Category Archives: Tennessee

The Siege of Knoxville Begins

November 17, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet expected to renew the fight at Campbell’s Station, but Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federals had fallen back to Knoxville.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

As the day began, Longstreet realized he only faced Federal cavalry, as the rest of Burnside’s 5,000-man detachment from Loudon had withdrawn. Longstreet wrote General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga, that there had been a “severe skirmish and artillery duel” the previous day, and added, “The enemy seems to have gone into Knoxville. We have not been able to bring him to battle yet.”

The Federal cavalry, consisting of about 700 troopers under Brigadier General William P. Sanders, fought a delaying action, falling back each time the Confederates began flanking them. The Federals made their last stand just outside Knoxville, along the edge of a deep ravine that would delay the Confederate pursuit. Meanwhile, Burnside’s men inside Knoxville strengthened their defenses. Sanders agreed to try holding out against Longstreet as long as possible, or until the defenses were completed.

To the southwest, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal reinforcements arrived at Bridgeport, poised to reinforce the Federals in Chattanooga. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, wrote Burnside:

“I have not heard from you since the 14th. Sherman’s forces commenced their movement from Bridgeport, threatening the enemy’s left flank. This alone may turn Longstreet back, and if it does not, the attack will be prosecuted until we reach the roads over which all their supplies have to pass, while you hold East Tennessee.”

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Burnside reported how he had delayed Longstreet’s advance and was now behind fortifications in Knoxville. Grant wrote, “So far you are doing exactly what appears to me right. I think our movements here must cause Longstreet’s recall within a day or two, if he is not successful before that time.” Burnside replied, “Shall hold this position to the last.”

Meanwhile, Sanders’s troopers continued holding the Confederates off about a mile from Fort Loudon, in the northwest section of forts built by Confederates to defend Knoxville before the Federals took over. Sanders held off 15,000 Confederates for several hours and was mortally wounded. His men successfully allowed Burnside to finish his defenses, and Fort Loudon was later renamed Fort Sanders in honor of the fallen cavalry commander.

As Burnside’s Federals positioned themselves behind strong fortifications, Longstreet’s Confederates began surrounding them. Grant heard nothing from Burnside for several days, and Brigadier General Orlando Willcox, commanding Federals at Cumberland Gap, could not contact him either. Grant wired Willcox and asked him to break Longstreet’s siege.

Willcox replied, “I will try it, and endeavor to subsist on the country. It would be a desperate attempt, as the roads are bad and the country pretty much fed out along the route.” Addressing rumors that Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry intended to invade Kentucky, Willcox wrote, “Cumberland River is up, and if we have more rain there is no danger of Wheeler getting into Kentucky.”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote Grant, “The President feels very anxious that some immediate movement should be made for his (Burnside’s) relief,” especially if rumors were true that Longstreet’s force was “larger than was supposed.”

Skirmishing occurred at various points along the siege line over the next week. Longstreet began preparing to launch a general assault on Fort Sanders, but then he received a message from Bragg stating that “nearly 11,000 reinforcements are now moving to your assistance.” Bragg gave Longstreet the option to either attack now or wait for the reinforcements to arrive. Longstreet opted to wait.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 344; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 839; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 372-74; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109, 112; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 436; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 108-09, 420-21; Williams, Frederick D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 278

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The Campbell’s Station Engagement

November 16, 1863 – Elements of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps and Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio clashed as both forces raced to get to Knoxville first.

Longstreet’s 15,000-man force, having been detached from General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, crossed the Tennessee River west of Loudon and moved northeast toward Knoxville. In eight days, the Confederates covered just 60 miles due to the harsh terrain and supply delays. Burnside, fearing that his 25,000-man army was outnumbered, pulled his 5,000-man detachment out of Loudon and prepared to abandon Knoxville.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Burnside initially planned to fall back to Cumberland Gap, but Major General Ulysses S. Grant, Burnside’s superior, wrote him from Chattanooga on the 14th:

“(William T.) Sherman’s advance has reached Bridgeport. If you can hold Longstreet in check until he gets up, or by skirmishing and falling back can avoid serious loss to yourself, and gain time, I will be able to force the enemy back from here and place a force between Longstreet and Bragg that must inevitably make the former take to the mountain passes by every available road to get back to his supplies.

