Category Archives: Tennessee

The Slow Federal Advance in Tennessee

July 2, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland captured Tullahoma, but Rosecrans still faced criticism for not moving against Chattanooga fast enough.

Generals Bragg and Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As July began, Rosecrans continued outmaneuvering General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee, despite continuous rain that turned roads to mud. Bragg soon found himself in danger of being outflanked and forced to abandon his supply depot at Tullahoma.

The Confederates fell back to Decherd on the Elk River, but a Federal mounted infantry brigade penetrated their rear and threatened to cut their railroad supply line. Although the Confederates outnumbered them, the Federals carried Spencer carbine rifles that could fire seven shots without reloading.

At a council of war, Bragg asked his subordinates, “The question to be decided instantly (is) shall we fight on the Elk or take post at the foot of the mountain at Cowan?” Major General Leonidas Polk favored Cowan, but Major General William Hardee said, “Let us fight at the mountain.” Bragg did neither because he did not want to fight with his back to the Tennessee River. Bragg instead continued falling back east, into the mountains and across the Tennessee toward Chattanooga.

The next day, Federal troops occupied the abandoned Confederate positions at Tullahoma without a fight. The Federals crossed the Elk on the 3rd, with the cavalry riding ahead and clashing with the Confederate rear guard near Cowan. Bragg pulled across the Cumberland plateau at Sewanee Mountain, and Rosecrans halted the pursuit.

In nine days, the Federals had pushed the Confederates back 85 miles while losing just 560 men, including less than 100 killed and 12 missing. They captured 1,634 Confederates, most of whom were Middle Tennessee conscripts who willingly surrendered. The Federals also took 11 cannon and a large amount of supplies. This short, battle-free campaign cost the Confederates Middle Tennessee. Bragg confided to a chaplain, “This is a great disaster.”

The bulk of Bragg’s army crossed the Tennessee and entered Chattanooga on the night of the 6th. Since Bragg had crossed the same river last July to begin his advance into Kentucky, his men had marched nearly 1,000 miles and fought two major battles–Perryville and Stones River. Bragg considered them both Confederate victories, but he retreated after both, and now he was back where he started a year ago.

Rosecrans had conducted a brilliant campaign of maneuver; even southern newspapers grudgingly conceded that it was “masterful.” Rosecrans’s only blunder was one over which he had no control—his nearly bloodless success was overshadowed by the major events taking place at Gettysburg and Vicksburg at the same time. But now that those campaigns were winding down, the Lincoln administration turned to Rosecrans to destroy the Confederacy.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton wired him on the 7th: “Lee’s army overthrown; Grant victorious. You and your noble army now have the chance to give the finishing blow to the rebellion. Will you neglect the chance?” Rosecrans quickly responded:

“You do not appear to observe the fact that this noble army has driven the rebels from Middle Tennessee. I beg in behalf of this army that the War Department may not overlook so great an event because it is not written in letters of blood.”

Rosecrans then wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck listing the reasons why he could not immediately resume his advance. Rosecrans explained that his men needed to replace a 350-foot railroad bridge across the Duck River, replace another railroad trestle south of the bridge, and build corduroy roads for his supply wagons. He also expressed concern about being in a potentially vulnerable position because:

  • Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner’s Confederate Army of East Tennessee held Knoxville on Rosecrans’s left, or eastern flank
  • General Joseph E. Johnston’s revised Confederate Army of Mississippi was on Rosecrans’s right, or western flank
  • General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee remained dangerous in his front at Chattanooga

Rosecrans wanted to wait until the proposed Federal drive on Knoxville began before he resumed his advance. But the administration worried that if Rosecrans did not move, Johnston would join forces with Bragg. Halleck wired Rosecrans:

“You must not wait for Johnston to join Bragg, but must move forward immediately… There is great dissatisfaction felt here at the slowness of your advance. Unless you can move more rapidly, your whole campaign will prove a failure.”

