Tag Archives: Chattanooga Campaign

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

Chattanooga: Federal Leadership Questioned

October 11, 1863 – Federal reinforcements from Virginia entered Chattanooga, but it was becoming clear that Major General William S. Rosecrans was not up to the task of breaking the Confederate siege paralyzing his Army of the Cumberland.

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

As Major General Joseph Hooker’s XI and XII corps began reinforcing Rosecrans’s army, Hooker telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “You may justly claim the merit at having saved Chattanooga.” He placed his four divisions below the city to prevent Confederates from crossing the Tennessee River and attacking the Federal rear.

Despite the reinforcements, there seemed to be no viable way to break the siege. Information from the city became scarce, and President Abraham Lincoln had to ask Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson, “What news have you from Rosecrans’ Army?…”

In eastern Tennessee, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio showed no signs of moving southwest to try breaking Rosecrans out. To the west, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals from Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee were moving very slowly toward Chattanooga, repairing the railroad as they went.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding Federal naval forces on the Tennessee River, informed Grant that the river was low, preventing the larger Federal gunboats from supporting Sherman’s advance. Porter assured Grant that he would bring the vessels up as soon as possible, adding, “My intention is to send every gunboat I can spare up the Tennessee. I have also sent below for light-drafts to come up.”

As Sherman left Memphis to join his men heading west, his train was attacked at Collierville, about 20 miles out of Memphis, by General James R. Chalmers’s Confederate cavalry. A four-hour fight ensued when Sherman refused to surrender unconditionally. The Confederates finally withdrew upon learning that a Federal division was coming from Memphis to reinforce Sherman. The Federals sustained 110 casualties (14 killed, 42 wounded, and 54 captured); Sherman lost five staff horses and his second-best uniform. The Confederates lost 51 men (three killed and 48 wounded).

Meanwhile, Lincoln became increasingly convinced that Rosecrans could not handle his predicament. Lincoln remarked that Rosecrans seemed “stunned and confused, like a duck hit on the head.” This was bolstered by gloomy reports from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, Stanton’s operative in Chattanooga. Dana had called for Rosecrans’s removal, and he repeated it on the 12th:

“I have never seen a public man possessing talent with less administrative power, less clearness and steadiness in difficulty, and greater practical incapacity than General Rosecrans. He has inventive fertility and knowledge, but he has no strength of will and no concentration of purpose. His mind scatters; there is no system in the use of his busy days and restless nights… Under the present circumstances I consider this army to be very unsafe in his hands.”

However, Lincoln had no replacement in mind, so he continued trying to motivate Rosecrans to fight his way out of Chattanooga. Lincoln wired: “You and Burnside now have (the enemy) by the throat, and he must break your hold or perish.” Rosecrans responded that the Confederates had ripe corn to eat but “our side is barren… we must put our trust in God, who never fails those who truly trust.”

A week later, Dana received reports that hungry soldiers were shouting “Crackers!” at officers inspecting fortifications. Dana wrote Stanton:

“Amid all this, the practical incapacity of the general commanding is astonishing, and it often seems difficult to believe him of sound mind. His imbecility appears to be contagious… If the army is finally obliged to retreat, the probability is that it will fall back like a rabble, leaving its artillery, and protected only by the river behind it.”

Stanton shared Dana’s reports with Lincoln. Meanwhile, heavy rains had made most of the roads outside Chattanooga virtually impassable, preventing supplies from getting over Walden’s Ridge to feed the Federals.

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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. 332, 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. 765-67, 782-83; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83, 85-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 419-20

Chattanooga: Federal Reinforcements Arrive

October 2, 1863 – Reinforcements from the Federal Army of the Potomac arrived at Bridgeport, Alabama, after being hurried from northern Virginia to support the Army of the Cumberland besieged in Chattanooga.

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

As the month began, Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland sat trapped in Chattanooga with their supplies running out. The Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General Braxton Bragg, held positions on the mountains and hills overlooking Chattanooga, and since Bragg did not believe he had the strength to attack the Federals directly, he decided to besiege them instead.

Meanwhile, Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XII Corps from the Army of the Potomac were hurrying to reinforce Rosecrans. Their overall commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, arrived at Nashville on the 1st. By that day, his entire XI Corps and part of his XII Corps had moved through Nashville toward Chattanooga.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, received enough information to finally conclude that XI and XII corps were gone. He wrote President Jefferson Davis, “I consider it certain that two corps have been withdrawn from General (George G.) Meade’s army to re-enforce General Rosecrans.” Lee stated that a scout “saw General Howard take the cars at Catlett’s Station, where his headquarters had been established, and saw other troops marching toward Manassas, which he believes to have been the Twelfth Corps.”

Lee then advised Davis: “Everything that can be done to strengthen Bragg ought now to be done, and if he cannot draw Rosecrans out in any other way, it might be accomplished by operating against his re-enforcements on the line of travel.” Bragg had the upper hand at Chattanooga, but these reinforcements would help even the odds. And more Federals could potentially join Rosecrans from Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Army of the Ohio in eastern Tennessee and Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals heading east from Mississippi.

By the 2nd, all of XI and XII corps had arrived at Bridgeport, southwest of Chattanooga. The force consisted of nearly 20,000 men, 3,000 horses, 60 guns in 10 batteries, and 100 railcars filled with ammunition, equipment, provisions, and other necessities. The 1,159-mile railroad trip took just seven days, making it the fastest troop transfer in history up to that time. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton telegraphed Thomas A. Scott, managing the railroad at Louisville, “Your work is most brilliant. A thousand thanks. It is a great achievement.”

However, getting these troops to Rosecrans remained a problem. The Confederates controlled not only all the roads south of the Tennessee River, but the road linking Bridgeport to Chattanooga north of the river as well. The only viable route to the city was a convoluted path over Walden’s Ridge and through the Sequatchie Valley.

But President Abraham Lincoln remained optimistic nonetheless; he wrote Rosecrans on the 4th, “If we can hold Chattanooga and East Tennessee, I think the rebellion must dwindle and die. I think you and Burnside can do this…” Lincoln proposed that Rosecrans attack Bragg. Soon, the reinforcements were augmented by the arrival of elements of Sherman’s Federals from the west.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, despite its tremendous victory at Chickamauga and its siege of Chattanooga, the Confederate Army of Tennessee was in vast disarray. Bragg had relieved Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk and Major General Thomas C. Hindman of their commands for allegedly disobeying orders, and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest had left the army after threatening Bragg’s life.

