Skip to content

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Too disgraceful if true


From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

An operation to capture a Union gunboat turns into a Confederate disaster.

Sept. 10, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

The famed Brigade is back again after its hurried trip to Tensas, during which it managed to capture sixteen Yankees, kill three, and kill five of its own men by a badly placed ambuscade. The object of the march was to take possession of a gunboat that was to be given up by treachery, but it proved a fiasco.

Our opinion is that the officers all got on a grand spree and so failed at the critical time. Too disgraceful if true. Jimmy and Joe were two who volunteered to board the boat when volunteers were called for. I think there were eighty in all, but it proved they were not to board the gunboat but to form an ambuscade.

How near death they were when they stood firing within fifteen paces of each other. It makes one shudder to think of it. What unnecessary risk and such culpable ignorance in the man who placed the ambuscade.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: One grand holocaust


From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

After false rumors of a Union raid, a furious Stone employs amazing language to accuse the Federal government of using former slaves to wipe Southern civilization off the face of the earth.

Sept. 5, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

Intense excitement in the neighborhood. Yankees reported advancing in large force destroying, burning, and murdering as they come!! Capt. Lea with his small band of guerrillas contesting every mile of the way but being steadily forced back by superior numbers! Praying Col. Parsons, who has the only troops near, for reinforcements, but who refuses to send them as he is under stringent orders and making forced marches! Blank consternation among the citizens who hear that the Federals have vowed vengeance against this section on account of Capt. Lea and his guerrillas. Everyone is preparing to flee the wrath to come.

Such were the startling reports brought to Col. Templeton by terrified Mr. Philips this morning, frightening us nearly to death, for great is our horror of the vandal hordes since their ruthless destruction of Floyd and Pin Hook and their outrageous conduct at those doomed places. Mrs. Templeton soon had everything arranged for our rapid flight through the swamp across the Ouachita to the safe haven of Col. Wadley’s home, should the reports prove true, leaving Mrs. Templeton and Mrs. Savage here to brave the storm, Col. Templeton going with us. We were on the qui vive all day looking for a mounted messenger galloping up through the wooded lawn shouting, “Flee, Flee.” But about sunset the tension relaxed. We heard that the Yankees came out only as far as Floyd on a reconnaissance and are retiring to the river, and so we breathe freely once more.

The Yankee raids are no joke, though we laugh at each other for being frightened. Last week 200 of the Corps D’Afrique, officered by six big white men (wretches they are), came out and laid the two little villages of Floyd and Pin Hook in ashes, not allowing the people to remove any of their possessions from their houses and thus leaving them utterly destitute. They were very rough and insulting in their language to the ladies, tore the pockets from their dresses and the rings from their fingers, cursing and swearing, and frightening the helpless folks nearly into fits.

This was done in revenge for a guerrilla raid a few days before, in which a good many government stores were destroyed and eighty or ninety Negroes brought out. The Yankees know they make it ten times worse for us by sending Negroes to commit these atrocities. The Paternal Government at Washington has done all in its power to incite a general insurrection throughout the South, in the hopes of thus getting rid of the women and children in one grand holocaust. We would be practically helpless should the Negroes rise, since there are so few men left at home. It is only because the Negroes do not want to kill us that we are still alive. The Negroes have behaved well, far better than anyone anticipated. They have not shown themselves revengeful, have been most biddable, and in many cases have been the only mainstay of their owners.

Five or six citizens, unarmed, were murdered by the Yankees in that Floyd raid. How thankful I am we left home when we did. To lose everything is bad, but constant terror and insult are worse.

The guerrillas report that the cotton crop on the river is a complete failure, entirely eaten up by the worms. The fields are swept of every vestige of green and there is hardly a matured boll to a stalk. This news rejoices our very hearts. Those are true “Confederate worms,” working for the good of the Cause. …

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Lazy and languid


From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

As Stone continues her brief stay with friends in Louisiana, she savors the old sights and sounds of her beloved home state.

Sept. 2, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

Mrs. and Col. Templeton are entertaining a Mr. Massengale, just from Texas with news of Capt. Jack Wylie. We may look for him any day now. He will bring three beautiful horses, which we three girls have already appropriated in imagination and expect to race over the whole countryside.

I am too used up by my ride, or rather run, of yesterday to do anything. We have been very busy for the last ten days, riding, sewing, singing, receiving visitors, and playing, but now that the Brigade has gone out to Tensas Parish, we will be quiet for a time. Even Walker’s division is passing through en route to Arkansas, and so for the present we are left defenseless. …

Unfortunately for my pleasure, the report is abroad that I am engaged. There is no truth in it, and it deprives me of much fun. …

I have finished all of Jimmy’s clothes and two dresses for myself, and I feel a real Louisianian once more in the very heart of the swamp, suffocating with the heat, fighting mosquitoes, lazy and languid, little appetite, but luxuriating on fruit for breakfast, dinner, and supper and enjoying curds and cream. The swamp is my own dear land most natural, most restful.

Mamma’s trip to Yankeeland did much good to all of us. The carriage, and such a delightful one, is a great triumph. The dry goods are the greatest comfort, relieving our present necessities, and the books and papers are great entertainment. …

From a flame into a firestorm


Why the French Revolution devoured its own people
An essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Hope inspires nations to improve their societies, challenge their citizens’ capabilities, and face down seemingly invincible enemies. In revolutionary France, citizens and their leaders tasted the sweet fresh air of liberty, equality, and nationalist unity. They sensed their hopes for a brighter national and social future might be realized, and they determined that nothing would interfere with that grand realization. But how did those hopes lead France into the horrific era of the Terror? The tragic evolution from revolution to republic to Terror was not a linear nor an inevitable process. Challenges to the Revolution mounted, as did the Revolution’s responses to them. The key elements of the Revolution – the people who embraced that revolution, their political leadership, and the counterrevolutionary threats that haunted all of them – ground against each other, setting off sparks that ignited the rise of a new form of government and an era of bloodshed that still stains the shadowed passages of tormented human memory.

The French Revolution reordered the political mindsets of many eighteenth-century French people. The preceding era of the Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters nurtured not only an intellectual renaissance but also demanded and inspired challenges to the way the French regarded the Catholic Church, their places in a monarchy, and their social, economic, and creative potential as liberated people.1 That intimate revolution in self-image was furthered in 1763 and 1764 when the Parlement of Paris argued that “the king held his throne and legitimacy” from “fundamental” French laws, deflating the inherently supreme majesty of monarchy and subordinating it to the French polity’s larger legal authority.2

As economic crisis paralyzed France, the Old Regime’s political leadership failed to live up to the people’s “almost-millenarian hope” that those leaders could improve commoners’ impoverished lives, convincing many of those commoners that they had to take control of their own existence.3 The privileges the upper classes enjoyed angered the middle classes, already irritated with “paternalism of government” and dismissive of the Church as a “corporation which had ceased to perform its functions efficiently.”4 A new era was about to dawn over France.

The Revolution retained the king but stripped privileges from the Church and demanded from the clergy oaths of loyalty to the new Civil Constitution. The new national representatives asked the people to share their concerns and ideas. It was intimately revolutionary. The people were asked to review their lives and look at elements of their government and society that they themselves deemed could “be changed or improved or abolished.”5 The new Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens promised a better future for an “imagined community” of equal citizens. The new October constitution formalized ideals of liberty and equality under a representative government, spiritually freed from Catholic doctrine, and under the paternalistic gaze of a weak and devoted monarch. While the reforms seemed to favor oppressed and voiceless lower classes, the Revolution did not have “a natural constituency.”6 Each citizen had their own self-interested reason for support or opposing the new era of liberty and equality.

