November 1, 1863 – Just as the “cracker line” began resupplying the hungry Federal forces besieged in Chattanooga, General Braxton Bragg weakened his Confederate army by sending part of it to eastern Tennessee.
As November began, Federal supplies were being shipped from Bridgeport, Alabama, to Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee River, and then brought overland into Chattanooga via Moccasin Point. Federal troops began receiving full rations, including hardtack (i.e., “crackers”) for the first time in nearly a month. This rendered Bragg’s siege virtually useless. President Abraham Lincoln wrote Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home in Auburn, New York, that messages “from Chattanooga show all quiet and doing well.”
Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federals in Chattanooga, now began looking to break out of the city. The Army of the Cumberland had been reinforced by XI and XII corps from the Army of the Potomac, and several divisions from Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee were on their way to reinforce as well.
Sherman’s Federals were near Tuscumbia, Alabama, as the month began. They had been repairing the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, their principal supply source, as they went. But this changed when Sherman received orders from Grant: “Drop all work on Memphis & Charleston Railroad, cross the Tennessee (River), and hurry eastward with all possible dispatch toward Bridgeport, till you meet further orders from me.”
Sherman immediately complied, crossing his troops on the 1st and scattering various bands of Confederate guerrillas in the region. However, they were soon slowed by having to pull their supply train without the railroad, and heavy rains turned the roads to quagmires. As the troops struggled through the Elk River Valley into Tennessee, Grant sent another directive to Sherman:
“Leave (General Grenville) Dodge’s command at Athens until further orders, and come with the remainder of your command to Stevenson, or until you receive other orders. It is not my intention to leave any portion of your army to guard roads in the Department of the Cumberland when an advance is made, and particularly not Dodge, who has been kept constantly on that duty ever since he has been subject to my orders.”
Dodge’s division was to continue repairing the railroad until Grant launched his offensive. As a former railroad surveyor and engineer, Dodge had his men complete the work within 40 days. Meanwhile, the rest of Sherman’s forces continued moving as fast as possible toward Chattanooga. Once all reinforcements arrived, Grant intended to drive the Confederate army off Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge overlooking the city.
On the Confederate side, President Jefferson Davis received General Braxton Bragg’s report on the defeat at Wauhatchie Station, as well as the new Federal supply line via Brown’s Ferry. Davis, still on his southern tour, replied from Savannah on the 1st:
“The result related is a bitter disappointment, as my expectations were sanguine that the enemy, by throwing across the Tennessee his force at Bridgeport, had ensured the success of the (Wauhatchie) operation suggested by General (James) Longstreet, and confided to his execution.”
Bragg had feuded with nearly all his subordinates, and three (Leonidas Polk, D.H. Hill, and Nathan Bedford Forrest) had been transferred out of the army. Bragg now looked to send Longstreet away. Longstreet had been one of Bragg’s harshest critics, and in October, Davis suggested sending his command to confront Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville. Although the Federals under “siege” at Chattanooga were now receiving supplies and reinforcements, Bragg decided to weaken his force by detaching Longstreet’s corps.
At a council of war on the 3rd, Bragg announced that Longstreet’s Confederates would head northeast into eastern Tennessee. The officers suggested some more effective alternatives, including attacking Grant’s right flank at Bridgeport or advancing the entire army against Burnside. Bragg rejected these proposals, stating that Longstreet would move out as soon as possible, accompanied by Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry.
Longstreet argued that splitting the army in two would “thus expose both to failure, and really take no chance to ourselves of great results.” But Bragg’s mind was made up. Longstreet prepared his men for the move, leaving Bragg with just 36,000 men to lay siege to an enemy almost twice their size.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338-39; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 33-35, 65-67, 182; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 821; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 367-68; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 428-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 189; 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