Bragg had sent Polk to Atlanta to await formal charges of disobedience and dereliction of duty. When Davis learned of this, he recommended that Bragg (his personal friend) drop the charges against Polk (his other personal friend). As Davis explained, “It was with a view of avoiding a controversy, which could not heal the injury sustained and which I feared would entail further evil.”

Pressing charges would mean a court-martial, “with all the crimination and recrimination there to be produced… I fervently pray that you may judge correctly, as I am well assured you will act purely for the public welfare.” Noting the hostility of Bragg’s subordinates toward their commander, Davis stated, “The opposition to you both in the army and out of it has been a public calamity in so far that it impairs your capacity for usefulness…”

Davis dispatched Colonel James Chesnut to meet with Polk at Atlanta and assess the army’s condition. Chesnut discussed the situation with Polk and then met with Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who told him about the army’s “distressed condition, and urged upon him to go on to Richmond with all speed and to urge upon the President relief for us.”

Nearly every high-ranking officer in Bragg’s army–12 corps, divisional, and brigade commanders–signed a formal petition asking Davis to remove Bragg from command. The petition acknowledged “that the proceeding is unusual among military men,” but “the extraordinary condition of affairs in this army, the magnitude of the interests at stake, and a sense of the responsibilities under which they rest to Your Excellency and to the Republic, render this proceeding, in their judgment, a matter of solemn duty, from which, as patriots, they cannot shrink.” The appeal read:

“Two weeks ago this army, elated by a great victory, was in readiness to pursue its defeated enemy. Whatever may have been accomplished heretofore, it is certain that the fruits of victory of the Chickamauga have now escaped our grasp. The Army of Tennessee, stricken with a complete paralysis, will in a few days’ time be thrown strictly on the defensive, and may deem itself fortunate if it escapes from its present position without disaster.”

The commanders argued that Chattanooga must be taken back, but if Bragg was not removed, “this campaign is virtually closed.” The incoming Federal reinforcements “must be met as nearly as possible by corresponding re-enforcements to this army,” but even “the ablest general could not be expected to grapple successfully with the accumulating difficulties of the situation.”

They pleaded, “In addition to reinforcements, your petitioners would deem it a dereliction of the sacred duty they owe the country if they did not further ask that Your Excellency assign to the command of this army an officer who will inspire the army and the country with undivided confidence…”

The officers diplomatically refrained from listing all their criticisms of Bragg, instead simply stating that “the condition of his health totally unfits him for the command of an army in the field.” When the petition reached Chesnut on the 5th, he forwarded it to Davis and urged him to come address these issues in person as soon as possible.

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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. 330-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 765-66, 814-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 356-57; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 78-79, 84; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 416-18; 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

Wheeler’s Tennessee Raid

October 1, 1863 – Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry force entered the Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee to raid the supply lines of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland.

Maj Gen Joseph Wheeler | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As October began, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was laying siege to Rosecrans’s Federals trapped in Chattanooga. To help starve the enemy into submission, Bragg directed Wheeler to lead 4,000 cavalrymen in attacking Federal supply trains north of the Tennessee River. Wheeler had two divisions led by Brigadier Generals William Martin and John Wharton.

Wheeler also had three of Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brigades under Brigadier General Henry Davidson, even though Forrest had argued that they were not ready for such an expedition. Wheeler confirmed this by later reporting that the men were “mere skeletons” who were “badly armed, had but a small supply of ammunition, and their horses were in horrible condition, having been marched continuously for three days and nights without removing saddles. The men were worn out, and without rations.”

Nevertheless, the Confederate force moved out and crossed the Tennessee near Muscle Shoals, upstream from Chattanooga. Brigadier General George Crook’s 2,000 Federal cavalry, stationed nearby at Washington, Tennessee, rode up and fired on the approaching enemy. Wheeler left his casualties in the river and stormed through the Federal horsemen. He then rode up Walden’s Ridge at Smith’s Crossroads, driving off small Federal patrols, with Crook’s troopers in feeble pursuit.

The next morning, the Confederates descended the ridge and entered the Sequatchie Valley. Wheeler divided his force by sending Wharton toward McMinnville while he stayed with Martin to wreak havoc in the Sequatchie. Martin’s force advanced 10 miles, burned a small wagon train, and seized the mules. Martin and Wheeler then rode on to Anderson’s Crossroads, where they came upon a 400-wagon supply train. The Federal escort tried putting up a fight but eventually fled. The Confederates seized what they needed and destroyed the rest.

Rosecrans was alerted to Wheeler’s presence and began assembling forces to stop him. Residents of McMinnville warned the Federals stationed there that as many as 10,000 Confederates were coming down the Sequatchie Valley toward them. However, a scout told the local commander, Major Michael Patterson of the 4th Tennessee (U.S.), that “there was no enemy in force this side of the Tennessee River.” The commander believed his scout over the residents.

Wharton’s vanguard approached McMinnville on the morning of the 3rd. The Federals stopped the skirmishers, but soon the entire Confederate force arrived, which easily outnumbered the 400 Federal defenders. Patterson rejected a verbal demand to surrender, insisting that it be put in writing. When the written demand arrived at 1 p.m., he agreed to capitulate. According to Patterson:

“From 1 until 8 p.m. the men stood in line and were compelled to submit to the most brutal outrages on the part of the rebels ever known to any civilized war in America or elsewhere. The rebel troops or soldiers, and sometimes the officers, would call upon an officer or soldier standing in the line, when surrendered, for his overcoat, dress-coat, blouse, hat, shoes, boots, watch, pocket-book, money, and even to finger-rings, or, in fact, anything that happened to please their fancy, and with a pistol cocked in one band, in the attitude of shooting, demand the article they wanted. In this way the men of the 4th Tennessee Infantry were stripped of their blankets, oil-cloths, overcoats, a large number of dress-coats, blouses, boots and shoes, jewelry, hats, knapsacks, and haversacks…

“While all this was going on, Major-General Wheeler was sitting on his horse and around the streets of McMinnville, witnessing and, we think, encouraging the same infernal outrages, seeming to not want or desire to comply with his agreement…

“Several of the officers of the Fourth Tennessee Infantry called on General Wheeler for protection. He would pay no attention to them, saying that he had no control over his men, &c… Wheeler then ordered the command outside of his immediate lines, on the Sparta road, a section of country infested with guerrillas, where there was robbing and plundering the paroled prisoners all of the way, even compelling captains to sit down in the middle of the road and pull off their boots.”