“Every arrangement is now made to throw Sherman’s force across the river, just at and below the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, as soon as it arrives. (George H.) Thomas will attack on his left at the same time, and together it is expected to carry Missionary Ridge, and from there push a force on to the railroad between Cleveland and Dalton. (Joseph) Hooker will at the same time attack, and, if he can, carry Lookout Mountain. The enemy now seems to be looking for an attack on his left flank. This favors us.”

Thus, Grant hoped for Burnside to hold Longstreet in check long enough for Grant’s Federals to break out of Chattanooga. Once that was done, Grant would send Sherman’s four divisions northeast to help Burnside defeat Longstreet. Grant told Burnside that he planned to attack on the 19th, adding, “Inform me if you think you can sustain yourself until that time. I can hardly conceive of the enemy’s breaking through at Kingston and pushing for Kentucky.”

Based on this, Burnside began reconsidering his plan to retreat to Cumberland Gap. He was further emboldened to hold his ground when one of his officers reported that “the rebel soldiers were all through the country for food. They said they must get to Kentucky or starve.” Burnside decided to fall back to his fortifications inside Knoxville and conduct a delaying action against Longstreet.

Meanwhile, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck sent a message to Grant that seemed a bit redundant since he did not yet know about Grant’s plan:

“He (Burnside) ought not to retreat. Cannot Thomas move on Longstreet’s rear and force him to fall back? A mere demonstration may have a good effect. I fear further delay may result in Burnside’s abandonment of East Tennessee. This would be a terrible misfortune, and must be averted if possible.”

Grant followed up with a second message to Burnside: “Can you hold the line from Knoxville to Clinton for seven days? If so, I think the whole Tennessee Valley can be secured from all present dangers.” Burnside’s Federals began falling back to the northeast along the railroad line at 4 a.m. on the 15th. Burnside hoped to reach Campbell’s Station, a strategic crossroads just before Knoxville, ahead of Longstreet.

The Confederates advanced on the Hotchkiss Valley Road, a parallel route about a mile west of the Federals and separated by a bend in the Tennessee. Longstreet hoped to flank the enemy, but the Federals were moving too fast. Both sides spent the day racing for Campbell’s Station in heavy rain and mud.

Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry, detached by Longstreet to ride ahead and seize the heights outside Knoxville, approached that day but was blocked by Federal cavalry under Brigadier General William P. Sanders. Wheeler finally broke through, but when he reached the Holston River south of Knoxville, he discovered the Federals had the heights heavily guarded.

Burnside’s Federals rested at Lenoir’s Station and resumed their rush to Campbell’s at 2 a.m. on the 16th. Longstreet’s troops continued moving as well, using a shorter route that a Confederate sympathizer had shown them. As the troops raced through heavy rain, Burnside left much of his wagon train and some artillery behind to gain speed.

The Federals began arriving at the intersection of the Kingston and Concord roads in front of Campbell’s Station around noon, just 15 minutes before Longstreet’s vanguard. Both sides deployed in line of battle, with Longstreet sending Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division against the Federal right-center. The Federals repelled two attacks.

Longstreet then sent Brigadier General Evander M. Law’s brigade around the enemy flank to try getting between Burnside and Knoxville. However, Burnside anticipated this maneuver and fell back a half-mile, under the cover of his artillery, to repel it. Colonel E. Porter Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery commander, recalled that a 20-pound shell “cut both arms and one leg off a man”:

“He was kneeling behind a limber on his right knee, facing to the right, and was putting a fuse in a shell placed on the ground, and using both hands. This shot struck one of the wheel horses in the chest, ranged through the length of his body a little downward, wrecked the splinter bar of the limber, and passed just under the axle and struck this poor fellow’s left leg above the knee, his left arm above the elbow, and his right arm at or below it leaving all three only hanging by shreds.”

