Tag Archives: Army of the Cumberland

Eastern Tennessee: The Dandridge Engagement

January 17, 1864 – Federals and Confederates moved toward Dandridge to gather much-needed foodstuffs for the hungry troops in the bitter eastern Tennessee winter.

The Federal Army of the Ohio, stationed at Strawberry Plains, had stripped the surrounding countryside of forage. The troops therefore began moving toward Dandridge, an important crossroads town near the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, that promised more provisions. They were led by Major General Philip Sheridan.

Gen S.D. Sturgis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal cavalry under Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis drove off Confederate horsemen probing near the town, unaware that Lieutenant General James Longstreet had mobilized his infantry to seize Dandridge as well. Most of Sturgis’s men took the Morristown Road to Kimbrough’s Crossroads, while a detachment met enemy cavalry southeast of Dandridge, at the bend of Chunky Road. When these Federals could not drive the Confederates off, they fell back to Dandridge.

Sturgis received word on the 17th that the Confederates were preparing to attack, and he invited Sheridan to come watch him “whip the enemy’s cavalry.” Sheridan declined, as he was still leading his infantry toward Dandridge. Sturgis readied for the enemy horsemen, but he was surprised to see that they were backed by Longstreet’s infantry. Sturgis fell back to join the main Federal force.

Sheridan set up defenses outside Dandridge and called on the remaining troops under Major Generals Gordon Granger and John G. Parke for support. As the Federals probed the Confederate lines about four miles from town, Longstreet’s troops moved around the Federals’ flank and nearly into their rear. Longstreet did not send his heavy guns with them because “the ringing of the iron axles of the guns might give notice to our purpose.”

Granger arrived to take command, and Sheridan’s division began building a bridge below Dandridge that would allow the Federals to forage in the region and return to their camps at Strawberry Plains and Knoxville. Sheridan’s bridge was seemingly completed, “but to his mortification, he found at dark that he was on an island, and that it would require four more hours to complete this bridge.”

Longstreet arranged his men in attack positions around 4 p.m. Parke, who had arrived on the scene with Granger and Sheridan, reported to Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Army of the Ohio from Knoxville, at 6:30 p.m.:

“There is no doubt that Longstreet’s whole force is immediately in our front on the Bull’s Gap and the Bend of Chunky Roads. They advanced on us this evening. We have no means of crossing the river. I shall fall back on Strawberry Plains.”

According to Longstreet, “As the infantry had had a good long march before reaching the ground, we only had time to get our position a little after dark. During the night the enemy retired to New Market and to Strawberry Plains, leaving his dead upon the ground.” Granger issued the orders to withdraw at 9 p.m. The Federals left their partially completed bridge behind.

As the Confederates camped for the night, Foster feared they may have been reinforced by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. However, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck informed him that according to the latest intelligence, “Longstreet has had no re-enforcements from Lee of late.”

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

The Confederates entered Dandridge on the morning of the 18th. In his memoirs, Longstreet wrote:

“When I rode into Dandridge in the gray of the morning the ground was thawing and hardly firm enough to bear the weight of a horse. When the cavalry came at sunrise the last crust of ice had melted, letting the animals down to their fetlocks in heavy limestone soil. The mud and want of a bridge to cross the Holston made pursuit by our heavy columns useless.”

Longstreet noted that the Federal retreat seemed “to have been made somewhat hastily and not in very good order.” He began a half-hearted pursuit, and “the men without shoes were ordered to remain as camp guards, but many preferred to march with their comrades.” The Confederates could not make much progress because “the bitter freeze of two weeks had made the rough angles of mud as firm and sharp as so many freshly-quarried rocks, and the partially protected feet of our soldiers sometimes left bloody marks along the roads.”

The Federals continued falling back, as Foster directed them to keep retreating all the way to Knoxville. Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps, stated that “in the afternoon, the rain changed to moist driving snow. The sleepy, weary troops toiled doggedly on; the wagons and cannon were helped over the bad places in the way, for we were determined not to abandon any, and the enemy was not hurrying us.”

Stopping short of Strawberry Plains that night, Cox recalled, “We halted the men here and went into bivouac for the night… sheltered from the storm and where the evergreen boughs were speedily converted into tents of a sort, as well as soft and fragrant beds.” Cox wrote that “it had been a wretchedly cheerless and uncomfortable march, but the increasing cold and flying snow made the camp scarcely less inclement.”

This small engagement at Dandridge caused an uproar in Washington, as officials believed that the Federals might abandon eastern Tennessee altogether. Halleck reminded Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Western Theater, that President Abraham Lincoln considered holding the region “the very greatest importance, both in a political and military point of view, and no effort must be spared to accomplish that object.”

Halleck then asked Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, to “please give particular attention to the situation of General Foster’s army in East Tennessee, and give him all the aid which he may require and you may be able to render.” Thomas could do nothing except ship more supplies to Foster’s army. The Federal high command would eventually realize that the engagement did not portend the disaster that they feared.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 390

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Suffering in Eastern Tennessee

January 15, 1864 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet mobilized his Confederate forces as both his men and the Federal troops languished in the harsh winter of mountainous eastern Tennessee.

Gen J.G. Foster | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the Federal commander in the Western Theater, traveled to Knoxville to personally inspect Major General John G. Foster’s Army of the Ohio. Grant had urged Foster to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee, but Foster argued that the men were in no condition to conduct such an operation in the bitter cold and forbidding terrain.

Foster’s army was stationed on Strawberry Plains, north of Knoxville and about 30 miles from Longstreet’s Confederates at Russellville. Grant visited the army on the 2nd and saw that the men suffered from a severe lack of winter clothing and footwear. They also had very little food left, having stripped the surrounding countryside of forage. Foster was right: the Federals could not be expected to confront Longstreet. Grant contacted Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga:

“Send forward clothing for this command as fast as it arrives at Chattanooga. If you have clothing on hand that can possibly be spared, send it forward and deduct the same amount from that coming forward for Foster. Troops here are in bad condition for clothing, and before making much advance must be supplied.”

In a controversial move, Grant authorized Foster to organize local blacks into what became the 1st U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. Tennessee was a slave state exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation, so Foster had to get permission from the slaves’ masters before inducting them into the military, and then compensate the masters for their loss of labor.

After Grant left, Foster reported to him, “The cold weather and high rivers have made things worse, (and) many animals are dying daily.” The Holston River was flooding with water and ice, and he had to build a bridge to send men to Dandridge “to obtain forage and corn and wheat. Everything is eaten out north of Holston River, also nearly everything is eaten up at Mossy Creek.”

Foster noted that since Grant had called on Federals at both Chattanooga and Nashville to send supplies, “Some quartermaster stores have arrived, but not in sufficient quantity. No rations by last boats. Am entirely destitute of bread, coffee, and sugar.”

According to Confederate deserters, Longstreet’s main force was between Morristown and Russellville, and his cavalry was at Kimbrough’s Crossroads. Foster added that the Confederates were suffering just as much as his men: “They lack clothing, especially shoes, rations and forage. The condition is every way bad.”

The deserters dispelled rumors that Longstreet had been reinforced. They also told the Federals that their comrades had stripped the countryside of foodstuffs for 20 miles around. Foster explained, “They have now to cross to the south side of the French Broad for forage. The talk among the officers and men is that they will soon have to retreat to Bristol.” For now, the armies would battle the weather and starvation instead of each other.

Foster then wrote Thomas, explaining the “rapid destruction of our teams by death of animals from starvation.” Thomas immediately answered that “stores will be forwarded you as fast as possible, but unless great care is exercised both armies will be suffering.” In a second message, Thomas wrote, “Two of our largest steamers are up the river, with all the subsistence stores we can spare from here until they are returned.”

Grant reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that no offensive would be undertaken any time soon in eastern Tennessee, as the men were “suffering for want of clothing, especially shoes.” Grant reconnoitered the road leading through Cumberland Gap as a possible supply line, but he saw that “no portion of our supplies can be hauled by teams” along that route. Foster would have to rely on supplies being shipped up the winding Tennessee River.

Meanwhile, Federal cavalry probed the area around Longstreet’s camps, trying to gather intelligence. As the Federals inched closer, Longstreet decided that the only way to survive was to destroy the Federals and take back Knoxville. He mobilized his infantry on the 15th and put them on the march to Dandridge. This, Longstreet hoped, would secure an important point on the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, flank the Federals, and push them back into Knoxville, where Longstreet could renew his siege and this time starve them into submission.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Hess, Earl J., The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee (University of Tennessee Press, 2013); Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Series 1, Volume 1), p. 44; OR (Series 1, Volume 2), p. 219; OR (Series 1, Volume 32, Part 2), p. 71-73

Sherman Targets Meridian

January 10, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, the new commander of the Federal Army of the Tennessee, arrived at Memphis to discuss his upcoming campaign against Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate Army of Mississippi.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

In December, Sherman had proposed clearing Confederate guerrillas from the Yazoo and Red rivers in Mississippi and Louisiana. But as the new year began, that plan changed. At Memphis, Sherman shared his new plan with Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding XVI Corps. Sherman’s army, consisting of two corps (Hurlbut’s and Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII) garrisoned throughout the region, would move across central Mississippi from the Mississippi River to confront Polk, whose 10,000-man army was stationed near Meridian.

