Tag Archives: Gordon Granger

Eastern Tennessee: The Dandridge Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

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Eastern Tennessee: Winter Sets In

December 19, 1863 – Federal forces were reluctant to hunt down the Confederates in such horrible weather, and Lieutenant General James Longstreet looked to punish subordinates for the failed Knoxville campaign.

After the clash at Bean’s Station, the Federals fell back and formed a defensive line between Bean’s and Rutledge. Major General John G. Parke, commanding the Federal expedition from Rutledge, sent more troops from his IX Corps to support this new line. Longstreet advanced, still hoping to cut the Federals off from Knoxville and destroy them so his Confederates could subsist in eastern Tennessee for the winter unmolested.

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

Longstreet dispatched Major General Micah Jenkins’s division to probe the Federal defenses while Major General William T. Martin’s cavalry worked its way around the Federal right. Jenkins reported that the enemy right was vulnerable to an attack, but Longstreet would not authorize a full-scale assault because he feared that both IX and XXIII corps from the Army of the Ohio had arrived on the field. Meanwhile, Martin’s troopers rode around the right, and according to Martin:

“A high hill was gained from which my artillery could enfilade the enemy’s breastworks. With great labor the guns were placed in position and rapidly and effectively served. My guns were in sight of, and only 400 or 500 yards from, our infantry skirmishers, who it was expected would attack in front. My fire was continued for 1 1/2 hours, and the enemy began to retire, but was able to detach a large force to hold my men in check, as he was not pressed in front.”

Martin believed that had Jenkins launched a frontal attack, his troopers could have flanked and routed the Federals. He concluded, “With concert of action, great damage could have been done the enemy on this day.” The Federals continued their fighting retreat, joining the rest of the expeditionary force at Rutledge on the 16th. From there, they fell back to Blain’s Crossroads, about 15 miles from Knoxville. Longstreet continued pursuing, but his men were hampered by freezing rain and mud.

Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio from Knoxville, informed Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, that he would “take up the most advantageous position and accept battle.” Grant told Foster to drive Longstreet “as far to the east as possible.” Foster’s plan to stay on the defensive forced Grant to devote resources to eastern Tennessee that could have otherwise been used to invade Georgia and the Deep South.

For Longstreet, the fighting in mid-December amounted to an empty victory. The Federals had been driven back toward Knoxville, but Longstreet could do little more now that they held strong defensive positions with superior numbers. Even worse, the Confederates lacked adequate supplies, and winter was approaching in the forbidding country of eastern Tennessee. One of Longstreet’s aides, Moxley Sorrel, wrote, “It is distressing in the extreme that we should lose so great an opportunity to lift up our poor country, merely for the lack of shoes and clothing for our men.”

All told, the Knoxville campaign was a dismal failure for the Confederacy, with Longstreet losing 1,296 men and the Federals losing 681. As criticism of Longstreet’s performance mounted, he turned to his subordinates for blame. He relieved one of his division commanders (and former close friend), Major General Lafayette McLaws, because “throughout the campaign on which we are engaged you have exhibited a want of confidence in the efforts and plans which the commanding general has thought proper to adopt, and he is apprehensive that this feeling will extend more or less to the troops under your command.”

Longstreet also accused Brigadier General Evander Law of being too slow in leading his brigade at Bean’s Station on the 14th. Law responded by submitting his resignation, which Longstreet “cheerfully granted.” Longstreet dismissed another brigade commander, Brigadier General Jerome Robertson, for alleged slowness at Bean’s Station. Robertson had been accused by Jenkins, his division commander, of “conduct highly prejudicial to good order and military discipline.”

Finally, Longstreet lashed out at Richmond for its lack of support:

“I am here without authority to order courts-martial or any other authority which is necessary to a separate command. I am entirely cut off from communication with General (Braxton) Bragg’s army, and cannot get from those headquarters orders for courts, boards of examination, or anything else. I desire to be assigned as part of some other officer’s command, whom I may reach with less trouble and in less time.”