By the early 1790s, the empowered and self-confident French people, no longer “docile followers” of the Old Regime’s well-trod paths through life, stood on the threshold of an undiscovered country, determined to face down the empires and kingdoms that besieged them, the political and economic differences that divided them, and, most importantly, the internal forces that conspired to undermine their Revolution’s promise of a new and better world.7

Revolutionary changes did not unfold without resistance, particularly from French sectors directly diminished by progressive policies, and the manner with which some changes were enacted inspired counterrevolutionary sentiments, conspiracies, and actions. Other counterrevolutionary actors feared further social disorder, insolvency, and unemployment, disagreed over food distribution policies, or simply suffered from bruised egos.8 Economic equality for the lower classes meant nothing if standards of living steadily fell.9

The nobles saw their privileges, including light tax burdens or exemptions from an incomprehensible financial system, stripped away “by violence and chicanery,” inspiring even elites who disliked each other to temporarily unite, thereby “creating one of the strands of the counterrevolution.”10 Some elites found a promising alliance with the other major French sector the Revolution diminished: the Catholic Church. Revolution policies expropriated church property, determined that embrace of a “Supreme Being” instead of God “eliminated the Church’s monopoly of public worship as well as its claim to special status,” issued a Civil Constitution of the Clergy in July 1790, and required the clergy to swear their allegiance to that constitution or resign their posts.11 The oath was meant to assert the people’s sovereignty over the church just as the Revolution asserted popular sovereignty over the government, class hierarchies, and the monarchy. The revolutionary government expected the Church to “proselytize for it and to keep order for it” among the masses.12

But that oath also became a rallying point for the Revolution’s leading enemies, who used it to break off sections of popular sentiment bristling over the Revolution’s treatment of their sacred religious institutions or feeling discontent over a multitude of other consequences of revolutionary policies. Counterrevolutionary elites focused disruptive energies on Catholic-rich regions of France and manipulated Catholic-Protestant divisions. The oath provided the counterrevolution a group from which to draw support that might have otherwise embraced the new era. Resistance to the Civil Constitution “took on the characteristics of a mass movement.”13

The oath also stressed the fragile loyalties of clerical deputies participating in revolutionary government. The faith they shared with most other deputies in the unifying symbol of the King Louis XVI bolstered the Revolution’s fragile coalition. His attempt to escape the Revolution sent devastating shockwaves through the delicate political networks and contributed to the people’s eventual capacity to wage the Terror against the threats he represented.14

The king publicly swore loyalty and support for the new constitution. But he secretly despised everything it represented. The Civil Constitution of Clergy disgusted him. In letters he raged against his loss of traditional monarchical authority.15 His escape in June 1791, his capture, and his discovered letters – including one he left behind explaining his reasons for his flight — exposed to his subjects what he truly felt about their aspirations and ambitions.

Louis warped the monarchy’s moral authority and stained any politician subsequently willing to deal with it or defend it. Opinion and justification over his actions split the political accord in the Assembly.16 The flight shattered for provincial citizens and officials any belief in the revolutionary government’s credibility, effectiveness, and stability. Who would help them? A government that accomplished nothing? A divided church only half-heartedly embracing a new era of social justice? A king that lied to their faces? The king’s flight and his sentiments convinced “the urban masses and the national guards” that they had to deal with incidents of counterrevolutionary unrest with degrees of force that they themselves deemed appropriate — with “their own solutions” — and Paris could do little to stop them.17 Perhaps, a few thought, France did not need a king. It was a key moment “in the emergence of French nationalism.” Some letter-writers even referred to the deputies as the new fathers of a new country.18

The king’s actions sharpened in the politicians and citizens’ minds their suspicions and fears of looming counterrevolutionary forces conspiring to destroy the Revolution. Priests refused to take their oaths of loyalty. Provincials fought amongst themselves. Émigré armies massed in the borderlands. And the king confessed his disgust for his own subjects’ hopes and attempted to leave them to the mercy of what might have been a foreign invasion — that might still take place.19 Even the most paranoid revolutionaries eventually appeared prescient to commoners who had no idea what the next day might bring. That fear justified the new forms of justice, suspension of personal liberties, lethal brutality, and outright murder throughout France.

To deal with perceived threats, in August 1792, the Paris government authorized the disarming of any suspected counterrevolutionaries and searches of any suspected counterrevolutionary homes. Betraying the Revolution was something bad but taking oppositional action against it was even worse. Arresting people for throwing stones or shouting at guards, shutting down political clubs and newspapers, listening to private conversations, or simply looking for anything or anyone that seemed suspicious – these were the actions of a terrified government willing to fight imagined terrorism with repression of almost any degree.20 In September, rumors of prisoners planning to revolt when foreign armies invaded France inspired revolutionaries to massacre them, leaving up to 1,400 dead. On Sept. 21 “the [national] Convention abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Republic.”21

Recent battlefield victories against foreign counterrevolutionary forces and the war’s expanded scope inspired the republic to call up 300,000 men, which sparked “an unprecedented wave of riots.” More importantly, the riots – and fresh battlefield defeats — sparked an official response: the centralization of national authority, new judicial tribunals to persecute suspected treason, and state-directed repression of domestic unrest and disloyalty with a “supreme police”22 The Revolution was threatened, and the government took the repressive torches from the people and transformed them into fireballs with which to incinerate the elites, the price-gougers, and traitors of any section of the endangered French Republic. Terror was not a new horror — what was new was that the Terror was systemic, “a deliberate policy of government,” so it was wide-reaching, simultaneous, and steady in its murderous hunger for victims.23

The war machine was a ravenous hurricane at the Terror’s core, hungry for materiel from churches, loyalty from the populace, and legions of soldiers to be thrown against foreign armies. Churches became “barracks, arsenals, or stables,” and anything of value was put to military use. But the mobilization campaign quickly became a dechristianization campaign, in which signs of any kind containing Christian references were torn down. The new man of the Republic would be spared the old superstitions of the failed Church. Church defenders were killed. Nothing better symbolized the Terror for many citizens than the dechristianization efforts.24

The campaign drew deep divisions between commoners who believed they commanded the government and the political leadership, some in power without popular mandates, which was prepared to brutally suppress any resistance or wavering acquiescence to their absolute wartime authority. These two elements, increasingly at odds with each other, intensified the Terror’s murderous chaos.25 Real and imagined fears inspired both the French people and their provisional government — particularly members of the Committee of Public Safety like Robespierre — to use fear to repress it. Fighting fire with fire simply intensified the fire.26

Robespierre’s campaign to purify the Revolution, first by invalidating any sense of guilt or culpability for the atrocities he felt were necessary, was aimed at the building the new society the Revolution’s earliest aspirations aspired to achieve. The Terror’s own monstrous judicial liberties were realized on local levels as committees expressed the persecutorial zealotry required to achieve the sanctioned purifications.27 The Terror was sustained by “a strange compound of reason, desperation, and fear,” and it redefined what was revolutionary – not ideology, not a new vision, not a new government. The Terror’s revolution was one of efficient execution of “effective measures” — slicing through opposition and bringing centralized order to counterrevolutionary chaos in order to ensure the Revolution’s permanence.28

The Revolution’s supporters at first marched proudly into a new era, their self-image evolving from royal subjects to free citizens and optimistic that they would find a balance between better lives and the embrace of a king’s paternalistic gaze. But the Revolution’s real and imagined enemies inspired powerful figures who cared less about revolutionary aspirations than the measures necessary to defeat those enemies. French leaders became the bloodstained dictatorial oppressors from which they desperately fought to save their countrymen. Step by step, revolutionaries and their leaders became the firestorm they tried to extinguish.

1. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994); D.M.G. Sutherland, France 1789-1815: Revolution and Counterrevolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 37.
2. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 22.
3. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 59.
4. R.R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), 18-19.
5. Timothy Tackett, When the King Took Flight (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 10.
6. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 80, 114.
7. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 49; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 87.
8. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 112.
9. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 159-160.
10. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 19-22.
11. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 21, 80-81, 95, 97.
12. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 99.
13. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 97, 116; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 13.
14. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 122; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 184.
15. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 183, 189.
16. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124.
17. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124-125; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 168.
18. Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 157-158, 189-190.
19. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 127; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 166, 167.
20. Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 203.
21. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 154-155.
22. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 167, 170.
23. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 56.
24. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 208-210, 212, 217.
25. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 192, 202, 208.
26. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 39. 74-77.
27. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 224, 226, 228.
28. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 28, 39. 58.


Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Palmer, R.R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Sutherland, D.M.G. France 1789-1815: Revolution and Counterrevolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Tackett, Timothy. When the King Took Flight. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: We enjoy our ease


From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

As Stone loses another brother to the Confederate Army, she also records the hanging of two Missouri spies.

Aug. 23, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

Mamma and I came out to Monroe [La.] and Jimmy joined the army. Mamma and I stopped here at Col. Templeton’s, and then Mamma went on to the river and stayed with Mrs. Newman. She went in the old Jersey but came back in the pretty carriage that we have been wanting ever since we left home. She brought out a carriage load of dry goods that were most welcome.

After staying here a few days, she returned to Monroe for a little stay with Mrs. Wadley and then on home by way of Homer where so many of our friends are established. We stopped there coming out, and they greeted us most cordially. We could not make much of a visit as Jimmy and Mamma were anxious to get on. Mrs. Templeton’s family all insisted on my remaining with them until fall, and then I could go back to Texas with Col. Templeton, who will go out to where the Negroes are beyond Tyler.

Jimmy’s command was camped near here and I could see much of him. Mamma and I knew it would be a delightful visit, and as she unselfishly and I selfishly wanted to stay, I did so and am having a most lovely time. All the family are so kind. …

What a horrible tragedy, the death of Mrs. Hull’s two brothers, hanged as spies in Missouri where they had gone in disguise to recruit for Col. Hull’s regiment. They were with him but he escaped and had the hardihood to go and see them hanged with the faint hope that he might effect their escape. But of course that was hopeless. He made his way out of the state with some men and met a number who knew him but was not betrayed. The men hanged were two gallant young officers of excellent family. I cannot recall their names just now, but their father was the editor and proprietor of one of the leading St. Louis papers and left a large fortune. Poor Mrs. Hull is heartbroken.

It is very warm but we enjoy our ease with open doors and windows, undressed and lounging around. No gentlemen staying in the house to molest or make us afraid. Emmie is busy on a dress that she has had on hand for two weeks. Mary is practicing a delightful concord of sweet sounds, and I have been working on a flannel shirt for Jimmy. …

Dealing with the real America


Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Discussed in this essay:
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City. By Lorrin Thomas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Pp. 354, $35.00


Throughout the twentieth century, Puerto Ricans yearned for political respect from the United States. In Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, Lorrin Thomas explores how the demand for equal citizenship evolved into a larger, more noble demand for political recognition when Puerto Ricans realized the mere status of citizen would never sufficiently fulfill their political, social, and economic expectations as conquered members of the American republic.1

The U.S., Thomas explains, conquered Puerto Rico as part of its victorious 1898 war against the remnants of the Spanish Empire. Civilian island government was restored in 1900, and in 1917 the Jones Act declared Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. Few were happy with the arrangement. The American political elite didn’t want a whole new set of minorities integrated into the U.S. social and political calculus, and islander nationalists wanted independence from their conqueror. Some moderates looked forward to what membership among the U.S. states might offer, but those first rays of hope were quickly clouded. Puerto Ricans were marginalized as colonial Caribbean illiterates who could not rise to the level of political involvement equaling their mainland step-siblings. They were dismissed as one more set of brown or black people who needed “guidance” from experienced Anglo Americans in order to build a proper democratic community. Thomas persuasively argues that Puerto Ricans “wanted recognition beyond citizenship, a recognition that promises not just formal equality within the state but also the respect and dignity that come from real equality.” She uses Puerto Ricans living in New York as a core sample of the overall relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, in all its torment, tragedy, and unrest.2

Thomas uses an interesting variety of primary and secondary sources, including oral histories, news articles, memoirs, and personal interviews, to illustrate the evolution of Puerto Rican political sensibilities throughout the twentieth century. In the two decades before World War II, Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S., especially New York, and built new communities from which they hoped to participate fully in the citizenship Congress unilaterally granted them. Instead, Puerto Ricans engaged in choques — clashes with other minority groups who saw them as a threat. Some Puerto Ricans embraced the concept of latinidad, a working-class identity that elevated their self-perception from U.S. citizen to citizen of the U.S. and Latin America, a politically transcendent entity equipped to move easily across ethnic, racial, and political barriers. Some Puerto Rican leftists even reached out to support allies in the Spanish Civil War. As the Great Depression ravaged U.S. communities, Puerto Ricans demanded equal access to jobs and government assistance. They also plugged their political discourse into national debates and concerns over European fascism and Asian imperialism, pointing to themselves as the discrepancy in the U.S. view of itself as the glowing torch of morality, idealism, and freedom guiding the world out of its darkest age. “Discourses of human rights and recognition,” Thomas deftly highlights, “shared a sometimes paradoxical balance of demands: both called for universal equality as well as the acknowledgement of particular group difference … both sought to elevate the idea of the category of ‘citizen’ in a flawed, liberal democracy.” The Puerto Rican debates anticipated by a decade the nationalist, imperialist, and human rights debates that animated the bloodied ash heaps of Europe, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.3

By the 1950s, Puerto Rican hopes for independence faded. The Cold War began, Thomas explains, and Puerto Rico needed to be a showcase of what the U.S. could do for Latin American societies tempted to ally themselves with the Soviet Union. The dominant Puerto Rican discourses looked beyond the empty promise of citizenship to political and social recognition as new liberalist activism aimed to “save” Puerto Rican through economic and social development.4

The failure of American democracy to fulfill New York Puerto Ricans’ expectations of equal access to decent housing, failure to provide bilingual education, failure to provide jobs, and failure to live up to the tenets of its most attractive idealism all combined to convince Puerto Rican political leaders that even with the guarantee of citizenship, even with the opportunity to serve in the military, and even with the option of building a new life on the mainland, Puerto Ricans would never been seen as a part of the U.S. except on a map. Puerto Ricans, Thomas explains, supported politicians who fought for them within the government, like New York legislator Oscar Garcia Rivera, U.S. Rep. Vito Marcantonio, and Puerto Rico Gov. Jesus Pinero. They also supported advocates who took their voices to the streets, like the Young Lords, and labor leaders who staged strikes. In the ivory towers, academics tried to formulate curricula to properly teach Puerto Rico-specific issues of empty citizenship, imperialism, economic development, migration, and Caribbean racism. Puerto Ricans, Thomas argues, hoped to fully enjoy the benefits of “inclusion, belonging, and rights,” especially after World War II, when the U.S. pledged to support freedom and nationalism for all nations, but Puerto Ricans could never escape the realities that proved far more potent and damaging than the dreaminess of liberal American promises.5

