Operations in Middle Tennessee

November 20, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg reorganized his Confederate army in Middle Tennessee, and Federal Major General William S. Rosecrans planned to confront him.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As November began, Rosecrans prepared to move his new Federal Army of the Cumberland (formerly Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio) to confront Bragg in Tennessee. Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had given Rosecrans two main objectives: “First, to drive the enemy from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee; second, to take and hold East Tennessee.”

The Federals had already driven the enemy from Kentucky by the time Rosecrans took command, but Confederates were still in Middle and East Tennessee. Major General John C. Breckinridge, commanding the Confederate Army of Middle Tennessee from Murfreesboro, issued orders for Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Colonel John Hunt Morgan to conduct cavalry raids on Federals between Murfreesboro and Nashville.

Morgan advanced toward Nashville from the north while Forrest moved from the south, and both forces skirmished inconclusively against the enemy. Late this month, Morgan’s 1,300 Confederates attacked a strongly fortified Federal brigade on a hill at Hartsville. Morgan formed a line under fire, drove the enemy off, captured an artillery battery, and then forced the Federals to surrender. Some 2,100 prisoners were taken in the 90-minute clash.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, Bragg’s Army of Mississippi arrived at Murfreesboro and absorbed Breckinridge’s short-lived Army of Middle Tennessee. Following his meeting with President Jefferson Davis at Richmond, Bragg returned and took up headquarters at Tullahoma, about 70 miles southeast of Nashville.

Bragg’s army had lost about half its strength since launching the Kentucky campaign due to illness, desertions, and combat casualties. Those still in the army were either demoralized by the harsh campaign or disgusted with Bragg’s leadership. By mid-November, Rosecrans had learned that Bragg’s army was now in Middle Tennessee and notified Halleck:

“It seems pretty certain that four divisions of Bragg’s army have come to Middle Tennessee. They designed to take Nashville. They began winter quarters at Tullahoma, and are now at that place and McMinnville, with Breckinridge at Murfreesborough.”

Bragg had no definite plan of operation, except to hope that Rosecrans would come out of Nashville and attack him after he established strong defensive positions. But Rosecrans would not oblige.

Bragg’s force, formerly named the Army of Mississippi, was now designated the Army of Tennessee. Its nucleus had been formed by General Albert Sidney Johnston in late March, just prior to the Battle of Shiloh. In addition, the army now absorbed:

  • Breckinridge’s Army of Middle Tennessee;
  • Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Confederates at Bridgeport, Alabama; and
  • Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Department of East Tennessee.

Bragg reorganized the army into three corps under Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, and E.K. Smith, with Breckinridge heading a division under Hardee. Although Smith was relegated to commanding a corps within Bragg’s new army, he continued acting independently in eastern Tennessee.

As the rest of Bragg’s forces began gathering around Murfreesboro, they lived off the stockpile of supplies they had taken from Kentucky. Bragg issued general orders to his command:

“Much is expected by the army and its commander from the operations of these active and ever-successful leaders (i.e., Forrest and Morgan harassing Rosecrans’s front and rear). The foregoing dispositions are in anticipation of the great struggle which must soon settle the question of supremacy in Middle Tennessee. The enemy in heavy force is before us, with a determination, no doubt, to redeem the fruitful country we have wrested from him. With the remembrance of Richmond, Munfordville, and Perryville so fresh in our minds, let us make a name for the now Army of Tennessee as enviable as those enjoyed by the armies of Kentucky and the Mississippi.”

Bragg then issued orders offering amnesty to soldiers who were absent without leave: “If you come voluntarily, I will be proud to receive you. I will not have you, and you need not expect to join me, if brought as prisoners.”

Bragg called on Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to join his army from Chattanooga, which he united with Forrest’s command. Bragg continued using Forrest’s troopers for raiding and irregular operations; their primary mission was to divert Major General Ulysses S. Grant from his impending Federal drive on Vicksburg. On the 21st, Bragg directed Forrest to disrupt Federal communications between Rosecrans and Grant.

Rosecrans proposed moving out of Nashville to confront Bragg, but first he submitted a long list of supplies needed for the purpose. Halleck replied, “I must warn you against this piling up of impediments. Take a lesson from the enemy. Move light.” As November ended, Rosecrans was still preparing to move, and Bragg was still pondering what to do.



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