October 17, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis traveled west to inspect Confederate forces in the Deep South. He also shared an idea with General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, to send part of his force to Knoxville.
As Davis’s eight-day inspection of Bragg’s army ended, Bragg assured him that once the troops were ready, he would implement the plan suggested by Lieutenant General James Longstreet, one of his corps commanders, to threaten the Federal right by crossing the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, Alabama. This would apply even more pressure on the Army of the Cumberland languishing under siege in Chattanooga.
Davis headed southwest by train, stopping to inspect ordnance works and manufactories at Selma, Alabama, on the 19th. While staying in town, he delivered an impromptu speech from his hotel balcony, stating that if the “non-conscripts” volunteered to defend garrisons, more regular troops could be sent into the field, and “we can crush Rosecrans and be ready with the return of spring to drive the enemy from our borders. The defeat of Rosecrans will practically end the war.” Davis had not yet learned that William S. Rosecrans had been removed as Army of the Cumberland commander.
The train continued west to Meridian, Mississippi, and then double-backed southeast to Mobile, where Davis met with the Confederate commander there, Major General Dabney H. Maury. Davis later addressed a crowd from the Battle House, declaring that “those who remain at home, not less than those in arms, have their duties to perform. Each of all can encourage the spirit which can bring success.”
From Mobile, Davis traveled to the first Confederate capital of Montgomery, and then east to Atlanta. He stayed several days in Atlanta, hoping to boost morale in the region, before continuing southeast to Savannah, on the Georgia coast. Davis reached Savannah on the 31st, where he was greeted by an enormous torchlight procession. Residents held a reception for the president at the Masonic Hall.
During this time, Davis tried sorting out a plan to regain eastern Tennessee, currently occupied by Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio, headquartered at Knoxville. He also wanted to return Longstreet’s corps to General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Davis asked Bragg if it would be possible to send Longstreet to Knoxville, “and thus place him in position, according to circumstances, to hasten or delay his return to the army of General Lee.” Davis wrote that Lee had enjoyed “some recent successes over the enemy; but Meade’s great and increasing numbers renders it very desirable that General Lee’s troops should be returned to him at the earliest practicable day.”
Detaching Longstreet’s two divisions would weaken Bragg’s army, which Davis partially tried making up for by sending him two brigades under Lieutenant General William Hardee. Davis then referred to recent messages from Bragg asking him to return to Chattanooga and forwarding dispatches from Longstreet that were, according to Bragg, “of a more disrespectful and insubordinate character.” Davis wrote:
“My recollections of my military life do not enable me to regard as necessary that there should be kind personal relations between officers to secure their effective co-operation in all which is official, and the present surely much more than any circumstances within my experience should lift men above all personal considerations and devote them wholly to their country’s cause.”
As a result, Davis would no longer consider “any further removal of general officers from their commands.” Davis could not return to Chattanooga as Bragg requested, but he sent his advisor, Colonel James Chesnut, in his place.
By the time that Bragg received Davis’s letter, the Federal army in Chattanooga had been reinforced to nearly 70,000 men. If Bragg sent Longstreet to Knoxville, he would be left with just 36,000 to continue the siege. But Bragg despised Longstreet, and he figured that if Longstreet could drive Burnside out of eastern Tennessee, some of the Chattanooga troops might be sent to chase Longstreet down. Therefore, Bragg wrote Davis about sending Longstreet away, “This will be a great relief to me.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 334, 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. 819-21; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 363, 365-66; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 424-25, 427; 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