By nightfall, the Federal line held and Longstreet disengaged, expecting the fight to continue the next day. The Federals sustained 318 casualties (31 killed and 211 wounded, and 76 missing), while the Confederates lost 174 (22 killed and 152 wounded). Having won the race, Burnside had no intention of fighting again the next day; he began falling back into the Knoxville fortifications.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 341; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 838; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 371-72; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 106-07, 109; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 434; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 108-09, 420-21

Chattanooga: Grant Prepares to Attack

November 6, 1863 – A Confederate deserter informed the Federal high command that General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was vulnerable to attack.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

By this time, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding Federal forces in Chattanooga, was poised to attack Bragg, but he wanted to wait for Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal reinforcements to arrive first. As Sherman continued struggling to move through mountains, rain, and mud to get to Chattanooga, a Confederate deserter entered the Federal lines and claimed that Bragg had sent Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps to destroy the Federals at Knoxville. If true, this severely depleted Bragg’s army and provided an opening for Grant to try breaking out of Chattanooga.

Grant directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, to attack the Confederate right on Missionary Ridge. Grant’s goal was to get between Bragg and Longstreet, making it impossible for them to reunite. However, Thomas argued that it would be better to attack the Confederate left on Lookout Mountain. This would open the Tennessee River even further, ensuring that the Federals would be permanently well supplied. Then, according to Thomas, Sherman could come up and attack Missionary Ridge.

Grant agreed. He revoked the orders for Thomas to attack and explained his latest strategy to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“When Sherman crosses at Bridgeport, (Oliver O.) Howard (commanding the Federal XI Corps) will drive the enemy from the west side of Lookout and get possession of the road leading across the foot of the mountain; then join Sherman in his movement up the valley. Thomas will attack vigorously in this valley, and, if the enemy give back, follow them up. Although a large force has gone up the Tennessee Valley that may annoy us, I feel that a decisive movement of the enemy in that direction must prove a disaster to them.”

Sherman finally arrived at Bridgeport with his vanguard on the 13th. Due to bad roads, rugged terrain, foul weather, and sporadic guerrilla attacks, it had taken him 13 days to travel just 170 miles. The rest of his four divisions reached Bridgeport two days later, after a 675-mile boat ride down the Tennessee. From Bridgeport, the troops would continue up the Lookout Valley to Brown’s Ferry. When they reached Chattanooga, Grant would have about 72,000 troops to face Bragg’s 36,000 Confederates.

Grant, Thomas, and Sherman inspected the northern end of Missionary Ridge, where Sherman’s forces would take up positions. The Confederate siege line ran from Missionary Ridge on the right (northeast) to Lookout Mountain, three miles to the left (southwest). The Federals in Chattanooga could see the Confederate camps and cannon looming in the heights above them. After discussing strategy for the next few days, Grant planned to attack on the 21st.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the Confederate side, Bragg continued his massive reorganization by placing Major General John C. Breckinridge in charge of his Second Corps. Breckinridge replaced Lieutenant General D.H. Hill, who had been highly critical of Bragg’s leadership. Breckinridge also had a bad history with Bragg; he even wanted to challenge Bragg to a duel after sustaining heavy (and possibly pointless) losses at the Battle of Stones River.

Bragg’s army, which formerly had four corps under Leonidas Polk, D.H. Hill, Simon B. Buckner, and James Longstreet, now had just two under Breckinridge and Lieutenant General William Hardee. Bragg wanted to attack the Federal right at Bridgeport, but bad weather prevented him. Bragg was unaware that Sherman’s men were reinforcing Grant. Bragg received a message from Custis Lee, on behalf of President Jefferson Davis:

“His Excellency regrets that the weather and condition of the roads have suspended the movement (on your left), but hopes that such obstacles to your plans will not long obstruct them. He feels assured that you will not allow the enemy to get up all his reinforcements before striking him, if it can be avoided… (the president) does not deem it necessary to call your attention to the importance of doing whatever is to be done before the enemy can collect his forces, as the longer the time given him for this purpose, the greater will be the disparity in numbers.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 339-41, 343; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 825-26; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 368, 370-72; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 97, 118; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 431-34; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 676; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

Longstreet’s Knoxville Campaign Begins

November 4, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps left the Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga to confront Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet moved out with two divisions under Brigadier General Micah Jenkins and Major General Lafayette McLaws, Colonel E. Porter Alexander’s two artillery batteries, and Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry. The force totaled 15,000 men. Their mission was “to destroy or capture Burnside’s army” and restore the Confederate supply line between Virginia and the west.

