Seeking Supremacy in Middle Tennessee

General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi, was given command over Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Department of East Tennessee as well. Bragg and Smith had operated as equals with their separate armies in the recent failed Kentucky campaign. Had Smith’s army been absorbed by Bragg’s command at that time, the result might have been different.

Gen Braxton Bragg | Image Credit:

Bragg began the month at Richmond, where he met with President Jefferson Davis to explain his role in the Kentucky incursion. One of his staff officers wrote on November 2, “General Bragg returned from Richmond in good spirits. He brought the gratifying fact that his conduct in Kentucky had been approved by the President.”

But several subordinates had been critical of Bragg’s conduct. One of them, Major General Leonidas Polk, was summoned to Richmond for “the purpose of conferring personally in regard to the state of affairs in Military Department Number Two.” Polk, formerly an Episcopalian bishop, was a close personal friend of Davis, and he candidly told the president that conditions in Bragg’s army were terrible, and it was all Bragg’s fault. He asserted that E.K. Smith felt the same. Polk recommended putting the department under command of General Joseph E. Johnston; Davis did not get along with Johnston but he took Polk’s advice into consideration.

The army was indeed in poor shape. As of November 3, it consisted of just 30,801 effectives, which was just half its total officers and men. The other half was either on furlough, absent without leave, sick, or wounded. Those still able-bodied were either demoralized by the harsh campaign or disgusted with Bragg’s leadership. Nevertheless, Bragg moved his army out of East Tennessee and set up headquarters at Tullahoma, about 70 miles southeast of Nashville.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit:

Meanwhile, Major General William S. Rosecrans prepared to mobilize his new Federal army (formerly the Army of the Ohio but now officially designated the Fourteenth Army Corps) out of Nashville. 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 the 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.

When Rosecrans learned that Bragg had moved from East to Middle Tennessee, he 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 soon moved his army from Tullahoma to Murfreesboro and absorbed Breckinridge’s short-lived army.

On the 20th, the Army of Mississippi, the Army of Middle Tennessee, and the Department of East Tennessee were formally designated the Confederate Army of Tennessee, with Bragg in overall command. Its nucleus had been formed by General Albert Sidney Johnston in late March, just prior to the Battle of Shiloh. The new army not only absorbed the forces of Breckinridge and E.K. Smith, but that of Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham at Bridgeport, Alabama, as well. Bragg reorganized the army into three corps:

  • Polk (heading the divisions of Major General Jones Withers, Cheatham, and Breckinridge)
  • Lieutenant General William Hardee (heading the divisions of Major General Simon B. Buckner, and Brigadier Generals Patrick R. Cleburne and James P. Anderson)
  • E.K. Smith (heading the divisions of Major Generals Carter L. Stevenson and John P. McCown)

Although Smith was relegated to commanding a corps within Bragg’s new army, he continued to act 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.” As the month wound down, Bragg proudly informed Davis that his men were being well supplied and fed once more, and “the health and tone of my old Army of the Mississippi were never better.” Davis took a wait-and-see approach.

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. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton responded to a request for repeating rifles for the cavalry by telling Rosecrans that he could have them, but “something is expected from you.” That “something” meant quick, bold action against the enemy, something his predecessor had lacked and been replaced because of it.

In response to another request, Halleck replied, “I must warn you against this piling up of impediments. Take a lesson from the enemy. Move light.” Rosecrans asserted that supplies were slow in coming due to a lack of adequate rail transport from Nashville to the North, and this was delaying his offensive. By the end of the month, repairs to the railroad had been completed, and Rosecrans could no longer use this as a reason not to get moving.

Bragg had no definite plan of operation, other than to get his force back into fighting shape, build strong defenses, and hope that Rosecrans would come out of Nashville and attack him. But Rosecrans would not oblige. And even if he did, Murfreesboro was no place to make a stand, as it could be easily bypassed by an army trying to get to the key city of Chattanooga. As November ended, Rosecrans was still preparing to move, and Bragg was still waiting for Rosecrans to make a move.


  • Bell, Wiley I. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Cozzens, Peter, No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press (Kindle Edition), 1990.
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes. Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889.
  • Faust, Patricia L. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
  • Hattaway, Herman (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • Rutherford, Phillip R. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.

Leave a Reply