October 9, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis held meetings with the top officers in the Army of Tennessee to try resolving the deep dissension among them.
General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army, despite laying siege to the Federals in Chattanooga, was vastly demoralized. Davis had sent Colonel James Chesnut to assess the army’s condition, and when the officers presented Chesnut with a petition asking for Davis to remove Bragg as commander, Chesnut recommended that Davis come to Chattanooga and deal with the problem in person.
Davis left Richmond on the 6th with hopes “to be serviceable in harmonizing some of the difficulties” within the army. He traveled aboard a special train with his secretary Burton Harrison, Colonels William P. Johnston and Custis Lee (sons of Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee), and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, who had not been reassigned since surrendering Vicksburg in July.
The travelers arrived in Atlanta on the 8th. The next morning, Davis delivered a speech that was very well received, in which he urged the people to continue the fight for independence. The train continued to Marietta, where Davis was greeted by more cheers as he briefly praised Georgia’s role in the war.
Soldiers cheered and bands played as the train pulled in to Chickamauga Station. Davis mounted a horse as the crowd hollered, “Speech!” Davis responded, “Man never spoke as you did on the field of Chickamauga, and in your presence I dare not speak. Yours is the voice that will win the independence of your country and strike terror to the heart of a ruthless foe.”
Davis and his group rode into Bragg’s headquarters on Missionary Ridge on the night of the 9th and had a private conversation with him. Bragg blamed his subordinates for the army’s troubles and declined Davis’s request to replace Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk with Pemberton. He then refused to reinstate Polk and offered to resign. Davis would not accept Bragg’s resignation, mainly because Bragg was the only Confederate general to have won a major victory since Chancellorsville, five months ago.
Davis and Bragg then held a council of war with Bragg’s corps commanders: James Longstreet, D.H. Hill, Simon B. Buckner, and Benjamin F. Cheatham (replacing Polk). They discussed the current military situation, and then Davis asked the men to assess Bragg’s performance. When no one spoke up, Davis insisted on a response. Longstreet finally said “that our commander could be of greater service elsewhere than at the head of the Army of Tennessee.” Davis asked the others if they agreed, and they did. The meeting ended awkwardly.
The next day, Davis met with Bragg again and inspected the army. Davis then met with Longstreet and asked if he would be willing to replace Bragg as army commander. Longstreet replied, “In my judgment, our last opportunity was gone when we failed to follow the success at Chickamauga, and capture or disperse the Union army, and it could not be just to the service or myself to call me to a position of such responsibility.”
Longstreet suggested that General Joseph E. Johnston take command of the army, but Davis did not get along with Johnston and blamed him for losing Vicksburg. Moreover, Johnston had twice declined to take command because he believed Bragg was the better choice. Davis also did not want to consider General P.G.T. Beauregard, whom he also disliked. Longstreet offered to resign, but Davis refused.
Besides Longstreet, Johnston, or Beauregard, Davis did not have many more options. Lieutenant General William Hardee, currently commanding in Alabama, was the other most qualified man to replace Bragg, but he also turned down the job. Davis even considered General Robert E. Lee, but Lee expressed a desire to stay with his army in Virginia. This left Davis with Bragg’s corps commanders, all of whom lacked qualifications.
After considering the matter for three days, Davis approved a major organizational shift in the Army of Tennessee. He wrote Bragg, “Regretting that the expectations which induced the assignment of that gallant officer to this army have not been realized, you are authorized to relieve Lieutenant General D.H. Hill from further duty with your command.”
Bragg suspended Hill, once a good friend but now a bitter adversary, and replaced him with Major General John C. Breckinridge. Hill demanded a written explanation why he was being removed, but Bragg simply told him that Davis made the decision, not him. Hill later demanded a court of inquiry to investigate his conduct, but Davis refused.
Davis later authorized Bragg and Johnston to trade the commands of Hardee and Polk. Polk would assume Hardee’s mostly administrative role as camp recruiter and instructor at Demopolis, Alabama; Hardee would assume command of Polk’s corps in Bragg’s army. Thus, another of Bragg’s antagonists was removed from his army. The War Department later dropped Bragg’s charges of disobedience and dereliction of duty against Polk.
Next, Davis met with Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had threatened to kill Bragg and asked Davis to give him an independent command. Davis granted Forrest’s request, giving him a cavalry force in northern Mississippi, where he would have authority “to raise and organize as many troops for the Confederate service as he finds practicable.” Davis recommended that Congress promote Forrest to major general and instructed Bragg to send him two cavalry battalions and a battery.
Bragg dispatched another adversary by relieving Buckner of corps command. The men had exchanged hostile words before Bragg removed him. Although Buckner had commanded the separate Department of East Tennessee, Bragg argued that he had the authority to remove him because that department had been absorbed by the Army of Tennessee and converted into “Buckner’s Corps.” The corps was disbanded upon Buckner’s removal.
Davis addressed the Army of Tennessee as his inspection ended. He applauded the troops for “the glorious victory on the field of Chickamauga,” and noted the importance of–
“… devotion, sacrifice, and harmony… Though you have done much, very much yet remains to be done. Behind you is a people providing for your support and depending on you for protection. Before you is a country devastated by your ruthless invader…”
Davis admonished the troops for criticizing Bragg, warning, “He who sows the seeds of discontent and distrust prepares for a harvest of slaughter and defeat.” He declared, “To zeal you have added gallantry; to gallantry energy; to energy, fortitude. Crown these with harmony, due subordination, and cheerful support of lawful authority that the measure of your duty may be full.” He ended by praying “that our Heavenly Father may cover you with the shield of his protection in the hours of battle, and endow you with the virtues which will close your trials in victory complete.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 332-33, 336-37; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 815-20; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 358-60, 363, 366; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 418-22, 425, 427; 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. 676; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463