Thomas deftly points out that Puerto Ricans “challenged the United States’ liberal democracy to acknowledge the reasons that their group experienced such persistent failures of justice.” Puerto Ricans remain the ultimate reminder to liberal idealists of the failure of a “democratic liberal society” that cannot fully acknowledge the “injustices of recognition.”6

By the 1970s, the energy coursing through Puerto Rican activism came from the grassroots, as “garbage strikes, rent strikes, [and] university takeovers” replaced measured political and academic debates as Puerto Rican expressions of frustration. Thomas paints a vibrant portrait of the blossoming Nuyorican cultural movements, dominated by playwrights and poets, though it’s also an example of the fragmentation of the overall fight for Puerto Rican recognition. Thomas explains that the old sense of multiple groups working together had generally faded, necessitating the renewal spearheaded by the arts. By the 1980s, Thomas explains, academics trying to establish Puerto Rican studies as a necessary field for U.S. history, government, and politics found themselves isolated or shuffled away under dismissive ethnic studies categories, their arguments thrown into a heap of identity politics with all the intellectual dignity of a demolition derby.7

By the end of the twentieth century, the academic world still struggled for a dignified place for Puerto Rico at the U.S. table. The Latino Cultural Studies Working Group embraced the concept of “cultural citizenship,” arguing that anyone who contributed to the “economic and cultural wealth of the country” should be recognized as citizens. It was a political view embracing Puerto Ricans, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized groups whose treatment in the U.S. set aflame the very banner of ideals the U.S. officially waved to the world’s tired masses.8

The root of the resistance to granting what Puerto Ricans demanded and deserved, Thomas argues throughout, is the cost of recognition. Would recognition merely acknowledge a differentiating quality of the Puerto Rican entity, or would that simply be the key unlocking a necessary “redistribution of economic resources and social and political power”? Would the elevating recognition change the U.S. more than it would Puerto Rico? Do citizens now recognized with full equality have the right to demand more from not just their government, but also from their fellow mainland citizens? Does their recognition also require that the U.S. admit its own culpability in the mistreatment of Puerto Ricans and the contradictions inherent in its own internationally advertised moral superiority?9

Thomas hints that the U.S.-Puerto Rican relationship is so weighed down by history, economic scaffolding, a nascent political discrimination that Puerto Ricans have little hope of achieving their goal of recognition. It is a sad tribute to the power of the Puerto Rican argument. Whatever aspect of political debate it touches, it promises (some would say threatens) to redefine the stakes, to demand a realistic recognition of the limits of a democratic republic and its failings, and to unveil a properly complex calculation of what it means to be a citizen in a globalized society. Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.

1. Lorrin Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
2. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 250.
3. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 8, 53, 129, 5.
4. Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). Her online book is an excellent illustration of medical and social development projects in postwar Puerto Rico.
5. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 12-13, 21.
6. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 21.
7. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 251.
8. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 17.
9. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 16.

Halleck: The magnificent mediocrity


To understand and appreciate the Northern achievements in the Civil War, one must understand and appreciate Henry Wager Halleck. A profile by Fernando Ortiz Jr.


Henry Wager Halleck was born on Jan 16, 1815, in Westernville, N.Y. He died in 1872, a week before his 57th birthday, in Louisville, Ky. Halleck built by 1861 a glittering military career as an engineer and a scholar of military science, and he built equally successful legal and business careers in California. He played a key role in building the California state government and preserving early California history. He served as a major general of the California state militia. He turned down offers to serve California as governor, state supreme court justice, or U.S. senator. He built a personal estate worth almost $500,000, an enormous amount for the time.1

In 1861, Winfield Scott, the U.S. Army’s top commander, looked forward to Halleck’s return to uniform as Northern mobilization intensified. Scott planned to make Halleck his successor as general-in-chief of Union land forces. Halleck’s arrival in Washington was delayed, inspiring an impatient President Abraham Lincoln to name Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan instead. Halleck commanded in the Western Theater until Lincoln dropped McClellan in July 1862 and elevated Halleck to supreme command. Halleck had left California only nine months before. When U.S. Grant’s victories earned him a promotion to general-in-chief, Halleck remained at the top, graciously stepping aside and retaining the necessary administrative duties as Grant personally faced Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the field.2

If the Civil War never happened, or if Halleck declined to return to regular army service when war broke out, perhaps he would have been remembered only as a quiet intellectual and honored veteran who worked hard to make a positive mark on the frontier of his growing nation. But war did break out, and Halleck did return to military service. He brilliantly administered the greatest war machine his country had ever seen, but that is often lost in the glowing coronas of glory Grant and William T. Sherman rightfully enjoy. Ironically, as generations of historians and Americans review Civil War commanders’ legacies, too many sneer at Halleck and highlight his humanizing faults, and they ignore the titanic accomplishments even Grant and Sherman singled out and celebrated.


Halleck, a difficult and often petty man, spent his life quietly bringing order to chaos in every profession he touched, contributed to the intellectual foundation upon which the U.S. Army was built, and played a key role in achieving the triumphs for which history celebrates Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln. To understand and appreciate the Northern achievements in the Civil War, one must understand and appreciate Henry Wager Halleck.

Halleck, the oldest of fourteen children, grew up on the family farm outside Westernville. Halleck never enjoyed a close relationship with his mother, who was preoccupied with pregnancies and small children, nor with his father, a demanding taskmaster and local politician. Halleck yearned for a better education, and after a disagreement with his father in 1831, he ran away from the farm. Halleck turned to his maternal grandfather and uncle for help, who took him in and guided him through school and on to higher education.3

Halleck entered Union College near Albany, N.Y., in 1834. Entrance exams placed him as a junior. He studied hard and worked fast, absorbing courses in math, rhetoric, Italian, French, Greek, and “two semesters of Cicero.” By the summer of 1835, Halleck earned a place in Phi Beta Kappa and ranked sixth in a class of 59. He was 21 years old, armed with a solid education, and, thanks to his uncle’s connections, en route to an appointment at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.4

At West Point, Halleck excelled in both behavior and academics, but he made few friends. Halleck focused his interests on his books, and engineering professor Dennis Hart Mahan ignited those interests into passions. French military thinking influenced Mahan’s dual course on military engineering and strategy, and his belief that history’s lessons influenced military science left a deep impression on Halleck. The cadet also absorbed Mahan’s assertion that untrained civilians were not naturally capable of properly commanding military units. Only military professionals were capable of command. In later years, Halleck would not only turn that belief into a fundamental principle — he would wield it as an effective weapon against political generals who had no idea he was about to detonate their Civil War careers.5