Sherman next wrote McPherson, “Now is the time to strike inland at Meridian and Selma. I think Vicksburg is the point of departure from the (Mississippi) river.” Sherman would pull 20,000 white troops from the garrisons at Fort Pillow, Memphis, Corinth, and other posts, and replace them with black troops. Sherman wrote, “Keep this to yourself, and make preparations.” Sherman demanded strict secrecy or else the Confederates might hurry reinforcements to Polk. This included severely restricting the number of newspaper correspondents in his military department.

Sherman then met with Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, who commanded 2,500 Federal cavalry troopers clearing “the country of the bands of guerrillas that infested” Middle Tennessee. Smith’s force would be expanded and assigned to confront Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 3,500 Confederate horsemen, which were currently heading into Mississippi to gather new recruits and join Polk.

Within two weeks, Smith’s force had been bolstered to 7,000 troopers in two divisions. They would advance southeast from Memphis, plundering along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad line from Okolona to Meridian while looking to confront Forrest.

Sherman arrived at Vicksburg aboard the gunboat Juliet on the 29th. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck explaining his plan to launch Smith against Forrest and the railroad while the main force moved east from Vicksburg to Meridian. A third force would move up the Yazoo River and threaten Grenada as a diversion.

Sherman wrote Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, “All things favorable thus far for movement on Meridian.” The official Federal mission was to inflict so much destruction on the railroads in Mississippi “that the enemy will not attempt to rebuild them during the rebellion.”

To McPherson, Sherman made it clear that he intended to wage war on civilians: “Let the commanding officer impress on the people that we shall periodically visit that country and destroy property or take it, as long as parties of Confederate troops or guerrillas infest the river banks.” Sherman directed his men to seize farmers’ cotton and give it to Federal ships that had been fired upon by Confederate partisans.

Sherman stated that civilians along the Yazoo must know “that we intend to hold them responsible for all acts of hostility to the river commerce,” because they now must–

“… feel that war may reach their doors. If the enemy burns cotton we don’t care. It is their property and not ours, but so long as they have cotton, corn, horses, or anything, we will appropriate it or destroy it so long as the confederates in war act in violence to us and our lawful commerce. They must be active friends or enemies. They cannot be silent or neutral.”

The Federals were not to bring any provisions with them on the march, “for the enemy must not only pay for damages inflicted on our commerce but for the expenses incurred in the suppression.”

To divert attention from Sherman’s expedition, Grant directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, to advance on General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia. Thomas was not to bring on a general battle, but rather just keep Johnston occupied so he could not reinforce Polk.

Sherman learned that keeping his plans secret would be more difficult than anticipated. Forrest reported to Polk on the 31st, “A gentleman just from Memphis says the enemy design moving a large force from Vicksburg on Jackson and contemplate rebuilding the railroad between those points and moving from Jackson on Mobile and Meridian.” Nevertheless, Sherman’s campaign of destruction began as scheduled in February.

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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. 358, 362; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 923; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 457-58

The Battle of Chattanooga: Orchard Knob

November 23, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant began efforts to break his Federals out of Chattanooga by assaulting forward Confederate positions at the base of Missionary Ridge.

By this date, Grant was finally ready to break the two-month siege of Chattanooga, conducted by General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. According to Grant’s plan:

  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals would launch the main attack on the Confederate right on Missionary Ridge, north of Chattanooga
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals would demonstrate against the Confederate center from within Chattanooga
  • Major General Joseph Hooker’s Federals would await developments in front of Lookout Mountain, southwest of Chattanooga

As the day began, Sherman’s three divisions, along with one of Thomas’s divisions, were still on their way to their attack positions.

Meanwhile, Major General Bushrod R. Johnson’s Confederate division was moving off Missionary Ridge, having been ordered by Bragg to board trains at Chickamauga Station and reinforce Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederates laying siege to Knoxville, to the northeast. Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division was to follow, leaving Missionary Ridge virtually undefended.

