Tag Archives: Army of East Tennessee

The Fall of Knoxville

September 2, 1863 – Leading elements of the Federal Army of the Ohio entered Knoxville, the key city of eastern Tennessee. This cut Virginia’s direct railroad line to the west.

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

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s 24,000 Federals had been moving through the rugged country of eastern Tennessee since late August. Their mission was to drive the Confederates out and secure Knoxville; this would protect the right flank of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland as it tried to capture Chattanooga, about 100 miles southwest.

The 5,000-man Confederate Army of East Tennessee, led by Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, defended the region. Most of Buckner’s troops were stationed at Knoxville, while another force of 2,500 Confederates under Brigadier General John W. Frazier guarded Cumberland Gap. Eastern Tennessee was predominantly Unionist, with voters having opposed secession in 1861 by a margin of two-to-one. As such, many saw Burnside’s approaching Federals as liberators.

The Federals used pack mules to traverse the mountains west of Cumberland Gap, and they arrived at Kingston unopposed on the 1st. Hopelessly outnumbered and without hope of reinforcement, Buckner abandoned Knoxville and fell back to Loudon. This isolated Frazier’s Confederates at Cumberland Gap, but Frazier “boasted that he could hold the gap for at least a month under siege.”

A Federal cavalry brigade moved through Winter’s Gap and entered Knoxville on the 2nd. Residents lined the streets and cheered the Federals’ arrival. Burnside triumphantly led two divisions into the city the next day. The people hailed the Federal heroes and celebrated their freedom from Confederate occupation. This was Burnside’s first military victory since his capture of Roanoke Island in February 1862.

The fall of Knoxville cut the last direct railroad connection between Virginia and Tennessee. The only link between them now involved a roundabout path through the Carolinas and Georgia. Buckner withdrew with all the supplies his men could take, leaving the Federals to control everything east of Loudon and west of Morrisville.

Burnside sent detachments to secure the region all the way to the Virginia and North Carolina borders. He also directed a force to capture the Confederates clinging to Cumberland Gap. This Federal detachment covered 60 miles in just two days, as Brigadier General James M. Shackelford’s Federal cavalry closed the Gap from the south.

Frazier, confident he could withstand any attack, refused Shackelford’s demand to surrender on the 7th. Another Federal force under Colonel John F. DeCourcy approached the northern end of the Gap the next day, and Frazier refused DeCourcy’s demand to surrender as well.

The situation changed on the 9th, when Frazier either considered his force abandoned by Buckner or he realized the Federals were too strong to resist. He surrendered unconditionally and gave the Federals control of Cumberland Gap once again. Frazier was shipped to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor as a prisoner of war. Confederate politicians condemned him for surrendering, and the Confederate Senate rejected his officer’s commission.

As Burnside continued securing the area around Knoxville, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck urged him to “move down your infantry as rapidly as possible toward Chattanooga to connect with Rosecrans.” Halleck then sent a second message: “It is believed that the enemy will concentrate to give him (Rosecrans) battle. You must be there to help him.” Rosecrans asked Halleck to “At least, push Burnside down” toward Chattanooga.

Burnside replied that Halleck’s orders “will be obeyed as soon as possible.” However, he continued clearing Confederates out of the region, with Federals skirmishing near the Virginia-Tennessee border at Calhoun, Cleveland, Kingsport, and Bristol. Halleck again pleaded, “You must give him (Rosecrans) all the aid in your power.” But to the administration’s dismay, Burnside decided to stay in eastern Tennessee.

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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 18794-802; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 322, 326; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 683-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 346, 348, 350; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 43, 101-04; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 403-04; 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. 670; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 287

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Kentucky: Smith Takes Lexington and Frankfort

September 3, 1862 – The Confederate incursion into Kentucky continued, with Major General Edmund Kirby Smith’s forces taking Lexington and the state capital of Frankfort.

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

Smith’s Confederate Army of Kentucky approached Lexington two days after their crushing victory at Richmond. The Unionist legislature approved a measure to relocate their body to Louisville as the Confederates spread out within the Lexington, Harrodsburg, and Frankfort area. Smith made no real effort to coordinate his movements with General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi, heading north from Chattanooga.

Pro-Confederate residents of Lexington celebrated Smith’s arrival to their town on the 2nd, and a group of ladies presented Smith with an embroidered flag. Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry joined Smith’s men in Lexington a couple of days later, riding through the streets to the sounds of ringing church bells and cheering spectators.

Smith set up headquarters at Lexington and began arranging to install a pro-Confederate governor in the hope that he would help recruit Kentuckians into Smith’s army. A portion of his command entered Frankfort on the 3rd, where more pro-Confederate citizens turned out to cheer their arrival. The troops raised the flag of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry, the only flag on hand, over the vacated state capitol building.

