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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 309: 'Worse than useless'

Friday, March 23, 2012

During the Civil War, most of the Union Army was comprised of volunteer regiments from various states because the regular U.S. Army was very small and could not, because of its size suppress the rebellion. However, the regular army had and provided many professional officers who commanded some of the field armies and most of the higher general staff positions.

One of these professional regular army officers was Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck. Gen. Halleck graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1839, was an engineer and was nicknamed "old brains." He was an excellent administrative officer who was eventually promoted to be commander--in-chief of the U.S. Army from July 23, 1862, to March 9, 1864.

However, in the winter and spring of 1862, Gen. Halleck was in command of the Department of the Mississippi which included Missouri and Kansas, and he was faced with many major problems including how and by whom the war was being waged in his department.

The war in Missouri and Kansas was being fought on the frontier of the United States, and it was a brutal, barbaric war fought by soldiers and civilians where it was often very difficult to distinguish one from the other. This was an extreme guerrilla war, and it was the type of war that Maj. Gen. Halleck was not used to fighting.

Because of this, Gen. Halleck had an extremely poor opinion of the "irregular" Union soldiers in his department, especially the Kansas troops. In fact, it appears that he hated the Kansas troops with a passion, which is perfectly clear in the following letters.

The letters are on pages 641 to 642 and 647 to 648 in Series I, Volume 8 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.
"Headquarters Department of the Mississippi,St. Louis, March 25, 1862.
Hon. E. M. Stanton,Secretary of War, Washington:

Sir, your letter of the 19th instant in relation to military outrages in Jackson County, Mo., is just received.

I have had two regiments stationed or moving in Jackson County for some time past in order to stop these depredations. This is as much as I can do, for many other counties in this state are equally urgent in their calls for protection and to gratify them all would require an army of 50,000 men to be distributed through Missouri in addition to the militia.

That many, and in some cases, horrible outrages have been committed in this state I do not doubt. They have been committed by three classes of persons. First, the enemy's guerrilla bands (bushwhackers). Since the expulsion of Price they are rapidly diminishing. Nevertheless, it will require some severe examples to be made in order to suppress them.

Second, the Kansas jayhawkers, or robbers, who were organized under the auspices of Sen. Lane. They wear the uniform of and, it is believed, receive pay from the United States. Their principle occupation for the last six months seems to have been the stealing of negroes, the robbing of houses and the burning of barns, grain and forage. The evidence of their crimes is unquestionable. They have not heretofore been under my orders. I will keep them out of Missouri or have them shot.

Third, our own volunteer troops. It cannot be denied that some of our volunteer regiments have behaved very badly, plundering to an enormous extent. I have done everything in my power to prevent this and to punish the guilty. Many of the regimental officers are very bad men and participate in the plunder. In such cases it is impossible to reach them by court-martial.

Where regiments are moving in the field, courts cannot be assembled; and when courts are ordered, the witnesses cannot be procured, or, if private soldiers, are frequently overawed by their colonels or other officers.

This matter was fully represented to Assistant Secretary Scott when here, and he advised the mustering out of service of officers who were satisfactorily shown to be guilty of this species of plundering and marauding.

Under the general authority given to me to muster out of service, I have, in a few cases, resorted to this remedy, and it is producing a good effect. By this means, the officers escape punishment and disgrace which they deserve, but the Army is purged of them.

Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,

Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck"

Headquarters, Department of the Mississippi,St. Louis, March 28, 1862.
Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, Washington:

Sir, in detailing Gen. Denver for the command in Kansas, I followed the advice of the officers of Gen. Hunter's staff. They gave it as their opinion that he was the best suited for the place, and as I had very little personal acquaintance with him, I felt bound to follow the best advice I could obtain.

Subsequent information convinces me that it was good and that a better selection could not have been made. There are few, if any, enemies in Kansas, and the qualities most required there are administrative. I think Gen. Denver would preserve peace on the border and enable me to send most of the Kansas troops into the field where they might be of some use.

As it is now, they are really worse than useless, for they compel me to keep troops from other states on the Missouri border to prevent these Kansas troops from committing murders and robberies.

It appears, however, that there are some politicians connected with this matter. Not being a politician, this did not occur to me. I am a little surprised, however, that politicians in Congress should be permitted to dictate the selection of officers for particular duties in this department. Under such circumstances, I cannot be responsible for the results.

Nevertheless, I shall comply with the president's wishes and place some other officer in command in Kansas as soon as I can spare one for that purpose.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck"

Now then, did Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck ever change his opinion of the Kansas troops as the war progressed? No, he did not.

And did the Kansas troops change the way they waged war in Missouri? For the most part, no they did not; and, of course, the war went on.

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches