President Jefferson Davis’s eight-day inspection of General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was coming to an end. Lieutenant-General James Longstreet, commanding a corps in Bragg’s army, had proposed moving to threaten the Federal right by crossing the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, Alabama. This would apply even more pressure on Major-General William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland languishing under siege in Chattanooga. Bragg assured Davis that Longstreet’s plan would be implemented.
However, Bragg informed the president on October 17 that the proposed movement had been delayed because hard rains “have broken our temporary bridges. Will only result in delay of a forward movement.” Once the rain ended, Bragg reported that the roads were too muddy to move. Ultimately, Longstreet’s plan was shelved, and Bragg stayed put in front of Chattanooga.
When Davis left Bragg’s army, he took a train to Demopolis, Alabama, where Lieutenant-General William Hardee was processing recently paroled Confederate prisoners. Davis offered Hardee command of Lieutenant-General Leonidas Polk’s corps in Bragg’s army. Bragg had criticized Polk’s performance and insisted that he be replaced. Hardee gladly accepted a chance to return to an active command. Polk was ultimately given command of the Department of Mississippi, a region all but lost to the Confederacy by this time.
Davis continued on to inspect ordnance works and manufactories at Selma, Alabama, on October 19. 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 was not yet aware that Rosecrans no longer commanded the Federal army.
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 to come up with a plan to take back eastern Tennessee, currently held by Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio. 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 confront Burnside, “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 the “great and increasing numbers” of the Federal Army of the Potomac “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 to make up for by sending him two of Hardee’s brigades from Alabama. Davis then referred to recent messages from Bragg asking the president 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 eastern Tennessee, 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 off, some of the Chattanooga Federals might be sent to chase Longstreet down. Therefore, Bragg wrote Davis about sending Longstreet away, “This will be a great relief to me.”
- Cozzens, Peter, No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press (Kindle Edition), 1990.
- Cozzens, Peter, The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press (Kindle Edition), 1994.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.