Category Archives: Tennessee

Rosecrans Replaces Buell

October 24, 1862 – Federal Major General Don Carlos Buell received orders to turn his command over to Major General William S. Rosecrans for his failure to stop the Confederates’ escape from Kentucky.

Federal Major Generals Don Carlos Buell and William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As the Confederates escaped from Kentucky into eastern Tennessee, Federal officials at Washington implored Buell, commanding the Army of the Ohio in Kentucky, to pursue and destroy them. However, Buell had repeatedly resisted going into that harsh region, instead proposing to go to Nashville to defend against a possible Confederate thrust there.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck clearly informed Buell that the “capture of East Tennessee should be the main object of your campaign,” and if the Confederates could operate in that unforgiving region, so could the Federals. In response, Buell essentially admitted his inferiority in a long dissertation explaining why his army could not survive there.

Buell wrote, “The spirit of the rebellion enforces a subordination and patient submission to privation and want which public sentiment renders absolutely impossible among our troops.” Buell also asserted that because Confederate General Braxton Bragg was authorized to enforce the death penalty, “the discipline of the rebel army is superior to ours.”

Meanwhile, administration officials received reports from Governors Richard Yates of Illinois, David Tod of Ohio, and Oliver P. Morton of Indiana criticizing Buell’s handling of the Kentucky campaign. The governors were especially bitter toward Buell because his army had been recruited mostly from their states, and an election was approaching. This added more pressure to the situation, and Halleck telegraphed Buell on the 22nd:

“It is the wish of the Government that your army proceed to and occupy East Tennessee with all possible dispatch. It leaves to you the selection of the roads upon which to move to that object… Neither the Government nor the country can endure these repeated delays. Both require a prompt and immediate movement toward the accomplishment of the great object in view–the holding of East Tennessee.”

During that time, Bragg and his demoralized Confederates reached Knoxville unmolested. After two days of minimal Federal activity, Buell received orders from Halleck:

“General: The President directs that on the presentation of this order you will turn over your command to Maj. Gen. W.S. Rosecrans, and repair to Indianapolis, Ind., reporting from that place to the Adjutant General of the Army for further orders.”

Under General Order No. 168, the Department of the Ohio became the new Department of the Cumberland to emphasize its goal. Jurisdiction included Kentucky, Tennessee (east of the Tennessee River), and Federal-occupied parts of northern Alabama and Georgia. Halleck wrote to Rosecrans:

“You will receive herewith the order of the President placing you in command of the Department of the Cumberland and of the army of operations now under Major-General Buell. You will immediately repair to General Buell’s headquarters and relieve him from the command.”

Rosecrans had been chosen to command due to his recent victories at Iuka and Corinth in northern Mississippi under Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Rosecrans had complained to Halleck about Grant, alleging “a spirit of mischief among the mousing politicians on Grant’s staff,” and calling Grant “sour and reticent.” When Rosecrans asked to be “relieved from duty here,” Halleck and President Abraham Lincoln saw an opportunity to put him in Buell’s place.

Halleck sent Rosecrans instructions on the 24th:

“The great objects to be kept in view in your operations in the field are: First, to drive the enemy from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee; second, to take and hold East Tennessee, cutting the line of railroad at Chattanooga, Cleveland, or Athens, so as to destroy the connection of the valley of Virginia with Georgia and the other Southern States. It is hoped that by prompt and rapid movements a considerable part of this may be accomplished before the roads become impassable from the winter rains… I need not urge upon you the necessity of giving active employment to your forces. Neither the country nor the Government will much longer put up with the inactivity of some of our armies and generals.”

Halleck explained that Rosecrans would receive support from three main sources:

  • Major General Jacob D. Cox’s 20,000 Federals in western Virginia’s Kanawha Valley would divert Confederate attention
  • Grant’s 49,000 Federals would prevent the Confederates in Mississippi from reinforcing Bragg in Tennessee
  • Major General Horatio G. Wright’s Department of the Ohio would send 20,000 men as needed from headquarters at Cincinnati

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was not impressed with Lincoln’s decision to give Rosecrans army command. He told the president, “Well, you have made your choice of idiots. Now you can await the news of a terrible disaster.”