Further north, panic swept through the Ohio River towns in Indiana and Ohio because there was no substantial Federal force between them and the Confederates. Businesses shut down as civic officials declared martial law and called for volunteers to defend their homes. The governors of Ohio and Indiana called on the Federal government to provide military aid.

Back in Tennessee, Bragg’s Confederates were at Sparta, preparing to head north into Kentucky. Smith informed Bragg of the Confederate victory at Richmond and urged him “to move into Kentucky and, effecting a junction with my command and holding (Federal Major General Don Carlos) Buell’s communications, to give battle to him with superior forces and with certainty of success.”

After Buell’s Federal Army of the Ohio abandoned Alabama to pursue Bragg’s army, Bragg issued a proclamation declaring that Alabama was “redeemed. Tennesseans! your capital and State are almost restored without firing a gun. You return conquerors. Kentuckians! the first great blow has been struck for your freedom!” Various Tennessee politicians, including Governor Isham Harris, tried persuading Bragg to regain Nashville instead, but Bragg was determined to join Smith in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Buell worked to fortify Nashville against a possible Confederate attack. When Buell arrived at the city on the 2nd, Federal forces were using cotton bales to barricade the approaches. Military Governor Andrew Johnson declared that he would defend the city to the death, refusing to be taken alive. Major General Ulysses S. Grant sent 10,000 troops from his department as reinforcements, prompting Buell to report to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“I believe Nashville can be held and Kentucky rescued. What I have will be sufficient here with the defenses that are being prepared, and I propose to move with the remainder of the army against the enemy in Kentucky.”

Buell withdrew his army from northern Alabama to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When Buell learned that Smith’s Confederates had captured Lexington, he feared that Bragg may change his plan of invading Kentucky and instead turn on Nashville. As such, Buell pulled his Federals back closer to that city. But Bragg did not change plans. After mapping out a practical route to Kentucky, he directed Major General Leonidas Polk’s corps to move toward the Cumberland River via Gainesboro.

Panic continued spreading from Kentucky into the northern states. Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton called upon citizens to form militia units and prepare to defend their homes. An article in the Cincinnati Gazette declared, “To arms! The time for playing war has passed. The enemy is approaching our doors.” General Lew Wallace raised about 15,000 volunteers to help defend Cincinnati, including about 1,000 “squirrel hunters” from the Ohio Valley, and General Jeremiah Boyle raised another 25,000 Federals at Louisville. Boyle frantically reported, “The whole state will be in possession of Rebels if some efficient aid is not rendered immediately.”

E.K. Smith, whose force was too small to invade the North (unbeknownst to those preparing for defense), reported to the Confederate adjutant general:

“It would be impossible for me to exaggerate the enthusiasm of the people here on the entry of our troops. They evidently regarded us as deliverers from oppression and have continued in every way to prove to us that the heart of Kentucky is with the South in this struggle… If Bragg occupies Buell we can have nothing to oppose us but raw levies, and by the blessing of God will always dispose of them as we did on the memorable August 30.”

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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 18148; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 209-10; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 653-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 202-04, 206; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 110; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 260-62, 264; 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. 517; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 502; 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. 32, 50; 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

Edmund Kirby Smith Eyes Kentucky

July 10, 1862 – As Federal forces closed in on Chattanooga, Confederate Major General Edmund Kirby Smith revealed a daring plan to take the offensive.

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

Smith commanded the Confederate Army of East Tennessee, which he had divided. His 9,000 best troops were stationed north of Knoxville under Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson to confront Brigadier General George W. Morgan’s 10,000 Federals at Cumberland Gap. Smith kept another 9,000 men, mostly raw recruits, at Chattanooga to face the 31,000-man Army of the Ohio approaching from northern Alabama.

Smith repeatedly asked Richmond to send more men to defend the city and finally got 6,000 reinforcements in early July. Despite this, Smith reported on the 2nd that a Federal “attack may be daily looked for.” He asked General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi at Tupelo, for more men once again. Bragg, under no orders to do so, finally complied by sending him 3,000 troops under Major General John P. McCown, a man whom Bragg said lacked “capacity and nerve for a separate, responsible command.”

With Chattanooga reinforced, Smith began thinking about taking the offensive. He envisioned defeating his old friend George Morgan at Cumberland Gap and then advancing north into Kentucky, aided by the path that Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate troopers had already opened into that state.

Smith wrote a confidential letter to Stevenson explaining that he intended to outflank Morgan’s Federals and advance into Kentucky. Smith then notified Bragg that even though the Federal Army of the Ohio was closing in on Chattanooga, “I am mobilizing my command for movement on General Morgan or into Middle Tennessee, as the circumstances may demand.”