In fact, Longstreet was so out of touch with Bragg’s Army of Tennessee that he did not know that Bragg had been removed as commander over two weeks earlier. Longstreet wrote that if Richmond could not grant his request, “it will give me much pleasure to relinquish” his command. Ultimately, Longstreet’s offer to resign was rejected, and the charges against McLaws, Law, and Robertson were dropped. With his command structure crippled and his freezing men short on supplies, Longstreet took up winter quarters between Russellville and Morristown. His artillery chief, Colonel E. Porter Alexander, later wrote:

“It was on the southern and western slope of extensive hills, covered with a virgin forest of oak and hickory, and with a fine mountain stream close by, a few hundred yards east of the road between the two towns. A better site could not be desired, and the very next day, every mess in camp, including our own, began work on a hut, of some sort, according to its own ideas.”

Grant did not want Foster to allow Longstreet to settle in for the winter, but Foster informed Grant that his men were also short on supplies: “The men are suffering for want of shoes and clothing. Ammunition is also becoming scarce; of some arms entirely expended.” To accomplish the “sharp work” of driving Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee, Foster needed “5,000 pairs of shoes, 10,000 pairs of socks, 5,000 shirts, 5,000 blouses, 10,000 overcoats, 10,000 shelter tents, 1,000,000 rifle cartridges,” and other supplies.

Meanwhile, the Federals endured hardships of their own. Major General Gordon Granger, whose IV Corps had been detached from Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland to reinforce Foster at Knoxville, complained to Thomas:

“The suffering and privations now being undergone by our troops are most cruel, I assure you. We have been now nearly a month without tents and clothing, and from the limited quantity of our transportation–only one wagon to a regiment–and being obliged to live upon the country, our rations have been very irregular and limited… many of the command are falling sick with pneumonia, diarrhea, &c… The stock of medicines and stationary in Knoxville is entirely exhausted…”

The lack of food compelled Federals to raid private homes and businesses, and as Provost Marshal General S.P. Carter reported, “Many of the citizens thus troubled are as loyal and patriotic as the soldiers of the United States Army, and in some cases have been stripped of their all by men wearing the garb of Federal soldiers.”

Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps, explained:

“The want most felt was that of clothing and shoes. The supply of these had run very low by the time (former army commander Ambrose) Burnside had marched through Kentucky and Tennessee to Knoxville, and almost none had been received since. Many of the soldiers were literally in rags, and none were prepared for winter when Longstreet interrupted all communication with the base of supplies. Their shoes were worn out, and this, even more than their raggedness, made winter marching out of the question. The barefooted men had to be left behind, and of those who started the more poorly shod would straggle, no matter how good their own will was or how carefully the officers tried to enforce discipline and keep their men together.”

When Grant asked Foster for a progress report in late December, Foster replied, “The enemy is still in force; no engagement yet. A movement is in progress which will bring on a partial one soon. We want ammunition, and cannot fight a general engagement until supplied.” Grant angrily replied, “I will go to Knoxville in person immediately. If Longstreet is not driven from Tennessee soil, it shall not be my fault.”

In the meantime, Foster directed Cox to bring his corps to Strawberry Plains “for the purpose of constructing earth-works for the defense of the railway bridge and the ford in that vicinity.” There would be no offensive operations until next year.

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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. 352; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 51

Sherman “Rescues” Burnside at Knoxville

December 4, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals hurried from Chattanooga to aid the Federals at Knoxville, only to find that they were not in as desperate shape as anticipated.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, overall Federal commander in the Western Theater, had rushed Federals under Sherman on an 85-mile forced march to rescue Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio besieged in Knoxville. The siege had not been as destructive as the Confederates hoped, but by December it was starting to take its toll on the Federal defenders.

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

Sherman quickly assembled about 25,000 men from three different corps into a small army of relief. According to his orders, “The whole army will move direct on the enemy at Knoxville and fight them at the earliest moment.” Regarding ammunition, the men were to “use it with great prudence.” And, “If rations are not to be had, the men will cheerfully live on meal till their fellows in Knoxville are released from their imprisonment.”