Halleck accompanied the wire with a confidential letter: “The patience of the authorities here has been completely exhausted, and if I had not repeatedly promised to urge you forward, and begged for delay, you would have been removed from your command.” But Rosecrans would not heed such warnings. He continued meticulously preparing to launch a new offensive against Bragg.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 764-65; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 301; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 646, 673-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 320, 323, 335; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 234; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 375, 377-78, 380, 391; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 216; 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. 669; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746

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The Tullahoma Campaign Begins

June 24, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans finally began moving his Federal Army of the Cumberland to oppose General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of the Tennessee at Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Rosecrans had hardly moved since occupying Murfreesboro after the Battle of Stones River in January. He spent the last six months reorganizing his army, while Bragg held a line on the Duck River centered at Tullahoma. The armies skirmished intermittently during that time, but now the Lincoln administration began seriously pressing Rosecrans to launch an offensive to prevent Bragg from sending troops to break Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, having heard little from Rosecrans regarding upcoming strategy, notified him, “I deem it my duty to repeat to you the great dissatisfaction felt here at your inactivity.” Rosecrans explained that not attacking Bragg served Grant better than attacking because an attack might drive Bragg out of Tennessee and into Mississippi. Rosecrans cited a military axiom that no nation should fight two decisive battles at the same time. (When Grant heard this later, he remarked, “It would be bad to be defeated in two decisive battles fought the same day, but it would not be bad to win them.”)

The Lincoln administration remained unimpressed with Rosecrans’s plan to help Grant by doing nothing. Halleck finally telegraphed him on the 16th, “Is it your intention to make an immediate move forward? A definite answer, yes or no, is required.” Rosecrans responded, “In reply to your inquiry, if immediate means tonight or tomorrow, no. If it means as soon as all things are ready, say five days, yes.”

On Rosecrans’s self-imposed five-day deadline, he sent Halleck an ambiguous message: “We ought to fight here if we have a strong prospect of winning a decisive battle over the opposing force, and upon this ground I shall act. I shall be careful not to risk our last reserve without strong grounds to expect success.” Rosecrans finally devised a plan in which he would flank Bragg’s army and force the Confederates to fall back behind the Tennessee River.

Bragg had just over 46,000 effectives on a line along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. The line ran west-to-east, from Shelbyville on his left to Wartrace on his right. His supply depot was at Tullahoma, 15 miles southeast of Wartrace. Rosecrans planned to feint against Shelbyville while moving around Bragg’s right, taking the gaps in the Cumberland foothills and forcing Bragg to defend his right (eastern) flank in the Duck River Valley. Rosecrans hoped to avoid attacking the strong Confederate defenses head-on; he would instead rely on maneuver to force them out of their positions. Fearing spies, he would not share any specifics of his plans with his superiors.

Rosecrans wired Halleck at 2:10 a.m. on the 24th: “The army begins to move at 3 o’clock this morning.” The troops moved out of Murfreesboro in multiple columns, with the four corps led by Major Generals Gordon Granger, Alexander McCook, George H. Thomas, and Thomas L. Crittenden. The army consisted of 87,800 men, but just 65,137 joined this march; the rest stayed back at various garrisons to guard the army’s lines of communication and supply.

Rain began falling during the march, which a Federal soldier noted was “no Presbyterian rain, either, but a genuine Baptist downpour.” The rain continued for the next 17 days, turning the roads to mud and slowing the advance. Skirmishing broke out as Granger’s corps feinted against Bragg’s left. Granger drove Confederate cavalry out of Guy’s Gap and into the trenches outside Shelbyville.

McCook’s corps advanced on Wartrace and pushed Confederate defenders from Liberty Gap to Bellbuckle Gap. Thomas’s corps knocked the Confederates out of Hoover’s Gap while driving toward Manchester, and Crittenden’s corps occupied Bradyville. By the night of the 24th, Bragg was scrambling to determine what point of his line was under the most serious threat.

The next day, Confederates staged a day-long attempt to regain the passes at Hoover’s and Liberty gaps. The Federals were finally driven back, but when Bragg received word that Federal reinforcements were on their way, he ordered a withdrawal that night.

