Tag Archives: Thomas L. Crittenden

Chattanooga: Federal Reinforcements Move West

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

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

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

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 329; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 762, 765-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 355; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 557-59; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 414-15; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 675; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 174; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

The Battle of Chickamauga: Day 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 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

Bragg Looks to Attack in Northern Georgia

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

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18820; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 324; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 708; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 348-49; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6381; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38-42; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 406-07; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 671; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 137-38

Chattanooga: The Federals Advance

August 16, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland finally began moving out of Tullahoma to capture the vital railroad city of Chattanooga.

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

By the 11th, Rosecrans was still at Tullahoma, over two weeks after being ordered by General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to confront General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Capturing this “Gateway City” would give the Federals control of southern railroads moving to and from Nashville, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama. It would also give the Federals a vital base on the Tennessee River from which to invade the Deep South. Rosecrans had cited numerous reasons for the delay, including harvesting crops, establishing supply lines, repairing railroads, and having adequate protection on his flanks.

Rosecrans had begun moving some infantry and cavalry, but then he informed Washington that he needed more time to collect railroad cars for his supplies. Also, he insisted that he needed Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio to move into eastern Tennessee to guard his left flank, and he received word that Burnside needed two more days to get going. Rosecrans wrote, “His movement should be felt before ours on the left.”

Rosecrans assured Burnside on the 12th, “We will be at the Tennessee River by the time you reach Kingston. Do you want the excess of rations we have there?” But Rosecrans soon had to change his plans because the railroad bringing men and supplies from Tracy City, “built for bringing coal down the mountains, has such high grades and sharp curves as to require a peculiar engine.” The only train available was “broken on its way from Nashville,” thus the advance was suspended “until that road was completely available for transporting stores to Tracy City.” This took four more days.

The Army of the Cumberland finally began moving on Sunday the 16th, heading out of Tullahoma toward Chattanooga, 65 miles southeast. The army consisted of 50,000 infantry in three corps, screened by 9,000 cavalry and bearing 200 heavy guns. Rosecrans planned to trap Bragg between his army and Burnside’s by feinting north of Chattanooga while attacking south and west of the city.

The Federals moved with extreme precision, as Rosecrans spread his three corps across a 50-mile front to cover the three main Cumberland Mountain passes. This was a risky move because Bragg could have isolated and destroyed any of the three corps in detail. However, Bragg was unaware of Rosecrans’s approach. The Cumberland Mountains were formidable obstacles to bypass, but they also screened the Federal advance from Bragg, whose Confederates could not see them approaching on the other side of the range.

Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s XXI Corps was to feint north of Chattanooga by crossing the Tennessee at Blythe’s Ferry, about 45 miles upriver. Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps in the center and Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps on the right would comprise the main threat, moving southwest and threatening Chattanooga downstream.

On the 16th, Crittenden crossed Walden’s Ridge, while Thomas and McCook crossed the Tennessee about 50 miles downriver from Chattanooga. Rosecrans informed Washington at 9:35 that night:

“All three corps are crossing the mountains. It will take till Wednesday night to reach their respective positions. I think we shall deceive the enemy as to our point of crossing. It is a stupendous undertaking. The Alps, with a broad river at the foot, and not fertile plains, but 70 miles of difficult and mostly sterile mountains beyond, before reaching a point of secondary importance to the enemy, in reference to his vital one, Atlanta.”

Colonel John T. Wilder, who commanded the “Lightening Brigade” of mounted infantry under Thomas, screened the Federal center while the official Federal cavalry screened the left and right. Wilder’s horsemen advanced on terrible roads, covering just 20 miles on the 18th before entering the Sequatchie Valley the next day.

The Federals captured a few Confederate scouts, and after interrogating them, Wilder reported, “I do not think there are any forces of consequence this side of Tennessee River.” Wilder’s Federals then turned to help screen Crittenden as he feinted to Bragg’s north. By the 19th, Thomas and McCook were at Bridgeport, Alabama, about 35 miles downriver from Chattanooga.

Rosecrans awaited Burnside’s advance, writing him, “The head of your column ought to appear soon if you are in time.” Rosecrans explained that he intended to attack Chattanooga from the south, between Bridgeport and Rome, and concluded, “Let us have full co-operation. Telegraph me position, progress, and plan.”

Burnside reported, “We have had a serious delay in mounting the cavalry and accumulating forage and subsistence, but all the columns are in motion.” However, he moved slowly while awaiting the return of his beloved IX Corps from Vicksburg, and his army was still 130 miles from Knoxville.

