Tag Archives: Nathan Bedford Forrest

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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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: Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 137-38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 328-29; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9705; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 759-60, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 353; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 557-59; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 412-13; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 674; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

The Battle of Chickamauga: Day 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

Middle Tennessee: The Spring Hill Engagement

March 5, 1863 – As the Armies of Tennessee and the Cumberland remained relatively stationary in Middle Tennessee, smaller forces clashed in an engagement at nearby Spring Hill.

Major General William S. Rosecrans had not moved his Federal Army of the Cumberland since taking Murfreesboro after the Battle of Stones River in January. To coax him into action, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wired him on the 1st: “There is a vacant major generalcy in the Regular Army, and I am authorized to say that it will be given to the general in the field who first wins an important and decisive victory.”

This did not have the intended effect, as Rosecrans replied, “As an officer and a citizen, I feel degraded to see such auctioneering of honor. Have we a general who would fight for his own personal benefit, when he would not for honor and country? He would come by his commission basely in that case, and deserve to be despised by men of honor.”

Though the main armies in Middle Tennessee showed little movement, detachments on both sides were active. This included a clash at Milton, about 15 miles northeast of Murfreesboro, in which a Federal force severely repelled an attack from Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Also, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry (now part of Major General Earl Van Dorn’s 6,000-man cavalry force) rode north on the Columbia Pike, across the Duck River toward Franklin, south of Nashville. By the 4th, Forrest had reached Thompson’s Point, just before Spring Hill.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans dispatched about 3,000 Federal troops under Colonel John Coburn to join General Philip Sheridan at Spring Hill and reconnoiter General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. As Coburn moved south on the Columbia Pike, his men discovered “a considerable force of cavalry,” near Spring Hill, which was Van Dorn’s vanguard.

Both sides began trading artillery fire, and when the Confederates tried flanking Coburn, the Federals fell back under cover of their guns. A scout informed Coburn that no more than 1,000 troopers opposed him, so Coburn decided to hold his ground. During the night, the rest of Van Dorn’s 6,000 troopers came up, outnumbering the Federals two-to-one.

The next morning, Coburn was told that Van Dorn’s whole force now opposed him, but his scouts found nothing in the Federal front. So Coburn continued moving south on the Columbia Pike toward Spring Hill in accordance with orders. Van Dorn’s troopers met him around 10 a.m. at Thompson’s Station, about 10 miles south of Franklin.

The two forces traded rifle fire until Confederate artillerists began enfilading the Federal cannoneers, forcing them to withdraw. The Federal cavalry then fled back to Franklin along with the infantry regiment guarding the supply train. This left the remaining infantry to fend for themselves.

The troops took positions on two hills and fended off several attacks until Forrest’s men flanked them and landed in their rear. The Federals were quickly surrounded. Coburn later wrote, “I was convinced that a massacre would ensue, to little purpose, that a few might escape, but that many would fall in a vain struggle for life with unequal weapons. I ordered a surrender. I believe it was justified by the circumstances.” Coburn further explained:

“The contest had raged nearly five hours. No re-enforcements were in sight; none had been heard from. The enemy held the road far in our rear. The cavalry and artillery had gone two hours. We had no ammunition. The enemy was mounted. His batteries raked the road, and his men, in thousands, hung upon every advantageous post in our rear. We had exhausted all means of destruction, except our bayonets; beyond their reach, we were powerless.”

The Federals sustained 1,594 casualties (88 killed, 206 wounded, and nearly 1,300 captured), and the Confederates lost 357 (56 killed and 301 wounded or missing). Bragg issued a general order expressing “pride and gratification” in the “affairs recently achieved by the forces of the cavalry of Major General Van Dorn.”

Van Dorn’s troopers encamped at Spring Hill, where he and Forrest got into a heated dispute after Van Dorn accused Forrest of hoarding the captured Federal supplies. When Rosecrans learned of the engagement, he reported to Halleck, “I am not, as you know, an alarmist, but I do not think it will do to risk as we did before.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18777-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 169, 176-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 268; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 575

The Battle of Parker’s Crossroads

December 31, 1862 – After raiding Federal supply lines in western Tennessee, Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest discovered Federals blocking the way back to his base at an intersection between Nashville and Memphis.

Brigadier General Jeremiah C. Sullivan had dispatched Federal cavalry brigades from Lexington, Tennessee, to stop Forrest’s raids. Forrest and his 2,100 men had avoided these Federals north of Lexington for two days, but he found Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham’s 2nd Brigade in his front at Red Mound, where a north-south road bisected an east-west road near Parker’s Store.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest decided to fight, moving his troopers into the woods northwest of the intersection and opening an artillery bombardment around 9 a.m. Dunham responded with fire from three guns on hills southwest of the intersection, but it proved ineffective. The Federals fell back to the southeast woods, and the Confederate troopers charged them between 12 and 1 p.m.

Dunham’s men repelled the charge, but Confederates were soon on Dunham’s right flank, advancing from the north. The Federals shifted to face this threat as Forrest deployed another detachment south to attack the rear of Dunham’s revised line. The Confederates now surrounded the Federals on three sides. They captured three guns, the Federal ammunition train, and 300 troopers.

Forrest demanded unconditional surrender, but Dunham refused. As Forrest prepared to launch an all-out attack to destroy his force, the Federal 3rd Brigade under Colonel John W. Fuller (and accompanied by Sullivan) rode in from the north and attacked the Confederate rear. Fuller’s horsemen had ridden 17 miles from Huntingdon.

Forrest, who expected scouts at Clarksville to warn him of any threats to his rear, was surprised by this force. His brother William, who led the troopers scouting from Clarksville, had taken a wrong road and failed to see the Federals coming.

When asked by an aide what should be done, Forrest replied, “Split in two, and charge both ways.” The Confederates abandoned their captured guns and ammunition, turned to repel Fuller’s attack, and then rode east past Dunham’s defeated Federals on their way to Lexington as planned. Once there, Forrest paroled the Federal prisoners.

The Federals seized 300 Confederate troopers who were dismounted when Fuller attacked. Forrest reported other losses at 60 killed or wounded. The Federals sustained 467 casualties (27 killed, 140 wounded, and 300 captured). This was the only occasion in which Forrest was surprised in battle, but his escape enhanced his reputation as the “Wizard in the Saddle.”

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 249; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 247-48; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 302-03; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 270-71, 557; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 346