Historical records matching Henry "Old Brains" Wager Halleck, Sr., Lt. Gen. USA
About Henry "Old Brains" Wager Halleck, Sr., Lt. Gen. USA
Henry Wager Halleck (January 16, 1815 – January 9, 1872) was a United States Army officer, scholar, and lawyer. A noted expert in military studies, he was known by a nickname that became derogatory, "Old Brains." He was an important participant in the admission of California as a state and became a successful lawyer and land developer. Early in the American Civil War, he was a senior Union Army commander in the Western Theater and then served for almost two years as general-in-chief of all U.S. armies. He was "kicked upstairs" to be chief of staff of the Army when Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Halleck's former subordinate in the West, whose battlefield victories did much to advance Halleck's career, replaced him in 1864 as general-in-chief for the remainder of the war.
Halleck was a cautious general who believed strongly in thorough preparations for battle and in the value of defensive fortifications over quick, aggressive action. He was a master of administration, logistics, and the politics necessary at the top of the military hierarchy, but exerted little effective control over field operations from his post in Washington, D.C. President Abraham Lincoln once described him as "little more than a first rate clerk."
Halleck was born on a farm in Westernville, Oneida County, New York, third child of 14 of Joseph Halleck, a lieutenant who served in the War of 1812, and Catherine Wager Halleck. Young Henry detested the thought of an agricultural life and ran away from home at an early age to be raised by an uncle, David Wager of Utica. He attended Hudson Academy and Union College, then the United States Military Academy. He became a favorite of military theorist Dennis Hart Mahan and was allowed to teach classes while still a cadet. He graduated in 1839, third in his class of 31 cadets, as a second lieutenant of engineers. After spending a few years improving the defenses of New York Harbor, he wrote a report for the United States Senate on seacoast defenses, Report on the Means of National Defence, which pleased General Winfield Scott, who rewarded Halleck with a trip to Europe in 1844 to study European fortifications and the French military. Returning home a first lieutenant, Halleck gave a series of twelve lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston that were subsequently published in 1846 as Elements of Military Art and Science. His work, one of the first expressions of American military professionalism, was well received by his colleagues and was considered one of the definitive tactical treatises used by officers in the coming Civil War. His scholarly pursuits earned him the (later derogatory) nickname "Old Brains."
During the Mexican-American War, Halleck was assigned to duty in California. During his seven-month journey on the transport USS Lexington around Cape Horn, assigned as aide-de-camp to Commodore William Shubrick, he translated Henri Jomini's Vie politique et militaire de Napoleon, which further enhanced his reputation for scholarship. He spent several months in California constructing fortifications, then was first exposed to combat on November 11, 1847, during Shubrick's capture of the port of Mazatlán; Lt. Halleck served as lieutenant governor of the occupied city. He was awarded a brevet promotion to captain in 1847 for his "gallant and meritorious service" in California and Mexico. (He would later be appointed captain in the regular army on July 1, 1853.) He was transferred north to serve under General Bennet Riley, the governor general of the California Territory. Halleck was soon appointed military secretary of state, a position which made him the governor's representative at the 1849 convention in Monterey where the California state constitution was written. Halleck became one of the principal authors of the document. The California State Military Museum writes that Halleck "was [at the convention] and in a lone measure its brains because he had given more studious thought to the subject than any other, and General Riley had instructed him to help frame the new constitution." He was nominated during the convention to be one of two men to represent the new state in the United States Senate, but received only enough votes for third place. During his political activities, he found time to join a law firm in San Francisco, Halleck, Peachy & Billings, which became so successful that he resigned his Army commission in 1854. The following year, he married Elizabeth Hamilton, granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton and sister of Union general Schuyler Hamilton. Their only child, Henry Wager Halleck, Jr., was born in 1856.
Halleck became a wealthy man as a lawyer and land speculator, and a noted collector of "Californiana." He obtained thousands of pages of official documents on the Spanish missions and colonization of California, which were copied and are now maintained by the Bancroft Library of the University of California, the originals having been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. He built the Montgomery Block, San Francisco's first fireproof building, home to lawyers, businessmen, and later, the city's Bohemian writers and newspapers. He was a director of the Almaden Quicksilver (mercury) Company in San Jose, president of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, a builder in Monterey, and owner of the 30,000 acre (120 km²) Rancho Nicasio in Marin County, California. But he remained involved in military affairs and by 1860 he was a major general of the California Militia.