Learning that Federals seriously threatened his right, Bragg directed Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk to reinforce Major General Patrick R. Cleburne at Liberty Gap. But when Thomas threatened to get between the Confederates and Chattanooga, Bragg ordered his men to fall back to Tullahoma to protect their base, flank, and rear. Meanwhile, skirmishing continued at Shelbyville, with Granger’s Federals taking many prisoners. They eventually occupied Shelbyville as the Confederates fell back with the rest of the army to Tullahoma.

As Thomas’s Federals occupied Manchester, Rosecrans dispatched a force to attack the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad in the Confederate rear. Mounted Federal infantry under Colonel John T. Wilder destroyed railroad tracks and supplies at Decherd, temporarily cutting off Bragg’s communications with Chattanooga. Meanwhile, Federals at Manchester continued moving southeast toward Hillsboro and Pelham, threatening the vital railroad.

Bragg held a council of war on the night of the 28th to discuss his options. Polk urged a withdrawal, but Lieutenant General William Hardee proposed digging trenches and holding their ground. The meeting ended when Bragg said he would wait for further developments before deciding what to do.

By the 30th, Rosecrans had three corps threatening Tullahoma from the northeast, while Wilder’s Federals threatened the Confederate rear. That night, Bragg decided that his position was untenable and he ordered a retreat. The Confederate army abandoned their six-month hold on Tullahoma and fell back south of the Elk River, near Decherd, where Bragg planned to make a stand.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 764-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 291, 295-96; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 663-67, 671-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 314-17, 319; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-30; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 370; 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. 669; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642

Middle Tennessee: The Spring Hill Engagement

March 5, 1863 – As the Armies of Tennessee and the Cumberland remained relatively stationary in Middle Tennessee, smaller forces clashed in an engagement at nearby Spring Hill.

Major General William S. Rosecrans had not moved his Federal Army of the Cumberland since taking Murfreesboro after the Battle of Stones River in January. To coax him into action, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wired him on the 1st: “There is a vacant major generalcy in the Regular Army, and I am authorized to say that it will be given to the general in the field who first wins an important and decisive victory.”

This did not have the intended effect, as Rosecrans replied, “As an officer and a citizen, I feel degraded to see such auctioneering of honor. Have we a general who would fight for his own personal benefit, when he would not for honor and country? He would come by his commission basely in that case, and deserve to be despised by men of honor.”

Though the main armies in Middle Tennessee showed little movement, detachments on both sides were active. This included a clash at Milton, about 15 miles northeast of Murfreesboro, in which a Federal force severely repelled an attack from Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Also, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry (now part of Major General Earl Van Dorn’s 6,000-man cavalry force) rode north on the Columbia Pike, across the Duck River toward Franklin, south of Nashville. By the 4th, Forrest had reached Thompson’s Point, just before Spring Hill.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans dispatched about 3,000 Federal troops under Colonel John Coburn to join General Philip Sheridan at Spring Hill and reconnoiter General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. As Coburn moved south on the Columbia Pike, his men discovered “a considerable force of cavalry,” near Spring Hill, which was Van Dorn’s vanguard.

Both sides began trading artillery fire, and when the Confederates tried flanking Coburn, the Federals fell back under cover of their guns. A scout informed Coburn that no more than 1,000 troopers opposed him, so Coburn decided to hold his ground. During the night, the rest of Van Dorn’s 6,000 troopers came up, outnumbering the Federals two-to-one.

The next morning, Coburn was told that Van Dorn’s whole force now opposed him, but his scouts found nothing in the Federal front. So Coburn continued moving south on the Columbia Pike toward Spring Hill in accordance with orders. Van Dorn’s troopers met him around 10 a.m. at Thompson’s Station, about 10 miles south of Franklin.

The two forces traded rifle fire until Confederate artillerists began enfilading the Federal cannoneers, forcing them to withdraw. The Federal cavalry then fled back to Franklin along with the infantry regiment guarding the supply train. This left the remaining infantry to fend for themselves.