Confederate deserters soon filtered into the Federal lines and claimed that their comrades on Missionary Ridge were retreating. When Grant received this news, he wrote, “The truth or falsity of the deserters should be ascertained at once. If he is really falling back, Sherman can commence at once laying his pontoon trains, and we can save a day.”

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

But when Grant learned that Sherman was not yet ready to attack, he directed Thomas to proceed against the Confederate center anyway. Thomas deployed two divisions of Major General Gordon Granger’s IV Corps, supported by XI Corps under Major General Oliver O. Howard. These Federals, totaling about 14,000 men, were to conduct a “reconnaissance in force” on Orchard Knob, a 100-foot-high foothill on Missionary Ridge, in the front-center of the Confederate line.

Granger’s two divisions, led by Major General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood, assembled in full military dress as if to conduct a formal review about a mile in front of the Confederates’ forward line. Grant, Thomas, Granger, Howard, and Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana watched the “parade” from Fort Wood, in the Federal rear.

The Confederates, part of Major General John C. Breckinridge’s corps, came out of their defenses to watch what they thought was a “military pageant.” Breckinridge watched with Bragg from atop Missionary Ridge. As the Federals moved across the open plain toward the Confederate line, Bragg dismissed the movement as a review. Breckinridge said, “General Bragg, in about 15 minutes, you are going to see the damnedest review you ever saw. I am going to my command.” Still skeptical, Bragg nevertheless wrote Cleburne, who was loading his troops on trains at Chickamauga Station, to “halt such portions of your command as have not yet left at Chickamauga.”

At 1:30 p.m., an hour after the “parade” began, a cannon fired from Fort Wood signaling the Federals to charge the enemy line. They advanced without artillery support to further deceive the Confederates into complacency. The Confederates hurried back to their defenses, but as the Federals came on, each defense line collapsed into the next until the Confederates were pushed all the way back up Missionary Ridge.

The Federals planted their flag on Orchard Knob around 3 p.m. Thomas notified T.J. Wood via signalman, “You have gained too much to withdraw. Hold your position and I will support you.” Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s division advanced on the Federal left and XI Corps came up on the right to secure the line. This enabled Thomas to bring his entire army (i.e., the Federal center) up to the foot of Missionary Ridge.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Bragg sent another, more urgent, message to Cleburne: “We are heavily engaged. Move rapidly to these headquarters.” At least 5,000 Confederates of Johnson’s division and part of Cleburne’s had already left for Knoxville, but at least Bragg still had the remaining 6,000 to come back and defend his right. Had Grant waited another day to advance, those 6,000 would have been gone as well.

Bragg had initially believed that the real Federal threat would be to his left at Lookout Mountain, but now he realized that the Federals planned to attack his right. He therefore ordered Lieutenant General William Hardee to pull his entire corps off Lookout Mountain except for Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s lone division.

Stevenson argued that he lacked the manpower and knowledge of the terrain to put up an adequate defense in case of attack. Bragg assured him that he would send reinforcements if Stevenson needed them, but Stevenson most likely would not since the main attack would probably come against the Confederate right. Bragg positioned Cleburne’s returning troops on the extreme right, near Tunnel Hill.

Grant moved his headquarters to Orchard Knob and modified his strategy based on this day’s unexpected success. He had initially planned to launch his main attack against the Confederate right, but now he ordered Hooker (with Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division of Sherman’s army) to demonstrate against and possibly capture Lookout Mountain on the Confederate left. This would enable Hooker’s Federals to enter Rossville Gap and threaten the Confederate rear.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 80-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 344; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 374-75; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 117-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 33-35, 65-67, 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 436; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133, 445-47, 498-99, 547

Chattanooga: Grant Prepares to Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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References

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

Chattanooga: Grant Takes Over

October 20, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant left Louisville to take personal command of the Federals besieged in Chattanooga as the new commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi.

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

By the time Grant boarded the train to head south, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was slowly starving in Chattanooga. It had been reinforced by two corps from the Army of the Potomac, but Confederates had cut most of the supply lines into the city, making it almost impossible to feed the troops. General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, directed Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps to seal up all supply routes, but a few roundabout routes through the mountains remained open, thus giving the Federals a slim chance for survival.