Another unstated objective was to ease tensions between Longstreet and General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Tennessee. In fact, Bragg was so eager to get rid of Longstreet that he sent him to try to destroy a force numbering 25,00 men while Bragg’s army tried starving a force twice its size into submission at Chattanooga. This was a desperate gamble that many high-ranking Confederates–including Longstreet–believed would end in disaster.

Longstreet consulted with Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, former head of the now-dissolved Confederate Army of East Tennessee, on how best to handle the rough terrain of the region he was about to enter. Longstreet concluded that “it was to be the fate of our army to wait until all good opportunities had passed, and then, in desperation, seize upon the least favorable movement.”

The Confederates headed out and immediately had trouble advancing along the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad. In six days, some of Longstreet’s forces were still at Tyner’s Station, just 15 miles from Chattanooga. Alexander later wrote, “My recollections of the place are only those of the struggles we had to get enough to eat, for no preparations had been made for any such delay.”

Some troops boarded trains at Tyner’s and traveled to Sweetwater, 60 miles northeast of Chattanooga. Others had to march farther down the line to catch trains. The artillery was finally loaded onto railcars at Tyner’s on the 10th. Alexander recalled:

“Before we had gone very far the engine got out of wood. We stopped and cut up fence rails enough to go on, and we had this to do several times. As night came on it was quite cool, riding out on the flat cars, but we wrapped up in blankets and laid in under and among the guns, and managed to sleep with some comfort, arriving at Sweetwater about midnight and disembarking in the morning.”

Longstreet later wrote, “Thus we found ourselves in a strange country, not as much as a day’s rations on hand, with hardly enough land transportation for ordinary camp equipage, the enemy in front to be captured, and our friends in the rear putting in their paper bullets.” From Sweetwater, Longstreet planned to continue advancing to Loudon, where he would set up a supply base and then launch his assault on Knoxville from the south. He stated:

“Anticipating proper land transportation, plans were laid for march across the Little Tennessee above its confluence with the greater river, through Maryville to the heights above Knoxville on the east bank, by forced march. This would have brought the city close under fire of our field batteries and forced the enemy into open grounds.”

Longstreet had no wagons to carry pontoons for building bridges, so the troops were delayed until suitable crossing points could be found on the rivers. Also, rations had not yet arrived at Sweetwater as promised, causing further delays. Longstreet telegraphed Bragg on the 11th, “The delay that occurs is one that might have been prevented, but not by myself… As soon as I find a probability of moving without almost certain starvation, I shall move, provided the troops are up.” Bragg responded the next day:

“Transportation in abundance was on the road and subject to your orders. I regret it has not been energetically used. The means being furnished, you were expected to handle your own troops, and I cannot understand your constant applications for me to furnish them.”

Meanwhile, Longstreet gathered his forces at Loudon in foul weather that impeded their progress. He dispatched three of Wheeler’s cavalry brigades to advance on Knoxville ahead of the struggling army. Wheeler moved east to Maryville, south of Knoxville, and then rode north to probe the city’s southern approaches. Longstreet ordered Wheeler to take the heights across from Knoxville on the south bank of the Holston River.

On the 13th, Burnside was informed that enemy forces were “placing guns in positions this evening in the works on the south side of the river.” Burnside wrote Major General Ulysses S. Grant, his superior at Chattanooga, “I think it would be advisable to concentrate the forces in East Tennessee and risk a battle.”

However, Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing Federal operations at Knoxville on behalf of the War Department, disagreed. He wrote Grant, “It is certain that Longstreet is approaching from Chattanooga with from 20,000 to 40,000 troops,” and “with Burnside’s present forces he is unable to resist such an attack.” Dana believed that Burnside should consider “what is the most advantageous line of retreat.”

Dana suggested that Grant send a force between Longstreet and Bragg, which could “compel Longstreet to return and allow Burnside not only to hold his present positions, but to advance and occupy the line of the Hiwassee (closer to supporting Grant at Chattanooga).”

The next morning, Dana reported that the Confederates had built two bridges across the Tennessee River at Loudon, and “Burnside has determined to retreat toward the gaps” to the north. The Federals were “destroying cotton factory at Lenoir’s and delaying the enemy as much as possible. All workshops and mills will be destroyed here and elsewhere on the line of retreat.”

Falling back toward Cumberland Gap would give Burnside more time to gather supplies and avoid the supposedly larger Confederate force approaching Knoxville. It would also enable the Federals to “not entirely abandon East Tennessee.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 833, 837-38; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 368, 371; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 99-117, 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 430; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 676-77; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 108-09, 133-35, 420-21

Chattanooga: Bragg Weakens His Army

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.”

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

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.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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.

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References

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

The Battle of Wauhatchie

October 28, 1863 – News that Federals had secured Brown’s Ferry enraged General Braxton Bragg, and Lieutenant General James Longstreet planned to counter with a Confederate night assault.

Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, continued his tenuous siege on the Federals in Chattanooga. However, the Federals had opened a new supply line at Brown’s Ferry. Bragg did not know about this until the morning of the 28th. Infuriated, he wrote Longstreet, commanding that sector of the army, “The loss of our position on the left is vital,” because it “involves the very existence of the enemy at Chattanooga.”

The loss of Brown’s Ferry threatened to render Bragg’s siege pointless because Federals could use the bridgehead there to ship supplies from Bridgeport to the hungry soldiers in Chattanooga. Bragg rode to Lookout Mountain to discuss the matter with Longstreet in person. When he could not find Longstreet, he looked down in the valley below and saw the Federals had indeed laid a pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry. Bragg’s worst fears had been realized.

Bragg finally met with Longstreet around 10 a.m., and since the men already disliked each other, a heated argument quickly ensued. Bragg blamed Longstreet for failing to defend Brown’s Ferry, while Longstreet blamed Bragg for issuing vague orders and insisting that the true Federal threat was at Bridgeport, from which the enemy could launch a flank attack.

Couriers interrupted the argument with news that the Federals were advancing through the Lookout Valley. This confused the generals, who believed the enemy would come either from Brown’s Ferry or on Longstreet’s flank, not his front. Moving to a vantage point overlooking the valley, Bragg and Longstreet could see the Federals marching toward Brown’s Ferry. Bragg ordered Longstreet to attack and then returned to his headquarters.

The Federals moving through Lookout Valley belonged to Major General Joseph Hooker, led by XI Corps. Hooker’s goal was to join forces with the troops at Brown’s Ferry. Hooker directed his rear guard, a division of XII Corps under Brigadier General John W. Geary, to halt at Wauhatchie Station, a stop on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, about three miles southwest of Brown’s Ferry. Geary was to guard Hooker’s communications and the road leading west to Kelley’s Ferry.

Although Bragg expected Longstreet to attack the main Federal force assembling at Brown’s Ferry, Longstreet planned to cut off Hooker’s rear by attacking Geary’s isolated division instead. Three Confederate brigades would move from the eastern slopes of Lookout Mountain to join Brigadier General Evander M. Law’s brigade in a rare night assault at 10 p.m. The brigades belonged to Brigadier General Micah Jenkins’s division of Longstreet’s corps.

Longstreet informed Bragg around 6 p.m., “There is another column and train just in sight. I hope to be able to attack it in flank soon after dark.” Law protested the plan, arguing that “even if he (Jenkins) gained a temporary success during the night, the light of the next morning would reveal his weakness, with a force of the enemy on both sides of him, each of which would be superior in numbers to his whole force.”