Mahan viewed the Napoleonic wars, one Halleck biographer wrote, “through the eyes of Baron Henri Jomini, Swiss military historian and interpreter.” Jomini emphasized a scientific, rational execution of military principles — “to make war less barbarous he created rules that emphasized movement [along lines of operation].” Mahan convinced Halleck to embrace the possibility of mathematical rationality in civilized warfare, to rely on fortifications and entrenchments, to begin any campaign by establishing a base of operations with interior lines of communications that ideally separated enemy forces, and to strive for strategic and tactical concentration of U.S. forces. Jomini believed in uniting forces before they together attacked a specific point on the battlefield, as opposed to one force attacking before it united with other forces. The offensive should only be taken when capturing a specific place. Points on battlefields mattered more than enemy forces. Jomini’s rules “would never change no matter who the commanders were or what the battlefield conditions were.” The principles envisioned a stiffly rational conflict without excessive bloodshed, more like a titanic dance over contested landscapes, governed by logical and sensible uniformed gentlemen, respectfully and honorably confronting each other in a carefully moderated moment of militaristic tension. It all amounted to a reassuring and logical philosophy Halleck would never forget.6

Halleck’s hard work at West Point paid off. As his third year ended, he was asked to give the annual Fourth of July speech to the cadets, a singular honor for special students. He was also asked to help students prepare for their entry exams. But the honor that truly thrilled him came in December 1838, six months before graduation: He was named assistant professor of chemistry. The position excused him from most cadet duties, boosted his cadet salary, came with a bigger room in the barracks, and added “more glitter” to his uniform. Halleck’s pride probably glowed even brighter as he recalled that when Mahan was a star West Point student, he received the same faculty position.

In July 1839, Halleck graduated from West Point, ranking third in his class. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As his classmates dispersed to enjoy their furloughs before their first assignments, the Army ordered Halleck to remain on the West Point faculty. He was appointed assistant professor of engineering and assigned to work with Mahan. He taught until early April 1840, when he left West Point for service on the Engineer Board in Washington D.C. Halleck’s pleasant but sedentary desk job assisting the Corps administrators introduced him to national politicians and to the highest ranking commanders, including Scott.7

In mid-1841, Halleck was sent to New York Harbor and ordered to improve Fort Wood on Bedlow’s Island. He spent most of the next two years improving the fort’s fortifications, infrastructure, and weaponry. It was a big and important assignment. The fort “was key to the [harbor’s] defense.” But Bedlow’s Island was far from the glittering parties and circles of friends Halleck allowed himself to enjoy in Washington, D.C. Isolated, lonely, and often battling incessant illness, he turned inward, embracing the comforts only scholarship provided him. He wrote technical articles for journals, explored in a small book the best military uses of asphalt, and composed a small mountain of reports for his superiors.8

The one report that stood out from the rest was “Report on the Means of National Defence,” which Congress published in 1843. Halleck argued to Congress that the nation should prepare for the next war, even in peace, and that it should remain prepared for war. In the long term, he argued, consistent readiness would cost less than a massive, disruptive, and inefficient mobilization once war broke out. He argued for improved military training for state militias and for many more fortifications along the border with Canada and down the Atlantic seaboard. One Halleck biographer concluded, “That work brought national attention to this young army officer only five years out of West Point.”9

Halleck’s reputation as a scholar was secure, but, like any true scholar, the more he learned, the more he realized how much was still left to learn. In late 1843, he secured permission to visit France, and he left New York on Nov. 24, 1843, determined to properly appreciate the French military methods Mahan had taught him to emulate. He studied French barrack designs, visited French military schools, and toured the Paris defense structure. He savored his time in France, and he reported that his health improved. But time constraints limited his study of French fortifications, particularly the line along the French-German border. He sailed back to the U.S., forwarded his findings to his superiors, and returned to his dull duties on Bedlow’s Island.10

Halleck endured almost two more years of dreary but competent performance. But his work was not forgotten. The Lowell Institute in Boston invited him to join their roster of leading scholars who lectured to ordinary citizens seeking to expand their intellectual horizons, and in December 1845 a delighted Halleck began a month-long leave of absence to participate. Previous guests spoke about geology, biology, American history, and Christianity. The Institute chose Halleck to speak about military science, and his twelve lectures to large crowds were well received.11

His Lowell lecture series was collected, re-edited, and included in Elements of Military Art and Science. The book was essentially a compilation of his lectures, his “Means of National Defence,” and previously published articles. Halleck explained that militia officers were the book’s primary audience. He organized it to serve as a complex manual for new militia officers (who, he previously wrote, had to be better prepared for future conflicts) and as historical analysis of Jomini’s military theories that built on what Mahan instilled in West Point students. The book brought together the various threads in Halleck’s mind, the themes of his conversations with Mahan, and a look ahead at what Halleck imagined U.S. soldiers and their leaders needed to know to effectively fight the wars of the future.12

Throughout the next 18 years, he moved from New York to California, helped administer the territory gained in the Mexican-American War, left the military on Aug 1, 1854, married Alexander Hamilton’s granddaughter, had a son, wrote several more books, and began a new life as a real estate lawyer and railroad executive. By 1861, Halleck was a widely respected founding father of the state of California and an established legal and military scholar who declined an offer to teach at Harvard. Scott convinced him to return to regular military service. Halleck held an honorable place in the ranks of the old pre-1861 army, rightfully remembered and celebrated as a scholar and engineer. But as he traveled east across a dividing nation, he had no idea how central he would be to the painful and bloody transformation of the old army (and its most important leaders) into one of the largest and most powerful military forces on earth.13

His controversial command and administrative performances clouded his legacy right up to his death in 1872. Through the early decades of the 21st century, only rarely did those clouds break.


Halleck’s significance to the U.S. military can be measured by asking a few simple questions. What was his significance to military thought before the Civil War? What was his significance to the overall Northern war effort? What was his significance to Grant and Lincoln, the supreme leaders of that effort?

Halleck definitely contributed to the body of knowledge new soldiers drew upon to learn their business. Begin with Elements. Halleck asserted that “patriotic war” was morally good. He insisted military schools were key to a national military force, for only military professionals — not militia, not citizen soldiers, not politicians — could properly fight a war. Halleck argued that fortifications were key to battlefield success. Since only military engineers were capable of building proper fortifications, he argued, those engineers were key to any military force and, by extension, key to any battlefield success. Halleck, as he interpreted what he learned from Jomini, was no fan of splitting a force to launch a flank attack on the enemy. He understood it may be necessary, but it was not his first option. Keep your force together and focused on a particular weak point when you go on the offensive, he explained to readers, without endangering your line of communications or your line back to base. If your force is in enemy country, he warned, keep your force concentrated and prepared for a surprise attack.14

A young military man reading Halleck’s book found a combination of Jomini’s insistence on concentration of force and Mahan’s devotion to fortifications, sweetened with Halleck’s assurance that a war for nation was justifiable to a Christian moral code, and refashioned so a U.S. audience found it relevant. Halleck’s Elements was an essential reader for the military professional he cherished, and it served as a major building block for the professional’s intellectual evolution.

