I'm trying to pin down something I once read about what went wrong with the Union's plans for a certain battle in the American Civil War. I think I once read a few paragraphs about this in a book by Bruce Catton. But that doesn't narrow it down much, because I've read at least eight of Catton's books about various aspects of the Civil War. And I may not even be correct that it was one of his books that told me about this episode.
Here's what I seem to remember about the sequence of events that I'm trying to pin down.
A Union force was preparing to fight a battle with a nearby Confederate force. The commanding general of that Union force gave written orders to one of his subordinate generals. The orders were intended to maneuver that subordinate's soldiers (a division, or a corps, or whatever it was that the subordinate commanded) into a position where they could approach the Confederate right rear flank, coming up from behind, and thus catch that end of the Confederate line in a vise.
However! The senior Union general didn't exactly mandate all of the above in the written orders he sent to his subordinate. The orders said something more along these lines (loosely paraphrased from my imperfect memory):
"Tomorrow morning your troops will advance to the crossroads at such-and-such a village. Then you will wait for my further orders to tell you if I need you to keep swinging around to get behind the Confederates while I'm assaulting their front line with the rest of my force."
From the subordinate general's point of view, the key word in those orders turned out to be "wait." After sunrise on the day of the battle, he started his men marching in the correct direction. They encountered no opposition along the way, and reached the village in question (well out of sight of where the actual fighting was now taking place). Then the general commanding that detachment parked his butt in a chair and sent back a courier to headquarters, with a written despatch saying (in effect): "We made it to the village. How are things going on your end? Do you still want us to keep marching and swing around behind the enemy?"
Having sent that message, he waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. All day, in fact! He may have sent a follow-up message after a few hours, asking the same thing as the first message, but nobody ever got around to sending him a reply saying: "Yes, proceed with the original plan." I don't remember who actually "won" or "lost" the battle. It may have been something of a draw, but it certainly was not the crushing victory which the Union commander had been hoping to achieve.
When that Union commander finally realized what had happened -- after it was too late to do any good -- he was annoyed. But he also had to admit that the subordinate general couldn't be court-martialed for scrupulously following the strict letter of his written orders.
I'm pretty sure that neither the commanding general in that operation, nor the subordinate general who was so good at sitting on the sidelines while a battle happened without him, were the sort of generals who later became particularly famous and respected for their contributions during the war. For instance, we're not talking about Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, or Phil Sheridan. (I don't think we're even talking about George B. McClellan!) But I can't remember where or when this particular battle took place. Does anyone recognize it from my description of that fiasco?