By this time, Buell had not yet received Halleck’s order to relinquish his command. As Rosecrans spent the next few days arranging the transfer, rumors of the change spread throughout Buell’s army. Buell finally received notice from a newspaper article on the 29th, while he and his troops headed toward Nashville. He wrote Halleck, “If, as the papers report, my successor has been appointed, it is important that I should know it, and that he should enter on the command immediately, as the troops are already in motion.”

Buell, who had been under mounting scrutiny from the administration, was not very upset or surprised about losing his job. He confided to Major General George H. Thomas, his second-in-command, “Under the circumstances, I am sure I do not grieve about it.”

Halleck did not respond to Buell. Instead, Rosecrans arrived at Nashville the next day, where he met with Buell and effected the command transfer. Two years later, Grant offered Buell a command in Major General William T. Sherman’s army, but Buell said “it would be degradation to accept the assignment offered” because he had once outranked Sherman. Grant later called this “the worst excuse a soldier can make for declining service.” This ended Buell’s military career.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8236; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 741-44, 762, 768, 773-74; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 102; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 223-24; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 279, 281-82; 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. 521; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80-82; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414-15

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Confederates Return to Tennessee

October 20, 1862 – The two Confederate armies left Kentucky, with one returning to eastern Tennessee and the other looking to threaten Middle Tennessee.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Edmund Kirby Smith, recently promoted to Confederate lieutenant general, led his troops through Barbourville on their way out of Kentucky. Smith, who had renamed his force the Army of Kentucky when he led it into that state, now returned it to its original name and resumed command of the Department of East Tennessee. Smith’s department operated independent of General Braxton Bragg’s, which included the area from eastern Tennessee to the Mississippi River.

As Bragg’s Army of Mississippi withdrew from Kentucky, Bragg began formulating a plan to move into Middle Tennessee and regain Nashville. He asked Smith to leave 3,000 of his troops to guard Cumberland Gap and bring the rest to join with him and put this plan into motion.

Smith refused, as he explained to Bragg, “The men are worn down from exposure and want of food. They are much in want of shoes, clothing, and blankets… as soon as my command can be perfectly fitted out I will take the field with it.” Straggling had left Smith with just 6,000 effectives. He stated, “Having resumed the command of my department, I am directly responsible to the Government for the condition and safety of my army.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Bragg’s army was in no better shape. After retreating over 200 miles on rough roads in foul weather, nearly 15,000 Confederates contracted an illness of some kind, the most prevalent being pneumonia, typhoid, scurvy, and dysentery. Most of the officers and men disliked Bragg from the moment he took command, but now his harsh treatment of the army made them openly despise him.

The men’s hatred of Bragg was not eased by his idea to immediately launch a new offensive after they had endured such a grueling campaign in Kentucky. Bragg issued orders for his army to “proceed as soon as practicable to Murfreesborough, Tenn., and take such position in that vicinity as may seem advisable to its commander.”

“Its commander” would be Major General John C. Breckinridge, former vice president of the U.S. He arrived at Murfreesboro with a division that became known as the Army of Middle Tennessee. In addition, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry was already based there; his new “critter companies” had been harassing nearby Federals.

Bragg vaguely ordered Breckinridge to prepare “for the defense of Middle Tennessee or an attack on Nashville.” Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis received numerous reports condemning Bragg’s leadership. Davis initially thought this was the work of political enemies trying to get to Davis by tearing down his friend Bragg. But then Davis asked the opinions of the commanders who had served under Bragg in Kentucky.

E.K. Smith stated that Bragg handled the campaign badly, especially the later part, and asked to be transferred to a command far away from him. General Leonidas Polk respected Bragg’s organizational skills but felt he lacked “the higher elements of generalship” needed to lead an army. Even Bragg’s own wife criticized him: “Nashville strongly garrisoned by Yankees in your rear…” Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal army “will soon effect a junction with them, and thus place you between two enemies… I hoped you would have cleared Tennessee as you advanced.”

