Tag Archives: William H.T. Walker

Cleburne Proposes Black Recruitment

January 2, 1864 – Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, one of the best division commanders in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, wrote an extraordinary letter proposing that the Confederacy induct slaves into the military.

Gen P.R. Cleburne | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Cleburne was one of the most respected officers in the Confederate army, having earned the nickname “Stonewall Jackson of the West.” In a paper he presented to his fellow officers, Cleburne declared that the Confederacy could very well lose the war. He argued that this was due to the growing manpower shortage in the armies, dwindling supplies and resources, and “the fact that slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.”

According to Cleburne, the Confederacy could only rely on its own population for manpower, while the North could pull from its “own motley population,” emancipated and confiscated slaves, and “Europeans whose hearts are fired into a crusade against us by fictitious pictures of the atrocities of slavery.”

Furthermore, the growing “prejudice against slavery” had given the Federals the moral advantage in the contest, encouraged valuable slave labor to not only leave the South but to fight against it, and compelled European nations to refuse to recognize Confederate independence. Consequently, Confederates now faced “the loss of all we now hold most sacred–slaves and all other personal property, lands, homesteads, liberty, justice, safety, pride, manhood.”

Cleburne argued that retaining the institution of slavery for labor purposes had become pointless because slaves could now flee their masters in search of freedom, or be confiscated by Federal occupation forces at any time. This made slaves “comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information.”

President Jefferson Davis had recently signed a bill into law limiting the number of exemptions to the Conscription Act in the hopes of drafting more able-bodied white men into the military. But Cleburne argued that this would only bring in those who did not want to serve, otherwise they would have already volunteered. Instead, Cleburne recommended:

“Adequately to meet the causes which are now threatening ruin to our country, we propose, in addition to a modification of the President’s plans, that we retain in service for the war all troops now in service, and that we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom with a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war.”

Since Great Britain and France were reluctant to recognize a slave-owning nation, this would mean that “the sympathy and interests of these and other nations will accord with our own, and we may expect from them both moral support and material aid.” If both North and South embraced emancipation, the North would immediately become the aggressor in the conflict, looked upon as seeking to subjugate the South. This would be “a complete change of front in our favor of the sympathies of the world.”

For northerners joining the Federal army to free the slaves, “that source of recruiting will be dried up.” Also, “it will leave the enemy’s negro army no motive to fight for, and will exhaust the source from which it has been recruited.” Cleburne then declared:

“The idea that it is their special mission to war against slavery has held growing sway over the Northern people for many years, and has at length riped into an armed and bloody crusade against it. This baleful superstition has so far supplied them with a courage and constancy not their own. It is the most powerful and honestly entertained plank in their war platform. Knock this away and what is left? A blood ambition for more territory…. Mankind may fancy it a great duty to destroy slavery, but what interest can mankind have in upholding this remainder of the Northern war platform?”

Guessing that the Federal “negro army” would “desert over to us,” Cleburne wrote:

“The immediate effect of the emancipation and enrollment of negroes on the military strength of the South would be: To enable us to have armies numerically superior to those of the North, and a reserve of any size we might think necessary; to enable us to take the offensive, move forward, and forage on the enemy.”

To Cleburne, emancipation “would remove forever all selfish taint from our cause and place independence above every question of property. The very magnitude of the sacrifice itself, such as no nation has ever voluntarily made before, would appall our enemies… and fill our hearts with a pride and singleness of purpose which would clothe us with new strength in battle.”

Only the Confederacy could “change the race from a dreaded weakness to a (source) of strength. We can do this more effectually than the North can now do, for we can give the Negro not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and child, and can secure it to him in his old home.” To do this, “we must immediately make his marriage and parental relations sacred in the eyes of the law and forbid their sale.” Cleburne wrote:

“If, then, we touch the institution at all, we would do best to make the most of it, and by emancipating the whole race upon reasonable terms, and within such reasonable time as will prepare both races for the change, secure to ourselves all the advantages, and to our enemies all the disadvantages that can arise, both at home and abroad, from such a sacrifice.”