The next day, the Confederates set out raiding the countryside northwest of McMinnville. Crook’s troopers continued their pursuit, charging the Confederate rear guard with sabers and pushing it back into the main force near Readyville. The Confederates disengaged and continued riding northwest toward Murfreesboro. On the 5th, they destroyed the important railroad bridge over the Stones River, which temporarily cut the Federal supply line from Nashville to Chattanooga. Wheeler reported:

“The following day we destroyed a train and a quantity of stores at Christiana and Fosterville, and destroyed all the railroad bridges and trestles between Murfreesborough and Wartrace, including all the large bridges at and near the latter place, capturing the guards, &c. We also captured and destroyed a large amount of stores of all kinds at Shelbyville, the enemy running from his strong fortifications upon our approach.”

Wheeler dispersed his three divisions along the Duck River, while Crook’s force was augmented by another cavalry division under Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell. The Federals surprised Davidson’s troopers, making up Wheeler’s isolated right flank, just south of Shelbyville. Davidson fell back toward Farmington as Wheeler hurried to bring his other two divisions up to reinforce him. The Confederates formed a strong line and awaited Crook’s approach. Crook reported:

“Finding the enemy vastly superior to me, I left one regiment of cavalry to protect my rear, holding the other two regiments as a support to the infantry, the country being impracticable for the cavalry to operate in. The enemy’s battery was posted in a cedar thicket some 400 yards distant from me, pouring into me a heavy fire of grape, canister, and shell, and made one or two charges on my men, at the same time attempting to turn both of my flanks.”

According to Wheeler:

“The enemy soon came up in strong force with a division of infantry and a division of cavalry. We fought them with great warmth for 20 minutes, then we charged the line and drove it back for some distance. General Wharton’s column and our train having now passed, and the object for which we fought being accomplished, we withdrew without being followed by the enemy.”

One of Crook’s brigades under Colonel Robert Minty did not receive orders to advance and thus stayed back near Shelbyville while the rest of the forces fought at Farmington. Crook wrote that had Minty been there, “I should have thrown him on the left flank, and as things turned out since, I would have captured a large portion of his (Wheeler’s) command, together with all his artillery and transportation.”

Instead, the Confederates raced southward, having accomplished their mission. They re-crossed the Tennessee at Muscle Shoals on the 9th. During this spectacular raid, Wheeler had inflicted over 2,000 enemy casualties, seized or destroyed 1,000 supply wagons and hundreds of draft animals, burned five bridges, tore up hundreds of miles of railroad track, and caused damage estimated to be worth over $1 million.

The Federal surprise attack on the 7th, as well as Wheeler’s loss of 3,000 men killed or wounded, blemished an otherwise flawless campaign. The Federal Army of the Cumberland, already on half-rations while under siege in Chattanooga, now had even fewer supplies to draw from due to Wheeler’s raid.

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References

Brooksher, William R./Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 330-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 761; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 356-58; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 79-80; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 418; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 819; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

Confederate Dissension at Chattanooga

September 30, 1863 – Tensions reached a boiling point among the Confederate Army of Tennessee commanders. This led to a command change, a call for Richmond to help, and even a death threat.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Although the Confederates held strong positions as they besieged the trapped Federal Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, dissension spread through the ranks like a disease. General Braxton Bragg, commanding the army, had blamed many of his subordinates for bungling orders before and during the Battle of Chickamauga, and his subordinates in turn blamed him for making poor decisions after the battle.

Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk, D.H. Hill, and Simon B. Buckner secretly met with James Longstreet and urged him, as senior commander, to inform Richmond about Bragg’s “palpable weakness and mismanagement manifested in the conduct of the military operations of this army.” Longstreet obliged by notifying Secretary of War James A. Seddon:

“Our chief has done but one thing that he ought to have done since I joined this army. That was to order the attack upon the 20th. All other things he has done he ought not to have done. I am convinced that nothing but the hand of God can save us or help us as long as we have our present commander.”

Longstreet recommended sending General Robert E. Lee from Virginia to replace Bragg. However, the Confederate high command opted to keep Lee in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia for now. Despite all the dissent, Bragg’s siege of Chattanooga was succeeding, with Major General William S. Rosecrans in desperate need of supplies and Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federals timidly remaining at Knoxville.

Besides laying siege to Chattanooga, Bragg sent Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry on a raid into eastern Tennessee. Bragg also ordered Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to raid Federal communication lines in the Sequatchie Valley. Wheeler, who had a depleted cavalry force with little raiding experience, nevertheless took on the mission, telling subordinates, “I have my orders, gentlemen, and I will attempt the work.”

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Meanwhile, Forrest received a message from one of Bragg’s assistant adjutants upon returning from a scouting mission across the Hiwassee River: “The general commanding desires that you will without delay turn over the troops of your command, previously ordered, to Major-General Wheeler.”

The message did not explain that Bragg wanted Forrest to provide more troopers for Wheeler’s upcoming raid. Forrest, who was already outraged by Bragg’s failure to follow up his victory at Chickamauga with one more assault that could have destroyed the Federal army, refused to serve under Wheeler. Forrest also remembered Bragg’s lack of respect for his abilities, having called Forrest “ignorant” and “nothing more than a good raider.”

Forrest wrote a response in which he called Bragg a two-faced liar and promised to confront him at his headquarters as soon as possible. A few days later, Forrest stormed into Bragg’s Missionary Ridge headquarters in a rage. Bragg tried shaking hands with him, but Forrest refused, saying:

“I am not here to pass civilities or compliments with you, but on other business. You commenced your cowardly and contemptible persecution of me soon after the battle of Shiloh, and you have kept it up ever since. You did it because I reported to Richmond facts, while you reported damned lies. You robbed me of my command in Kentucky and gave it to one of your favorites–men that I armed and equipped from the enemies of our country.

“In a spirit of revenge and spite, because I would not fawn upon you as others did, you drove me into West Tennessee in the winter of 1862, with a second brigade I had organized, with improper arms and without sufficient ammunition, although I had made repeated applications for the same. You did it to ruin me and my career.

