Tag Archives: Leonidas Polk

Sherman Targets Meridian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 358, 362; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 923; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 457-58

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The Army of Tennessee: Johnston Arrives

December 27, 1863 – General Joseph E. Johnston arrived at Dalton, Georgia, to assume command of the demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston left his Mississippi headquarters by train on the 22nd. He was replaced as commander of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana by Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk. From Enterprise, Mississippi, Polk issued his first general order, which renamed the command “The Department (and Army) of the Southwest.”

Polk’s new command consisted of just two infantry divisions under Major Generals William W. Loring and Samuel G. French, and two cavalry units under Major Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and Stephen D. Lee. These Confederates faced threats from superior Federal land and naval forces in Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico. As such, the Confederate government did not expect much success in this department.

They did, however, expect success from the once-proud Army of Tennessee. Although its interim commander, Lieutenant General William Hardee, had reported a massive lack of supplies and morale, President Jefferson Davis sent one of his own staff officers, Colonel Joseph C. Ives, to inspect the army on the president’s behalf and report on its condition. Ives, who had no practical military experience, concluded that the army was “still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige.”

Upon receiving this report, Davis wrote Johnston, “The intelligence recently received respecting the condition of that army is encouraging, and induces me to hope that you will soon be able to commence active operations against the enemy.” The president speculated that the defeat at Chattanooga was “not attributable to any general demoralization or reluctance to encounter the opposing army,” despite first-hand accounts to the contrary.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Noting that the latest report “presented a not unfavorable view of the material of command,” Davis continued downplaying Hardee’s somber assessment by asserting that the army had adequate artillery, and “the troops were tolerably provided with clothing.” With reinforcements and the return of stragglers, convalescents, and deserters, the army should be “perhaps exceeding in numbers than actually engaged in any battle on the Confederate side during the present war.”

Davis assured Johnston that “nothing shall be wanting on the part of the Government to aid you in your efforts to regain possession of the territory from which we have been driven.” However, Johnston needed to take the offensive quickly, “not only from the importance of restoring the prestige of the army, and averting the dispiriting and injurious results that must attend a season of inactivity, but from the necessity of reoccupying the country, upon the supplies of which the proper subsistence of our armies materially depends.”

Urging Johnston to “communicate fully and freely with me concerning your proposed plan of action,” Davis concluded by promising “that all the assistance and co-operation may be most advantageously afforded.”

Johnston arrived at Dalton on the 27th and saw a much different army than what Davis had described. After issuing an order proclaiming that he had officially taken command, Johnston inspected the camps and counted less than 37,000 effectives. According to Private Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee, the new commander–

“… found the army depleted by battles; and worse, yea, much worse, by desertion. The men were deserting by tens and hundreds, and I might say by thousands. The morale of the army was gone. The spirit of the soldiers was crushed, and their hope gone. The future was dark and gloomy. They would not answer roll call. Discipline had gone. A feeling of mistrust pervaded the whole army.”

The next day, Johnston reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “This army is now far from being in condition to resume the offensive. It is deficient in numbers, arms, subsistence stores, and field transportation.”

Seddon had authorized Johnston to commandeer the supplies of local farmers and governments for the army, but Johnston countered, “Let me remind you that I have little if any power to procure supplies for the army. The system established last summer deprives generals of any control over the officers of the quartermaster’s subsistence departments detailed to make purchases in different States.” Currently two officers were assigned to work with the states regarding supplies, “neither of whom owes me obedience.”

Johnston urged his superiors “to consider if the responsibility of keeping this army in condition to move and fight ought not to rest on the general, instead of being divided among a number of officers who have not been thought by the Government competent to high military grades.”

Regarding mobilization, Johnston stated, “I find the country unfit for military operations from the effect of heavy rains. Its condition prevents military exercises–most important means of discipline.” Besides, Johnston believed that Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Military Division of the Mississippi numbered at least 80,000 men, or more than double his total.

Nevertheless, Johnston set about changing what he could in the army. He immediately addressed the crisis of mass desertions by granting amnesty to any deserter voluntarily returning to the ranks. He then implemented a furlough system to further discourage absences without leave. From this point forward, anyone caught deserting would be shot. Johnston then saw to it that the men received their rations on time, including tobacco and whiskey twice a week. Private Watkins recalled:

“He allowed us what General (Braxton) Bragg had never allowed a mortal man–a furlough. He gave furloughs to one-third of his army at a time, until the whole had been furloughed. A new era had dawned; a new epoch had been dated. He passed through the ranks of the common soldier’s pride; he brought the manhood back to the private’s bosom; he changed the order of roll-call, standing guard, drill, and such nonsense as that. The revolution was complete. He was loved, respected, admired; yea, almost worshiped, by his troops. We soon got proud.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27-31; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 891; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 385-86; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 448-49; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

Chattanooga: Confederate Dissension Continues

October 9, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis held meetings with the top officers in the Army of Tennessee to try resolving the deep dissension among them.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army, despite laying siege to the Federals in Chattanooga, was vastly demoralized. Davis had sent Colonel James Chesnut to assess the army’s condition, and when the officers presented Chesnut with a petition asking for Davis to remove Bragg as commander, Chesnut recommended that Davis come to Chattanooga and deal with the problem in person.