The troops took positions on two hills and fended off several attacks until Forrest’s men flanked them and landed in their rear. The Federals were quickly surrounded. Coburn later wrote, “I was convinced that a massacre would ensue, to little purpose, that a few might escape, but that many would fall in a vain struggle for life with unequal weapons. I ordered a surrender. I believe it was justified by the circumstances.” Coburn further explained:

“The contest had raged nearly five hours. No re-enforcements were in sight; none had been heard from. The enemy held the road far in our rear. The cavalry and artillery had gone two hours. We had no ammunition. The enemy was mounted. His batteries raked the road, and his men, in thousands, hung upon every advantageous post in our rear. We had exhausted all means of destruction, except our bayonets; beyond their reach, we were powerless.”

The Federals sustained 1,594 casualties (88 killed, 206 wounded, and nearly 1,300 captured), and the Confederates lost 357 (56 killed and 301 wounded or missing). Bragg issued a general order expressing “pride and gratification” in the “affairs recently achieved by the forces of the cavalry of Major General Van Dorn.”

Van Dorn’s troopers encamped at Spring Hill, where he and Forrest got into a heated dispute after Van Dorn accused Forrest of hoarding the captured Federal supplies. When Rosecrans learned of the engagement, he reported to Halleck, “I am not, as you know, an alarmist, but I do not think it will do to risk as we did before.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18777-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 169, 176-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 268; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 575

Johnston and the Army of Tennessee

February 19, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis tried one last time to convince General Joseph E. Johnston to take personal command of the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston, commanding all Confederate forces between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River, had gone to Tullahoma to investigate rumors that officers and men of the Army of Tennessee had lost confidence in their commander, General Braxton Bragg. Johnston arrived in late January and inspected the 42,000-man force for a week before sending his findings to Davis.

Johnston reported that even though “incessant rain has permitted me to see but a fourth of the troops as of yet,” they were generally “in high spirits, and as ready as ever for fight.” Johnston found the troops “well clothed, healthy, and in good spirits,” which was “positive evidence of General Bragg’s capacity to command…”

Any lack of confidence in Bragg had been restored and “confirmed by his recent operations, which, in my opinion, evince great vigor and skill. It would be very unfortunate to remove him at this juncture, when he has just earned, if not won, the gratitude of the country.”

In closing, Johnston advised Davis that if he still insisted on removing Bragg, he should not replace Bragg with anyone who took part in the inspection. This was intended to deflect the possibility that Davis might replace Bragg with Johnston. Johnston resented his role as Western Theater commander and wanted to return to field command, but he considered it an affront to his “personal honor” to replace Bragg. Johnston still privately hoped to regain command of the Army of Northern Virginia, but Robert E. Lee’s performance assured him that he would not get that back.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

When Davis received the report, he still had doubts about Bragg’s leadership, and he still leaned toward replacing him with Johnston. However, Johnston made it clear that he would not accept such an assignment. On the 19th, Davis tried convincing him once again that the army officers’ dissatisfaction with Bragg would eventually filter down to the troops.

“It is not given to all men of ability to excite enthusiasm and to win affection of their troops,” Davis wrote, “and it is only the few who are thus endowed who can overcome the distrust and alienation of their principal officers.” If Bragg knew that he did more harm than good by staying on as army commander, he “would surrender a desirable position to promote the public interest…”

Davis complimented Bragg’s “confidence… and zeal,” and then told Johnston, “You limit the selection (of a new commander) to a new man, and, in terms very embarrassing to me, object to being yourself the immediate commander. I had felt the importance of keeping you free to pass from army to army in your department, so as to be present wherever most needed, and to command in person wherever present.” Davis continued:

“When you went to Tullahoma, I considered your arrival placed you for as long a period as you should remain there in the immediate command of that army, and that your judgment would determine the duration of your stay. I do not think that your personal honor is involved, as you could have nothing to gain by the removal of General Bragg. You shall not be urged by me to any course which would wound your sensibility or views of professional propriety, though you will perceive how small is the field of selection if a new man is to be sought whose rank is superior to that of the lieutenant-generals now in Tennessee.”