The relief force arrived at the Hiwassee River on the 1st, poised to advance on Loudon and Knoxville the next day. Sherman wrote Grant, “Recollect that East Tennessee is my horror. That any military man should send a force into East Tennessee puzzles me. Burnside is there and must be relieved, but when relieved I want to get out, and he should come out too.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commanding the Confederate siege force, remained at Knoxville despite failing to capture Fort Sanders outside town. Longstreet hoped to lure as many Federals as possible away from the recently defeated Army of Tennessee regrouping at Dalton, Georgia. A captured Federal messenger indicated that Sherman was on his way with six divisions, giving the Federals 10 total divisions against Longstreet’s three.

Longstreet held a council of war to consider his next move. The Confederates would need to leave Knoxville before Sherman arrived, but Longstreet was unsure where to go. The Davis administration wanted him to return to the demoralized Army of Tennessee, but his men would have to move through the forbidding terrain of eastern Tennessee in freezing cold, all the while avoiding Sherman’s Federals heading his way.

It was ultimately decided to stay outside Knoxville until Sherman was upon them, and then withdraw northeast toward the Virginia border. Sherman’s men entered Loudon on the 3rd. That night, Longstreet’s 15,000 Confederates began preparing to move northeast to Greeneville. From there they could continue to either operate in eastern Tennessee or move northeast to rejoin General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

By the morning of the 4th, neither Burnside nor Sherman were aware that Longstreet had abandoned Knoxville, as messages and prisoners taken indicated that the siege was still on. A Federal inspector general reported, “Longstreet is yet at Knoxville. He assaulted Burnside on Sunday and was badly whipped… Longstreet is evidently badly puzzled.”

Sherman’s Federals reached the Tennessee River, but it had swelled too high for a crossing. Without an engineer to build a bridge, Sherman sent his pioneers to take apart houses in Morganton to lay a makeshift span. By the night of the 4th, Sherman was approaching Knoxville just as the last of Longstreet’s men were leaving. Longstreet’s artillery chief, Colonel E. Porter Alexander, recalled, “About sundown it began to rain cats & dogs.” He continued:

“It was a hard night’s march. Not that the distance covered was great, but the killing feature is perpetual halting and moving, and halting and moving, inseparable from either night marching or bad roads, and at its maximum when both fall together. It was quite cold too, and the officers were obliged to relax discipline, and let the men burn fence rails at will, whenever a regular rest was made… In spite of the rain they seemed to have no trouble in starting fires… We marched all night, and until about 11 o’clock on Saturday (the 5th), when we camped at Blain’s Crossroads, 18 miles from Knoxville.”

The half-hearted Confederate siege of Knoxville was over, and while Longstreet remained in Tennessee, the Federals now virtually controlled the rest of the state. Burnside learned of Longstreet’s withdrawal late on the 4th and dispatched 4,000 Federal cavalry troopers under Brigadier General James Shackelford in a weak pursuit.

As Sherman’s Federals continued their forced march on the 5th, one of Burnside’s aides, Colonel James L. Van Buren, found Sherman and informed him that Longstreet had fled with Federal cavalry giving chase. Sherman responded by writing, “I am here, and can bring 25,000 men into Knoxville tomorrow; but Longstreet having retreated, I feel disposed to stop, for a stern chase is a long one. We are all hearty but tired.”

Sherman and his staff arrived in Knoxville the next day and met Burnside at his headquarters. Sherman, whose troops had hurried to rescue Burnside’s army, was enraged upon learning that Burnside had not been in as grave danger as had been earlier reported. According to Sherman, Burnside had “a fine lot of cattle, which did not look much like starvation.”

Burnside and his staff were “domiciled in a large, fine mansion, looking very comfortable.” When Burnside invited Sherman to dinner, Sherman noted the “regular dining table, with clean tablecloth, dishes, knives, forks, spoons, etc., etc. I had seen nothing of this kind in my field experience, and could not help exclaiming that I thought ‘they were starving.’”

Burnside explained that reports of starvation had been exaggerated; Longstreet had never fully invested Knoxville, thus allowing him to keep his army well supplied. Sherman later wrote, “Had I known of this, I should not have hurried my men so fast; but until I reached Knoxville I thought his troops there were actually in danger of starvation.”