Davis decided to personally discuss these criticisms with Bragg. As Bragg’s demoralized troops passed through Cumberland Gap, Bragg received an order: “The President desires that you will lose no time in coming here.” Bragg, who was ahead of his men at Knoxville when he received the message, left just before E.K. Smith arrived, thus avoiding an awkward confrontation.

Bragg met with Davis on the 25th. Davis congratulated him because even though he did not bring Kentucky into the Confederacy as hoped, his offensive was more successful than those of Robert E. Lee in Maryland and Earl Van Dorn in northern Mississippi. Bragg had inflicted 14,000 Federal casualties and returned to Tennessee with tons of supplies for future operations. His offensive relieved Federal pressure on Chattanooga, cleared the Federals out of northern Alabama, and secured Cumberland Gap, all without substantial aid from the Confederate government.

Although Bragg’s army was about half the size it was when the campaign started, it remained the only force strong enough to stop Federal efforts to move further into the Deep South. As such, Bragg outlined his plan to divert the Federals by attacking Nashville from a new base at Murfreesboro in Middle Tennessee. At the time, the Confederates were already boarding train cars at Knoxville en route to Murfreesboro and Tullahoma.

It seemed to Davis that Bragg was willing to accept responsibility for any failures of the Kentucky campaign. He was also willing to make amends by moving immediately against Nashville, and he had a sound plan to do it. Thus, Davis retained Bragg as army commander and allowed him to proceed.

Davis then responded to E.K. Smith’s critical report on Bragg’s leadership. Davis would not transfer Smith as requested because he was too valuable where he was. Apparently taking Bragg’s side, Davis acknowledged that the campaign had been “a bitter disappointment” in some ways, but he urged Smith to not report on actions based on “knowledge acquired after they transpired.”

By month’s end, Bragg was heading west from Richmond to rejoin his troops as they moved toward Murfreesboro, the base for their upcoming offensive.

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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. 227; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 741-43, 773-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 224-25; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 492; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 281-82; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82-84; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414-15

The Kentucky Campaign Ends

October 11, 1862 – Confederate forces ended their unsuccessful Kentucky campaign, and Federal Major General Don Carlos Buell came under harsh scrutiny for not pursuing the withdrawing enemy aggressively enough.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Following the Battle of Perryville, the two Confederate armies in Kentucky under General Braxton Bragg and Major General Edmund Kirby Smith finally linked near Harrodsburg. Smith urged Bragg, the ranking commander, to make a stand there because it offered good ground on which to meet a Federal attack. But Bragg had already directed his army to continue withdrawing toward Bryantsville.

The next day, Bragg dispatched scouts to find camping grounds around Bryantsville, indicating to the Confederates that they were leaving Kentucky. Bragg had learned of the Confederate defeats at Antietam, Iuka, and Corinth. He had sustained heavy casualties at Perryville, and he was running low on supplies after gaining hardly any Kentucky recruits. Thus, Bragg decided to retreat back to eastern Tennessee.

Bragg and Smith withdrew from Harrodsburg, leaving the town for the Federals to reclaim. Bragg’s army arrived at Bryantsville on the 13th, where he and Smith split up once again. Bragg moved toward Mount Vernon, and Smith moved toward Paint Lick. Smith reported the next day:

“My command from loss of sleep for five nights, is completely exhausted. The straggling has been unusually great. The rear of the column will not reach here before daybreak. I have no hope of saving the whole of my train, as I shall be obliged to double teams in going up Big Hill, and will necessarily be delayed there two or three days.”

Meanwhile, Buell expected Bragg to turn and attack Nashville. He moved his Federal Army of the Ohio to cut Bragg off at Crab Orchard, exclaiming, “Bragg’s army is mine!” But when Buell reached the town on the 15th, he found the Confederates had already passed through on their way to Cumberland Gap.

Buell sent Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s corps in pursuit, but the Confederates had felled trees across the Wilderness road to block them. The Federals paved a new road and advanced to within a few miles of Mount Vernon by that night.

The next day, Bragg’s Confederates continued slowly withdrawing through the Cumberland Gap bottleneck without substantial Federal opposition. Crittenden’s Federals resumed their pursuit, but they lacked the speed or numbers to catch up to Bragg’s force.

