleck and Stanton for support had no effect and Stanton chastised him for going over Halleck's head.  Wishing to spare no additional troops to preserve the political stability of Kentucky,  it had been finally been suggested that he call up a few hundred of Kentucky's own Home Guard to help protect the trains and highways.  It seems Lincoln's earlier statement  that he wanted Tennessee but must have Kentucky had not trickled down to his commanders in the western theater.

May 11, 1862.
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:

This morning John Morgan with 500 men, captured and destroyed three coaches and forty-seven other cars at Cave City, between Louisville and Nashville.

I would respectfully suggest that route should be guarded by a force of two regiments of cavalry and that a similar force should guard the road between this camp and Lexington. The presidend [sic] of the Military Board of Frankfort informs me that we cannot organize a cavalry force in the time designated. If there are cavalry regiments in Indiana or Ohio they should be ordered immediately to Kentucky.

This telegraph is also sent to General Buell, Governors Morton and Tod, and the president of the Military Board at Frankfort.*

Brigadier-General Volunteers.*

Notice the glaring omission of Maj. General Commanding the Department, Henry Wagner Halleck in the "copy to" List.  General Buell, Commanding the Army of the Ohio which was to protect the area surrounding the Ohio River, was included for information only.  Morgan was well aware that he was constrained by Halleck's orders. Remember that his army at Corinth has been reduced to three divisions, two of which are protecting Pope's exposed flank.  The copies to Frankfort's Military Board and Governors  Morton (Indiana) and Tod (Ohio) indicate that this letter was clearly meant to send a political message.

*ORE communications courtesy of my Favorite Link, Ohio State's eHistory

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