“When, in spite of all this, I returned with my command, well equipped by captures, you began again your work of spite and persecution, and have kept it up; and now this second brigade, organized and equipped without thanks to you or the government, a brigade which has won a reputation for successful fighting second to none in the army, taking advantage of your position as the commanding general in order to further humiliate me, you have taken these brave men from me.

“I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to. You have played the part of a damn scoundrel, and are a coward; and if you were any part of a man, I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any more orders to me, for I will not obey them, and I will hold you personally responsible for any further indignities you endeavor to inflict upon me. You have threatened to arrest me for not obeying your orders promptly. I dare you to do it, and I say to you that if you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life.”

This ended Forrest’s association with Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, but Bragg’s order to transfer Forrest’s men to Wheeler stood regardless. On the 30th, Wheeler led 4,000 troopers and eight guns on a raid of the Federals’ vulnerable communications and supply lines that lasted into October.

Bragg’s relationships with Polk and Major General Thomas C. Hindman had also become strained. Bragg was outraged that Polk did not attack as ordered on the second day at Chickamauga. He demanded an explanation, and when Polk did not immediately respond, Bragg sent another demand. Bragg also blamed Hindman for failing to attack the isolated Federals at McLemore’s Cove a week before the battle.

When Bragg tried suspending both commanders, his superiors at Richmond told him that he only had the authority to arrest them, and only if he could “show cause by preferring charges as prescribed.” Bragg responded by officially charging Polk with disobedience and dereliction of duty; he also called Polk’s reluctance to explain his actions of the 20th “unsatisfactory.”

Bragg began rounding up officers to back his charges as he sent Polk to Atlanta to await further orders. The dissension within the army would only worsen as the siege continued, prompting President Jefferson Davis to consider going to Chattanooga to resolve the matter himself.

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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. 330; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 761-62, 765-67, 812; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 355; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 78-79; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 415-16; 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; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 819

Chattanooga: Federal Reinforcements Move West

September 27, 1863 – Federal troops from the Army of the Potomac began heading west in a remarkable display of logistics, while the Federal high command looked to possibly change the command structure in the Army of the Cumberland.

By the 25th, three Federal forces were supposedly moving to reinforce Major General William S. Rosecrans’s besieged army in Chattanooga:

  • Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Army of the Ohio at Knoxville to the northeast
  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal divisions to the west
  • Major General Joseph Hooker’s XI and XII Corps from the Army of the Potomac in northern Virginia

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

But Burnside made no clear moves to help Rosecrans, as he was bogged down by the mountainous terrain and Confederate guerrillas. And Sherman’s men relied on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad for supplies, which they had to repair as they advanced. This left Hooker’s Federals to rescue Rosecrans from General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee.

The first troop train left Culpeper, Virginia, in the late afternoon of the 25th. The trains soon began passing through Washington every hour conveying 23,000 men, 1,100 horses, artillery, ammunition, equipment, food, and other supplies. The trains moved over the Appalachians, through West Virginia and Ohio, across the Ohio River twice, through Kentucky, and on to Nashville. From there, the troops transferred for the final leg of their journey to Chattanooga.

Men of XI Corps began moving out first, followed by XII Corps. Federals quickly intercepted messages indicating that the Confederates knew about the movement. As such, Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, urged Major General Henry W. Slocum, commanding XII Corps, to move his men to Bealeton Station, across the Rappahannock River from Brandy Station, so they would be better hidden from Confederate view:

“The movement should not commence until after dark, and no preparation for it made or anything done previous to its being dark, so as to conceal the movement as far as practicable. The troops should be screened at or in the vicinity of Bealeton Station from the observation of the enemy’s signal officer on Clark’s Mountain. Watery Mountain will be cleared by our cavalry.”

Meade feared that General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, would find out the Federals were leaving and attack his weakened army. Indeed, a Confederate spy in Washington reported on the day the troop trains came through:

“Recent information shows that two of Meade’s army corps are on the move, large numbers of troops are at the cars, now loaded with cannon. There is no doubt as to the destination of these troops–part for Rosecrans, and perhaps for Burnside.”

However, Lee could not be sure that this was true because he also received reports stating that the Federals were reinforcing Meade rather than leaving him. Lee wrote to Richmond, “I judge by the enemy’s movements in front and the reports of my scouts in his rear that he is preparing to move against me with all the strength he can gather.” Lee then wrote Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whose corps had been detached from Lee’s army to reinforce Bragg:

“Finish the work before you, my dear General, and return to me. Your departure was known to the enemy as soon as it occurred. General Meade has been actively engaged collecting his forces and is now up to the Rapidan (River). All his troops that were sent north have returned and re-enforcements are daily arriving… We are endeavoring to maintain a bold front, and shall endeavor to delay them all we can till you return.”

Despite all the leaked intelligence, War Department officials at Washington desperately tried keeping the movement a secret. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton dispatched agents to meet with the major Washington reporters and secure their agreements not to write about the operation. However, one correspondent sent a dispatch to the New York Evening Post, which published a story on the rescue mission in its Saturday (the 26th) edition.

Both Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln were enraged that the story was leaked, especially considering that the troop trains had not even started heading west yet. The news reached Richmond a couple days later, when President Jefferson Davis notified Lee that two corps were moving to reinforce Rosecrans. Lee received confirmation himself when he obtained a copy of the Evening Post’s article.

The movement proceeded nonetheless. By the morning of the 27th, the railroad had transported 12,600 men through Washington. Field artillery had also passed on 33 railcars, along with 21 baggage cars. Stanton telegraphed former Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott, who had resumed control of the Pennsylvania Railroad and was now regulating train operations west of the Alleghenies from Louisville: “The whole force, except 3,300 of the XII Corps, is now moving.”

Two days later, Scott reported that trains were pulling out of Louisville regularly. Leading Federal units began arriving at Bridgeport, Rosecrans’s supply base, at 10:30 p.m. on the 30th, precisely on schedule. However, so much planning and effort had gone into getting the troops to Rosecrans that it was still unclear how these troops would help break the siege. Moreover, the arrival of XI Corps did not exactly boost the morale of the besieged Federals; this was considered the weakest corps in the eastern army due to its poor performance at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing Rosecrans’s army on behalf of the War Department, had been sending unfavorable reports to Washington on the army’s condition. Dana recommended relieving two of Rosecrans’s four corps commanders (Major Generals Alexander McCook and Thomas L. Crittenden), and on the 27th he began suggesting that Rosecrans himself may need to be removed:

“He abounds in friendliness and approbativeness, (but) is greatly lacking in firmness and steadiness of will. He is a temporizing man… If it be decided to change the chief commander also, I would take the liberty of suggesting that some Western general of high rank and great prestige, like (General Ulysses) Grant, for instance, would be preferable as his successor to any one who has hitherto commanded in East alone.”