As the Civil War began, Halleck was nominally a Democrat and was sympathetic to the South, but he had a strong belief in the value of the Union. His reputation as a military scholar and an urgent recommendation from Winfield Scott earned him the rank of major general in the regular army, effective August 19, 1861, making him the fourth most senior general in the Army (after Scott, George B. McClellan, and John C. Frémont). He was assigned to command the Department of the Missouri, replacing Frémont in St. Louis on November 9, and his talent for administration quickly sorted out the chaos of fraud and disorder left by his predecessor. He set to work on the "twin goals of expanding his command and making sure that no blame of any sort fell on him."
Historian Kendall Gott described Halleck as a department commander:
Although he had impressive credentials, Henry Halleck was not an easy man to work for. The nature of his job and his personality often provoked antagonism, hatred, and contempt. Halleck's strengths were organizing, coordinating, planning, and managing. He could also advise and suggest, and he sometimes ordered subordinates where and when to make a move, but he never was comfortable doing it himself. Halleck seldom worked openly, and as a department commander, he was always at headquarters, separated and aloof from the men. His decisions were the result of neither snap judgments nor friendly discussion, but calculated thinking. He was also prone to violent hatred and never cultivated close relationships. Overall, he generated no love, confidence, or respect.
– Kendall D. Gott, Where the South Lost the War
Halleck established an uncomfortable relationship with the man who would become his most successful subordinate and future commander, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The pugnacious Grant had just completed the minor, but bloody, Battle of Belmont and had ambitious plans for amphibious operations on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Halleck, by nature a cautious general, but also judging that Grant's reputation for alcoholism in the prewar Army made him unreliable, rejected Grant's plans. However, under pressure from President Lincoln to take offensive action, Halleck reconsidered and Grant conducted operations with naval and land forces against Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, capturing both, along with 14,000 Confederates.
Grant became a national hero, delivering the first significant Union victory of the war. Halleck obtained a promotion for him to major general of volunteers, along with some other generals in his department, and used the victory as an opportunity to request overall command in the Western Theater, which he currently shared with Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell, but which was not granted. He briefly relieved Grant of field command of a newly-ordered expedition up the Tennessee River after Grant met with Buell in Nashville, citing rumors of renewed alcoholism, but soon restored Grant to field command (pressure by Lincoln and the War Department may have been a factor in this about-face). Explaining the reinstatement to Grant, Halleck portrayed it as his effort to correct an injustice, not revealing to Grant that the injustice had originated with him. When Grant wrote to Halleck suggesting "I must have enemies between you and myself," Halleck replied, "You are mistaken. There is no enemy between you and me."
Halleck's department performed well in early 1862, driving the Confederates from the state of Missouri and advancing into Arkansas. They held all of West Tennessee and half of Middle Tennessee. Grant, as of yet unaware of the political maneuvering behind his back, regarded Halleck as "one of the greatest men of the age" and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman described him as the "directing genius" of the events that had given the Union cause such a "tremendous lift" in the previous months. This performance can be attributed to Halleck's strategy, administrative skills, and his good management of resources, and to the excellent execution by his subordinates—Grant, Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis at Pea Ridge, and Maj. Gen. John Pope at Island Number 10. Military historians disagree about Halleck's personal role in providing these victories. Some offer him the credit based on his overall command of the department; others, particularly those viewing his career through the lens of later events, believe that his subordinates were the primary factor.
On March 11, 1862, Halleck's command was enlarged to include Ohio and Kansas, along with Buell's Army of the Ohio, and was renamed the Department of the Mississippi. Grant's Army of the Tennessee was attacked on April 6 at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, in the Battle of Shiloh. With reinforcements from Buell, on April 7 Grant managed to repulse the Confederate Army under Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, but at high cost in casualties. Pursuant to an earlier plan, Halleck arrived to take personal command of his massive army in the field for the first time. Grant was under public attack over the slaughter at Shiloh, and Halleck replaced Grant as a wing commander and assigned him instead to serve as second-in-command of the entire 100,000 man force, a job which Grant complained was a censure and akin to an arrest. Halleck proceeded to conduct operations against Beauregard's army in Corinth, Mississippi, called the Siege of Corinth because Halleck's army, twice the size of Beauregard's, moved so cautiously and stopped daily to erect elaborate field fortifications; Beauregard eventually abandoned Corinth without a fight.
General in chief
In the aftermath of the failed Peninsula Campaign in Virginia, President Lincoln summoned Halleck to the East to become General-in-Chief of all the Union armies, as of July 23, 1862. Lincoln hoped that Halleck could prod his subordinate generals into taking more coordinated, aggressive actions across all of the theaters of war, but he was quickly disappointed, and was quoted as regarding him as "little more than a first rate clerk." Grant replaced Halleck in command of most forces in the West, but Buell's Army of the Ohio was separated and Buell reported directly to Halleck, a peer of Grant's. Halleck began transferring divisions from Grant to Buell; by September, four divisions had moved, leaving Grant with 46,000 men.