Buell’s superiors pushed for a Federal invasion of eastern Tennessee, both to destroy the Confederates and to secure the predominantly Unionist region. Buell resisted, explaining to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “You are aware that between Crab Orchard and Cumberland Gap the country is almost a desert. The limited supply of forage which the country affords is consumed by the enemy as he passes.” Buell continued:

“The enemy has been driven into the heart of this desert and must go on, for he cannot exist in it. For the same reason we cannot pursue in it with any hope of overtaking him, for while he is moving back on his supplies and as he goes consuming what the country affords we must bring ours forward. There is but one road and that a bad one. The route abounds in difficult defiles, in which a small force can retard the progress of a large one for a considerable time, and in that time the enemy could gain material advantage in a move upon other points.

“For these reasons, which I do not think it necessary to elaborate, I deem it useless and inexpedient to continue the pursuit, but propose to direct the main force under my command rapidly upon Nashville, which General Negley reported to me as already being invested by a considerable force and toward which I have no doubt Bragg will move the main part of his army.

“I shall throw myself on my wagon transportation, which, fortunately, is ample. While I shall proceed with these dispositions, deeming them to be proper for the public interest, it is but meet that I should say that the present time is perhaps as convenient as any for making any changes that may be thought proper in the command, of this army. It has not accomplished all that I had hoped or all that faction might demand.”

After offering to give up his command if his superiors were unhappy, Buell explained that his army “defeated a powerful and thoroughly disciplined army in one battle and has driven it away baffled and dispirited at least, and as much demoralized as an army can be under such discipline as Bragg maintains over all troops that he commands.” Buell did not mention that he failed to destroy an enemy he outnumbered three-to-one at Perryville, and only won because Bragg pulled out afterward.

Halleck sent a stern reply in opposition to Buell’s plan to return to Nashville: “The great object to be attained is to drive the enemy from Kentucky and East Tennessee. If we cannot do it now we need never to hope for it.” In another message on the 19th, Halleck reiterated what he expected of Buell:

“The capture of East Tennessee should be the main object of your campaign. You say it is the heart of the enemy’s resources; make it the heart of yours. Your army can live there if the enemy’s can… I am directed by the President to say to you that your army must enter East Tennessee this fall, and that it ought to move there while the roads are passable… He does not understand why we cannot march as the enemy marches, live as he lives, and fight as he fights, unless we admit the inferiority of our troops and of our generals.”

Meanwhile, Bragg continued moving his Confederate Army of Mississippi through Cumberland Gap virtually unmolested, despite having to slow his movement due to the long lines of wagon trains, cattle, and other supplies taken from Kentucky. Bragg’s army was still intact, but his optimistic hopes of claiming Kentucky for the Confederacy were gone.

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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 18173; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 225; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 739-41, 743; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 221-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 278-79; 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. 521; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 508-09; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414-15

Confederates Reinforce Chattanooga

July 29, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Mississippi arrived at Chattanooga, while the Federal high command in the West scrambled to learn Bragg’s intentions.

Gen Don Carlos Buell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio from Huntsville, Alabama, received word on the 31st that Bragg had arrived at Chattanooga two days before, and “On the same evening two trains came in with soldiers. Railroad agent says he has orders to furnish cars for 30,000 as fast as he can.” Buell had been moving sluggishly through northern Alabama due to Confederate raiders disrupting his supply lines. He just recently restored his line from Nashville to Stevenson and finally returned his men to full allowances with the arrival of 210,000 rations.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal armies farther west, was unaware of Bragg’s intentions. He received varying reports from Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Army of the Mississippi at Corinth, that Bragg was headed to Vicksburg, or Mobile, or Chattanooga. This left Grant to report that “nothing absolutely certain of the movements of the enemy has been learned,” except “a movement has taken place from Tupelo, in what direction or for what purpose is not so certain.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Brigadier General Philip Sheridan, commanding Rosecrans’s cavalry, learned from a captured Confederate officer that Bragg was heading to Chattanooga. Sheridan reported, “The enemy have been and still are moving in large numbers to Chattanooga, via Mobile and Montgomery, concentrating at Rome, Ga. A large number of troops are at Saltillo (10 miles north of Tupelo), not less than 10,000.” The Confederate troops near Saltillo belonged to Major General Sterling Price, who was moving north from Tupelo.