The generals toured the Knoxville defenses, which Sherman deemed “a wonderful production for the short time allowed in their selection of ground and construction of work. It seemed to me that they were nearly impregnable.” Having “rescued” Burnside, Sherman wanted to return to Chattanooga, but he needed Burnside’s permission as the ranking officer. Burnside agreed and issued a written declaration:

“I desire to express to you and your command my most hearty thanks and gratitude for your promptness in coming to our relief during the siege of Knoxville, and I am satisfied your approach served to raise the siege. The emergency having passed, I do not deem, for the present, any other portion of your command but the (IV) corps of General (Gordon) Granger necessary for operations in this section… I deem it advisable that all the troops now here, save those commanded by General Granger, should return at once to within supporting distance of the forces in front of (Braxton) Bragg’s army. In behalf of my command, I desire again to thank you and your command for the kindness you have done us.”

Granger had resisted going to Knoxville in the first place, and now Sherman would leave him there. Granger protested to Grant to no avail. Grant wanted Sherman to stay in the region longer to eventually confront Longstreet, but when he received word that Sherman was returning to Chattanooga, he did not object. Sherman’s “army of relief” arrived back in Chattanooga on the 19th.

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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. 349-50; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 862, 865-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 50-51, 420-21

The Battle of Fort Sanders

November 29, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s tentative Confederate siege of Knoxville climaxed with an assault on the nearly invulnerable Federal defenses. Continue reading

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 Battle of Chickamauga: Day One

September 19, 1863 – A terrible battle began in northwestern Georgia between General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee and Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland.

By the morning of the 19th, Rosecrans’s Federals held a line running roughly north to south (i.e., left to right), west of the advancing Confederates. Rosecrans still believed that most of Bragg’s army was east of the meandering Chickamauga Creek, but three-fourths of the Confederates had already crossed.

Conversely, Bragg still believed the Federal left flank was at Lee and Gordon’s Mill, but Rosecrans had extended his left with two divisions of Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps and two brigades of Major General Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps. Thus, the Federal line now stretched three and a half miles farther north and covered the path to Chattanooga.

Thomas sent troops forward to find the enemy, and as they groped through the dense, rolling forest, they clashed with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s dismounted Confederate cavalry. Fighting began between Reed’s Bridge and the La Fayette Road, and more units on both sides soon joined the fray.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The skirmish quickly escalated to a full-scale battle, with nearly every Federal and Confederate unit engaged by afternoon. The fight extended along a winding, three-mile front. Both sides surged back and forth throughout the day, as troops had trouble seeing and maneuvering among the thick woods around Chickamauga Creek.

The Confederates launched multiple assaults against the Federals’ left but could not pry them from their positions. After setting up headquarters at Alexander’s Bridge, Bragg deployed his men into the fight piecemeal rather than massing them for one overwhelming attack. Meanwhile, Rosecrans sent reinforcements to Thomas, thus weakening his center and right.

Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, accompanying the Federal army on behalf of the War Department, telegraphed at 4:30 p.m., “I do not yet dare to say our victory is complete, but it seems certain.” However, the Confederates opened gaps in the weak Federal center and right, and used these gaps to advance almost all the way to Rosecrans’s headquarters.

Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner’s Confederate corps attacked the Federal center, held by a division under Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood, Buckner’s childhood friend and West Point classmate. Counterattacks by Wood and Major General Philip Sheridan on the right pushed the Confederates back, as Dana telegraphed at 5:20 p.m.: “Now appears to be undecided contest, but later reports will enable us to understand more clearly.”

Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The fighting continued after sundown, with the troops using sounds and muzzle flashes to guide their aim. Consequently, many soldiers were hit by friendly fire. Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s Confederate division launched one last assault on the Federal left. It was repelled, and both sides disengaged for the night.

Bragg had narrowly missed breaking the Federal line and getting between Rosecrans and Chattanooga. The Federals still held all the main roads leading to the city, and while casualties were extreme, no advantage was gained by either side. During the fight, Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps continued arriving at Ringgold depot, about 20 miles away. They would be too late to join the fighting on this day.