Cleburne finally concluded:

“It is said slaves will not work after they are freed. We think necessity and a wise legislation will compel them to labor for a living. It is said that slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties. It may be imperfect, but in all human probability it would give us our independence. No objection ought to outweigh it which is not weightier than independence.”

The proposal had been endorsed by 12 of Cleburne’s brigade and regimental commanders. The idea of slave emancipation was not new; it had been debated in the southern press for over a year. In one example, the Jackson Mississippian editorialized:

“Let not slavery prove a barrier to our independence. Although slavery is one of the principles that we started to fight for… if it proves an insurmountable obstacle to the achievement of our liberty and separate nationality, away with it!”

However, this was the first time that a high-ranking Confederate military officer had proposed such a thing. While most southerners viewed slavery and independence as one in the same, Cleburne’s letter asserted that one may have to be sacrificed for the other.

Confederate officers outside Cleburne’s division expressed shock and outrage at such an idea, which they unanimously rejected. One officer called it a “monstrous proposition… revolting to Southern sentiment, Southern pride, and Southern honor.” A corps commander said that it was “at war with my social, moral, and political principles.” Another general maintained that “we are not whipped, & cannot be whipped. Our situation requires resort to no such remedy… Its propositions contravene the principles upon which we fight.” General Howell Cobb argued:

“I think that the proposition to make soldiers of the slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

Major General William H.T. Walker was so offended that he considered Cleburne’s letter treasonous and secretly forwarded it to President Davis. The president read the document and issued a statement:

“Deeming it to be injurious to the public service that such a subject should be mooted, or even known to be entertained by persons possessed of the confidence and respect of the people, I have concluded that the best policy under the circumstances will be to avoid all publicity, and the Secretary of War has therefore written to General (Joseph E.) Johnston (commanding the Army of Tennessee) requesting him to convey to those concerned my desire that it should be kept private. If it be kept out of the public journals its ill effect will be much lessened.”

Cleburne’s letter did not resurface until the Official Records of the war were being compiled a generation later. Some claimed that the letter cost Cleburne any chance of future promotion. However, the idea would come up again later in the year, and this time Davis would not be so quick to dismiss it.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 953-54; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 15758-15768; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 387; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 39; 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. 832-33; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 253

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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

Federals Close in on Chattanooga

August 21, 1863 – Federal artillery opened fire on Chattanooga, as Major General William S. Rosecrans tried enveloping the vital railroad city.

Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland closed in on General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee inside Chattanooga from two directions. Rosecrans planned to feint from the north while attacking from the southwest, thus pushing Bragg northeast toward Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio in eastern Tennessee.

Generals Bragg and Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Confederate scouts finally spotted the Federal approach on the 20th, but Bragg still could not identify from which direction the Federals were approaching. Bragg called for reinforcements; he had just two army corps under Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and D.H. Hill. His third corps, under Lieutenant General William Hardee, had been sent to reinforce General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Mississippi.

The next morning, Colonel John T. Wilder led his Federal mounted infantry brigade and a section of guns up Stringer’s Ridge, across the Tennessee River from Chattanooga to the north. Wilder began firing on the town at 9 a.m., just as unsuspecting residents gathered in churches to observe President Jefferson Davis’s proclaimed day of fasting and prayer. The Federal guns sunk a steamboat on the unguarded south riverbank and disabled another. Other shells hit nearby Confederate fortifications.

Bragg, at a hospital in northern Georgia, hurried back to Chattanooga to find out what was happening. Reports indicated that Federal forces were along the Tennessee on either side of Chattanooga. Bragg could not determine from which direction the main Federal attack might come. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, whose Confederates held Knoxville, reported that Burnside was approaching that city in eastern Tennessee.

That night, Bragg notified Johnston that he needed reinforcements. Johnston agreed to send 9,000 men in two divisions immediately. Buckner initially planned to hold eastern Tennessee “to the last,” but by the 23rd he conceded to Bragg:

“Alone I can do little against him (Burnside). By co-operating with you we may effect something against Rosecrans before junction of their armies. I will endeavor to hold my troops in a position to do this, and if facts develop as I now believe I will constitute the right of your army.”