The next day, the War Department partly acted upon Dana’s recommendation by issuing General Order No. 322, which relieved McCook and Crittenden from duty for disobedience during the Battle of Chickamauga. The order also ruled that “a court of inquiry be convened… to inquire and report upon the conduct of Major-Generals McCook and Crittenden, in the battles of the 19th and 20th instant.” The officers were sent to Indianapolis until the court convened.

McCook’s XX Corps and Crittenden’s XXI Corps were merged into a new IV Corps in the Army of the Cumberland (the original IV Corps on the Virginia Peninsula had been dissolved in August). This new corps consisted of troops mainly from the West, along with Regular army forces. Major General Gordon Granger, currently commanding the Reserve Corps, was assigned to command.

By month’s end, Dana began favoring Major General George H. Thomas, commanding XIV Corps, as a replacement for Rosecrans, writing, “Should there be a change in the chief command, there is no other man whose appointment would be so welcome to this army.” To Dana, a command change was becoming inevitable because “the soldiers have lost their attachment for (Rosecrans) since he failed them in the battle, and that they do not now cheer him until they are ordered to do so.”

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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. 329; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 762, 765-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 355; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 557-59; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 414-15; 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; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 174; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

The Siege of Chattanooga Begins

September 23, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland continued building defenses in Chattanooga while General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee began laying siege.

Generals Bragg and Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Rosecrans, having recently suffered his most serious defeat at Chickamauga, pulled his Federals into Chattanooga. In so doing, he gave up the strong high ground atop Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge overlooking the city. Bragg’s Confederates promptly took those positions, pointing cannon down on the Federals below and posting sharpshooters along the Tennessee River to cut off the supply lines and keep the enemy trapped within the city.

The only remaining supply depot for the Federals was at Bridgeport, Alabama, 27 miles downriver from Chattanooga. Supplies had to be transported overland from Bridgeport through the mountains on a trip that took between eight and 20 days. Rosecrans soon put his men on half-rations. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing the Federal army on behalf of the War Department, warned Washington that the troops could not survive past two weeks.

Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commanding a corps in Bragg’s army, urged Bragg to detach part of his force to confront Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville, about 100 miles northeast. This would not only prevent Burnside from reinforcing Rosecrans, but it could also result in the Confederates regaining eastern Tennessee.

Longstreet then proposed that Bragg’s remaining force cross the Tennessee River, flank Rosecrans, and force his surrender. To Longstreet’s dismay, Bragg instead decided to use his whole army to besiege the Federals. This would take time, which was exactly what the Federal high command needed to rescue Rosecrans’s army.

Rosecrans telegraphed his superiors on the 23rd, “We hold this point, and cannot be dislodged except by very superior numbers.” He asked for “all reinforcements you can send hurried up.” President Abraham Lincoln had urged Burnside to reinforce Rosecrans, but Burnside seemed unable to move any time soon.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck asked Major General Ulysses S. Grant to send part of his Army of the Tennessee under Major General William T. Sherman to Chattanooga, but that would take time because Sherman’s men needed to repair the damaged Memphis & Charleston Railroad as they went so they could supply themselves along the way. The only other viable source for reinforcement came from Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac.

Meade attended a meeting at Washington with Lincoln, and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Halleck. Meade, expecting to be admonished for not confronting General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia fast enough, told his superiors that if they were not satisfied with him, they could accept his resignation. Halleck replied that he had no doubt Meade would rejoice at being removed, but he would have no such luck.

Lincoln explained that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss whether part of Meade’s army could be detached to rescue Rosecrans’s army trapped in Chattanooga. Stanton suggested transferring 30,000 troops. Meade listed several reasons why he objected to such a plan, including the fact that he needed all available men for an offensive he planned to launch soon. The meeting ended at 1 p.m., with Lincoln and Halleck rejecting Stanton’s idea and Meade returning to his headquarters.

Later that night, Stanton summoned Lincoln, Halleck, Secretary of State William H. Seward, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, and other War Department officials to another meeting that eventually ran into the next morning. After consulting with railroad officials, Stanton unveiled a detailed plan to pull troops from Meade’s army and send them to Chattanooga via the commandeered railroad system.

Lincoln and Halleck opposed the plan because it would leave Meade unable to confront Lee in northern Virginia, and Rosecrans would be starved into surrender before the troops could rescue him. Stanton argued, “There is no reason to expect General Meade will attack Lee, although greatly superior in force, and his great numbers where they are are useless. In five days 30,000 could be put with Rosecrans.”

Seward sided with Stanton, who brought in Colonel D.C. McCallum, director of the Department of Military Railroads. McCallum confirmed Stanton’s remarkable claim that the troops could be transported to Chattanooga within five days. The troops would have to travel 1,233 railroad miles during that time, something that had never been tried in history. Lincoln, fearing yet another military disaster, said, “I will bet that if the order is given tonight, the troops could not be got to Washington in five days.”

But McCallum swore on his life that his calculations were correct. Lincoln finally approved the plan, but he would not agree to send 30,000 men as Stanton wanted. Instead, Stanton would transfer Meade’s two smallest corps–XI and XII–which totaled closer to 23,000 men.

Stanton, having gambled that Lincoln would approve, already summoned the presidents of three railroads to “come to Washington as quickly as you can” to work out the travel schedule. They met at noon to discuss how to handle the four railroad changes along the way. Stanton issued several orders assembling dozens of trains for the transfer.

Major General Joseph Hooker, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac, was recalled to active duty and placed in command of XI and XII corps. Hooker was given authority to commandeer all the railroads and equipment he needed for the transfer.

Halleck telegraphed Meade, “Please answer if you have positively determined to make any immediate movement. If not, prepare the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps to be sent to Washington, as soon as cars can be sent to you. The troops should have five days’ cooked provisions. Cars will probably be there by the morning of the 25th.”