The night turned cold as men on both sides slept on the ground without blankets. They also could not build fires or else they would be easy targets for sharpshooters. The Federals suffered worse because the Confederates held the Chickamauga, which they used for drinking water. Many soldiers groped through the darkness in search of wounded and missing comrades.

Rosecrans telegraphed Washington, “The army is in excellent condition and spirits, and by the blessing of Providence the defeat of the enemy will be total tomorrow.” President Abraham Lincoln, somehow reminded of Chancellorsville, did not share Rosecrans’s optimism.

Rosecrans held a council of war with his top commanders at the Glenn house. He suffered heavy losses and had few men left that had not yet seen action. But with Dana present, Rosecrans would not consider retreat. The officers agreed to assume the defensive and stand their ground the next day, unless Bragg withdrew, which he had done after Perryville and Stones River.

Thomas said that the left needed reinforcing. Rosecrans responded by placing six divisions on the left under Thomas’s command. McCook’s two divisions of XX Corps were moved north to link with Thomas, and Crittenden’s two divisions of XXI Corps were moved behind the line to support whatever sector was threatened most. Rosecrans directed the troops on the frontline to build log breastworks.

Bragg reported, “Night found us masters of the ground, after a series of very obstinate contests with largely superior numbers.” He held an informal council of war, where he divided his army into two wings:

  • Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk commanded the right (north) wing, which included his corps (less one division) and the corps of both Lieutenant General D.H. Hill and Major General William H.T. Walker
  • Longstreet commanded the left (south) wing, which included his arriving corps, Buckner’s corps, and Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s division of Polk’s corps

Hill, who did not attend the council of war because he got lost in the dark, was not informed of this change. Longstreet also got lost when Bragg did not send anyone to meet him at the train depot. He finally arrived at Bragg’s headquarters around midnight and received his orders.

Bragg expected Polk to renew the assault at dawn, with the rest of the army attacking en echelon from right to left, “to turn the enemy’s left, and by direct attack force him into McLemore’s Cove.” Bragg made no adjustments to his line, even after receiving reports that Rosecrans had strengthened his left.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 136-38; 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. 326; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 722-23, 725-27, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 351; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 45, 49-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 411; 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. 671-73; 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. 136-38

The Armies Concentrate in Northern Georgia

September 18, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans began concentrating his Federal Army of the Cumberland, and General Braxton Bragg continued looking for any opportunity to attack.

Generals Bragg and Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

From his La Fayette headquarters, Bragg did not know the exact location of the Federal army, but he did know that Federal forces were on his right (north), front (west), and left (southwest). Bragg and Lieutenant General D.H. Hill expected the Federals to attack from the southwest, but Rosecrans was instead starting to pull his dangerously spread-out army together.

Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps held the Federal right (southwestern) flank at Alpine. Unaware that Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps held McLemore’s Cove in the center, McCook directed his men on a 57-mile countermarch back over Lookout Mountain to join Thomas.

Rosecrans ordered Thomas to close within five miles of Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s XXI Corps, which held the left (northern) flank near Lee and Gordon’s Mill. From Washington, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant to send all available troops in his department from Corinth, Mississippi, to Tuscumbia, Alabama, so they could be ready to reinforce Rosecrans if needed.

Meanwhile, Bragg had been reinforced by troops from General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Mississippi, led by Major General William H.T. Walker. Bragg also had the former Army of East Tennessee, led by Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner. Bragg designated the commands of Walker and Buckner as corps within the Army of Tennessee.

In addition, Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s two Confederate divisions under Major Generals John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws continued moving via railroad to reinforce Bragg’s army. One of Hood’s brigades reached Atlanta, about 100 miles south of Bragg, on the 12th. But the remaining troops were strung out across the Carolinas and Georgia, and would not be available to Bragg for several more days.

On the 15th, Halleck informed Rosecrans that Longstreet would be reinforcing Bragg. He also told Rosecrans that he was pulling troops from Grant to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans notified Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville, that “the enemy, reinforced by Johnston and Longstreet from Virginia, doubtless intend us all the mischief in their power.”