The timing of the book’s publication was perfect: In 1846 the Mexican-American War broke out, and Halleck’s orders sent him to participate in the California campaign. The sea journey from the East Coast to the West Coast took seven months (Lt. William T. Sherman was one of the other officers on board), and Halleck spent much of that time translating Jomini’s Life of Napoleon. The four volumes would not be published until 1864.15

Certainly, Halleck’s and Mahan’s interpretation of Jominian lessons was not seen as key to every military situation. In 1842, Sherman fought Seminole Indians in Florida, and he compared what Mahan had taught him about “conventional nineteenth-century military tactics … between two rival professional armies” to what the Indians, who attacked soldiers and civilians alike, taught him about a society’s total commitment to war at all costs. Young soldiers like Sherman may have respected the messages and advice in a book like Elements, but fresh memories of brutal combat with Indians on the frontier or with enemy soldiers in Mexico may have eclipsed Halleck’s sterile dictums. Modern war in the industrial age, these recent experiences may have warned, would not always play by Jomini’s, Mahan’s, or Halleck’s carefully refined rules. It was much more simple, and much more complicated, than what Halleck’s printed words promised.16

Halleck’s impact on antebellum military thought was notable but limited. His Elements was prominent in the canon of required reading for students of military science and West Point cadets. During the Civil War, President Lincoln borrowed books on military science, including Halleck’s Elements, from the Library of Congress. The new president was determined to teach himself how to understand and manage a modern war. But when seen in the overall context of what U.S. soldiers experienced between 1846 and 1861 – the Mexican-American War, the frontier battles with Native Americans, and the dull constabulary service they provided to settlers in the West – Halleck’s intellectual contribution becomes but one bright irrelevant glimmer in a star-filled sky.17

Halleck the lawyer, the engineer, the businessman, and the intellectual certainly had a significant impact on the Northern war effort, especially during the Civil War’s chaotic first year. In subsequent years, he would also have a fundamental impact on the leaders of that war effort.

Halleck did not succeed Winfield Scott as general-in-chief in 1861. Instead, the new supreme commander, McClellan, asked Halleck to assume command of the new Department of the Missouri, where Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont’s poor administration left a critical region in chaos and riddled with corruption. Fremont worsened the political situation when he emancipated slaves of pro-Southern families. Halleck assumed command in November 1861. “Missouri,” one Halleck biographer asserted, “was a task made to order for a man of Halleck’s disposition and ability.” Halleck swept out the corruption, simplified the command structure, cracked down on Confederate sympathizers and displays, and taxed secessionists to fund efforts to care for war refugees. When pro-secessionist women in St. Louis wore red and white flowers to express their devotion to the Confederacy, Halleck instructed the city’s prostitutes to wear the same flowers and then had a newspaper write about the sex workers’ new adornments. The secessionists’ flowers instantly disappeared. Halleck’s new authority refused any challenge.18

As he brought the department under control, Halleck planned his offensive operations. He reviewed the Confederate line of operations on a map and elected to penetrate its center, which lay along the Tennessee River. But he refused to consider “offensive operations in Kentucky or Tennessee before Missouri was secure” and his forces were concentrated. Grant, a junior commander in Halleck’s department, twice asked Halleck for permission to attack Confederate Fort Henry before Halleck cautiously agreed.19

Halleck’s caution may not have reflected hesitancy about attacking, but rather hesitancy about Grant, who still endured the consequences of his antebellum reputation as a drunk. Halleck also held in his mind unforgiving standards of appearance, action, and performance for a military professional, and Grant met none of his exacting measures. Halleck also didn’t want to move any of his pieces until he felt every element was perfectly arranged, but Lincoln was unwilling to wait any longer for results.20

Fortunately, Grant’s attack on Fort Henry succeeded, and he was aggressive enough to move on to Fort Donelson. Nashville fell to Don Carlos Buell, Halleck’s colleague in the theater, and then three victories in Missouri, Arkansas, and on the Mississippi River proved the Union’s momentum in the region. Halleck was never on the front lines of any of these battles, but the victories could not have been realized without his talent for logistics, coordination, and pre-planning. Halleck set the targets and provided the daggers. Commanders like Grant and John Pope possessed the will to plunge them into the heart of the western Confederacy.21

In mid-February 1862, Halleck appropriately recommended Grant, among others, for promotion to major general, though he still did not trust him. He preferred to replace Grant with Charles F. Smith, a former West Point commandant of cadets and hero of the Mexican-American War who also met Halleck’s standards of excellence. Halleck was annoyed with Grant over late reports and reports of Union looting at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Inefficiency, administrative disorganization, and poor supervision of troops were mortal sins in Halleck’s moral code. McClellan authorized Halleck to replace the popular Grant if absolutely necessary. As he prepared his next operation down the Tennessee River, Halleck ordered Grant to relinquish field command to Smith, stay at Fort Henry, and assist with preparations for an offensive move on Corinth, Miss., a vital Confederate supply hub.22

On March 11, 1862, Lincoln relieved the incompetent McClellan as general-in-chief, relegating him solely to field command of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln created the huge Department of the Mississippi and placed Halleck in overall command. By the end of March, Grant had resumed field command of one piece of Halleck’s grand army preparing to descend on Corinth. “When all was ready,” one Halleck biographer wrote, “Halleck could take over and lead that army to its ultimate victory over the Confederates.”23

But the Confederates had other ideas. On April 6, as Grant waited for Buell’s troops to join his at Pittsburg Landing, about 25 miles northeast of Corinth, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston attacked Union troops near Shiloh Church. Johnston was killed on the first day. Buell’s troops finally arrived, and Grant’s reinforced army counterattacked on April 7, driving the rebels from the field. They retreated back to Corinth.24

The battle’s unprecedented bloodshed shocked the nation, and Grant was publicly criticized. One analyst of the battle argues that Halleck rose to defend Grant against doubts in Washington and against critics in public. To Halleck’s overall plan, the Battle of Shiloh was merely a savage interruption to his plans as his huge army continued to assemble around Pittsburg Landing. On April 30, 1862, Halleck issued Special Field Order No. 35, “designating Grant as second in command of Halleck’s huge army.”25 Halleck organized the army into three wings and assumed personal field command.

Historians who criticize Halleck see Grant’s appointment as meaningless, as an insult, or as a signal that Halleck lost any scintilla of confidence in Grant. At least one analyst of the decision, however, argues that Halleck used his political acumen to adeptly protect Grant — keeping him in the command structure with a temporary position without exposing him to more criticism as a field commander of Union soldiers. Once the furor over Shiloh cooled, Grant would be eased back into field command.26

Halleck proved that he wanted Grant back in the field soon. His three-wing army was ready, and in early May the massive force began to move. The campaign, one Halleck biographer noted, “was planned and executed with one idea in mind – to capture Corinth.” Halleck referred to his own Jominian rules in Elements to determine what kind of operation this would be. He did not possess overwhelming forces. The enemy did not threaten his line of communications or supplies en route. The benefits of victory did not exceed the consequences of defeat. This would be a conquest and investment of a place, not an army. Flooding rains destroyed road and bridge networks, the terrain slowed progress, and Lincoln added to Halleck’s caution by warning him to avoid a defeat. Halleck threw up fortifications at every pause in the advance. By the end of May, he had surrounded Corinth and squeezed the Confederates out. As a result, Memphis and Fort Pillow fell like ripened fruit into Union hands.27

Halleck had imperfectly and slowly transformed the situation in the Western Theater with natural and learned talents. What began with his immersion in Fremont’s Missouri chaos ended with his promotion to supreme commander of the Union armies. Halleck set general strategic objectives. He ensured the operations were properly supplied with men and materiel. He directed and, when necessary, protected his star general, Grant. He took a personal hand in directing the capture of a key western city with a systematic operation that did not require dramatic maneuvering, intense combat, or, most importantly, heavy casualties.

But Halleck’s significance to the war effort would not end there. As Halleck headed east to assume the command Scott believed Halleck deserved, Old Brains began a new phase of significance. He would not only help manage the complex Northern war machine. He would also play new roles in Washington politics, militarily advise and politically protect President Lincoln, and become an indispensable alter ego to Grant once the subordinate and the superior commanders saw their roles reversed.


