Tag Archives: Army of the Cumberland

The Dalton Demonstration

February 24, 1864 – Skirmishing intensified in northern Georgia, as Major General John M. Palmer sought to unite his Federals at Rocky Face Ridge and drive the Confederates out of Dalton.

Four Federal divisions from Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland moved out on the 22nd toward General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton. The operation consisted of Palmer’s XIV Corps moving southeast from Chattanooga, and Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s division of IV Corps moving southwest from Cleveland.

Maj Gen J.M. Palmer | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Palmer’s mission was to determine Johnston’s strength and prevent him from reinforcing the Confederate forces in either Alabama or eastern Tennessee. The Federal high command hoped that Palmer could push the Confederates away from their formidable positions at both Dalton and Rocky Face Ridge (a steep eminence west of Dalton). This would enable the Federals to “get possession of the place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

Palmer’s Federals marched through Ringgold Gap and approached the plains near Dalton, Rocky Face Ridge, and Tunnel Hill (a northwestern spur of Rocky Face). Skirmishing occurred with Confederate cavalry, who reported to Johnston that a general enemy advance was underway. False rumors soon spread among the Confederates that Thomas’s entire 60,000-man army was approaching, while Johnston had just 20,000 troops to stop them.

The next day, Johnston directed Major General Thomas C. Hindman to lead two divisions in forming defenses at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, and the gap in Rocky Face Ridge. As Palmer’s Federals advanced, they clashed with Hindman’s men at Catoosa Station and Tunnel Hill. The fighting soon intensified, and Palmer brought up reinforcements that threatened Hindman’s flanks. The Confederates fell back to higher, stronger positions on Tunnel Hill.

Johnston notified President Jefferson Davis of the action, and Davis allowed Johnston to recall Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps, which had been sent to reinforce Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s army in Alabama. Polk no longer needed Hardee’s men now that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the Tennessee was returning to Vicksburg after decimating Meridian. Davis warned Johnston that “the demonstration in your front is probably a mask.”

Meanwhile, Cruft’s Federals continued pushing south along the railroad until Confederates defending the east side of Rocky Face Ridge stopped them about three miles east of Dalton. Johnston had rushed two divisions there to prevent Cruft from coming up behind the Confederates facing Palmer to the west.

Colonel William Grose, commanding Cruft’s lead brigade, reported, “I don’t believe there is much force of the enemy in our front, but too much for our small force. I am of the impression that double our force could have gained the railroad and held it. The enemy used no artillery. We fired five rounds.” Grose opted to wait until the rest of Cruft’s division came up to join him the next day.

To the west, two of Palmer’s divisions under Brigadier Generals Richard W. Johnson and Jefferson C. Davis advanced on Tunnel Hill, which was defended by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate division. Johnson’s Federals provided artillery cover while Davis’s men scaled the hill’s northern slope and drove the Confederate outposts from the summit. Davis reported:

“The enemy’s skirmishers yielded with little resistance. From these hills the enemy’s position was easily reconnoitered, and from the fire of his artillery the position of two strongly posted field batteries was plainly discovered.”

The Confederates withdrew southeast to a defile in Rocky Face Ridge called Buzzard Roost Gap, where they joined the main Confederate defense line. The Federals stopped for the night, but Palmer planned to advance in full force next morning. According to Davis, “It was thought this movement would turn the enemy’s position at Buzzard Roost and enable our forces (Palmer’s and Cruft’s) to unite south of Rocky Face Ridge.” From there, Palmer hoped to drive Johnston’s army out of Dalton and secure the railroad from there to Chattanooga.

Palmer directed Cruft to “push the column toward Dalton and attack any force that might be met.” The next day, Cruft, facing two divisions to his one, opted to wait for reinforcements. The Confederates sent their skirmishers forward, hoping to seize the initiative. Palmer came up with Brigadier General Absalom Baird’s division on Cruft’s right. The Federals finally advanced to attack the north side of Rocky Face Ridge around 11:30 a.m. According to Cruft:

“The lines were pressed steadily on for somewhat over a mile. At this point the enemy occupied a steep wooded ridge in our front in considerable force. It was successfully carried by the Second and Third Brigades without breaking step, the enemy falling back to a ridge beyond. Upon obtaining the crest of the first ridge and commencing the descent the brigade of direction was halted about 1 p.m. by command of Major-General Palmer and the line adjusted thereto.”

Palmer directed an attack by his right, which was easily repulsed. Both sides spent the rest of the day trading artillery fire. On the west side of the ridge, Davis heard firing around 3 p.m. and sought to relieve pressure on Cruft by attacking the Confederates holding Buzzard Roost Gap. Davis reported that his skirmishers were “warmly engaged, the enemy resisting their strong points with great vigor.”