Bragg held a council of war with his corps commanders (Buckner, Walker, and Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and D.H. Hill), where it was decided to cross Chickamauga Creek and move around Rosecrans’s left. This would cut the Federals off from their supply base at Chattanooga and force them to either fight or flee.

However, Bragg did not issue orders to move until a day later, and the orders only involved moving some units while keeping others on the defensive. No crossing of the Chickamauga was mentioned, nor were Longstreet’s reinforcements, which were now on their way to Ringgold.

Major General Gordon Granger, commanding the Federal reserve corps at Chattanooga, reported that at least two Confederate divisions had moved through Ringgold. Rosecrans set up headquarters at Lee and Gordon’s Mill, which became the new Federal left flank under Crittenden. He hurriedly began concentrating his forces along Chickamauga Creek, about 12 miles south of Chattanooga, to meet the threat. However, McCook was still trying to cross Lookout Mountain, and Thomas refused to close with Crittenden until McCook arrived to link with him.

McCook finally arrived at McLemore’s Cove on the 17th, after a grueling four-day march. He had been isolated from the rest of the Federal army during that time, but Bragg failed to capitalize on it. Thomas moved up to link with Crittenden’s right, and the Federal army was no longer in danger of being destroyed piecemeal. Rosecrans directed Granger to guard the road to Chattanooga at Rossville. That night, Rosecrans extended Crittenden’s left flank to guard against the flank attack that Bragg had planned.

Bragg’s army held a line running north (right) near Ringgold to south (left) near La Fayette. Most of the forces were south, under Hill. Polk held the north, with Buckner and Walker in between. Bragg ordered Buckner and Walker to shift right and reinforce Polk, and then he ordered this new force to cross Chickamauga Creek the next day.

Trains conveying Longstreet’s Confederates began arriving at Catoosa Station, near Ringgold. When Colonel Robert Minty of the Federal cavalry reported this to Crittenden, the general insisted, “Longstreet is in Virginia. The Rebel army is retreating, and are trying to get away some of their abandoned stores; they have nothing but dismounted cavalry in your front.” Unbeknownst to Crittenden, Federal troopers briefly skirmished with some of Hood’s Confederates in Ringgold.

By the 18th, Walker and Buckner were crossing the West Chickamauga Creek. The division of Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson, reinforced by Longstreet and Walker, was ordered to “sweep up the Chickamauga, toward Lee and Gordon’s Mills.” Federal cavalry challenged Johnson’s crossing at Reed’s Bridge, using their repeating carbines to hold the Confederates at bay.

Brigadier General John T. Wilder’s Federals crossed Alexander’s Bridge, upstream from Reed’s, and clashed with Walker’s vanguard. Wilder fell back across the bridge and destroyed it; the Federal actions at Reed’s and Alexander’s bridges delayed the advance of over 20,000 Confederates for several hours. Meanwhile, Buckner crossed and waited for Walker and Johnson to come up on his right.

Confederates under Hood and Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest arrived and pushed across the Chickamauga to join the others as the sun set. That night, Bragg ordered Polk’s corps to cross, with Hill’s corps shifting right to take Polk’s place. Just 9,000 Confederates were across the Chickamauga by sundown, but they continued crossing through the night until just three divisions remained at Ringgold. Bragg directed, “The movement will be executed with the utmost promptness, vigor and persistence.”

The steady arrival of Longstreet’s men would eventually give Bragg about 66,000 troops, and he would outnumber Rosecrans’s 58,000 Federals. Bragg ordered Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to hold Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain against a possible flank attack on the Confederates’ extreme left. By day’s end, all the Federals had concentrated to the north, and Wheeler was called up to take Hill’s place on the line near La Fayette.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans could see the dust clouds formed by marching Confederates to his left. He responded by moving Thomas around Crittenden to the north to extend the left flank. Thomas took up a line directly in the path of Bragg’s intended march the next day. The armies formed along the creek the local Cherokee called Chickamauga, which loosely translated to “River of Death.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 78-79; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18864; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 325-26; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 350-51; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 556-57; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 42-45; 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. 408-10; 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. 136-38