Since McClellan’s demotion, Lincoln had functioned as his own general-in-chief, aided by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the War Board, an advisory commission that helped coordinate military operations. Lincoln had learned the art of war quickly, and, when paired with his stellar political instincts, his understanding made him “a good judge of generals, their abilities, and their plans.” But learning the art didn’t mean he didn’t need a commander at the top. John Pope, Winfield Scott, and Stanton all agreed Halleck would be the perfect choice. On July 11, 1862, Halleck was promoted to general-in-chief.28

What were his duties, he wondered. Did he return to the field and look over army commanders’ shoulders? Did he stay in Washington and fight the war from behind a desk? Did he have authority over politically-appointed generals, or all land commanders? No one had formally defined the role. Scott had never served in a wartime situation. McClellan had been both supreme and army commander. Halleck was moving into unknown territory, and, characteristically, he moved cautiously.

There was one aspect of his command that he saw clearly: “the fumbling organization and incoherent system of the Eastern command.” From Halleck’s perspective, he had applied Jominian rules to the situation in the Western Theater, and the end result, as expected, was military success. Eastern commanders had not, and they saw only failure. “Once again,” a Halleck biographer concluded, “Halleck was expected to bring order to chaos.”29

Aside from redesigning Eastern Theater strategy, Halleck helped translate civilian objectives into military instructions, streamlined the administration and logistical management of the land operations, and condensed countless field reports into efficient and informative briefings for Lincoln and his Cabinet.

Lincoln also learned to benefit from the thick anti-Halleck animosity in the Washington air, and that was often Halleck’s greatest contribution to Lincoln. When Lincoln had to fire a political general or take some other politically dangerous action, he had Halleck issue the order. Lincoln would claim military necessity, and any firestorm of condemnation would consume Halleck, or critics would simply restrain themselves out of patriotic loyalty. McClellan’s and Pope’s armies are an example. McClellan was a War Democrat. Pope embraced the Radical Republicans. At one point, Lincoln wanted to move troops from McClellan’s army to Pope’s army. But if Lincoln called for the transfer, Democrats would criticize him for moving troops to a political ally. But if he had Halleck order it, no one could argue military necessity. It was a cruelly effective arrangement. Halleck would quietly endure the abuse. But Halleck also quickly learned how to use Lincoln. Halleck took advantage of his proximity to the president whenever he wanted to promote goals or proposals from West Point-trained generals over political generals.30

Most importantly, Halleck learned to relax his belief that any political objectives were not as important as military objectives. When Tennessee Gov. Andrew Johnson wanted military forces to save loyal citizens from Confederate domination in 1863, Halleck directed Grant to their defense and officially justified the operation by declaring that the region possessed agricultural products that could aid the enemy. When an incompetent political general secured administration support to build an army and launch an 1862 expedition down the Mississippi River Valley, Lincoln couldn’t touch him, but Halleck quietly ensured all the regiments produced for the army were immediately sent to Grant for use in the Vicksburg campaign instead. The political general was left with nothing. When Lincoln worried about the French puppet government in Mexico in 1864, Halleck diverted an army under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks towards Texas to remind Mexico of U.S. military power.31

So, despite Halleck’s lack of aggressive spirit or desire to take the strategic initiative, the general-in-chief proved his invaluable worth to Lincoln in many other ways. What began with indirect assistance to Lincoln when the president pulled Elements from a Library of Congress bookshelf, right up to March 11, 1864, Halleck’s last day as general-in-chief, the odd marriage of unique talent produced an effective political and military mechanism that brought stability to the top echelon of command and to the management of the Northern war machine.

If Halleck was the oil that kept that machine running smoothly, Grant was the fire that generated the energy that pulsated throughout the Union armies for the last 13 months of the war. After Union victory at Chattanooga, Lincoln was ready to make one last change to the supreme command: U.S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general and named general-in-chief.

One Halleck biographer wrote that Halleck saw himself as only a subordinate, “a follower not a leader. This was a deeply felt sentiment, long present in his character, but made conspicuous under the stress of war.” The command arrangement was explained in General Orders No. 98, issued on March 12, 1864: Halleck was formally relieved as general-in-chief and named Army chief of staff, Union army headquarters would be split between Grant on the front and Washington, D.C., Sherman assumed Grant’s command of the armies in the West, and James B. McPherson succeeded Sherman as commander of the Army of the Tennessee. Halleck had the perfect job: he could “administer without [the expectation of] commanding.” Halleck put it better than anyone else: “It will be my business to advise and theirs to decide.”32

Halleck’s contribution to Grant’s command was his last significant contribution to the Union war. He deserves credit for stepping aside without drama and offering himself to his former subordinate with devotion, loyalty, and professional commitment. He took the weight of administrative command off Grant’s shoulders. He followed Grant’s penetration of Virginia, ensuring every phase of the campaign was met with more than enough supplies and reinforcements. He monitored and supplied all land forces in the western and southern departments. He kept Grant briefed on the status of other armies Grant had ordered to coordinate with his attacks on Lee. He also acted as Grant’s eyes and ears in Washington political circles, feeding him intelligence and public opinion. Beyond administrative and coordinating responsibilities, he had no heavy moral burden. He had no direct command of field forces, but he was armed with the authority of both Lincoln and Grant. His logical mind absorbed the waves of requests, reports, and requisitions, recalculated them, and transmitted back into the world the necessary supplies, information, and instructions. Chief of staff was probably one the best military jobs Halleck ever had.


The last year of the Civil War transformed the U.S. military as much as it transformed one of its most famous thinkers. As the war ground on in 1864, as Sherman burned his way through Georgia and the Carolinas, and as Grant sent Philip Sheridan to incinerate the Shenandoah Valley, Halleck abandoned the Jominian caution and Mahanian entrenchments of earlier years. Grant’s savage Overland Campaign had little to do with Jomini. Sherman’s necessary brutality to bring Georgia to her knees had little to do with Mahan. “The war experience,” one Halleck biographer wrote, “had finally made Halleck into an aggressive warrior, willing to support the use of every means at the nation’s disposal to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion.”33

Halleck served Grant and Lincoln faithfully until the end of the war. Halleck was one of the many at Lincoln’s bedside after the president was fatally shot. Grant returned to Washington, and Halleck was reassigned to the Military Division of the James. He tried to restore a semblance of order to a devastated Richmond. The historian in Halleck ensured the Confederate archives were preserved and sent to Washington for analysis and cataloging. He was later assigned to the Military Division of the Pacific, headquartered in San Francisco, and to the Military Division of the South, headquartered in Louisville, Ky., where he died in 1872. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