Meade, who had left Washington thinking that Lincoln and Halleck rejected detaching troops from his army, asked for confirmation after receiving this message. Halleck replied by ordering that “Eleventh and Twelfth Corps be immediately prepared to be sent to Washington, as conditionally ordered before.”

Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XII Corps was stationed on Meade’s front line, in view of the Confederate army. Meade directed Major General John Newton’s I Corps to replace Slocum’s troops. Meade told Newton, “It is important that this should be done with the utmost dispatch, and that the movement and relief of the Twelfth Corps should be effected without the knowledge of the enemy so far as it is practicable to accomplish it.”

As Newton’s Federals moved, they intercepted a Confederate message stating, “Camps on Culpeper and Stevensburg Road, to the right of Pony Mountain, have disappeared within the last two hours. Infantry can be seen moving toward Stevensburg. A few wagons also moving in that direction.” However, the Confederates did not know the reason for the movement. Most of Slocum’s men reached Brandy Station by 5 p.m., with most of Newton’s men taking their place at the front.

Hooker issued orders leaving the command structures of XI and XII corps intact. He also directed the troops to move with five days’ cooked rations, and he instructed, “Have the baggage reduced (to) minimum limit, leave with 200 rounds of ammunition for the artillery and 40 for the infantry… Officers must reduce their horses to the smallest limit.”

Slocum had been one of Hooker’s harshest critics after the Federal defeat at Chancellorsville. When he learned that Hooker would be his superior for this operation, he immediately protested to Lincoln. Explaining that he had vowed never to serve under Hooker again, Slocum wrote:

“My opinion of General Hooker both as an officer and a gentleman is too well known to make it necessary for me to refer to it in this communication. The public service cannot be promoted by placing under his command an officer who has so little confidence in his ability as I have. Our relations are such that it would be degrading in me to accept any position under him. I have therefore to respectfully tender the resignation of my commission as Major-General of Volunteers.”

Unwilling to accept the resignation of such a valuable officer, Lincoln pledged to keep Hooker at a respectable distance from Slocum while everybody scrambled to hurry the reinforcements to Chattanooga in record time.

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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. 329; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9716; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 760, 763-65, 782; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 353-54; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 557-59; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 78-79, 101-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 413-14; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 675; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 137-38

The Battle of Chickamauga: Aftermath

September 21, 1863 – The Federal Army of the Cumberland retreated into Chattanooga after its disastrous defeat at Chickamauga, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee cautiously pursued.

By the morning of the 21st, five Federal divisions under Major General George H. Thomas had fallen back to defensive positions at Rossville Gap, while the rest of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal army withdrew into Chattanooga. Thomas held this line all day, awaiting another Confederate attack.

President Abraham Lincoln, who had received a message describing the defeat late the night before, woke John Hay, his private secretary, early this morning and said, “Well, Rosecrans has been whipped, as I feared. I have feared it for several days. I believe I feel trouble in the air before it comes.” The president grieved not only the defeat but the death of his brother-in-law, Confederate Brigadier General Ben Hardin Helm, who commanded the division that included the “Orphan Brigade.”

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

Rosecrans sent a disheartening message that morning: “Our loss is heavy and our troops worn down… We have no certainty of holding our position here.” Lincoln ordered Major General Ambrose E. Burnside to lead his Army of the Ohio out of Knoxville to reinforce the Federals at Chattanooga. He then wrote Rosecrans, “Be of good cheer. We have unabated confidence in you, and in your soldiers and officers… save your army by taking strong positions until Burnside joins you, when, I hope, you can turn the tide.”

General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, spent most of the day dispatching scouts to pinpoint the Federals’ location. After determining that two major forces were at Rossville and Chattanooga, Lieutenant General James Longstreet suggested that the Confederates should either move northeast to prevent Burnside from reaching Rosecrans, or attack Rosecrans while he was still demoralized.

Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry ascended Missionary Ridge and observed the Federals below. Forrest was convinced that they were disorganized and vulnerable. He wrote Bragg urging him to quickly send the infantry to finish Rosecrans off, as “Every hour is worth a thousand men.” When Bragg did not respond, Forrest rode to his headquarters to plead his case.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Bragg refused to renew the attack because he had lost 30 percent of his men, including 10 generals. Half his artillery horses were dead, and a forward movement would pull the army too far from the railroad, which was needed to resupply his army. Forrest said, “General Bragg, we can get all the supplies our army needs in Chattanooga.” But Bragg still refused. The Confederate army was almost just as demoralized in victory as the Federal army was in defeat. Forrest stormed off, asking, “What does he fight battles for?”

Around 9 p.m., Thomas addressed a potential threat to his flanks by pulling his forces back into Chattanooga to join the rest of Rosecrans’s army. Lincoln wrote Rosecrans asking him to “relieve my anxiety as to the position and condition of your army.” Rosecrans answered the next morning: “We have fought a most sanguinary battle against vastly superior numbers. Longstreet is here, and probably (Richard) Ewell (from Virginia), and a force is coming from Charleston.” He was right about Longstreet, but rumors about Ewell and troops from Charleston were false.

Rosecrans asserted that while his army had suffered great losses, his men “have inflicted equal injury upon the enemy. The mass of this army is intact and in good spirits. Disaster not as great as I anticipated… Our position is a strong one. Think we can hold out several days, and if re-enforcements come up soon everything will come out right.” He also stated, “We are about 30,000 brave and determined men, but our fate is in the hands of God, in whom I hope.”

Lincoln began realizing that Rosecrans’s situation was not as hopeless as initially feared. He told General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “If he can only maintain his position, without (doing anything) more, the rebellion can only eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals.”

That day, Major General Ulysses S. Grant received Halleck’s message from the 15th ordering him to send some of Major General William T. Sherman’s men to Chattanooga, adding, “Urge Sherman to act with all possible promptness.” Grant wrote Sherman at Vicksburg, “Please order at once one division of your army corps to proceed to re-enforce Rosecrans, moving from here by brigades as fast as transportation can be had.” Grant added another division along with one from Major General James B. McPherson, and placed all three under Sherman’s direct command.

Bragg decided that rather than directly attacking Rosecrans’s Federals, he would put them under siege. He began arranging for his men to occupy Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, where they could control the flow of supplies into the city and starve the Federals into surrender. Rosecrans risked destruction if he tried pulling his army out of Chattanooga, so he directed his men to build defenses and waited for reinforcements to help him fight his way out.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 137-38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 328-29; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9705; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 759-60, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 353; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 557-59; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 412-13; 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. 674; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

The Battle of Chickamauga: Day Two

September 20, 1863 – The terrible battle in northwestern Georgia entered its second day and threatened to result in Federal disaster.