Bragg arrived at Chattanooga on July 30. The next day, Major General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Army of East Tennessee, came down from Knoxville to meet with him. Bragg sought to liberate Nashville from Federal occupation, but Smith wanted Bragg to hold off Buell while he led his army into Kentucky.

The men agreed to coordinate their movements with each other, with Smith telling Bragg that he would “not only co-operate with you, but will cheerfully place my command under you subject to your orders.” Although Bragg was the ranking officer, his army was operating in Smith’s department, so the men would act as equals. This virtually doomed the offensive before it even began.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Smith would initiate the action by moving against Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s Federals at Cumberland Gap. If Bragg’s cavalry was available, Bragg and Smith would combine their forces and cut Buell’s supply lines in Middle Tennessee. Without developing any specifics, Bragg would confront Buell while Smith invaded Kentucky. The two Confederate forces in Mississippi under Price at Saltillo and Major General Earl Van Dorn at Vicksburg would prevent Grant from reinforcing Buell.

Bragg informed Richmond that he and Smith had “arranged measures for material support and effective cooperation.” Bragg explained that Smith would advance on Cumberland Gap:

“Should he be successful, and our well-grounded hopes be fulfilled, our entire force will then be thrown into Middle Tennessee with the fairest prospect of cutting off General Buell, should that commander continue in his present position.”

Bragg made no mention of a Kentucky incursion, instead emphasizing Middle Tennessee as the main objective. He stated that if Grant reinforced Buell, “Van Dorn and Price can strike and clear West Tennessee of any force that can be left to hold it.”

Timing and coordination were essential for this plan to succeed. This would prove very difficult for Bragg, who not only had to coordinate his army’s movements with Smith’s, but he had to keep command over Van Dorn and Price as well. The first move was Smith’s, as he tried taking Cumberland Gap while calling for reinforcements from western Virginia.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 562, 575; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 186-87; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 576-77; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 43

Confederates on the Move in the West

July 23, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg mobilized his Confederate Army of Mississippi to move from Tupelo to Chattanooga and ultimately join forces with Major General Edmund Kirby Smith.

Bragg wrote his predecessor, General P.G.T. Beauregard, explaining there were four options for his Confederates:

  • They could remain at Tupelo
  • They could attack Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals at either Corinth or Memphis
  • They could attack Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals advancing on Chattanooga
  • They could advance into Middle Tennessee, disrupting both Grant’s and Buell’s supply lines

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Only advancing on Chattanooga would enable Bragg to join forces with E.K. Smith, whose 18,000-man army was poised to threaten Cumberland Gap and Kentucky. Bragg wrote to President Jefferson Davis:

“Obstacles in front connected with danger to Chattanooga induce a change of base. Fully impressed with great importance of that line, am moving to East Tennessee. Produce rapid offensive from there following the consternation now being produced by our cavalry. Leave this State amply protected by (Major General Earl) Van Dorn at Vicksburg and (Major General Sterling) Price here (at Tupelo).”

Bragg’s cavalry moved out on the 22nd, with Bragg writing Beauregard, “Our cavalry is paving the way for me in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky.” Bragg’s 30,000 Confederate infantry began boarding trains the next day. The trip stretched 776-miles and involved transferring onto six different railroads and a steamboat along a route south to Mobile, north to Montgomery, east to Atlanta, then northwest to Chattanooga.

Once at Chattanooga, Bragg planned to join forces with E.K. Smith’s army and invade Kentucky, much like Colonel John Hunt Morgan was doing. Bragg guessed that Buell’s Federals would abandon efforts to capture Chattanooga and instead pursue the Confederates northward. And if Grant reinforced Buell, Van Dorn and Price could join forces in Mississippi to attack Grant’s diminished force.

Certain that Kentuckians would eagerly join his army, Bragg brought 15,000 extra rifles with him. This certainty seemed to be confirmed the next day when E.K. Smith forwarded a message from J.H. Morgan in Kentucky, stating that the bridges between Cincinnati and Lexington had been destroyed and at least 30,000 secessionists would gladly join the Confederate cause.