More Federal reinforcements under Major General William T. Sherman were on their way from the west. His corps now consisted of five divisions with the addition of two from Memphis. Sherman’s men and supplies were loaded on transports at Eastport, Mississippi, and escorted by Federal gunboats as they steamed down the Tennessee River. This was an important water-borne supply route, but General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck still required Sherman to rebuild the Memphis & Charleston Railroad from Iuka, Mississippi, to Stevenson, Alabama, a distance of 161 miles.

Grant stopped at Nashville on the night of the 20th and moved on to Stevenson the next day. There Grant met with Major General William S. Rosecrans, whom Grant had just removed as Army of the Cumberland commander. Rosecrans graciously discussed the military situation in Grant’s railcar, even though the two men disliked each other. Rosecrans then departed northward while Grant spent the night in Bridgeport, about 40 miles down the Tennessee River from Chattanooga.

The rest of the journey to the besieged city had to be made on horseback through the mountains. This posed a problem for Grant because he was still on crutches due to injuries suffered when he fell off his horse in early September. Grant later wrote:

“There had been much rain, and the roads were almost impassable from mud, knee-deep in places, and from wash-outs on the mountain sides. I had been on crutches since the time of my fall in New Orleans, and had to be carried over places where it was not safe to cross on horseback. The roads were strewn with the debris of broken wagons and the carcasses of thousands of starved mules and horses.”

With his crutches lashed to his saddle, Grant and his party rode carefully over the muddy terrain up the Sequatchie Valley and over Walden’s Ridge, unable to use the direct approach to the city because it was covered by Confederate artillery. The group stopped for the night about halfway to Chattanooga, and then continued on the 23rd, when they encountered slightly better terrain.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Major General George H. Thomas, now commanding the Federals in Chattanooga, awaited Grant’s arrival. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing operations in Chattanooga, informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that since Thomas had taken over, “the change at headquarters here is already strikingly perceptible. Order prevails instead of universal chaos.”

Grant finally arrived at Thomas’s headquarters that night. Dana described Grant as “wet, dirty, and well.” One of Grant’s staffers, Colonel James H. Wilson, made a point of Thomas’s lack of hospitality; he did not offer any food, drink, or dry clothes to his new superior. Thomas quickly corrected this, but Grant would only accept food as he asked for a briefing on the situation.

Thomas and his officers explained that the men were going hungry because they could only get supplies from wagon trains vulnerable to Confederate cavalry as they moved 60 miles along the barely usable road from Bridgeport, through the Sequatchie Valley, and over Walden’s Ridge in the Cumberland Mountains. Grant later reported:

“Up to this period our forces in Chattanooga were practically invested, the enemy’s lines extending from the Tennessee River, above Chattanooga, to the river at and below the point of Lookout Mountain, below Chattanooga, with the south bank of the river picketed nearly to Bridgeport, his main force being fortified in Chattanooga Valley, at the foot of and on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, and a brigade in Lookout Valley. True, we held possession of the country north of the river, but it was from 60 to 70 miles over the most impracticable roads to army supplies.”

Thomas then referred Grant to Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith, the army’s chief engineer. Smith had been removed from the Army of the Potomac and demoted for criticizing Major General Ambrose E. Burnside after the Battle of Fredericksburg; now he sought to redeem himself.

Smith had developed a plan to supply the army via Brown’s Ferry, a river crossing about 10 miles downriver from Chattanooga. A road extended from the ferry through Lookout Valley, which the Confederates only lightly guarded. If the Federals could seize the ferry, they could facilitate the flow of supplies from Bridgeport to Chattanooga in half the time it took supplies to move through the mountains.

Grant listened to Smith’s plan and later wrote, “He explained the situation of the two armies and the topography of the country so plainly that I could see it without an inspection.” Grant also learned that Smith had already begun implementing the plan:

“(Smith) had established a saw-mill on the banks of the river, by utilizing an old engine found in the neighborhood; and, by rafting logs from the north side of the river above, had got out the lumber and completed pontoons and roadway plank for a second bridge, one flying bridge being there already. He was also rapidly getting out the materials and constructing the boats for a third bridge. In addition to this he had far under way a steamer for plying between Chattanooga and Bridgeport whenever we might get possession of the river. This boat consisted of a scow, made of the plank sawed out at the mill, housed in, and a stern wheel attached which was propelled by a second engine taken from some shop or factory.”