Geary’s 1,500 men camped for the night near Wauhatchie. They had not yet established communications with the Federals at Brown’s Ferry. The Confederate attack was delayed until after midnight due to men getting lost in the dark. Longstreet decided to suspend the attack, but Jenkins did not receive the order until fighting had already begun.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikidata.org

The Confederates attacked from the north and east, hoping to separate Geary’s men from Hooker’s main force. Geary was surprised, but his men quickly put out their campfires and formed a “V” shape defense line, as Geary sent a regiment west to guard Kelley’s Ferry. Heavy clouds blocked the moonlight, making muzzle flashes the only light in most places.

Hooker heard the firing and sent Howard’s XI Corps to reinforce Geary. One of Howard’s divisions, led by Major General Carl Schurz, got lost and did not see action. But when Jenkins could not prevent the rest of Howard’s corps from linking with Geary, he ordered a withdrawal to Lookout Mountain.

In this confusing battle, the Federals sustained 420 casualties (78 killed, 327 wounded, and 15 missing), while the Confederates lost 408 men (34 killed, 305 wounded, and 69 missing). Howard’s XI Corps performed well despite past defeats while part of the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Hooker accused Schurz of incompetence for getting lost, but Schurz was later absolved by a court of inquiry.

Longstreet tried charging Law with poor conduct since he had opposed the attack; he also accused Jenkins’s men of lacking the aggressiveness needed for a night attack. He especially singled out Brigadier General Jerome Robertson, who commanded a brigade in Jenkins’s division. Longstreet wrote of Robertson, “This officer has been complained of so frequently for want of conduct in time of battle that I apprehend that the abandonment by his brigade of its position of the night of the 28th may have been due to his want of hearty co-operation.”

All charges against Law and Robertson were dropped due to time constraints. Longstreet pulled his men back, giving Brown’s Ferry to the Federals. Hooker’s men drove the remaining Confederates off Raccoon Mountain, and the “cracker line” from Bridgeport to Chattanooga was soon fully operational. With the Confederate siege effectively broken, a concerned President Jefferson Davis telegraphed Bragg from Richmond:

“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 no longer commanded the Federals) suggested that Bragg send Longstreet to Knoxville soon after. Later that day, the Federal steamboat Chattanooga left Bridgeport pulling two barges filled with 40,000 rations. The boat fought the strong current and reached Brown’s Ferry by dawn on the 30th.

Later that day, the Chattanooga reached its namesake city, and the “cracker line” was officially opened, providing hardtack, or “crackers,” to the hungry men. 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 later wrote:

“In five days from my arrival in Chattanooga the way was open to Bridgeport and, with the aid of steamers and Hooker’s teams, 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. He confided to Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana that he disliked Hooker and wanted to remove him from command, along with Major General Henry W. Slocum heading XII 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.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 337; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 811, 820; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 365-66; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 427; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 676; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189, 808-09

Chattanooga: Opening the Cracker Line

October 24, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant personally inspected the proposed supply route at Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee and approved the plan to open the “cracker line” to feed the Federals besieged in Chattanooga.

Despite recovering from a serious hip injury, Grant was back on his horse on the morning of the 24th for inspections. He studied the terrain around the landing at Brown’s Ferry and noted that just a single Confederate brigade from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps patrolled the area.

Gen W.F. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Grant also continued consulting with Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith, the army’s chief engineer who had discovered this route. Smith had been working on this plan with members of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s staff before Rosecrans was removed from army command.

Securing Brown’s Ferry would enable the Federals to control the Tennessee River below Confederate-held Raccoon Mountain. This allowed them to ship supplies from Bridgeport to Chattanooga via water, and although the supplies would have to cross the Tennessee twice, they could be shipped much faster than the current overland route by wagon trains through the Cumberland Mountains.

Under Smith’s plan, two Federal brigades would seize control of Brown’s Ferry, while Major General Joseph Hooker’s XI and XII corps would move across the Tennessee at Bridgeport, double-back toward Brown’s on the south bank of the river, clear out Confederates as they went, and help build a bridge at the ferry site.