Smith contacted Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson, who was opposing the Federal force at Cumberland Gap under Brigadier General George W. Morgan. Smith told Stevenson that if G.W. Morgan detached troops to deal with J.H. Morgan, it could “present the most favorable opportunity of pushing forward your operations, and probably enable you to enter Kentucky.”

Bragg reported to the Confederate adjutant general on the 24th:

“Major General Van Dorn, with about 16,000 effectives, will hold the line of the Mississippi. Major General Price, with a similar force, will face the enemy on this frontier (central Mississippi), and a sufficient garrison will be left for Mobile and the Gulf. With the balance of the forces, some 35,000 effectives, I hope, in conjunction with Major General Smith, to strike an effective blow through Middle Tennessee, gaining the enemy’s rear, cutting off his supplies and dividing his forces, so as to encounter him in detail. In any event much will be accomplished in simply preserving our line and preventing a descent into Georgia, than which no greater disaster could befall us.”

Advance Confederate units from Bragg’s army arrived at Chattanooga on July 27, just two days before the last train left Tupelo. This was the largest Confederate railroad movement of the war, and it was completed in record time, despite the poor condition and different track gauges of southern railroads.

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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. 198; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 571, 573; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 184-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 243; 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. 515-16; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 42-43

Nathan Bedford Forrest Raids Middle Tennessee

July 13, 1862 – Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate horsemen captured the key city of Murfreesboro as part of a raid to disrupt Federal communication and supply lines in Middle Tennessee.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest, who had been assigned to lead a cavalry regiment guarding Chattanooga, rode out of town with about 1,000 troopers on the 6th. Major General Edmund Kirby Smith assigned them to operate against Federal movements in the area, with their main objective being the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad at Murfreesboro. A small Federal garrison protected that line as it supplied Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Federal Army of the Ohio in northern Alabama.

Over the next week, the Confederates rode across the Cumberland Mountains to McMinnville, picking up another five companies to increase their strength to 1,400 men. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Thomas L. Crittenden took command of the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro, which consisted of about 1,400 scattered troops. Crittenden began reorganizing the force, erroneously thinking that there were no enemy forces closer than Chattanooga.

Forrest left McMinnville on the 12th and rode northwest, arriving at Woodbury around 11 p.m. that night. Pro-Confederate residents cheered the troopers’ arrival and informed them of the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro. Residents said the Federals had come into Woodbury the night before, seized most of the men for allegedly having Confederate sympathies, and brought them to Murfreesboro to execute them the next morning. Forrest assured residents that he would save the men.

The Confederates reconnoitered outside Murfreesboro before dawn on the 13th, having rode 50 miles in less than 15 hours. They learned from captured pickets that the Federals had no idea they were there. As the day’s first supply train headed out from Nashville to Stevenson via Murfreesboro, Forrest’s men attacked. Part of his force rode into town to free the prisoners, and part attacked the Federal camp outside town. The Confederates in town saved the prisoners after fleeing Federals tried to burn the jail. They also captured Crittenden and his staff.

Outside town, Forrest’s troopers sent the unsuspecting Federals running, but they eventually regrouped and put up a fight. Colonel Henry C. Lester brought up his Federals from Stones River, who pushed the Confederates back. But then Forrest moved around Lester’s force and destroyed his camp. Keeping Lester’s men occupied, Forrest captured another portion of the Federal garrison by claiming that he had already taken Lester’s command prisoner.

Meanwhile, Forrest continuously rode his men in and out of a clearing to make Lester’s Federals think that they faced overwhelming numbers. Forrest sent a message to Lester:

“Colonel, I must demand an unconditional surrender of your force as prisoners of war or I will have every man put to the sword. You are aware of the overpowering force I have at my command, and this demand is made to prevent the effusion of blood.”

Lester surrendered his 450 men and four guns. All told, Forrest took 1,200 prisoners, 50 supply wagons, an artillery battery, and about $250,000 worth of supplies. The Federals lost 29 killed and 120 wounded besides those captured. Forrest lost 25 killed and about 50 wounded.