Grant judged the plan to be solid, but he asked if the troops had enough ammunition to keep the supply line open. He was told that each man only had a few cartridges, but once the line was opened, the ammunition at Bridgeport could be shipped to the troops. This would be a gamble, but it could be the only way to save the army. Grant approved opening what became known as the “cracker line.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 429; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18899-908; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 335-36; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 783, 802-05; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 363; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 424-25; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189

Grant Takes Western Command

October 16, 1863 – The Lincoln administration ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant to travel to Louisville, where he would take command of the new Military Division of the Mississippi.

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

As Confederates tightened their siege on the Federal Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, Federal officials at Washington grew increasingly concerned that the army commander, Major General William S. Rosecrans, could not break his men out. The army had been reinforced, but more troops could not help now that the Confederates had cut the supply lines into the city. Reports from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana in Chattanooga had been increasingly critical of Rosecrans’s leadership, and President Abraham Lincoln began considering a command change.

Grant, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee at Vicksburg, Mississippi, was recovering from a dislocated hip and possible skull fracture after falling from his horse in September. Since his capture of Vicksburg, his army had been scattered among the garrisons in the region, and he had dispatched three divisions under Major General William T. Sherman to reinforce the Federals at Chattanooga.

In response to the critical situation, Grant received orders on October 10 (but dated the 3rd) from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to proceed at once to Cairo, Illinois. Halleck gave no explanation for this order, instead directing Grant to simply contact Washington upon arriving at Cairo. When he got there, Grant received another directive:

“You will immediately proceed to the Galt House, Louisville, Kentucky, where you will meet an officer of the War Department with your orders and instructions. You will take with you your staff, etc., for immediate operations in the field.”

Lincoln had been reluctant to replace Rosecrans because he was an Ohioan, and the Ohio elections were crucial to the war effort. But now that pro-administration candidates had scored major victories, Lincoln decided to make the change. On the 16th, he approved creating a new Military Division of the Mississippi, which placed all the major military departments between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River under one command.

Grant left Cairo the next day. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton traveled west to meet Grant personally, marking the first time that Stanton had ever left Washington to meet a general. Stanton boarded Grant’s train during a stopover in Indianapolis and approached Grant and his staff. Having never met Grant before, Stanton shook hands with Dr. Edward Kittoe, Grant’s staff surgeon, and said, “How are you, General Grant? I knew you at sight from your pictures.”

Stanton quickly met the real Grant and presented him with two sets of War Department orders. They both began the same:

“By direction of the President of the United States, the Departments of the Ohio, of the Cumberland, and of the Tennessee, will constitute the Military Division of the Mississippi. Major General U.S. Grant, United States Army, is placed in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, with his headquarters in the field.”

This directive did not include any troops east of the Mississippi belonging to the Department of the Gulf because Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, that department’s commander, still outranked Grant.

The two orders differed on the second clause. One version left all department commanders in place under him, and the other replaced Rosecrans with Major General George H. Thomas. Grant, who had been unimpressed with Rosecrans during the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, quickly chose the latter version. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside would stay as head of the Department of the Ohio, while Major General William T. Sherman would replace Grant over the Department of the Tennessee.

Grant and Stanton spent the next day discussing strategy at the Galt House in Louisville. That evening, Stanton received word from Charles Dana that Rosecrans planned to abandon Chattanooga, which would result in Federal disaster. Stanton informed Grant of this news and told him that the Federals could not withdraw under any circumstances.

Grant quickly sent two messages: one informed Rosecrans that he had been relieved, and one ordered Thomas to “Hold Chattanooga at all hazards.” The next day, Rosecrans received General Order No. 337 removing him from command. Hiding his shock and bitterness, Rosecrans summoned Thomas and passed the army command to him. Thomas replied to Grant’s message, “We will hold the town till we starve.”

Dana was wrong–Rosecrans was not planning to evacuate; rather, he was working with engineers to open a new supply line to feed his men so they could renew the offensive, just as the administration hoped he would do. But he had not done so fast enough.

Before leaving, Rosecrans discussed the military situation with Thomas. He decided not to issue a farewell order to avoid demoralizing the troops. Instead, he issued a brief statement urging the troops to follow their new commander. It was to be read after Rosecrans left: “He has led you often in battle. To his known prudence, dauntless courage, and true patriotism, you may look with confidence that under God he will lead you to victory.”

Grant left Louisville on October 20 and headed for Chattanooga to take personal command of the situation. It would be a harder journey than expected.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 428-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 334; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 767, 784-85, 802-03; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 559; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 420, 423-24; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 675; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500-01, 542-43; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642