Hooker doubted that the plan would work because his troops would have to move around the southern end of Lookout Mountain, on which Confederates could hide and ambush them from above. Hooker told Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding XI Corps, “It is a very hazardous operation, and almost certain to procure us a defeat.”

Hooker asked Grant for more time to prepare, but Grant instead directed Smith to go ahead and seize Brown’s Ferry with the two brigades without waiting for Hooker. Smith worried that without Hooker’s support, the Federals might not be able to hold it. Smith explained that just to get to the ferry, “Fifteen hundred men, under Brigadier-General (William) Hazen, were to embark in the boats and pass down the river a distance of about nine miles, seven of which would be under the fire of the pickets of the enemy.”

Both Smith and Hooker prepared their forces throughout the 25th. Hooker ordered Howard to move out at 9 a.m. the next day, but Howard explained that he had only one functioning artillery battery. Hooker replied, “We will march to-morrow if we go without any.” But then Hooker changed his mind and wrote Howard, “It will not be possible to bring all the force together in season to march to-morrow. Let everything be in readiness for an early start the following morning.”

Meanwhile, General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, guessed that if the Federals tried breaking out of Chattanooga, they would do so on the left, or west, of the Confederate line, held by Longstreet’s corps and anchored by Lookout Mountain. Longstreet wrote, “I have no doubt but the enemy will cross below and move against our rear. It is his easier and safest move.” By this time, Bragg was also receiving reports that Federals were gathering at Bridgeport, but neither he nor Longstreet made any moves to bolster the army’s left.

Confederates reported “a part of artillery going down on the opposite side of the river and that their pickets were doubled along the water front.” Cavalry troopers from Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s command reported a potential Federal river crossing at Bridgeport. If successful, the Federals could cut off Longstreet’s line of retreat. Longstreet received this news but decided to await further developments before acting.

At 3 a.m. on the 27th, Hazen’s 1,500 Federals began moving down the Tennessee on 24 pontoon boats, trading shots as they passed the Confederates on shore. The second brigade of 3,500 men led by Brigadier General John B. Turchin moved across Moccasin Point, a stretch of land opposite Raccoon Mountain, unnoticed. Hazen’s men rode the current to Moccasin Point, where they joined Turchin. The Federals then advanced to Brown’s Ferry, beyond the range of Confederate guns on Lookout Mountain.

The Federals reached the west bank of the Tennessee around daybreak, where Colonel William Oates’s 1,000 Confederates and three cannon tried stopping their advance. After a sharp 10-minute fight, the advance Confederate units fell back to their main camp. From there, a scout told Oates that only “seventy-five or one hundred” Federals were approaching. Oates later recalled, “I had the long roll beaten, and gave orders for the men to leave their knapsacks in camp and their little tent flies standing.”

Oates sent skirmishers forward with orders “to walk right up to the foe, and for every man to place the muzzle of his rifle against the body of a Yankee when he fired.” The skirmishers soon learned that they were vastly outnumbered. Oates was shot through the hip but managed to ride off to avoid capture. His men fell back to the safety of the west side of Lookout Mountain as the Federals secured Brown’s Ferry. The Federals lost just six killed and 32 wounded.

Meanwhile, Hooker’s Federals crossed the river at Bridgeport and cleared the Confederates from Raccoon Mountain before stopping at the western foot of Lookout. Hooker posted a division at Wauhatchie Station to guard his communications. Smith’s Federals completed their pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry around 4:30 p.m. This would enable their supply train to cross.

Longstreet watched the action from atop Lookout Mountain and remained convinced that the Federals planned to feint against Brown’s Ferry while attacking in earnest from Bridgeport to try turning Bragg’s left. Bragg directed Longstreet to stop the Federals’ “designs,” which Longstreet tried doing by sending a brigade to Bridgeport. But he did not inform Bragg of the engagement at Brown’s Ferry, and by nightfall, Hooker was within 10 miles of linking with Smith there.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 336; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 364-65; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 425-26; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 675; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 699; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189, 808-09