September 7, 1863 – As Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federals closed in on Chattanooga, participants at the high-level conference in Richmond decided to reinforce General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee.
General Robert E. Lee had been summoned from his Army of Northern Virginia to meet with President Jefferson Davis at the Confederate capital to discuss military strategy. Lee had proposed resuming the offensive, and he notified his corps commanders to begin mobilizing at the end of August. Lee intended to move north, cross the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers, draw Major General George G. Meade out onto open ground, and “crush his army while in the present condition.”
Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commanding the First Corps in Lee’s army, disagreed with his commander’s proposal. Longstreet wrote, “I do not know that we can reasonably hope to accomplish much here by offensive operations, unless you are strong enough to cross the Potomac” and invade the North once again. Longstreet added, “If we advance to meet the enemy on this side (of the Potomac),” Meade “will, in all probability, go into one of his many fortified positions; these we cannot afford to attack.”
But instead of staying on the defensive on all fronts, Longstreet wrote:
“I know but little of the condition of our affairs in the west, but am inclined to the opinion that our best opportunity for great results is in Tennessee. If we could hold the defensive here with two corps, and send the other to operate in Tennessee with that (Bragg’s) army, I think that we could accomplish more than by an advance from here.”
Longstreet asserted that one corps from Lee’s army could help “destroy Rosecrans’ army.” Davis had considered transferring part of Lee’s army to another theater before the Gettysburg campaign, but Lee persuaded him to keep his army intact so he could invade the North. But now that Federals had captured Knoxville and threatened Chattanooga, Davis would not be persuaded a second time.
It was agreed that Longstreet would lead two of his three divisions (Major General George Pickett’s division was still recovering from Gettysburg) to reinforce Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Lee would also send two brigades to bolster the tenuous Charleston defenses.
Davis suggested that Lee should go with Longstreet and replace Bragg as commander. But Lee demurred because Bragg’s knowledge of the mountainous terrain around Chattanooga was too valuable to replace. Lee, whose offensive was indefinitely postponed, returned to his Orange Court House headquarters to arrange for transferring part of his army.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18812; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 708; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6370-81; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 671