In Washington, Halleck continued to excel at administrative issues and facilitated the training, equipping, and deployment of thousands of Union soldiers over vast areas. He was unsuccessful, however, as a commander of the field armies or as a grand strategist. His cold, abrasive personality alienated his subordinates; one observer described him as a "cold, calculating owl." Historian Steven E. Woodworth wrote, "Beneath the ponderous dome of his high forehead, the General would gaze goggle-eyed at those who spoke to him, reflecting long before answering and simultaneously rubbing both elbows all the while, leading one observer to quip that the great intelligence he was reputed to possess must be located in his elbows." This disposition also made him unpopular with the Union press corps, who criticized him frequently.
Halleck, more a bureaucrat than a soldier, was able to impose little discipline or direction on his field commanders. Strong personalities such as George B. McClellan, John Pope, and Ambrose Burnside routinely ignored his advice and instructions. A telling example of his lack of control was during the Northern Virginia Campaign of 1862, when Halleck was unable to motivate McClellan to reinforce Pope in a timely manner, contributing to the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run. It was from this incident that Halleck fell from grace. Abraham Lincoln said that he had given Halleck full power and responsibility as general in chief. "He ran it on that basis till Pope's defeat; but ever since that event he has shrunk from responsibility whenever it was possible."
In Halleck's defense, his subordinate commanders in the Eastern Theater, whom he did not select, were reluctant to move against General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Many of his generals in the West, other than Grant, also lacked aggressiveness. And despite Lincoln's pledge to give the general in chief full control, both he and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton micromanaged many aspects of the military strategy of the nation. Halleck wrote to Sherman, "I am simply a military advisor of the Secretary of War and the President, and must obey and carry out what they decide upon, whether I concur in their decisions or not. As a good soldier I obey the orders of my superiors. If I disagree with them I say so, but when they decide, is my duty faithfully to carry out their decision."
Chief of staff
On March 12, 1864, after Ulysses S. Grant, Halleck's former subordinate in the West, was promoted to lieutenant general and general in chief, Halleck was relegated to chief of staff, responsible for the administration of the vast U.S. armies. Grant and the War Department took special care to let Halleck down gently. Their orders stated that Halleck had been relieved as general in chief "at his own request."
Now that there was an aggressive general in the field, Halleck's administrative capabilities complemented Grant nicely and they worked well together. Throughout the arduous Overland Campaign and Richmond-Petersburg Campaign of 1864, Halleck saw to it that Grant was properly supplied, equipped, and reinforced on a scale that wore down the Confederates. He agreed with Grant and Sherman on the implementation of total war toward the Southern economy and endorsed both Sherman's March to the Sea and Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's destruction of the Shenandoah Valley. Alongside Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, Henry Halleck may be regarded as one of the fathers of modern warfare.
After Grant forced Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Halleck was assigned to command the Military Division of the James, headquartered at Richmond. He was a pall-bearer at Lincoln's funeral. He lost his friendship with William Sherman when he quarreled with him over Sherman's tendency to be lenient toward former Confederates. In August 1865 he was transferred to the Division of the Pacific in California, essentially in military exile until March 1869, when he was assigned to command the Military Division of the South, headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky.
Henry Halleck died at his post in Louisville. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, and is memorialized by a street named for him in San Francisco and a statue in Golden Gate Park. He left no memoirs for posterity and apparently destroyed his private correspondence and memoranda. His estate at his death showed a net value of $474,773.16. His widow, Elizabeth, married Col. George Washington Cullum in 1875. Cullum had served as Halleck's chief of staff in the Western Theater and then on his staff in Washington.
Report on the Means of National Defence (1843) Elements of Military Art and Science (1846) International law, or, Rules regulating the intercourse of states in peace and war (1861) The Mexican War in Baja California: the memorandum of Captain Henry W. Halleck concerning his expeditions in Lower California, 1846–1848 (posthumous, 1977) Ed., Bitumen: Its Varieties, Properties, and Uses (1841) Tr., A Collection of Mining Laws of Spain and Mexico (1859) Tr., Life of Napoleon by Baron Jomini (1864)
Fort Halleck (1862–66): Military outpost in Dakota Territory built to protect travelers on the Overland Trail.
Henry "Old Brains" Wager Halleck, Sr., Lt. Gen. USA's Timeline
January 16, 1815
Westernville, Oneida, New York, United States
January 9, 1872
Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, United States
New York, Kings, New York, United States