Davis left Richmond on the 6th with hopes “to be serviceable in harmonizing some of the difficulties” within the army. He traveled aboard a special train with his secretary Burton Harrison, Colonels William P. Johnston and Custis Lee (sons of Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee), and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, who had not been reassigned since surrendering Vicksburg in July.

The travelers arrived in Atlanta on the 8th. The next morning, Davis delivered a speech that was very well received, in which he urged the people to continue the fight for independence. The train continued to Marietta, where Davis was greeted by more cheers as he briefly praised Georgia’s role in the war.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Soldiers cheered and bands played as the train pulled in to Chickamauga Station. Davis mounted a horse as the crowd hollered, “Speech!” Davis responded, “Man never spoke as you did on the field of Chickamauga, and in your presence I dare not speak. Yours is the voice that will win the independence of your country and strike terror to the heart of a ruthless foe.”

Davis and his group rode into Bragg’s headquarters on Missionary Ridge on the night of the 9th and had a private conversation with him. Bragg blamed his subordinates for the army’s troubles and declined Davis’s request to replace Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk with Pemberton. He then refused to reinstate Polk and offered to resign. Davis would not accept Bragg’s resignation, mainly because Bragg was the only Confederate general to have won a major victory since Chancellorsville, five months ago.

Davis and Bragg then held a council of war with Bragg’s corps commanders: James Longstreet, D.H. Hill, Simon B. Buckner, and Benjamin F. Cheatham (replacing Polk). They discussed the current military situation, and then Davis asked the men to assess Bragg’s performance. When no one spoke up, Davis insisted on a response. Longstreet finally said “that our commander could be of greater service elsewhere than at the head of the Army of Tennessee.” Davis asked the others if they agreed, and they did. The meeting ended awkwardly.

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

The next day, Davis met with Bragg again and inspected the army. Davis then met with Longstreet and asked if he would be willing to replace Bragg as army commander. Longstreet replied, “In my judgment, our last opportunity was gone when we failed to follow the success at Chickamauga, and capture or disperse the Union army, and it could not be just to the service or myself to call me to a position of such responsibility.”

Longstreet suggested that General Joseph E. Johnston take command of the army, but Davis did not get along with Johnston and blamed him for losing Vicksburg. Moreover, Johnston had twice declined to take command because he believed Bragg was the better choice. Davis also did not want to consider General P.G.T. Beauregard, whom he also disliked. Longstreet offered to resign, but Davis refused.

Besides Longstreet, Johnston, or Beauregard, Davis did not have many more options. Lieutenant General William Hardee, currently commanding in Alabama, was the other most qualified man to replace Bragg, but he also turned down the job. Davis even considered General Robert E. Lee, but Lee expressed a desire to stay with his army in Virginia. This left Davis with Bragg’s corps commanders, all of whom lacked qualifications.

After considering the matter for three days, Davis approved a major organizational shift in the Army of Tennessee. He wrote Bragg, “Regretting that the expectations which induced the assignment of that gallant officer to this army have not been realized, you are authorized to relieve Lieutenant General D.H. Hill from further duty with your command.”

Bragg suspended Hill, once a good friend but now a bitter adversary, and replaced him with Major General John C. Breckinridge. Hill demanded a written explanation why he was being removed, but Bragg simply told him that Davis made the decision, not him. Hill later demanded a court of inquiry to investigate his conduct, but Davis refused.

Davis later authorized Bragg and Johnston to trade the commands of Hardee and Polk. Polk would assume Hardee’s mostly administrative role as camp recruiter and instructor at Demopolis, Alabama; Hardee would assume command of Polk’s corps in Bragg’s army. Thus, another of Bragg’s antagonists was removed from his army. The War Department later dropped Bragg’s charges of disobedience and dereliction of duty against Polk.

Next, Davis met with Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had threatened to kill Bragg and asked Davis to give him an independent command. Davis granted Forrest’s request, giving him a cavalry force in northern Mississippi, where he would have authority “to raise and organize as many troops for the Confederate service as he finds practicable.” Davis recommended that Congress promote Forrest to major general and instructed Bragg to send him two cavalry battalions and a battery.

Bragg dispatched another adversary by relieving Buckner of corps command. The men had exchanged hostile words before Bragg removed him. Although Buckner had commanded the separate Department of East Tennessee, Bragg argued that he had the authority to remove him because that department had been absorbed by the Army of Tennessee and converted into “Buckner’s Corps.” The corps was disbanded upon Buckner’s removal.

Davis addressed the Army of Tennessee as his inspection ended. He applauded the troops for “the glorious victory on the field of Chickamauga,” and noted the importance of–

“… devotion, sacrifice, and harmony… Though you have done much, very much yet remains to be done. Behind you is a people providing for your support and depending on you for protection. Before you is a country devastated by your ruthless invader…”

Davis admonished the troops for criticizing Bragg, warning, “He who sows the seeds of discontent and distrust prepares for a harvest of slaughter and defeat.” He declared, “To zeal you have added gallantry; to gallantry energy; to energy, fortitude. Crown these with harmony, due subordination, and cheerful support of lawful authority that the measure of your duty may be full.” He ended by praying “that our Heavenly Father may cover you with the shield of his protection in the hours of battle, and endow you with the virtues which will close your trials in victory complete.”

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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. 332-33, 336-37; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 815-20; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 358-60, 363, 366; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 418-22, 425, 427; 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; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

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

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

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