At Chattanooga, Bragg remained unaware that Rosecrans’s Federals were closing in on him, though he continued scrambling to get reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston in Mississippi and Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner in eastern Tennessee. On the 20th, Confederates learned that Rosecrans’s army had crossed the mountains and reached the Tennessee at Stevenson and Bridgeport, southwest of Chattanooga. They learned that Burnside’s 30,000-man army was advancing from Kentucky as well.

Bragg, with just 40,000 men at Chattanooga, hesitated to assume the offensive in the face of such superior numbers. President Jefferson Davis declined a suggestion from Adjutant General Samuel Cooper to order Bragg to attack.

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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 18794; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 677; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 397-98; 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. 670; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 137-38

The Tullahoma Campaign Begins

June 24, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans finally began moving his Federal Army of the Cumberland to oppose General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of the Tennessee at Tullahoma, Tennessee.

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

Rosecrans had hardly moved since occupying Murfreesboro after the Battle of Stones River in January. He spent the last six months reorganizing his army, while Bragg held a line on the Duck River centered at Tullahoma. The armies skirmished intermittently during that time, but now the Lincoln administration began seriously pressing Rosecrans to launch an offensive to prevent Bragg from sending troops to break Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, having heard little from Rosecrans regarding upcoming strategy, notified him, “I deem it my duty to repeat to you the great dissatisfaction felt here at your inactivity.” Rosecrans explained that not attacking Bragg served Grant better than attacking because an attack might drive Bragg out of Tennessee and into Mississippi. Rosecrans cited a military axiom that no nation should fight two decisive battles at the same time. (When Grant heard this later, he remarked, “It would be bad to be defeated in two decisive battles fought the same day, but it would not be bad to win them.”)

The Lincoln administration remained unimpressed with Rosecrans’s plan to help Grant by doing nothing. Halleck finally telegraphed him on the 16th, “Is it your intention to make an immediate move forward? A definite answer, yes or no, is required.” Rosecrans responded, “In reply to your inquiry, if immediate means tonight or tomorrow, no. If it means as soon as all things are ready, say five days, yes.”

On Rosecrans’s self-imposed five-day deadline, he sent Halleck an ambiguous message: “We ought to fight here if we have a strong prospect of winning a decisive battle over the opposing force, and upon this ground I shall act. I shall be careful not to risk our last reserve without strong grounds to expect success.” Rosecrans finally devised a plan in which he would flank Bragg’s army and force the Confederates to fall back behind the Tennessee River.

Bragg had just over 46,000 effectives on a line along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. The line ran west-to-east, from Shelbyville on his left to Wartrace on his right. His supply depot was at Tullahoma, 15 miles southeast of Wartrace. Rosecrans planned to feint against Shelbyville while moving around Bragg’s right, taking the gaps in the Cumberland foothills and forcing Bragg to defend his right (eastern) flank in the Duck River Valley. Rosecrans hoped to avoid attacking the strong Confederate defenses head-on; he would instead rely on maneuver to force them out of their positions. Fearing spies, he would not share any specifics of his plans with his superiors.

Rosecrans wired Halleck at 2:10 a.m. on the 24th: “The army begins to move at 3 o’clock this morning.” The troops moved out of Murfreesboro in multiple columns, with the four corps led by Major Generals Gordon Granger, Alexander McCook, George H. Thomas, and Thomas L. Crittenden. The army consisted of 87,800 men, but just 65,137 joined this march; the rest stayed back at various garrisons to guard the army’s lines of communication and supply.

Rain began falling during the march, which a Federal soldier noted was “no Presbyterian rain, either, but a genuine Baptist downpour.” The rain continued for the next 17 days, turning the roads to mud and slowing the advance. Skirmishing broke out as Granger’s corps feinted against Bragg’s left. Granger drove Confederate cavalry out of Guy’s Gap and into the trenches outside Shelbyville.

McCook’s corps advanced on Wartrace and pushed Confederate defenders from Liberty Gap to Bellbuckle Gap. Thomas’s corps knocked the Confederates out of Hoover’s Gap while driving toward Manchester, and Crittenden’s corps occupied Bradyville. By the night of the 24th, Bragg was scrambling to determine what point of his line was under the most serious threat.

The next day, Confederates staged a day-long attempt to regain the passes at Hoover’s and Liberty gaps. The Federals were finally driven back, but when Bragg received word that Federal reinforcements were on their way, he ordered a withdrawal that night.