Forrest’s troopers eventually returned to McMinnville with their captured men and supplies. By the time a detachment of Buell’s army under Major General William “Bull” Nelson reached Murfreesboro to reinforce the Federal garrison, it had already been captured and Forrest was already gone.

The Confederates moved out of McMinnville again on the 18th, this time riding toward Nashville to divert the attention of Nelson’s new garrison at Murfreesboro. The Federal commander at Nashville learned of Forrest’s advance and dispatched a force to Lebanon, northeast of town. Noting Forrest’s recent victory at Murfreesboro, the commander estimated Forrest’s strength at 7,000 men.

After two days of riding, Forrest’s troopers entered Lebanon and learned that the Federals stationed there had withdrawn the day before to avoid capture. The next day, Forrest (newly promoted to brigadier general) rode through the Hermitage of former President Andrew Jackson and scattered Federal pickets within five miles of Nashville. The Federals in the city telegraphed Nelson to send part of his force northwest from Murfreesboro to help stop Forrest.

The Confederates destroyed telegraph wires, railroad equipment, and three railroad bridges leading to Buell’s army; they also took 97 prisoners. It took the Federals over a week to restore the supply line. Forrest’s men then rode south, avoiding Nelson’s advancing infantry.

Returning to the McMinnville area, the Confederates attacked Federals under Brigadier General William S. Smith as they guarded a secondary railroad line from McMinnville to Tullahoma. Forrest’s raid, along with Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate incursion into Kentucky, not only slowed Buell’s advance on Chattanooga, but it also compelled General Braxton Bragg to lead his Confederates out of Tupelo to try taking back Middle Tennessee.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 193; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 562, 571; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 179, 181, 183; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 239; 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. 513; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 270; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 31

The Fall of Memphis

June 6, 1862 – After capturing Fort Pillow, the Federal Western Flotilla immediately targeted Memphis, the Confederacy’s fifth largest city, further down the Mississippi River.

The flotilla consisted of five ironclad gunboats led by Flag Officer Charles H. Davis (the U.S.S. Cairo, Carondelet, Louisville, St. Louis, and Davis’s flagship the U.S.S. Benton), and four rams led by Colonel Charles Ellet (featuring the U.S.S. Queen of the West and Monarch). Bearing 68 total guns, the fleet pulled out of Island No. 45, two miles north of Memphis, at 4:20 a.m. to take the city.

At Memphis, residents held a mass meeting to gather support for the city’s defenses, which were very weak. Most Confederate troops had already abandoned the city, but the eight “cotton-clad” steamers of the Confederate River Defense Fleet remained. Bearing 28 guns, they were jointly commanded by Commodore James E. Montgomery and Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson.

When a picket boat notified Montgomery of the Federal advance, he opted to move his fleet up the Mississippi to preemptively attack the enemy vessels before they could approach Memphis. Thompson’s army troops boarded the steamers to man the guns and lend small arms support.

Montgomery invited Memphis residents to “come down at sunrise” to watch him “sink the Yankee fleet.” He proclaimed, “I have come here that you may see Lincoln’s gunboats sent to the bottom by the fleet which you have built and manned.” Thousands of people answered his call, gathering on the bluffs overlooking the river to watch the action. They hoped to see a repeat of the Battle of Plum Run Bend last month, but an important change since then was that the Federals now had rams.

As a precaution, the Confederates sent one of their ironclads under construction at Memphis, the C.S.S. Arkansas, down the Mississippi to the Yazoo River. Another ironclad, the C.S.S. Tennessee, was destroyed to avoid capture.

Davis spotted the Confederate steamers approaching and ordered his flotilla to advance and meet them. Separated by two miles, the fleets formed battle lines on the water and began firing at each other in front of Memphis at around 5:40 a.m. The exchange lasted about 15 minutes until Ellet, heading the Queen of the West, shouted to his brother Alfred, commanding the Monarch, “Round out and follow me! Now is our chance!” The two rams steamed through the line of five ironclads at 13 knots to engage the Confederates.

The Battle of Memphis | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Battle of Memphis | Image Credit: Flickr.com

A wild fight ensued in which ships fired and rammed from all directions. The Queen slammed into the C.S.S. Colonel Lovell and nearly cut her in two; the collision’s vibration could be felt by the spectators on the bluffs overlooking the fight. The Lovell quickly sank, killing 68 of the 86 men on board.