For now, Johnston refused to be Bragg’s replacement, so Bragg remained in charge of the Army of Tennessee as it remained in winter quarters at Tullahoma.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 172-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 264; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 322; 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. 583; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161

The Army of Tennessee: Resentment Toward Bragg

January 21, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis learned that the army’s top commanders no longer had confidence in General Braxton Bragg as their leader.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As the Confederates took up winter quarters at Tullahoma, several of Bragg’s subordinates expressed doubts about his generalship. These doubts reached the southern press, with a Chattanooga newspaper reporting that Bragg had lost the army’s confidence, particularly because he had allegedly ignored his commanders’ advice by retreating from the Battle of Stones River.

On the 11th, Bragg wrote a letter to his top five commanders to defend himself against such rumors and allegations. He began, “It becomes necessary for me to save my fair name,” and “stop the deluge of abuse which destroy my usefulness and demoralize this army.” Bragg continued:

“Unanimous as you were in council in verbally advising a retrograde movement, I cannot doubt that you will cheerfully attest the same in writing. I desire that you will consult your subordinate commanders and be candid with me. I shall retire without a regret if I find I have lost the good opinion of my generals, upon whom I have ever relied as upon a foundation of rock.”

All five commanders acknowledged in writing that the newspaper article claiming Bragg retreated against their advice was false. But one of Bragg’s corps commanders, General William J. Hardee, added another statement on the others’ behalf: “Frankness compels me to say that the general officers whose judgment you have invoked are unanimous in their opinion that a change in the command of this army is necessary. In this opinion I concur.”

Bragg’s other corps commander, General Leonidas Polk, joined Hardee in asking President Davis to replace Bragg with General Joseph E. Johnston, currently heading the entire Department of the West. Generals Benjamin F. Cheatham and John C. Breckinridge despised Bragg to the point that Cheatham refused to serve under him any longer and Breckinridge wanted to fight him in a duel. When Davis learned of this, he wrote to Johnston:

“Why General Bragg should have selected that tribunal and have invited its judgments upon him is to me unexplained. It manifests, however, a condition of things which seems to me to require your presence. Although my confidence in General Bragg is unshaken, it cannot be doubted that if he is distrusted by his officers and troops, a disaster may result.”

Davis directed Johnston to inspect the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma and determine if he “had so far lost the confidence of the army as to impair his usefulness in his present position…” Davis added:

“You will, I trust, be able, by conversation with General Bragg and others of his command, to decide what the best interests of the service require, and to give me the advice which I need at this juncture. As that army is part of your command, no order will be necessary to give you authority there, as, whether present or absent, you have a right to direct its operations and do whatever else belongs to the general commanding.”

Davis’s vague instructions authorized Johnston to take over the Army of Tennessee, which seemed to be what most of the army’s officers wanted. But even though Johnston personally disliked Bragg (like most others), he respected Bragg’s abilities as commander and did not want to take his job from him. This did not stop Confederate politicians in Richmond from lobbying to replace Bragg with Johnston.

As January ended, Johnston was on his way from inspecting defenses at Mobile to visit the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma.

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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. 254, 257; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 170, 172; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 256; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 313-14; 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. 582-83; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 159-61

The Jewish Exclusion Order Rescinded

January 4, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln directed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to order Major General Ulysses S. Grant to rescind his controversial General Order No. 11.

Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Cesar Kaskel, a prominent Jewish Unionist from Paducah, Kentucky, traveled to Washington to protest Grant’s order expelling all Jews from his military department. As he traveled, Kaskel collected letters from rabbis and Jewish leaders along the way supporting the protest. He arrived at the capital to find that many other Jews had come to demand the order be revoked as well.

Kaskel connected with former congressman and current lobbyist John A. Gurley of Ohio, who arranged for him to meet Lincoln on the 4th. At the meeting, Kaskel explained that the order called for all Jews, not just those accused of illegally trading with Confederates, to leave. This forced him and thousands of other Jewish Unionists from their homes. Lincoln claimed he did not know that Grant had issued such an order, and he quickly directed him, though Halleck, to revoke it.

Halleck wrote Grant that day, “A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms it expels all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.” Grant complied three days later: “By direction of General-in-Chief of the Army, at Washington, the general order from these headquarters expelling Jews from the department is hereby revoked.”