1. Stephen E. Ambrose, Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 4; David J. Eicher, and John H. Eicher. Civil War High Commands (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 274; John F. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2004), 6, 17; Ambrose, the Eichers, and Halleck’s Brooklyn cemetery gravestone (which I visited in October 2011) all say Halleck was born in 1815. Marszalek, relying on family archives and Halleck’s Union College record, says Halleck was born in 1814. On this point, Ambrose mostly relied on histories of upstate New York and on books exploring the roots of the Halleck family. The Eichers relied on Ambrose. For this casual profile, I elected to rely on the gravestone.
2. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 106-107.
3. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 7-8.
4. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies,11, 13-15.
5. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 19-20, 22-23.
6. Ambrose, Halleck, 5-6; Archer Jones, “Jomini and the Strategy of the American Civil War, A Reinterpretation.” Military Affairs vol. 34, no. 4 (December 1970), 127; Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 43.
7. Ambrose, Halleck, 6; Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 54; Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 23-32; Ambrose, Hattaway, and Jones wrote that Halleck taught French. They made no mention of chemistry or engineering.
8. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 33-34. The book on asphalt was Bitumen: Its Varieties, Properties, and Uses (Washington, D.C.: Peter Force, 1841). Marszalek wrote that Halleck suffered from influenza and streptococcus pneumonia, the first of many illnesses and allergies Halleck endured throughout his life. His ill health may have affected not only his performance in civilian and military arenas but also how observers perceived his personality and performance.
9. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 34-35.
10. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 36-38.
11. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 40-42.
12. Henry W. Halleck, Elements of Military Art and Science (New York: D. Appleton, 1862). His book mentioned Jomini at least 30 times. It is accessible here:
13. John Y. Simon, Grant and Halleck: Contrasts in Command (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1996), 7. Simon pointed out that Grant resigned his commission as a captain the day before.
14. Halleck, Elements, 23. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 44-45.
15. Simon, Grant and Halleck,, 9.
16. Marszalek, Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 39; James L. Morrison Jr., “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833-1861.” Military Affairs vol. 38, no. 3 (October 1974), 109; James B. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 332. McPherson writes, “Many Jominian ‘principles’ were common sense ideas hardly original with Jomini. … There is little evidence that Jomini’s writings influenced Civil War strategy in a direct or tangible way; the most successful strategist of the war, Grant, confessed to having never read Jomini.”
17. David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995), 329.
18. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 109-111.
19. Simon, Grant and Halleck, 14.
20. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 116-117.
21. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 117.
22. Simon, Grant and Halleck,18-19. Simon posed some important questions but did not dare answer them: “Something about Grant brought out the worst in Halleck. Did he resent Grant’s success, his age, his lack of prior military accomplishment – perhaps all three? Did he foresee that eventually Grant might become his superior? Did this consummate military administrator, believing that victories were won at the desk rather than in the field, resent those honored for battlefield achievements?”
23. Ambrose, Halleck, 43. Smith had an accident jumping into a boat. He endured a subsequent infection and died on April 25.
24. Hattaway and Jones, How the North Won,168-169.
25. Carl R. Schenker, Jr., “Ulysses in His Tent: Halleck, Grant, Sherman, and the ‘Turning Point of the War.’ ” Civil War History vol. 56, no. 2 (June 2010), 175.
26. Hattaway and Jones, How the North Won, 170; William S. McFeely, Grant (New York: W.W. Norton, 1981), 116. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 123; Schenker, “Ulysses in His Tent,” 175. Hattaway and Jones wrote that “Grant found the result [of the appointment] frustrating.” McFeely called the appointment “meaningless.” Marszalek wrote that Halleck “put Grant on the shelf.” But Schenker wrote that Halleck’s reactions “are hardly those to be expected from a commander who was jealous of his subordinate; nor did Halleck pounce on a subordinate whose forces had suffered many thousands of casualties. … Halleck gave every sign that he intended to partner with Grant in a more traditional fashion.”
27. Ambrose, Halleck, 46-50, 54; Simon, Grant and Halleck, 20. Simon called the Corinth campaign a “fiasco.”
28. Hattaway and Jones, How the North Won, 95. Ambrose, Halleck, 60-61.
29. Ambrose, Halleck, 64-65.
30. Ambrose, “Lincoln and Halleck: A Study in Personal Relations.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society vol. 52, no. 1 (Spring 1959), 209-213.
31. Ambrose, “Lincoln and Halleck,” 216-222.
32. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 196-198.
33. Marszalek, Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies, 218.



Ambrose, Stephen E. Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.

—. “Lincoln and Halleck: A Study in Personal Relations.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 52, no. 1 (Spring 1959): 208-224. JSTOR (accessed June 11, 2012).

Bastian, Beverly E. “‘I Heartily Regret That I Ever Touched a Title in California’: Henry Wager Halleck, the Californios, and the Clash of Legal Cultures.” California History 72, no. 4 (Winter, 1993/1994): 310-323. JSTOR (accessed June 11, 2012).

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.

Dossman, Steven Nathaniel. Campaign for Corinth: Blood in Mississippi. Abilene: McWhiney Foundation Press, 2006.

Eicher, David J, and John H. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Glatthaar, Joseph T. Partners in Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Grant, U.S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters. New York: Library of America, 1990.

Halleck, Henry W. A Collection of Mining Laws of Spain and Mexico. San Francisco: O’Meara & Painter, 1859. (accessed June 11, 2012).

—. Elements of Military Art and Science. New York: 1862. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Jomini, Antoine-Henri. Life of Napoleon. Vol. 3. Translated by Henry W. Halleck. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1864. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Jones, Archer. “Jomini and the Strategy of the American Civil War, A Reinterpretation.” Military Affairs 34, no. 4 (December 1970): 127-131. Periodicals Archive Online (accessed June 11, 2012).

McFeely, William S. Grant. New York: W.W. Norton, 1981.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

—. Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.

Macartney, Clarence Edward Noble. Lincoln and His Generals. Philadelphia: Dorrance and Co., 1925.

Marszalek, John F. Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order. New York: The Free Press, 1993.

—. Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2004.

Morrison Jr., James L. “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833-1861.” Military Affairs 38, no. 3 (October 1974): 108-111. Periodicals Archive Online (accessed June 11, 2012).

Schenker Jr., Carl R. “Ulysses in His Tent: Halleck, Grant, Sherman, and the ‘Turning Point of the War.’” Civil War History 56, no. 2 (June 2010): 175-221. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Sherman, William T. Memoirs of W.T. Sherman. New York: Library of America, 1990.

Simon, John Y. Grant and Halleck: Contrasts in Command. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1996.

Spencer, James, ed. Civil War Generals: Categorical Listings and a Biographical Dictionary. New York: Greenwood, 1986.

Suhr, Robert Collins. “Old Brains’ Barren Triumph.” America’s Civil War. 14, no. 2 (May 2001): 42-49. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.

Waugh, John C. Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Woodworth, Steven E. Grant’s Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.

—. Grant’s Lieutenants: From Chattanooga to Appomattox. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008.

Life Unscripted life unscripted

Bohemian Incognito

a return to writing by means of sharing thoughts and ideas

Rebecca's Blog

Just another weblog

CKUT's news collective blog

Blog du collectif des nouvelles de CKUT

The Fabric of Memory

by M.L. H'art.

Joe Studwell's blog

On the theme of development in East Asia, Britain, Italy, and the United States


Israel, The Mideast + Inconvenient Truths


Thoughts on a mad, mad, mad world.

⚉|⚇|⚉ Bathroom Stall Prophets

The Stalls of Higher Thought

The Wit Continuum

not at my wit's end yet...

From the keyboard of Tony

Rants and raves from a village in Yorkshire .... don't just look ... make a comment ... all are valid !

Simon K Jones

Writer and filmmaker

A Good Life

Food, Travel and Other Necessities

Fola Daniel Adelesi

...inspiring producutivity

International Students / Scholars's Blog

Just another weblog

Ruit Farm Web Journal

Coopworth Fiber, LaMancha Dairy Goats and Cheese on the Coast of Maine!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,878 other followers

%d bloggers like this: