Tag Archives: William F. “Baldy” Smith

The Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

May 16, 1864 – General P.G.T. Beauregard launched an attack on Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals as they timidly approached Richmond from the south.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Butler’s 16,000 Federals from the Army of the James faced 18,000 Confederates under Beauregard at Drewry’s Bluff, which guarded the approach to the Confederate capital. Butler issued orders to attack at 6 a.m. but Beauregard planned to attack sooner, and he developed an intricate plan of action:

  • Major General Robert Ransom, Jr.’s division would attack the Federal right, manned by XVIII Corps under Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith
  • Major General Robert F. Hoke’s division would attack the Federal left, manned by X Corps under Major General Quincy A. Gillmore
  • Major General W.H.C. Whiting’s two brigades would move north from Petersburg and cut off the Federal retreat

Butler’s army would then be either destroyed or at least forced to fall back from the Confederate capital and the vital Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. At 4:30 a.m., Ransom’s men began moving through heavy fog and slammed into Smith’s corps. The Confederates routed a brigade and captured 400 men including its commander, Brigadier General Charles Heckman. The Federal right flank bent but did not break. Ransom’s attack soon stalled.

On the Federal left, Gillmore did not receive Butler’s order for a 6 a.m. attack until 6:20. As he prepared to obey, Hoke’s Confederates appeared in the distance, led by the brigades of Brigadier General Johnson Hagood and Major General Bushrod R. Johnson. Hagood and Johnson hit the Federal center and captured some artillery, but the Federals held firm as the Confederate attack became disjointed in the fog.

The wire entanglements that the Federals had strung between the lines also lessened the force of the enemy assaults. A Federal officer asserted that the Confederates were “being piled in heaps over the telegraph wire.” A Confederate taken prisoner called the entanglements “a devilish contrivance which none but a Yankee could devise.”

The rest of Hoke’s division struck the Federal left but made no progress. Meanwhile, Butler ordered Gillmore to send reinforcements to the right, and then he ordered Smith to abandon the right altogether and fall back. To the south, Whiting’s Confederates met a single Federal division at Port Walthall Junction and halted, as Whiting feared that more Federals were coming. Butler received word that Confederates were in his rear, adding to the general confusion among the Federals. He issued orders to Gillmore:

“You must fall back, press to right, and get in rear of Smith’s corps. He will try and hold his ground until you get in his rear and clear the road to the intrenchments (at Bermuda Hundred), so that we may get behind the defenses. Push vigorously.”

The Federals fell back in driving rain about a mile before reforming their line at Half Way House around 2 p.m. About two hours later, after receiving word that Confederates from Richmond were crossing the James to confront him, Butler ordered a retreat to the Federal entrenchments at Bermuda Hundred. As he reported, “The troops have been on incessant duty for five days, three of which were in a rainstorm. I retired at leisure to within my own lines.”

Beauregard had driven Butler away from Richmond and the railroad, but he could not destroy Butler’s army. Beauregard accused Ransom, despite his successful initial attack, of lacking the aggression needed to finish the Federals off. Nevertheless, the Federals returned to the peninsula where Beauregard could seal the neck with a token force and ensure that Butler could not threaten Richmond or Petersburg anymore.

When Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, learned of this defeat, he remarked that Butler’s army was “as completely shut off from further operations directly against Richmond as if it had been in a bottle strongly corked.” This ended Butler’s failed campaign to cut the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. Butler would also be no help to the Army of the Potomac, which was sustaining enormous losses against the Confederates in northern Virginia.

The Federals sustained 4,160 casualties (390 killed, 2,380 wounded and 1,390 missing) at Drewry’s Bluff, while the Confederates lost 2,506 (355 killed, 1,941 wounded and 210 missing). The Confederates came upon Bermuda Hundred the next day and built defenses of their own to keep the Federals and “Beast” Butler caged on the peninsula. Now three of Grant’s four offensives in Virginia had met with failure, and the fourth (the Army of the Potomac) tottered on destruction.

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References
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409-10; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5522-42, 5561-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 440; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 503-04; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 614; 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. 723; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 57-58, 227-28, 837

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The James River: Drewry’s Bluff

May 15, 1864 – Opposing armies assembled at Drewry’s Bluff, about five miles from Richmond on the James River, and both commanders planned to attack.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the Federal Army of the James, had landed at Bermuda Hundred, 15 miles southeast of Richmond and seven miles northeast of Petersburg. He opted not to attack either city, but instead to destroy the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad connecting them. There were only 2,000 Confederates initially on hand to oppose the Federals, but Butler’s hesitant advance gave reinforcements time to arrive.

After being repulsed by a much smaller force at Swift Creek, Butler ordered yet another withdrawal back to his entrenchments across the peninsula neck at Bermuda Hundred. As the Federals fell back, General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived from Weldon, North Carolina, to take personal command of Confederate forces. Beauregard replaced his second-in-command, Major General George Pickett, who was on the verge of collapse from the stress of the Federal threat.

Five Confederate brigades under Major General Robert F. Hoke soon arrived, along with a brigade from the Charleston defenses. This gave Beauregard about 20,000 troops, still less than Butler’s 33,000-man army. However, Butler had done little to capitalize on his numerical advantage since landing on the 5th, having merely skirmished at Port Walthall and Swift Creek, and torn up some railroad track and telegraph lines.

When Butler finally set his sights on Richmond, Beauregard anticipated it and strengthened Confederate defenses at Drewry’s Bluff and Fort Darling, which guarded the approach to the capital on the south bank of the James River. Beauregard dispatched seven brigades under Hoke in hopes of luring Butler out into an open battle.

Butler moved out of his defenses once more on the 12th, a week after landing. This time the force numbered about 16,000 Federals. They marched west and then turned north at the railroad. The next day, they pushed Hoke’s Confederates from the outer works at Drewry’s Bluff back into the main defense line. However, Butler ordered his men to stop and dig trenches. Not only was the Federals’ advance delayed, but they could expect no support from Federal warships on the James because the water was too shallow.

Sensing Butler’s incompetence, Beauregard prepared to counterattack. He devised a characteristically grandiose strategy that called for:

  • General Robert E. Lee pulling back toward Richmond and transferring 10,000 men from the Army of Northern Virginia to reinforce Beauregard
  • Beauregard using the reinforcements to destroy Butler
  • Beauregard moving north to join forces with Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac

President Jefferson Davis visited Beauregard at Drewry’s Bluff on the 14th and explained that Lee had no reinforcements to spare. Moreover, Davis did not want Lee to fall back any closer to Richmond, and Beauregard did not need any more men to destroy the Federals under Butler’s timid leadership. Instead, Davis issued orders transferring all available troops from South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to reinforce the Confederates at Drewry’s Bluff.

Beauregard organized his 10 brigades into three divisions under Major Generals Robert F. Hoke and Robert Ransom, Jr., and Brigadier General Alexander Colquitt. Leaving just a small force to guard Petersburg, Beauregard planned to attack Butler’s right on the 18th and push him back to Bermuda Hundred. When his superiors urged him to attack sooner, Beauregard moved the assault up two days.

By the 14th, Butler had assembled his army in front of Drewry’s Bluff, with Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps on the right and Major General Quincy A. Gillmore’s X Corps on the left. To prevent a preemptive Confederate attack, the Federals strung telegraph wire between tree stumps to impede an enemy advance. This was the first use of wire entanglements in Virginia (it had been done at Knoxville last year).

Butler planned to attack the next day, but “Baldy” Smith warned him against it, so he postponed the attack and strengthened his defenses. This gave Beauregard ample time to prepare for his own attack.

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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. 403, 406; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5387-97, 5455-503; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 434, 437-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 499-502; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 536-37; 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. 723; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 57-58, 227-28, 739

The James River Campaign Begins

May 4, 1864 – Another front opened in Virginia, as Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal Army of the James boarded transports at Yorktown to move up the James River.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Butler had assembled a force of about 33,000 men in two corps on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, assigned Butler to advance up the James and cut the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, which would prevent men and supplies from reaching General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from south of Richmond.

The Federal transports were to drop Butler’s army off at Bermuda Hundred, a peninsula formed by the James and Appomattox rivers, 18 miles southeast of Richmond. From there, the Federals were to advance 10 miles west to the railroad. On the night of the 4th, the transports steamed around the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and entered the James.

The Richmond authorities quickly learned that a fleet of about 200 enemy ships was moving up the James, which included ironclad escorts and transports conveying at least 30,000 troops. The warships cleared the torpedoes and other obstructions in the river for the transports to get through safely. This advance coincided with Grant’s in northern Virginia, thus placing the Confederate capital under serious threat from both the north and south.

One of Butler’s divisions disembarked at City Point, about nine miles northeast of Petersburg, while the rest of the fleet continued upriver. After passing the mouth of the Appomattox River, Butler’s other five divisions unloaded at the Bermuda Hundred plantation landing. Federal cavalry rode out to threaten the Weldon Railroad outside Petersburg.

Panicked Confederate officials called on General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina, to send troops to stop the Federals before they advanced any further. Beauregard, 65 miles south of Petersburg at Weldon, North Carolina, answered that he was “indisposed” (i.e., too sick to leave) and deferred to his second-in-command, Major General George Pickett.

Pickett hurried troops to guard the railroads at Petersburg. Fewer than 5,000 men (3,000 at Richmond and 2,000 at Petersburg) faced Butler’s 33,000 Federals, and many of these were government clerks being hastily armed. This was the easiest opportunity the Federals ever had to seize Richmond, Petersburg, or both.

By the 6th, the Federals had advanced to within 15 miles of Richmond to the northwest and seven miles of Petersburg to the southwest. But instead of cutting the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad as ordered, Butler directed his men to build entrenchments across the peninsula neck at Bermuda Hundred. He then sent a brigade to probe ahead, but the troops ran up against just 600 hastily assembled Confederate defenders and fell back.

The Confederates had been reinforced to about 2,700 men by next morning. Led by Major General Bushrod R. Johnson, these troops guarded the railroad near Port Walthall Junction. Butler deployed a force of about 8,000 Federals, and after a two-hour fight, the Federals pushed Johnson’s flank back while destroying a quarter-mile section of the track and telegraph line.

The Federals sustained just 289 casualties, but Butler recalled the troops at nightfall as he planned to advance with an even bigger force the next day. The Federals began deriding Butler’s “stationary advance.” Pickett directed Johnson to withdraw south behind Swift Run Creek; this better protected Petersburg, but it left a larger portion of the railroad vulnerable to destruction.

As Butler spent the 8th slowly preparing his advance, Beauregard reported that he would be well enough to take the field again soon (“The water has improved my health.”). In the meantime, Confederate reinforcements continued arriving at Petersburg and Richmond to strengthen the defenses.

The next day, Butler sent 14,000 men from Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps toward Petersburg to destroy the railroad, but they soon ran into the Confederate defenses on the southern bank of Swift Run Creek. Johnson deployed a Confederate brigade to conduct a reconnaissance in force, but it was quickly driven back at Arrowhead Church. The Federals then approached Johnson’s main line, but their half-hearted assault was repulsed.

Major General Robert Ransom, Jr. ordered his Confederates to reconnoiter the Federal positions on the 10th, and they inadvertently came across a Federal regiment behind the lines destroying the railroad at Chester Station. Ransom’s men pushed the regiment back, but Federal reinforcements arrived to stem the tide. Both sides fell back to end the minor engagement.

By the time Butler learned of this action, he received word from Washington that the Army of the Potomac had scored major victories in northern Virginia. He therefore pulled back from Swift Run Creek and returned to his west-facing Bermuda Hundred entrenchments. From there, he decided to forego Grant’s order to destroy the railroad in favor of a direct attack on Richmond, which he believed to be vulnerable. Butler also noted that Grant planned for the Armies of the Potomac and the James to link outside Richmond, and he wanted to be ready.

“Baldy” Smith and Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding X Corps, both informed Butler that Petersburg could be captured if they bridged the Appomattox and assaulted the city from the east. Butler rejected their suggestion, opting instead to turn north toward Richmond. Butler optimistically notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “We can hold out against the whole of Lee’s army. General Grant will not be troubled with any further reinforcements to Lee from Beauregard’s force.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-19, 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 399-401, 403; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5300-20, 5329-39, 5348-58, 5378-427, 5455-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 428-31, 433; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 492-95; 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. 723; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 198; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 57-58, 227-28, 739

The Virginia Peninsula: The Army of the James

April 28, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Major General Benjamin F. Butler and his new Federal army to begin moving up the Virginia Peninsula from Fort Monroe by May 5.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Grant’s idea of having all major Federal armies launch simultaneous offensives included mobilizing the forces on the peninsula between the York and James rivers. These troops were organized into the Army of the James, a force of about 33,000 men led by Butler. The army consisted of two wings:

  • Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith led XVIII Corps, or Butler’s right wing. Smith had come east with Grant from Chattanooga, having impressed Grant with his engineering prowess in opening the “cracker line.”
  • Major General Quincy A. Gillmore led X Corps, or Butler’s left wing. Gillmore and his troops had been transferred from the Department of the South after several failed attempts to capture Fort Sumter and Charleston.

On a visit to Butler’s headquarters at Fort Monroe in early April, Grant directed him, “When you are notified to move, take City Point with as much force as possible. Fortify, or rather intrench, at once, and concentrate all your troops for the field there as rapidly as you can.” Grant stated “that Richmond is to be your objective point, and that there is to be cooperation between your force and the Army of the Potomac.”

Grant notified Butler on the 28th, “If no unforeseen accident prevents, I will move from here on Wednesday, the 4th of May. Start your forces on the night of the 4th, so as to be as far up the James River as you can get by daylight the morning of the 5th, and push from that time with all your might for the accomplishment of the object before you.” Hoping to eventually link the Armies of the Potomac and the James for a drive on Richmond or Petersburg, Grant wrote:

“Could I be certain that you will be able to invest Richmond on the south side, so as to have your left resting on the James above the city, I would form the junction there. Circumstances may make this course advisable anyhow. I would say, therefore, use every exertion to secure footing as far up the south side of the river as you can, as soon as possible.”

If Confederates blocked his way, Butler was to “attack vigorously” to either capture Richmond or “at least detain as large a force there as possible.” Grant hoped that Butler could keep the Confederates in the area occupied so they could not reinforce General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, currently camped on the south bank of the Rapidan River.

Butler consulted with Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Butler wanted Lee’s vessels to transport troops up the James and Appomattox rivers and provide gunboat support. However, Lee told Butler that the ironclads could not move as far up the James as Butler needed because of shallow water, and the Appomattox could only support wooden ships. Nevertheless, Lee pledged “intelligent and hearty co-operation” wherever possible.

S.P. Lee informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that Butler expected him to assemble a fleet in four days, which was virtually impossible. Lee also explained that the Confederates had mined both rivers with torpedoes that could easily destroy the Federal ships. Welles wrote in his diary that Butler’s “scheme is not practical, yet it has the sanction of General Grant. It must, however, be a blind, intended to deceive the enemy, and to do this effectually he must first deceive our own people.” Welles continued:

“A somewhat formidable force has been gathered in General Butler’s department, and there is no doubt but that General B. himself fully believes he is to make a demonstration up James River. It may be that this is General Grant’s intention also, but if it is, I shall be likely to have my faith in him impaired. Certainly there have been no sufficient preparations for such a demonstration and the call upon the Navy is unreasonable.”

Navy officials were not the only ones doubting Butler’s probability for success. “Baldy” Smith distrusted Butler as army commander and persuaded Grant to install a staff officer to watch over Butler’s preparations. But Smith wrote disappointedly that the appointed officer “is very fixed in letting Butler have his own way with all minutia.”

Smith also wrote Major General William B. Franklin, a corps commander in the Army of the Gulf, complaining that Butler would make the upcoming campaign “full of unnecessary risks and of the kind that may produce the most terrible disaster.” Despite the negativity among the Federal high command regarding this campaign, Butler notified Grant that it would begin on schedule and in accordance with Grant’s instructions.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Meanwhile, Confederate officials assigned General P.G.T. Beauregard to command the new Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. Beauregard had formerly commanded the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, which mainly consisted of defending Charleston Harbor. The department, formerly commanded by Major General George Pickett, had just 10,000 men to stop the Army of the James.

When Beauregard arrived in late April, he was told that the new Federal army on the Peninsula was led by Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, not Butler. Guessing that the Federals would target the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad south of the James River, Beauregard notified his superiors, “Every indication is that Burnside will attack Richmond via Petersburg. Are we prepared to resist him in that direction? Can the forces of this Department be concentrated in time? are questions worthy of immediate consideration by the War Department?”

If Beauregard could be reinforced, he asked, “could I not strike Burnside in rear from Petersburg, if he advanced on Richmond from Yorktown?” President Jefferson Davis urged Beauregard to place more emphasis on North Carolina: “The capture of Newbern, and the possession of the (Pamlico) Sound by our vessels, increased as they may be by the addition of others, will relieve the necessity for guarding the whole line of the railroad as proposed.”

Beauregard’s scouts reported that 60,000 Federals were on the Peninsula, and Pickett added that “50,000 are at Yorktown and Baltimore, 10,000 of whom are negroes. All or most of the troops reported at Portsmouth have gone to Yorktown. There are moving and landing troops at night… the enemy will either advance up the Peninsula or will move by transports down river to the James.”

On the 28th, Pickett passed along more accurate intelligence stating that the force numbered about 30,000 men and was led not by Burnside, but by “Baldy” Smith. Beauregard went to oversee operations in North Carolina, and Pickett was directed to reconnoiter around Suffolk and Portsmouth to gather more information about the impending Federal advance.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2678-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 420; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 486-87; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 704, 788; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177

Chattanooga: Opening the Cracker Line

October 24, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant personally inspected the proposed supply route at Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee and approved the plan to open the “cracker line” to feed the Federals besieged in Chattanooga.

Despite recovering from a serious hip injury, Grant was back on his horse on the morning of the 24th for inspections. He studied the terrain around the landing at Brown’s Ferry and noted that just a single Confederate brigade from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps patrolled the area.

Gen W.F. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Grant also continued consulting with Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith, the army’s chief engineer who had discovered this route. Smith had been working on this plan with members of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s staff before Rosecrans was removed from army command.

Securing Brown’s Ferry would enable the Federals to control the Tennessee River below Confederate-held Raccoon Mountain. This allowed them to ship supplies from Bridgeport to Chattanooga via water, and although the supplies would have to cross the Tennessee twice, they could be shipped much faster than the current overland route by wagon trains through the Cumberland Mountains.

Under Smith’s plan, two Federal brigades would seize control of Brown’s Ferry, while Major General Joseph Hooker’s XI and XII corps would move across the Tennessee at Bridgeport, double-back toward Brown’s on the south bank of the river, clear out Confederates as they went, and help build a bridge at the ferry site.

Hooker doubted that the plan would work because his troops would have to move around the southern end of Lookout Mountain, on which Confederates could hide and ambush them from above. Hooker told Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding XI Corps, “It is a very hazardous operation, and almost certain to procure us a defeat.”

Hooker asked Grant for more time to prepare, but Grant instead directed Smith to go ahead and seize Brown’s Ferry with the two brigades without waiting for Hooker. Smith worried that without Hooker’s support, the Federals might not be able to hold it. Smith explained that just to get to the ferry, “Fifteen hundred men, under Brigadier-General (William) Hazen, were to embark in the boats and pass down the river a distance of about nine miles, seven of which would be under the fire of the pickets of the enemy.”

Both Smith and Hooker prepared their forces throughout the 25th. Hooker ordered Howard to move out at 9 a.m. the next day, but Howard explained that he had only one functioning artillery battery. Hooker replied, “We will march to-morrow if we go without any.” But then Hooker changed his mind and wrote Howard, “It will not be possible to bring all the force together in season to march to-morrow. Let everything be in readiness for an early start the following morning.”

Meanwhile, General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, guessed that if the Federals tried breaking out of Chattanooga, they would do so on the left, or west, of the Confederate line, held by Longstreet’s corps and anchored by Lookout Mountain. Longstreet wrote, “I have no doubt but the enemy will cross below and move against our rear. It is his easier and safest move.” By this time, Bragg was also receiving reports that Federals were gathering at Bridgeport, but neither he nor Longstreet made any moves to bolster the army’s left.

Confederates reported “a part of artillery going down on the opposite side of the river and that their pickets were doubled along the water front.” Cavalry troopers from Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s command reported a potential Federal river crossing at Bridgeport. If successful, the Federals could cut off Longstreet’s line of retreat. Longstreet received this news but decided to await further developments before acting.

At 3 a.m. on the 27th, Hazen’s 1,500 Federals began moving down the Tennessee on 24 pontoon boats, trading shots as they passed the Confederates on shore. The second brigade of 3,500 men led by Brigadier General John B. Turchin moved across Moccasin Point, a stretch of land opposite Raccoon Mountain, unnoticed. Hazen’s men rode the current to Moccasin Point, where they joined Turchin. The Federals then advanced to Brown’s Ferry, beyond the range of Confederate guns on Lookout Mountain.

The Federals reached the west bank of the Tennessee around daybreak, where Colonel William Oates’s 1,000 Confederates and three cannon tried stopping their advance. After a sharp 10-minute fight, the advance Confederate units fell back to their main camp. From there, a scout told Oates that only “seventy-five or one hundred” Federals were approaching. Oates later recalled, “I had the long roll beaten, and gave orders for the men to leave their knapsacks in camp and their little tent flies standing.”

Oates sent skirmishers forward with orders “to walk right up to the foe, and for every man to place the muzzle of his rifle against the body of a Yankee when he fired.” The skirmishers soon learned that they were vastly outnumbered. Oates was shot through the hip but managed to ride off to avoid capture. His men fell back to the safety of the west side of Lookout Mountain as the Federals secured Brown’s Ferry. The Federals lost just six killed and 32 wounded.

Meanwhile, Hooker’s Federals crossed the river at Bridgeport and cleared the Confederates from Raccoon Mountain before stopping at the western foot of Lookout. Hooker posted a division at Wauhatchie Station to guard his communications. Smith’s Federals completed their pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry around 4:30 p.m. This would enable their supply train to cross.

Longstreet watched the action from atop Lookout Mountain and remained convinced that the Federals planned to feint against Brown’s Ferry while attacking in earnest from Bridgeport to try turning Bragg’s left. Bragg directed Longstreet to stop the Federals’ “designs,” which Longstreet tried doing by sending a brigade to Bridgeport. But he did not inform Bragg of the engagement at Brown’s Ferry, and by nightfall, Hooker was within 10 miles of linking with Smith there.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 336; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 364-65; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 425-26; 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; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 699; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189, 808-09

Chattanooga: Grant Takes Over

October 20, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant left Louisville to take personal command of the Federals besieged in Chattanooga as the new commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By the time Grant boarded the train to head south, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was slowly starving in Chattanooga. It had been reinforced by two corps from the Army of the Potomac, but Confederates had cut most of the supply lines into the city, making it almost impossible to feed the troops. General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, directed Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps to seal up all supply routes, but a few roundabout routes through the mountains remained open, thus giving the Federals a slim chance for survival.

More Federal reinforcements under Major General William T. Sherman were on their way from the west. His corps now consisted of five divisions with the addition of two from Memphis. Sherman’s men and supplies were loaded on transports at Eastport, Mississippi, and escorted by Federal gunboats as they steamed down the Tennessee River. This was an important water-borne supply route, but General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck still required Sherman to rebuild the Memphis & Charleston Railroad from Iuka, Mississippi, to Stevenson, Alabama, a distance of 161 miles.

Grant stopped at Nashville on the night of the 20th and moved on to Stevenson the next day. There Grant met with Major General William S. Rosecrans, whom Grant had just removed as Army of the Cumberland commander. Rosecrans graciously discussed the military situation in Grant’s railcar, even though the two men disliked each other. Rosecrans then departed northward while Grant spent the night in Bridgeport, about 40 miles down the Tennessee River from Chattanooga.

The rest of the journey to the besieged city had to be made on horseback through the mountains. This posed a problem for Grant because he was still on crutches due to injuries suffered when he fell off his horse in early September. Grant later wrote:

“There had been much rain, and the roads were almost impassable from mud, knee-deep in places, and from wash-outs on the mountain sides. I had been on crutches since the time of my fall in New Orleans, and had to be carried over places where it was not safe to cross on horseback. The roads were strewn with the debris of broken wagons and the carcasses of thousands of starved mules and horses.”

With his crutches lashed to his saddle, Grant and his party rode carefully over the muddy terrain up the Sequatchie Valley and over Walden’s Ridge, unable to use the direct approach to the city because it was covered by Confederate artillery. The group stopped for the night about halfway to Chattanooga, and then continued on the 23rd, when they encountered slightly better terrain.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Major General George H. Thomas, now commanding the Federals in Chattanooga, awaited Grant’s arrival. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing operations in Chattanooga, informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that since Thomas had taken over, “the change at headquarters here is already strikingly perceptible. Order prevails instead of universal chaos.”

Grant finally arrived at Thomas’s headquarters that night. Dana described Grant as “wet, dirty, and well.” One of Grant’s staffers, Colonel James H. Wilson, made a point of Thomas’s lack of hospitality; he did not offer any food, drink, or dry clothes to his new superior. Thomas quickly corrected this, but Grant would only accept food as he asked for a briefing on the situation.

Thomas and his officers explained that the men were going hungry because they could only get supplies from wagon trains vulnerable to Confederate cavalry as they moved 60 miles along the barely usable road from Bridgeport, through the Sequatchie Valley, and over Walden’s Ridge in the Cumberland Mountains. Grant later reported:

“Up to this period our forces in Chattanooga were practically invested, the enemy’s lines extending from the Tennessee River, above Chattanooga, to the river at and below the point of Lookout Mountain, below Chattanooga, with the south bank of the river picketed nearly to Bridgeport, his main force being fortified in Chattanooga Valley, at the foot of and on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, and a brigade in Lookout Valley. True, we held possession of the country north of the river, but it was from 60 to 70 miles over the most impracticable roads to army supplies.”

Thomas then referred Grant to Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith, the army’s chief engineer. Smith had been removed from the Army of the Potomac and demoted for criticizing Major General Ambrose E. Burnside after the Battle of Fredericksburg; now he sought to redeem himself.

Smith had developed a plan to supply the army via Brown’s Ferry, a river crossing about 10 miles downriver from Chattanooga. A road extended from the ferry through Lookout Valley, which the Confederates only lightly guarded. If the Federals could seize the ferry, they could facilitate the flow of supplies from Bridgeport to Chattanooga in half the time it took supplies to move through the mountains.

Grant listened to Smith’s plan and later wrote, “He explained the situation of the two armies and the topography of the country so plainly that I could see it without an inspection.” Grant also learned that Smith had already begun implementing the plan:

“(Smith) had established a saw-mill on the banks of the river, by utilizing an old engine found in the neighborhood; and, by rafting logs from the north side of the river above, had got out the lumber and completed pontoons and roadway plank for a second bridge, one flying bridge being there already. He was also rapidly getting out the materials and constructing the boats for a third bridge. In addition to this he had far under way a steamer for plying between Chattanooga and Bridgeport whenever we might get possession of the river. This boat consisted of a scow, made of the plank sawed out at the mill, housed in, and a stern wheel attached which was propelled by a second engine taken from some shop or factory.”

Grant judged the plan to be solid, but he asked if the troops had enough ammunition to keep the supply line open. He was told that each man only had a few cartridges, but once the line was opened, the ammunition at Bridgeport could be shipped to the troops. This would be a gamble, but it could be the only way to save the army. Grant approved opening what became known as the “cracker line.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 429; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18899-908; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 335-36; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 783, 802-05; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 363; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 424-25; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189