Thursday, June 7, 2012

Has Anyone Seen the Confounded Bridge?

General Halleck's tendency to issue confusing orders based on incomplete or inaccurate intelligence is evinced again.  Wood's Division had been sent ahead with instructions to have his engineers repair the bridge at Bear Creek.  Nelson had followed as ordered and arrived at Smith's Crossroads on this day in 1862.  Exhausted from their three days on the road, the Seventeenth bivouacked here for the night.  Nelson was charged with relieving Wood's  men, allowing them to proceed to the bridge at Tuscumbia.  The goal was to unite with O.M. Mitchell in northeastern Alabama.  Knowing the importance of this bridge, which the rebels had garrisoned with upwards of 1,500 men and light artillery before destroying it, was it reckless to assume the site would be totally void of enemy troops?

Apparently, Halleck is surprised to find that Bear Creek remains an obstacle.  His assistant, Col. J.B. Fry, transmits a tersely worded admonishment to Wood which is received and replied to on this day.  You can almost hear General Wood's teeth grinding as he writes to the colonel.

HEADQUARTERS SIXTH DIVISION, Near Bear Creek Bridge, June 7, 1862.
Col. J. B. FRY:

It is not true that the Engineer Regiment is required to do duty. At the moment of my arrival here with my advance guard [I had come in advance of the bulk of the division to select a camp] I was greeted with the information that some men of the Engineer Regiment had been fired on from the eastern side of Bear Creek, one being killed outright and another wounded. This fact clearly indicated the presence of some hostile parties. Of their force I of course knew nothing. Previous to the commencement of the work, and while preparations were being made for it, I directed Colonel Innes, his camp being near and convenient, to put a camp guard for his own protection at the site of the late bridge and one on the road leading to a ferry 2 miles lower down. As soon as the work was commenced the men were relieved, and they were very small parties. I have two regiments on duty daily, one for protection, the other for labor. The former is posted on the eastern side of Bear Creek.
Your written instructions of the 1st instant inform me that General W. S. Smith is charged with the supervision of the work of repairing the road and my duties those of the military commander. These instructions should have prevented the tone, implied at least, of reflection of your dispatch of yesterday, this moment received, for the slow progress of the work. The dispatch would seem to indicate that I am expected to give more supervision to the work than is contemplated in the written instructions. If this be the general's wish, while it is by no means a duty I would seek, I will [do the work] as rapidly as possible. I informed General Smith and Colonel Innes that I would give them every facility to hasten the work to completion, and I have answered all their requests. It is proper to remark that I do not know that there has been any want of energy and activity on the part of those heretofore charged with the work. I have seen little of General Smith, but Colonel Innes seems anxious to hasten the work. Not being a practical engineer or bridge builder, it is impossible for me to say whether Colonel Innes' efforts are directed judiciously. I only speak for his energy.
I respectfully request a copy of this dispatch be submitted to General Halleck.


Halleck, having now ordered Buell to cross Bear Creek and move on to rebuild the bridge at Tuscumbia without the aid of engineers, provides instruction on bridge building, having never surveyed the site himself.  This must have been insulting to Buell who clearly knows how to build a bridge, having built two spans exceeding 100 feet each enroute from Columbia to Savannah.

CORINTH, June 7, 1862.
Major-General BUELL:

We have neither tools nor mechanics to supply. By collecting the tools and mechanics in your army the Tuscumbia railroad bridge can be built without delay. Piers of crib work can be build with logs, and timber laid from one to another. We are doing this in other places.
 Put some competent and energetic officer in charge, and I am certain the work can be done with the means at hand.


Buell  also apprises  "Old Brians" of the reality on/above the ground and Halleck responds.

CORINTH, June 7, 1862.
Major-General BUELL:

Your telegram is received. Urge upon General Wood the importance of pushing forward the Bear Creek Bridge with all possible dispatch. Every man that can find room to work should be employed. Our mechanics here work all night on the locomotives and cars.


On the other front, Halleck orders Mitchell to push cars and locomotives westward to Tuscumbia on the M&C RR.  Mitchell provides yet another dose of reality to the Major-General Commanding the Department.

HUNTSVILLE, June 7, 1862.
Major-General HALLECK:

Your dispatch of this date received.* [reference not found] The enemy still occupies the railroad from Tuscumbia to Decatur. I have no force to drive him out, but supposed this would be done by General Buell; but am informed by him that his troops will not probably pass to the east of Bear Creek for seven or eight days. Am building boats and preparing the track for crossing. I wish you to interpose, if possible, and stay the execution of the order about surplus officers. I have not a single brigade quartermaster in my entire division, and all our business will be thrown into confusion. Occupied with the enemy at every point.


Halleck must be having Napoleonic fits of frustration by now.  His generals are failing to complete his orders in a timely fashion and the enemy refuses to quit the field after being soundly dislodged from Corinth.  The evidence is beginning to mount.  It may become necessary to actually engage and destroy the opposing army, not just out-maneuver it.  But how long will it take to effect a change in the hearts and minds of the senior staff?

*ORE correspondence courtesy of my Favorite Link, Ohio State's eHistory, Series I, vol. 10, pp268-271.

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