As Davis’s Federals approached the Confederate rifle pits, they were met by fire in their front and artillery fire on their flanks. Davis was forced to order a withdrawal. On the other side of the ridge, Palmer ordered Cruft and Baird to fall back to north of Tunnel Hill.

By the 27th, Thomas, who had been too ill to personally command this expedition, arrived on the scene and directed the Federals to fall back to Chattanooga. The Federals suffered 345 casualties in this operation (43 killed, 267 wounded, and 35 missing or captured), while the Confederates lost 140. The Federals learned that Johnston’s defenses were too strong to confront head-on, especially at Rocky Face Ridge.

This Federal demonstration on Dalton did not serve its original purpose of keeping Johnston from sending reinforcements to Polk, as Sherman’s campaign was already over. It merely compelled Johnston to recall Hardee’s corps and prepare for the overall Federal offensive sure to come in spring.

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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. 376-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 468; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 765

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The Proposed Dalton Demonstration

February 12, 1864 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant asked Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, to feign an attack on Dalton to divert Confederate attention from the Federal offensive in Mississippi.

Grant, heading the Military Division of the Mississippi, commanded three armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio faced Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps near Knoxville in eastern Tennessee
  • Thomas’s army at Chattanooga faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton in northern Georgia
  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee faced Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Army of Mississippi outside Meridian

Sherman was in the process of laying waste to central Mississippi while closing in on the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in the state. Grant wanted to support Sherman’s effort by having Thomas prevent Johnston from helping Polk. Grant also wanted Schofield to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee, but he needed Thomas to send troops to support that mission as well.

Major General John G. Foster, who had just been replaced as Army of the Ohio commander by Schofield, traveled to Nashville to confer with Grant about the eastern Tennessee situation. Foster convinced Grant that Longstreet would not threaten Schofield, prompting Grant to announce that “no movement will be made against Longstreet at present.”

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

This allowed Thomas to devote his full attention to Johnston at Dalton. Grant asked Thomas on the 12th, “Should you not be required to go into East Tennessee, could you not make a formidable reconnaissance toward Dalton, and, if successful in driving the enemy out, occupy that place and complete the railroad up to it this winter?” Thomas responded that if he had one more division, “an advance on Dalton would be successful.”

Grant reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he had decided not to send Thomas’s Federals to support Schofield because “if we move against Longstreet with an overwhelming force he will simply fall back toward Virginia until he can be re-enforced or take up an impregnable position.” Instead, “Now that our men are ready for an advance, I have directed it to be made on Dalton, and hope to get possession of that place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

When Thomas still had not moved after five days, Grant reiterated his instructions: “Make your contemplated move as soon as possible.” Thomas replied, “I have had more obstacles to overcome than I had anticipated. I find it absolutely necessary to take artillery, for which I must have horses. I cannot say positively what day I shall start, but certainly by Monday (the 22nd).”

On the 18th, Thomas followed up his reply from the previous day: “I regret to be obliged to report that I do not think I shall be able to take the field, the cold and damp weather having brought on an attack of neuralgia, from which I suffer intensely.” Thomas assigned Major General John M. Palmer, commanding XIV Corps, to lead the demonstration.

Palmer would lead the three divisions from his own corps, plus a division from IV Corps under Brigadier General Charles Cruft, which was 30 miles east of Chattanooga. Palmer’s corps would advance from the northwest toward Dalton while Cruft advanced from the northeast. Palmer directed Cruft to move out on the 22nd, writing him the day before:

“I had supposed that you had received detailed orders for your movements tomorrow… From the lateness of the evening at which I received my own orders, I am not able to give precise directions for further operations, but can only suggest that I hope everything will be done to make the reconnaissance effective.”

Despite the vagueness of the instructions, Palmer and Cruft were to somehow join forces before they reached Dalton, about 35 miles south of Chattanooga. The Federals would move out the next day.

Meanwhile, Johnston continued his new routine of inspections, drills, and rest in the Army of Tennessee while awaiting Federal action. As Sherman’s Federals destroyed Meridian, Johnston resisted calls from Richmond to send reinforcements to Polk. Finally, President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to dispatch Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps. Johnston reluctantly complied.

Hardee’s Confederates began arriving at Montgomery, Alabama, on the 19th, where they learned that Sherman had left Meridian. They did not yet know that Sherman was returning to Vicksburg; they feared he might continue east into Alabama. One of Hardee’s divisions linked with Polk’s army at Demopolis on the 21st. With the Federals poised to advance on Dalton the next day, this left Johnston dangerously vulnerable.

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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. 369; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935

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

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