But by that time, the order had generated great controversy in the press and among both Jews and Gentiles. Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, editor of the Cincinnati Israelite, urged Jews to go to Washington to protest the order and demand a formal apology from Grant. An editorial in the New York Times lamented that “it remained for the freest Government on earth to witness a momentary revival of the spirit of the medieval ages.”

Halleck explained the situation more fully to Grant in a letter endorsed by Lincoln on the 21st:

“The President has no objection to your expelling traitors and Jew peddlers, which, I suppose, was the object of your order; but, as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deemed it necessary to revoke it.”

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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. 243-44, 253; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 251, 256; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 308-09, 313-14; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 320-21

The Battle of Stones River: Day Two

January 2, 1863 – General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates renewed their attacks on the Federal Army of the Cumberland after Bragg discovered that Major General William S. Rosecrans had not retreated as hoped.

No major fighting occurred on the day after the terrible battle northwest of Murfreesboro. Both sides exchanged sporadic artillery and rifle fire as they tended to their wounded. Rosecrans spent the day strengthening the Federal lines, resolving to “prepare to fight or die.”

Confederate General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry raid had depleted Federal supplies and ammunition, and Federal wagon trains had to travel under heavy guard. But Rosecrans assured his commanders, “Our supplies may run short, but we will have our trains out tomorrow. We will keep right on, and eat corn for a week, but we will win this battle. We can and will do it.”

The Federals withdrew from their salient at the Round Forest, taking up strong positions further north along the Stones River. The line still somewhat resembled a “V,” but it was more compact as it anchored itself on the Nashville Pike and the Stones River. Major General Leonidas Polk’s Confederates took the positions in the Round Forest that the Federals abandoned.

That night, a division of Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s corps under Colonel Samuel Beatty crossed the river and seized the high ground facing Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates on the east bank. This comprised Rosecrans’s new left flank.

Rosecrans’s refusal to withdraw surprised Bragg, who expected the Federals to be on their way back to Nashville by New Year’s Day. Bragg spent the day coming up with a plan to follow up on his success of the 31st. During that time, he learned that he had lost more men than originally believed. Also during that time, Rosecrans continued strengthening his positions.

Bragg deployed skirmishers on the morning of the 2nd to see if the Federals had retreated. They quickly learned that the Federals had not. Bragg opened an artillery bombardment on the Federal center, and Rosecrans responded with his guns. A cold rain turned to sleet as Bragg ordered Breckinridge to seize the ridge northeast of the Stones River. Breckinridge’s men would have to advance 500 yards over open ground to get there.

Breckinridge knew that Federal troops already held the ridge, but Bragg did not. When Breckinridge protested the order, Bragg insisted that he obey. Breckinridge obeyed. His division, consisting mostly of Kentuckians that included the “Orphan Brigade” (called such because Federals would not allow them to return to their home state of Kentucky), advanced in two lines around 4 p.m.

Army dispositions as of 4 p.m. on Jan 2 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The ferocious Confederate attack pushed the Federals across the river within about 45 minutes. As the Federal line crumbled, Crittenden directed his artillery chief, Captain John Mendenhall, to place 58 cannon on the high ground west of the river. When the Confederates came within range, the guns opened with murderous accuracy.

The artillery stopped the Confederate advance, giving the infantry time to regroup and counterattack. The Federals eventually pushed the Confederates back to their starting point, inflicting heavy losses in the process. The Confederates lost about 1,800 men in the futile assault. Breckinridge rode among his troops saying, “My poor orphans, my poor orphans!”

In the fighting from December 31st through January 2nd, the Federals sustained 12,906 casualties (1,677 killed, 7,543 wounded, and 3,686 missing or captured) out of about 44,000 men. The Confederates lost 11,739 (1,294 killed, 7,945 wounded and 2,500 missing or captured) out of about 37,000. The 24,645 total casualties for both sides surpassed both the Battles of Shiloh and Antietam, and the 31 percent casualty rate exceeded all other battles in the war. Four generals were killed: Federals Edward N. Kirk and Joshua W. Sill, and Confederates James E. Rains and Roger W. Hanson.