As the day began, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was still situated on a line running from north (left) to south (right). Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the army, placed most of his strength on the left to block the roads leading to Chattanooga. Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps and several supporting divisions held the left near the Kelly house.

General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee held a line roughly parallel to the Federals, with the right (north) wing led by Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk and the left (south) wing led by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Bragg expected Polk to assault the Federal left at dawn, with the rest of the army attacking en echelon from right to left.

Lieutenant General D.H. Hill’s Confederate corps, now part of Polk’s wing, was to begin the attack. But Hill did not know about any of this until a courier delivered Bragg’s orders to him that morning. Hill read the orders and protested that he could not get his men into assault positions “for an hour or more.” Bragg arrived on the scene and berated both Polk and Hill for the delay.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The attack finally began at 9 a.m., but the Confederates could not break the strong defenses that Thomas’s Federals had built overnight. Frustrated by Polk’s delay, Bragg canceled the echelon attack and instead ordered Longstreet’s left wing to assault the Federal center. Heavy woods, rough terrain, and piecemeal troop deployment resulted in many small, independent battles opening all along the line.

Confederates charged the Federal center some time after 9 a.m., but Federals on either flank helped push them back. Around 10:30 a.m., Rosecrans received word that a gap had formed in his center, between the divisions of Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood and Major General Joseph J. Reynolds. This “gap” was actually held by Brigadier General John M. Brannan’s division, but Rosecrans could not see it through the dense woods.

At 10:55 a.m., Wood received an order from Rosecrans’s headquarters: “The general commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible, and support him. Respectfully, &c. Frank S. Bond, Major and Aide-de-Camp.” This contradicted itself because it directed Wood to move closer to Reynolds’s men on the left but also to move behind Reynolds in support. It also bypassed Wood’s corps commander, Major General Thomas L. Crittenden, in the chain of command.

Wood quickly decided to support Reynolds, thus moving his division out of the Federal line and opening a major gap between the Brotherton and Viniard houses that one of Thomas’s aides called “a chasm in the center.” Longstreet quickly exploited this error by sending 10,000 men through the quarter-mile opening just before noon. The men belonged to the divisions of Major Generals Thomas C. Hindman and John Bell Hood. Longstreet’s aggressiveness earned him the nickname “Old Bull of the Woods.”

The Confederates destroyed the two Federal corps (Major General Alexander McCook’s and Crittenden’s) in the center and on the right, overrunning Rosecrans’s headquarters and sending half the Federal army fleeing in retreat. A Federal general recalled, “All became confusion. No order could be heard above the tempest of battle. With a wild yell the Confederates swept on the far to their left. They seemed everywhere victorious.”

Rosecrans ordered a general retreat to Chattanooga, and Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing on behalf of the War Department, telegraphed at 4 p.m., “My report today is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a day in our history as Bull Run.” Dana described the scene:

“They came through with resistless impulse, composed of brigades formed in divisions. Before them our soldiers turned and fled. It was wholesale panic. Vain were all attempts to rally them… We have lost heavily in killed today. The total of our killed, wounded, and prisoners can hardly be less than 20,000, and may be much more… Enemy not yet arrived before Chattanooga. Preparations making to resist his entrance for a time.”

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

But as the Federal center and right dissolved, the left held firm. Thomas formed a defense line on Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge west of the hill. All units that had not been routed assembled on this line and repelled attacks from four of Longstreet’s divisions; Longstreet later estimated that he attacked the line 25 times without success.

Longstreet prepared to shift his forces and attack Thomas’s rear when Major General Gordon Granger, without orders, moved toward the sound of gunfire and brought up Brigadier General James Steedman’s division from his Reserve Corps to block the maneuver around 2:30 p.m.

Rosecrans dispatched his chief of staff, Brigadier General James A. Garfield, to prepare defenses at Chattanooga. When Garfield told Thomas that Rosecrans called for his “retiring to a position in the rear,” Thomas said, “It will ruin the army to withdraw it now. This position must be held until night.” Garfield informed Rosecrans that Thomas remained “standing like a rock.” Northern newspapers soon nicknamed Thomas “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

Thomas’s Federals making a stand | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As darkness approached and Confederate pressure intensified, Thomas began withdrawing his forces one unit at a time. The movement took two hours. The Federals pulled back through McFarland’s Gap to Rossville, where they held the mountain gaps and blocked any Confederate advance on Chattanooga. Three of Granger’s regiments (the 21st and 89th Ohio, and the 22nd Michigan) remained on the defense line, with orders to defend it with their bayonets after running out of ammunition. They held until the rest of the troops escaped, and then they surrendered.

This was the most terrible battle ever fought in the Western Theater, as both commanders lost nearly 30 percent of their armies in the two-day struggle. The Federals sustained 16,170 total casualties (1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded and 4,757 missing), including seven brigade commanders, from about 58,000 effectives. Rosecrans wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that night, “We have met with a serious disaster; extent not yet ascertained. Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our center, and scattered troops there.”

Garfield met with Thomas at Rossville and reported to Rosecrans that “our men not only held their ground, but in many points drove the enemy splendidly. Longstreet’s Virginians have got their bellies full. I believe we can whip them tomorrow. I believe we can now crown the whole battle with victory.” But Rosecrans, exhausted physically and mentally, remained in Chattanooga and conceded defeat.

The Confederates lost 18,454 (2,312 killed, 14,674 wounded and 1,468 missing), including nine division and two brigade commanders, from about 66,000 men. Bragg reported capturing over 8,000 prisoners, 51 guns with 2,381 artillery rounds, and 23,281 small arms with over 135,000 rifle rounds. This was the largest arms seizure on a battlefield during the war.

While this was a major Confederate victory, Thomas saved the Federal army from complete destruction. Also, Bragg did not receive definitive reports on the Federal rout and thus did not order a pursuit. When a Confederate soldier who had escaped capture told Bragg that the Federals were in full retreat, Bragg asked, “Do you know what a retreat looks like?” The solder said, “I ought to, General; I’ve been with you during your whole campaign.”