Neither Bragg nor Buckner knew that the cannon fire north of Chattanooga was part of an elaborate ruse to fool them into thinking that Rosecrans and Burnside would join forces and descend on Bragg from the north. The real threat would come from the southwest, as Rosecrans used Burnside to protect his northern flank.

Bragg moved to meet the false northern threat by shifting the Confederates at Bridgeport, Alabama, to the north. This left Bridgeport, the destination for Rosecrans’s real threat, undefended. Bragg also dispatched a division to reinforce Buckner while he awaited what he thought would be a major Federal attack from the north.

The Federals spent the next few days scouting the Confederate defenses and moving closer to Chattanooga. Confederate deserters alleged that D.H. Hill’s corps consisted of just one brigade occupying Chattanooga, two brigades holding Bridgeport, about 35 miles downriver to the southwest, and two divisions guarding the various river fords.

Another deserter reported that Polk’s corps was positioned “in the rear of Chattanooga and along the base of Lookout Mountains.” When asked why they opted to leave the Confederate army, the deserters said “because they became satisfied that Bragg was making preparations to retreat.” This indicated to Rosecrans that his ruse was working. Colonel Wilder reported from north of Chattanooga:

“We have made them believe that our force is at least 10,000 strong. They evidently believe we will try to cross the river in the vicinity of Harrison’s Landing. I think they will try to defend the line of the river above here, making Lookout Mountain their line on the left, being at the same time prepared to run if outflanked.”

However, Bragg would soon be reinforced by Johnston’s 9,000 men, making his army roughly the same size as Rosecrans’s, even though he still did not know Rosecrans’s grand plan. The deserters reported that there were two brigades at Bridgeport, but Bragg had already pulled them out to meet the northern threat. Had Bragg left them there, they might have discovered that Rosecrans’s primary drive would come from that direction.

Rosecrans’s army was now firmly in position north and southwest of Chattanooga. The two corps southwest near Bridgeport were poised to cross the Tennessee and launch their main attack. However, bridge crossings and nearby railroads needed to transport supplies had been destroyed. The Federals labored to repair these while trying to cope with the rugged, mountainous area.

Major General Jefferson C. Davis, commanding a division in Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps, secured a crossing at Caperton’s Ferry, about 15 miles upriver (i.e., below) Bridgeport. Major General Philip Sheridan, also heading a division under McCook, secured a “middle crossing” closer to Bridgeport, with Federals replacing the wrecked railroad trestle with a makeshift bridge made of nearby trees, barns, and houses.

Major General Joseph J. Reynolds, commanding a division in Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps, secured an “upper crossing” at Shellmound by making a pontoon bridge from nearby flatboats. The Federals began crossing on the 29th, headed by Davis’s men at Caperton’s Ferry. The crossing continued into September and included skirmishing with nearby Confederate pickets.

On the 31st, a Confederate sympathizer reported that a large Federal force was crossing the Tennessee southwest of Chattanooga at Carpenter’s Ferry, near Stevenson. Confederate cavalry reported that Federals were moving on Bragg’s left and rear, toward Dalton and Rome in Georgia, with Lookout Mountain screening them.

Bragg, unsure what to do, remained stationary and ordered Hill to continue scouting Federal movements, “keeping in view a concentration at the earliest moment at such point the enemy may cross.” Hill was to cover the area northeast of Chattanooga, where the Federals would not be. Bragg also asked Hill, “If you have any influence in Richmond, beg for arms.”

Johnston’s reinforcements, led by Major General William H.T. Walker, arrived and Bragg dispersed them along the defense line facing northeast, still unaware that the main threat was to the southwest. A civilian notified Bragg that two Federal corps had crossed the Tennessee at Caperton’s Ferry, but Bragg was reluctant to believe a random person’s story.

Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding Bragg’s cavalry, then confirmed the civilian’s claim, reporting that “the enemy moved into the valley this evening with a very heavy force of cavalry.” The Federals still had not crossed in force by the end of August, so Bragg had a chance to catch them halfway across the river if he hurried. Bragg thought it over as the month ended.

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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 18802; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 318; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 686; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 342, 344; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 400, 402