The sleet and the coming darkness prevented Rosecrans from launching a counterattack. Both armies remained in their positions, just as they did after the first day’s fighting, as each commander waited for the other to withdraw.

Bragg held a council of war with his corps and division commanders at 10 p.m., but he could not decide on a course of action. At that time, parts of the Confederate army were on both sides of the Stones River. The continuing sleet would eventually swell the river and make it too high for either part to support the other. The rain and sleet continued through the night.

At 2 a.m., Bragg was awoken and told that Federal troops were threatening his right flank. However, Rosecrans merely feinted against Bragg’s right to try forcing him to retreat. Bragg then received a message from two of Polk’s commanders, Major Generals Benjamin F. Cheatham and Jones Withers, whose divisions had been decimated:

“We deem it our duty to say to you frankly that, in our judgment, this army should be promptly put in retreat… We do fear great disaster from the condition of things now existing, and think it should be averted if possible.”

Polk endorsed the message: “I greatly fear the consequences of another engagement at this place in the ensuing day. We could now, perhaps, get off with some safety and some credit, if the affair is well managed.” Bragg angrily told Polk’s messenger, “Say to the general we shall maintain our position at every hazard.”

Polk shared the communications with Major General William J. Hardee, Bragg’s other corps commander, who called Bragg’s decision “unwise, in a high degree.” As day broke, both armies remained within striking distance of each other, but neither made a move to attack. The rain continued falling, raising the level of the Stones River. The Confederates had been in line of battle for five consecutive days, with no shelter from the freezing rain and no reserves. That morning, Bragg received a scouting report that Rosecrans was being reinforced.

At 10 a.m., Bragg informed Polk and Hardee that the army would withdraw after all. The troops began moving out that night, eventually falling back to Tullahoma on the Duck River, 36 miles south. Just as he did after the Battle of Perryville, Bragg claimed victory despite retreating. He reported, “Common prudence and the safety of my army… left no doubt on my mind as to the necessity of my withdrawal from so unequal a contest.”

Rosecrans also claimed victory, even though he had merely fended off Bragg’s attacks without launching any of his own. He chose not to pursue Bragg, whose army slipped away to fight again. But it would never again seriously threaten Kentucky or Nashville, and Confederate sentiment in Kentucky and eastern Tennessee evaporated as a result.

As Rosecrans led his Army of the Cumberland into Murfreesboro, President Abraham Lincoln expressed gratitude for this great boost to Federal morale:

“God bless you and all with you! Please tender to all, and accept for yourself the nation’s gratitude for your and their skill, endurance, and dauntless courage. I can never forget, whilst I remember anything, that you gave us a hard-earned victory, which, if there had been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

Rosecrans responded, “We shall press them as rapidly as our means of traveling and subsistence will permit.” However, besides sporadic skirmishing, Rosecrans would not seriously challenge the Confederate Army of Tennessee again for another five months.

Meanwhile, Confederate officers began questioning Bragg’s decisions, particularly his failure to secure the high ground east of the Stones River before the Federals took it on New Year’s Day. Bragg’s subordinates also questioned the wisdom of demanding such a suicidal attack as the one by Breckinridge’s men on the 2nd.

This was a very costly battle for both sides, but even more for the Confederates because it was for nothing. They left the field to the Federals, along with Murfreesboro, which had been their home since November. This fight and the subsequent retreat greatly weakened the Confederate army and shattered morale. A Confederate soldier later wrote:

“I am sick and tired of this war, and, I can see no prospects of having peace for a long time to come, I don’t think it ever will be stopped by fighting, the Yankees cant whip us and we can never whip them, and I see no prospect of peace unless the Yankees themselves rebell and throw down their arms, and refuse to fight any longer.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 92, 123; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 267, 286-87, 289; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 61-63; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18190; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 252-54; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 19, 95, 101-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248-51; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 188-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 306-09; 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. 582; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 560-62, 564-65; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 722-23; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 143-48, 152-53, 155, 158-59