Although Bragg missed an opportunity to destroy Rosecrans’s army, he had handed the Federals a disastrous defeat, which he hoped would lead to regaining Chattanooga and eventually all of Tennessee. Nevertheless, Hill later wrote:

“It seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga… He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope. That ‘barren victory’ sealed the fate of the Confederacy.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 136-38; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 426-27; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 841-42; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 78-79; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 327; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 736, 747-48, 754, 756, 758, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 352; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 319; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55-73; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 67-69, 220-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 411-12; 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. 673-74; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-38, 370; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642

Bragg Looks to Attack in Northern Georgia

September 12, 1863 – Confederate reinforcements began heading to the Army of Tennessee, while General Braxton Bragg missed two prime opportunities to defeat the Federal Army of the Cumberland outside Chattanooga.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, directed his quartermaster to prepare for the transfer of two veteran divisions under Lieutenant General James Longstreet–those of Major Generals John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws–to reinforce Bragg’s army in northwestern Georgia. These 12,000 men began boarding trains on the 8th, the day before the fall of Chattanooga.

The boarding continued into the 9th, when the New York Herald published an article revealing the secret plan to reinforce Bragg with Longstreet’s men. With most of the men already on their way, the operation continued despite it no longer being a secret. Lee told Longstreet before he left, “General, you must beat those people out there.” Longstreet replied that the Federals “shall be beaten if I live.”

Due to the recent fall of Knoxville, Longstreet’s Confederates had to travel 900 miles, through the Carolinas and up through Atlanta on as many as 10 different railroad lines, to get to the Army of Tennessee, which was just 550 miles away. The journey would take over a week.

Meanwhile, Major General William S. Rosecrans directed his Federal Army of the Cumberland to advance into northwestern Georgia and hunt down Bragg’s supposedly demoralized army. The Federals were spread out among the mountains and rugged terrain around Chattanooga:

  • Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s XXI Corps comprised the army’s left flank, which was anchored at Chattanooga
  • Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps comprised the army’s right flank, which was isolated several miles south around Alpine, Georgia, near the Alabama state line
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps held the center, which was also isolated as it moved east through Stevens’s Gap in Lookout Mountain
  • Thomas’s lead division under Major General James S. Negley was far ahead of the rest of the corps, moving east through McLemore’s Cove and heading for Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain

The two wings of Rosecrans’s army were separated by 45 miles, with Thomas halfway between them.

Bragg hoped to take advantage of Rosecrans’s sprawl by destroying Negley’s division and then attacking XIV Corps before it could be reinforced. He assigned two divisions–Major General Patrick Cleburne’s under Lieutenant General D.H. Hill and Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s under Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk–to the mission. Cleburne was to attack the Federal front as it reached Dug Gap, and Hindman was to move southwest, assault Negley’s flank at Davis’s Crossroads in McLemore’s Cove, and cut him off from the rest of Thomas’s corps.

Hindman received the orders on the night of the 9th and put his men in motion. Cleburne was sick, and when the orders finally reached Hill early on the 10th, he gave several reasons why he could not comply. Bragg ordered Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner (recently arrived after abandoning Knoxville) to advance instead of Hill, but when Buckner met with Hindman, they both agreed not to attack because they incorrectly believed that Negley was creating a diversion for an attack on La Fayette, farther east.

Bragg sent another order for Hindman to attack, but it arrived too late for Hindman to act on the 10th, so he planned to comply the next day. Early on the 11th, scouts reported to Bragg that rumors of a Federal attack on La Fayette were unfounded because McCook and Thomas were still too far apart from each other. Bragg then reiterated his orders for Hindman to attack, once again supported by Cleburne rather than Buckner.

By the time that Hindman cautiously advanced, another Federal division had come up to support Negley. As skirmishing broke out, the Federals fell back past Davis’s Crossroads, over Chickamauga Creek, and through Stevens’s Gap, their only escape route. There they formed a defensive line. Thomas reported, “All information goes to confirm that a large part of Bragg’s army is opposed to Negley.”

Early on the 12th, Thomas informed Rosecrans that he would bring the rest of his corps up to support the new defense line. Guessing that most of Bragg’s army was around La Fayette, east of Stevens’s Gap, Thomas stated, “If a force could be thrown in from Chattanooga in his rear, it would be difficult for him to escape.” Rosecrans, confident the Confederates were withdrawing from La Fayette toward Rome, replied:

“Your dispatches of 10:30 last night and again of 4 this morning have been received. After maturely weighing the notes, the general commanding is induced to think that General Negley withdrew more through prudence than compulsion. He trusts that our loss is not serious.”

Rosecrans did not seem to understand that his army was in potential danger. Thomas confided in his staff, “Nothing but stupendous blunders on the part of Bragg can save our army from total defeat. I have ordered Negley to fall back from McLemore’s Cove, and I believe we may be able to save this corps. But Bragg is also in position to strike McCook and Crittenden before they have a chance to extricate themselves.”

Major General Philip Sheridan, commanding a division in McCook’s isolated corps at Alpine, told a fellow officer, “This is all wrong. We have no business here, we ought to be in Chattanooga.” Crittenden’s corps advanced south from Chattanooga and occupied Lee and Gordon’s Mill, with Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s division ahead of the rest of the corps near Ringgold.

Bragg’s opportunity to destroy Negley was lost, but now he saw a new opportunity with Wood just 15 miles from his La Fayette headquarters. Bragg ordered Polk to attack, but Polk’s Confederates got lost along the way, giving Crittenden enough time to bring the rest of his corps up to within supporting distance of Wood.

Polk then decided that he was outnumbered, even though Crittenden had just three divisions to his four. This second missed opportunity infuriated Bragg; his corps commanders were likewise enraged by Bragg issuing orders that were “impossible” to carry out.

On the Federal side, Crittenden had pulled his corps together not because he feared an attack, but because he was poised to join the rest of the army in pursuing what many believed to be a demoralized army in retreat. Crittenden wrote Brigadier General James A. Garfield, Rosecrans’s chief of staff, “It has always been the plan of the enemy to make stubborn defenses on a retreat. I do not yet believe that there is a strong force of infantry in the vicinity of La Fayette.”

However, Rosecrans finally began realizing that his army was dangerously separated in enemy country. He warned Crittenden that “there is far more probability of his attacking you than that he is running.”

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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 18820; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 324; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 708; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 348-49; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6381; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38-42; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 406-07; 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. 671; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 137-38