Meanwhile, the Army of the Ohio under Major General Don Carlos Buell continued its extremely slow drive through northern Alabama toward Chattanooga. Operating in enemy territory, Buell’s supply lines were regularly cut by Confederate raiders and local residents, causing extensive delays. Adhering to the Articles of War, Buell would not retaliate against civilians. By July 8, Buell approached Stevenson, Alabama, having advanced just 90 miles in three weeks. He was still not even halfway to Chattanooga.

Major General Henry W. Halleck, Buell’s superior, notified him that Bragg’s army was mobilizing either to confront Buell at Tuscumbia or Chattanooga, or to confront Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals at Memphis or Corinth. Halleck wrote:

“A few days more may reduce these doubts to a certainty, when our troops will operate accordingly. The President telegraphs that your progress is not satisfactory and that you should move more rapidly. The long time taken by you to reach Chattanooga will enable the enemy to anticipate you by concentrating a large force to meet you. I communicate his views, hoping that your movements hereafter may be so rapid as to remove all cause of complaint, whether well founded or not.”

Buell responded to Halleck’s admonition: “I regret that it is necessary to explain the circumstances which must make my progress seem so slow. The advance on Chattanooga must be made with the means of acting in force; otherwise it will either fail,” as Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel had done in May, or else the city would “prove a profitless and transient prize… The dissatisfaction of the President pains me exceedingly.”

Halleck responded the next day:

“I can well understand the difficulties you have to encounter and also the impatience at Washington. In the first place they have no conception of the length of our lines of defense and of operations. In the second place the disasters before Richmond have worked them up to boiling heat. I will see that your movements are properly explained to the President.”

By this time, Buell’s Federals had repaired the railroad lines damaged by the raiders, and his men at Stevenson began receiving supplies from Nashville. But the raiders continued causing problems, including burning bridges around Nashville on the road leading to Chattanooga.

As Buell inched closer, E.K. Smith wrote to President Jefferson Davis warning that the Federals were “an overwhelming force, that cannot be resisted except by Bragg’s cooperation.” Smith did not share his secret plan to outflank Morgan’s Federals and advance into Kentucky.

Five days later, Smith wrote the Confederate adjutant general that “Buell with his whole force” had reached Stevenson, 30 miles from Chattanooga, and was “daily expected to attack.” Noting that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry had broken the Federal supply line at Murfreesboro, Smith stated, “This may delay General Buell’s movement and give General Bragg time to move on Middle Tennessee.”

Shifting responsibility to Bragg, Smith wrote, “The safety of Chattanooga depends upon his cooperation.” Smith also informed Bragg that Buell “was momentarily expected to attack. If possible hasten your movement on East Tennessee. The successful holding of Chattanooga depends upon your cooperation.” But Bragg had problems of his own, as he explained to Smith the next day:

“We are fearfully outnumbered in this department. I have hoped you would be able to cope with General Buell’s force, especially as he would have to cross a broad and deep river in your immediate presence. That hope still exists; but I must urge on you the propriety of your taking command in Chattanooga. The officer I sent you (McCown), I regret to say, cannot be trusted with such a command, and I implore you not to entrust him indeed with any important position.”

Ignoring Bragg’s recommendation, Smith wrote:

“Buell has completed his preparations, is prepared to cross near Bridgeport, and his passage there may be hourly expected. General Morgan’s command moving on Knoxville from Cumberland Gap. Your cooperation is much needed. It is your time to strike at Middle Tennessee.”

Bragg replied, “Confronted here by a largely superior force strongly intrenched,” which could “now be enabled to unite against us,” Bragg said it was “impossible… to do more than menace and harass the enemy from this quarter. The fact is we are fearfully outnumbered in this department, the enemy having at least two to our one in the field, with a comparatively short line upon which he may concentrate.”

But Bragg did a sudden about-face on July 21, issuing orders for his Army of Mississippi to move out of Tupelo and advance on Chattanooga. He left the forces under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price in northern Mississippi, putting Price in charge of the District of Tennessee. Bragg notified President Davis, “Will move immediately to Chattanooga in force and advance from there. Forward movement from here in force is not practicable. Will leave this line well defended.”

Bragg began moving out with 35,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. The move would not be easy because Buell’s Federals blocked his path. The cavalry would embark on a 430-mile trip, moving south to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, turning east to Rome, Georgia, and finally turning northwest to Chattanooga. The infantry’s journey would be even longer, moving by train southeast to Mobile, Alabama, turning northeast to Atlanta, Georgia, and then marching northwest to Chattanooga, a distance of nearly 800 miles.

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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. 196; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 560-61, 572; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 183; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 242; 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; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 41-43