March 12, 1864: Dramatis Personae



With the ending of winter, the campaign of 1864 was coming close, as careful observers could tell by two executive orders issued by Lincoln.  The first on March 12, 1864 detailed the new command structure, with Grant made General-in-Chief, Sherman placed in command in the West, and McPherson commanding the Army of the Tennessee.  Grant was depending upon his command team from the Army of the Tennessee to win the War in the West, while he took command of the Army of the Potomac.  The useless Halleck was demoted from General-in-Chief and made Chief of Staff.  It is characteristic of Lincoln that he spared the feelings of Halleck by indicating that the demotion was at his request and thanking him for his completely barren services.  The second executive order, calling for a draft of 200,000 men, was issued on March 14, a sure sign that the fighting this year would likely dwarf what had come before.  Here is the text of the executive order of March 12:






WASHINGTON , March 12, 1864.

The President of the United States orders as follows:

I. Major-General H. W. Halleck is, at his own request, relieved from duty as General in Chief of the Army, and Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant is assigned to the command of the armies of the United States. The headquarters of the Army will be in Washington and also with Lieutenant-General Grant in the field.

II. Major-General H. W. Haileck is assigned to duty in Washington as chief of staff of the Army, under the direction of the Secretary of War and the Lieutenant-General Commanding. His orders will be obeyed and respected accordingly.

III. Major-General W. T. Sherman is assigned to the command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, composed of the departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee and the Arkansas.

IV. Major-General J. B. McPherson is assigned to the command of the Department and Army of the Tennessee.

V. In relieving Major-General Halleek from duty as General in Chief, the President desires to express his approbation and thanks for the able and zealous manner in which the arduous and responsible duties of that position have been performed.

By order of the Secretary of War:


Assistant Adjutant-General.

Published in: on March 12, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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  1. I find the terminology a little confusing, and looked it up:

    The term major general is a shortened version of the previous term sergeant major general, which was also subordinate to lieutenant general. This is why a lieutenant general outranks a major general, whereas a major is senior to a lieutenant.

    • Bravo Whimsy! The distinction of General ranks is confusing to lots of people, especially why a Lieutenant General outranks a Major General, and your explanation succinctly explains the difference.

      • It was doubly confusing to me as an Italian, since in our army the four levels of high command are “Tenente Generale” – Lieutenant General – commanding a brigade, Maggiore Generale commanding a division, Generale di Corpo d’Armata, commanding an army corps, and four-star General. The first time I read that “Luogotenente Generale” was Grant’s rank as supreme commander, I was totally bewildered. But the Italian Army has other curiosities: there is no title at all for the four-star general – although they are unofficially known as Generale d’Armata – and the title of Maresciallo d’Italia is only conferred on generals who have won in real war. We could not have the pullulation of Field-Marshals that afflict the British and Russian militaries. However, the Italian army is full of Marshals, since Maresciallo, when not followed by “d’Italia”, means nothing else than Sergeant-Major!

      • Military ranks are always a perpetual mystery Fabio. In the US, Marine and Army captains are called “Major” aboard a Navy ship because there can only be one Captain aboard a ship. On Aircraft carriers the Navy captain commanding the Carrier Air Group is called the CAG to distinguish him from the Captain of the carrier. Don’t get me started on the subject of brevet ranks in the Nineteenth century that were always a cause of non-stop confusion.

  2. Reblogged this on Practically Historical.

    • Thanks!

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