The Queen was then disabled by the C.S.S. General Beauregard. The Beauregard and the C.S.S. General Price then tried ramming the Monarch, but the faster Federal ram slipped between them and they collided with each other, knocking off the Price’s wheel. The Monarch then rammed the Beauregard and sent her limping to the Arkansas shore.

The Federal gunboats then joined the fray, exploding the Beauregard’s boilers with a shot. The Monarch grounded Montgomery’s flagship, the C.S.S. Little Rebel, and the gunboats fired on her until Montgomery and his crew abandoned ship on the Arkansas shore. They fled into the woods.

The five remaining Confederate vessels then turned and tried to escape in what became a running, 10-mile fight. As the ships drew closer to each other, the troops on board exchanged small arms fire. Nobody was hit except for Ellet aboard the Queen; he was shot through the kneecap.

The gunboats bombarded the C.S.S. Sumter and General Bragg until they both ran aground. The Benton pounded the C.S.S. General Thompson with artillery fire until she exploded. The Beauregard, disabled from earlier fighting, drifted downriver and sank. Only the C.S.S. General Van Dorn was fast enough to get away, making it to the Yazoo River ahead of her pursuers. But the Van Dorn’s damage was so extensive that Confederates later scuttled her.

By 7:30 a.m., the entire Confederate Defense Fleet had been destroyed, as the converted steamboats proved no match for the powerful Federal ironclads and rams. The Federals took over 70 prisoners, as well as several transports and other vessels under construction on the Memphis docks. Four of the eight Confederate ships were later repaired and added to the Federal fleet.

Although Davis had a tense rivalry with Ellet and his rams, he credited the victory to Ellet’s “bold and successful attack on the enemy rams” and called him “conspicuous for his gallantry.” In what became the war’s last “fleet action” on the rivers, Ellet was the only Federal casualty. His leg wound was considered superficial, but he died of blood poisoning 12 days later. His brother Alfred replaced him as commander of the Ellet-class ram fleet.

Spectators on the bluffs returned to their homes in tears after seeing their River Defense Fleet annihilated. Thompson, watching the action from the shore, called it “one of the grandest, yet saddest scenes of my life.” He reported that “the enemy’s rams did most of the execution and were handled more adroitly than ours.” Thompson rode off with his remaining army troops to avoid capture. He later disbanded the fleet and reassigned the survivors to other posts.

The mayor of Memphis, who had also watched the destruction, raised a white flag. Charles Ellet’s son, Lieutenant Charles R. Ellet, and two others went ashore, walked through the incensed crowd, and accepted the surrender of Memphis at 11 a.m. An angry mob surrounded them as they hauled down the Confederate flag from City Hall and raised the U.S. flag over the post office, but they came away unharmed.

Two infantry regiments arrived later on the 6th to formally occupy the city. The next day, Federal forces toured Memphis, particularly the saloons and brothels below the bluffs along the river. Residents deeply resented the new military occupation.

The owner and staff of the Memphis Appeal, one of Tennessee’s most influential papers, refused to surrender. They escaped the city with their printing press and resumed publication from Grenada, Mississippi. One of its editorials declared that the owner would rather dump the equipment into the Mississippi “than continue publication under Union occupation.”

The loss of Memphis was a devastating blow to the Confederacy. The city became a supply base for the Federal armies moving into the Deep South. It not only had facilities to receive supplies from the river, but it had a railhead on the important Memphis & Charleston Railroad as well. The Federals now controlled the Mobile & Ohio Railroad from Columbus, Kentucky, to Corinth, Mississippi; Forts Henry and Donelson, Nashville, Clarksville, and all points on the Tennessee River up to Eastport, Mississippi.

Federals also controlled the entire Mississippi River except for the powerful Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. This would be the next target, as Davis began planning to move his fleet downriver and Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s fleet tried coming upriver from New Orleans.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (6 Jun 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 612, 635; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 180-81; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 388; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 163-64; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 198-99; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 221-23; 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. 417-18; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 88-89; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 428-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 156-57, 486-87