Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hitting the Wall

The forced march ordered by General Buell is having devastating effects on the Volunteers in Nelson's Division.  The fatigue is evident in Captain Cox's diary entry for July 15, 1862

Started this morning at two o'clock, crossed the Elk River at Elkton at sun-up, at which place we took our breakfast and afterwards took the Turn Pike to Pulaski, Tenn.  The sun coming down, as on yesterday, and in fact, 'hotter than Hell."  Today the whole brigade gave out;  the men actually refused "Old Ironsides Nelson" to go an inch farther.  He took the artillery and moved on to Pulaski having made twenty miles in that time.

We are now encamped for the night on the creek near said town; a great many are still behind and one or two, I suppose, will never get up as they fell on the road.

We are ordered to move forward at 2 o'clock tomorrow morning.*

If the men had known of the multiple incursions into Kentucky and the Union's surrender of Murfreesboro, they might have been persuaded to continue.  At least Nelson got his artillery to Pulaski on time, per Buell's orders.

Buell's frustration finds expression in the following telegram to the recently promoted General-in-Chief Henry Halleck.


HEADQUARTERS, Huntsville, July 15, 1862.
General HALLECK:

My information up to the night of the 13th from Murfreesborough[sic] was that the Ninth Michigan had been captured, but that Colonel Lester's regiment and Hewett's battery were doing well and felt confident of being able to hold out. Re-enforcements were being started from Nashville. It appears that before they arrived Colonel Lester surrendered at 4 o'clock p. m. the same day. I have no particulars, and at present no remarks to make upon what appears now to be a most disgraceful affair; of course it may embarrass me considerably. I have been too busy to counteract it. The words is the interruption of the Chattanooga road, which was just completed. I had taken the precaution to place some twelve regiments on that route until it should be securely established. We will go to work again.


In the final statement, Buell demonstrates that his efforts are still directed at maintaining the roads and supply lines, a priority that was passed down straight from the old general himself.  The importance of maintaining supply routes is a lesson learned early in an officer's education, but should not come at the expense of the mission objective.  How long will it take Halleck and Buell to realize that the primary purpose of an army in wartime is to engage and defeat the enemy?

* Cox, Samuel K., Civil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, courtesy of Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room archives, p.19.

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