General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee laying siege to Chattanooga, was enraged by the outcome of the fight at Wauhatchie. The Confederates had failed to dislodge the Federals from Brown’s Ferry, which opened a supply line for the Federal army that effectively broke the siege. Bragg blamed Lieutenant-General James Longstreet, whose troops had conducted the failed assault, and wanted to remove him from the army.
Bragg reported to President Jefferson Davis that the defeat had been caused by Longstreet’s “disobedience of orders and slowness of movements,” and he requested that Davis transfer Longstreet. Longstreet, a harsh critic of Bragg’s leadership, accused Bragg of withholding reinforcements that could have been used to turn the battle’s tide. When news of Wauhatchie reached Richmond, a concerned Davis telegraphed Bragg:
“It is reported here that the enemy are crossing at Bridgeport. If so it may give you the opportunity to beat the detachment moving up to reinforce Rosecrans as was contemplated… You will be able to anticipate him, and strike with the advantage of fighting him in detail… the period most favorable for actual operations is rapidly passing away, and the consideration of supplies presses upon you the necessity to recover as much as you can of the country before you.”
Davis (still unaware that Major-General William S. Rosecrans was no longer the Federal commander at Chattanooga) suggested that Bragg send Longstreet and two divisions into eastern Tennessee. Longstreet could confront the Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville, and then be in position to return to his original assignment in the Army of Northern Virginia when needed.
Davis pledged to send “two good brigades” under Lieutenant-General William Hardee to make up for Longstreet’s departure. In fact, Hardee had already been ordered to proceed from Mississippi to join Bragg’s army. Davis hoped that Hardee would be a “peacemaker to the army,” which was riddled with dissension within its officer corps. Davis wrote Hardee:
“The information from the army at Chattanooga painfully impresses me with the fact that there is a want there of that harmony, among the highest officers, which is essential to success. I rely greatly upon you for the restoration of a proper feeling, and know that you will realize the comparative insignificance of personal considerations when weighed against the duty of imparting to the Army all the efficiency of which it is capable.”
Hardee and his two brigades arrived at month’s end, and Bragg assigned Hardee to command the corps that once belonged to Lieutenant-General Leonidas Polk. Hardee met with Longstreet on Lookout Mountain, where they inspected positions and agreed that any attack to try to regain the ground that was lost in the Lookout Valley would be futile.
On October 29, the Federal steamboat Chattanooga left Bridgeport pulling two barges filled with 40,000 rations. The boat fought the strong current up the Tennessee River and reached Brown’s Ferry by dawn on the 30th. The Chattanooga continued on to its namesake city, and the “cracker line” was officially opened, providing hardtack, or “crackers,” to the hungry Federal troops. The siege was broken, and the Federals in Chattanooga were now safe.
Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander in Chattanooga, wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “The question of supplies may now be regarded as settled. If the rebels give us one week more time I think all danger of losing territory now held by us will have passed away, and preparations may commence for offensive operations.”
Grant made sure to give credit where it was due: Brigadier-General William F. “Baldy” Smith, chief Federal engineer, conceived of the “cracker line” idea, and Major-General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, had approved of Smith’s idea before Grant had arrived in Chattanooga. Grant had merely endorsed Thomas’s approval once he learned of the plan. Grant later wrote:
“In five days from my arrival in Chattanooga the way was open to Bridgeport and… in a week the troops were receiving full rations. It is hard for any one not an eye-witness to realize the relief this brought. The men were soon reclothed and also well fed, an abundance of ammunition was brought up, and a cheerfulness prevailed not before enjoyed in many weeks. Neither officers nor men looked upon themselves any longer as doomed. The weak and languid appearance of the troops, so visible before, disappeared at once. I do not know what the effect was on the other side, but assume it must have been correspondingly depressing.”
But Grant was not entirely satisfied. The Federals had won at Wauhatchie, but if Major-General Joseph Hooker had not unnecessarily left a Federal division isolated there, Longstreet would not have attacked in the first place. Grant confided to Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana that he disliked Hooker and wanted to remove him from command, along with Major-General Henry W. Slocum, heading the Twelfth Corps.
Dana informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “He would himself order Hooker and Slocum away, but hesitates because they have just been sent here by the President. Besides, I think he would rather prefer that so serious a proceeding should come from headquarters.”
Dana reported that Hooker had “behaved badly ever since his arrival,” and Slocum had sent “a very disorderly communication” complaining about serving under Hooker, whom he (Slocum) despised. Dana wrote, “Altogether Grant feels that their presence here is replete with both trouble and danger. Besides, the smallness of the two corps requires their consolidation.”
Regardless of his issues with the commanders, Grant soon began planning a counteroffensive against Bragg’s Confederates outside Chattanooga.
- Catton, Bruce, Grant Takes Command. Open Road Media, Kindle Edition, 2015.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), Never Call Retreat: Centennial History of the Civil War Book 3. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1965.
- 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.
- Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
- Simon, John Y. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.