Learning that Federals seriously threatened his right, Bragg directed Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk to reinforce Major General Patrick R. Cleburne at Liberty Gap. But when Thomas threatened to get between the Confederates and Chattanooga, Bragg ordered his men to fall back to Tullahoma to protect their base, flank, and rear. Meanwhile, skirmishing continued at Shelbyville, with Granger’s Federals taking many prisoners. They eventually occupied Shelbyville as the Confederates fell back with the rest of the army to Tullahoma.

As Thomas’s Federals occupied Manchester, Rosecrans dispatched a force to attack the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad in the Confederate rear. Mounted Federal infantry under Colonel John T. Wilder destroyed railroad tracks and supplies at Decherd, temporarily cutting off Bragg’s communications with Chattanooga. Meanwhile, Federals at Manchester continued moving southeast toward Hillsboro and Pelham, threatening the vital railroad.

Bragg held a council of war on the night of the 28th to discuss his options. Polk urged a withdrawal, but Lieutenant General William Hardee proposed digging trenches and holding their ground. The meeting ended when Bragg said he would wait for further developments before deciding what to do.

By the 30th, Rosecrans had three corps threatening Tullahoma from the northeast, while Wilder’s Federals threatened the Confederate rear. That night, Bragg decided that his position was untenable and he ordered a retreat. The Confederate army abandoned their six-month hold on Tullahoma and fell back south of the Elk River, near Decherd, where Bragg planned to make a stand.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 764-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 291, 295-96; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 663-67, 671-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 314-17, 319; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-30; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 370; 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. 669; 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 Stones River: Day Two

January 2, 1863 – General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates renewed their attacks on the Federal Army of the Cumberland after Bragg discovered that Major General William S. Rosecrans had not retreated as hoped.

No major fighting occurred on the day after the terrible battle northwest of Murfreesboro. Both sides exchanged sporadic artillery and rifle fire as they tended to their wounded. Rosecrans spent the day strengthening the Federal lines, resolving to “prepare to fight or die.”

Confederate General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry raid had depleted Federal supplies and ammunition, and Federal wagon trains had to travel under heavy guard. But Rosecrans assured his commanders, “Our supplies may run short, but we will have our trains out tomorrow. We will keep right on, and eat corn for a week, but we will win this battle. We can and will do it.”

The Federals withdrew from their salient at the Round Forest, taking up strong positions further north along the Stones River. The line still somewhat resembled a “V,” but it was more compact as it anchored itself on the Nashville Pike and the Stones River. Major General Leonidas Polk’s Confederates took the positions in the Round Forest that the Federals abandoned.

That night, a division of Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s corps under Colonel Samuel Beatty crossed the river and seized the high ground facing Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates on the east bank. This comprised Rosecrans’s new left flank.

Rosecrans’s refusal to withdraw surprised Bragg, who expected the Federals to be on their way back to Nashville by New Year’s Day. Bragg spent the day coming up with a plan to follow up on his success of the 31st. During that time, he learned that he had lost more men than originally believed. Also during that time, Rosecrans continued strengthening his positions.

Bragg deployed skirmishers on the morning of the 2nd to see if the Federals had retreated. They quickly learned that the Federals had not. Bragg opened an artillery bombardment on the Federal center, and Rosecrans responded with his guns. A cold rain turned to sleet as Bragg ordered Breckinridge to seize the ridge northeast of the Stones River. Breckinridge’s men would have to advance 500 yards over open ground to get there.

Breckinridge knew that Federal troops already held the ridge, but Bragg did not. When Breckinridge protested the order, Bragg insisted that he obey. Breckinridge obeyed. His division, consisting mostly of Kentuckians that included the “Orphan Brigade” (called such because Federals would not allow them to return to their home state of Kentucky), advanced in two lines around 4 p.m.

Army dispositions as of 4 p.m. on Jan 2 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The ferocious Confederate attack pushed the Federals across the river within about 45 minutes. As the Federal line crumbled, Crittenden directed his artillery chief, Captain John Mendenhall, to place 58 cannon on the high ground west of the river. When the Confederates came within range, the guns opened with murderous accuracy.

The artillery stopped the Confederate advance, giving the infantry time to regroup and counterattack. The Federals eventually pushed the Confederates back to their starting point, inflicting heavy losses in the process. The Confederates lost about 1,800 men in the futile assault. Breckinridge rode among his troops saying, “My poor orphans, my poor orphans!”

In the fighting from December 31st through January 2nd, the Federals sustained 12,906 casualties (1,677 killed, 7,543 wounded, and 3,686 missing or captured) out of about 44,000 men. The Confederates lost 11,739 (1,294 killed, 7,945 wounded and 2,500 missing or captured) out of about 37,000. The 24,645 total casualties for both sides surpassed both the Battles of Shiloh and Antietam, and the 31 percent casualty rate exceeded all other battles in the war. Four generals were killed: Federals Edward N. Kirk and Joshua W. Sill, and Confederates James E. Rains and Roger W. Hanson.

The sleet and the coming darkness prevented Rosecrans from launching a counterattack. Both armies remained in their positions, just as they did after the first day’s fighting, as each commander waited for the other to withdraw.

Bragg held a council of war with his corps and division commanders at 10 p.m., but he could not decide on a course of action. At that time, parts of the Confederate army were on both sides of the Stones River. The continuing sleet would eventually swell the river and make it too high for either part to support the other. The rain and sleet continued through the night.

At 2 a.m., Bragg was awoken and told that Federal troops were threatening his right flank. However, Rosecrans merely feinted against Bragg’s right to try forcing him to retreat. Bragg then received a message from two of Polk’s commanders, Major Generals Benjamin F. Cheatham and Jones Withers, whose divisions had been decimated:

“We deem it our duty to say to you frankly that, in our judgment, this army should be promptly put in retreat… We do fear great disaster from the condition of things now existing, and think it should be averted if possible.”

Polk endorsed the message: “I greatly fear the consequences of another engagement at this place in the ensuing day. We could now, perhaps, get off with some safety and some credit, if the affair is well managed.” Bragg angrily told Polk’s messenger, “Say to the general we shall maintain our position at every hazard.”

Polk shared the communications with Major General William J. Hardee, Bragg’s other corps commander, who called Bragg’s decision “unwise, in a high degree.” As day broke, both armies remained within striking distance of each other, but neither made a move to attack. The rain continued falling, raising the level of the Stones River. The Confederates had been in line of battle for five consecutive days, with no shelter from the freezing rain and no reserves. That morning, Bragg received a scouting report that Rosecrans was being reinforced.

At 10 a.m., Bragg informed Polk and Hardee that the army would withdraw after all. The troops began moving out that night, eventually falling back to Tullahoma on the Duck River, 36 miles south. Just as he did after the Battle of Perryville, Bragg claimed victory despite retreating. He reported, “Common prudence and the safety of my army… left no doubt on my mind as to the necessity of my withdrawal from so unequal a contest.”

Rosecrans also claimed victory, even though he had merely fended off Bragg’s attacks without launching any of his own. He chose not to pursue Bragg, whose army slipped away to fight again. But it would never again seriously threaten Kentucky or Nashville, and Confederate sentiment in Kentucky and eastern Tennessee evaporated as a result.

As Rosecrans led his Army of the Cumberland into Murfreesboro, President Abraham Lincoln expressed gratitude for this great boost to Federal morale:

“God bless you and all with you! Please tender to all, and accept for yourself the nation’s gratitude for your and their skill, endurance, and dauntless courage. I can never forget, whilst I remember anything, that you gave us a hard-earned victory, which, if there had been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

Rosecrans responded, “We shall press them as rapidly as our means of traveling and subsistence will permit.” However, besides sporadic skirmishing, Rosecrans would not seriously challenge the Confederate Army of Tennessee again for another five months.

Meanwhile, Confederate officers began questioning Bragg’s decisions, particularly his failure to secure the high ground east of the Stones River before the Federals took it on New Year’s Day. Bragg’s subordinates also questioned the wisdom of demanding such a suicidal attack as the one by Breckinridge’s men on the 2nd.

This was a very costly battle for both sides, but even more for the Confederates because it was for nothing. They left the field to the Federals, along with Murfreesboro, which had been their home since November. This fight and the subsequent retreat greatly weakened the Confederate army and shattered morale. A Confederate soldier later wrote:

“I am sick and tired of this war, and, I can see no prospects of having peace for a long time to come, I don’t think it ever will be stopped by fighting, the Yankees cant whip us and we can never whip them, and I see no prospect of peace unless the Yankees themselves rebell and throw down their arms, and refuse to fight any longer.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 92, 123; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 267, 286-87, 289; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 61-63; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18190; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 252-54; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 19, 95, 101-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248-51; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 188-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 306-09; 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. 582; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 560-62, 564-65; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 722-23; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 143-48, 152-53, 155, 158-59