Tag Archives: William S. Rosecrans

Turmoil in Missouri Continues

January 22, 1864 – The Lincoln administration tried addressing the troubling state of Missouri with a reorganization designed to help both militarily and politically.

Federal Maj Gen John M. Schofield | Image Credit: Flickr.com

After three years of war, Missouri remained a state in turmoil. Major military activity had ended long ago, but raiding and skirmishing continued at countless points, and the political situation was in great disarray. Major General John Schofield, heading the Department of the Missouri, had caused much dissension between the Radicals from Kansas and the conservative Missourians within the Republican Party.

Schofield tried striking a balance between the two factions by supporting conservatives for public office while voicing support for President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He ended up being mistrusted by both. A delegation had gone to Washington last fall to demand that Lincoln replace Schofield with Benjamin F. Butler, but Lincoln refused.

Lincoln backed the new Unionist government in Missouri, which was largely made up of conservatives like himself. He urged Schofield to avoid politics whenever possible and enforce the new state laws. When Schofield employed the state militia, Radicals accused him of consorting with Confederates and demanded that the militia be absorbed into the Federal army.

In December, Schofield became embroiled in more controversy when he refused to endorse the Radical candidate running for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln summoned the general to Washington, where Schofield explained that Kansas and Missouri were just too divided politically to be reconciled. Lincoln tried solving this problem by splitting up the Department of the Missouri.

Under General Order No. 1, a renewed Department of Kansas was created, which included Kansas, the Nebraska Territory, and Fort Smith, Arkansas. This limited Schofield’s department to Missouri, Arkansas (except Fort Smith), and Alton, Illinois. Major General Samuel R. Curtis was assigned to command the Department of Kansas.

Next, a new Department of Arkansas was created to strip Schofield of authority over that state. Major General Frederick Steele would head this new department, which controlled all of Arkansas except Fort Smith. Steele was assigned to not only conquer the areas currently under Confederate control but also restore the state to the Union under Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.”

Third, a new Northern Department was created to strip Schofield of authority over Alton, Illinois. Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman was assigned to command this entity, which encompassed Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, with headquarters at Columbus, Ohio.

And finally, Schofield himself would be replaced by Major General William S. Rosecrans, the recently deposed commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans’s detractors had condemned him for failing to break the siege of Chattanooga, while his supporters claimed that he would have broken it had he been given more time. Lincoln, always willing to give a general a second chance, saw this as an opportunity to restart both military and political relations in Missouri. Schofield, whom Lincoln did not blame for the state’s troubles, would eventually come east to head the Army of the Ohio.

Meanwhile, the provisional Unionist government in Missouri was dealt a blow when its governor, Hamilton R. Gamble, died. He was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Willard Hall, who assured his fellow Unionist Missourians that he would continue enforcing Gamble’s policies, which included backing the Unionist forces in driving all Confederate sympathizers out of the state.

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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. 361; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08, 502; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 387-88, 391, 393; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 452, 455, 457-59; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 537; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23, 176; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

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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

Grant Takes Western Command

October 16, 1863 – The Lincoln administration ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant to travel to Louisville, where he would take command of the new Military Division of the Mississippi.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

As Confederates tightened their siege on the Federal Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, Federal officials at Washington grew increasingly concerned that the army commander, Major General William S. Rosecrans, could not break his men out. The army had been reinforced, but more troops could not help now that the Confederates had cut the supply lines into the city. Reports from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana in Chattanooga had been increasingly critical of Rosecrans’s leadership, and President Abraham Lincoln began considering a command change.

Grant, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee at Vicksburg, Mississippi, was recovering from a dislocated hip and possible skull fracture after falling from his horse in September. Since his capture of Vicksburg, his army had been scattered among the garrisons in the region, and he had dispatched three divisions under Major General William T. Sherman to reinforce the Federals at Chattanooga.

In response to the critical situation, Grant received orders on October 10 (but dated the 3rd) from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to proceed at once to Cairo, Illinois. Halleck gave no explanation for this order, instead directing Grant to simply contact Washington upon arriving at Cairo. When he got there, Grant received another directive:

“You will immediately proceed to the Galt House, Louisville, Kentucky, where you will meet an officer of the War Department with your orders and instructions. You will take with you your staff, etc., for immediate operations in the field.”

Lincoln had been reluctant to replace Rosecrans because he was an Ohioan, and the Ohio elections were crucial to the war effort. But now that pro-administration candidates had scored major victories, Lincoln decided to make the change. On the 16th, he approved creating a new Military Division of the Mississippi, which placed all the major military departments between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River under one command.

Grant left Cairo the next day. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton traveled west to meet Grant personally, marking the first time that Stanton had ever left Washington to meet a general. Stanton boarded Grant’s train during a stopover in Indianapolis and approached Grant and his staff. Having never met Grant before, Stanton shook hands with Dr. Edward Kittoe, Grant’s staff surgeon, and said, “How are you, General Grant? I knew you at sight from your pictures.”

Stanton quickly met the real Grant and presented him with two sets of War Department orders. They both began the same:

“By direction of the President of the United States, the Departments of the Ohio, of the Cumberland, and of the Tennessee, will constitute the Military Division of the Mississippi. Major General U.S. Grant, United States Army, is placed in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, with his headquarters in the field.”

This directive did not include any troops east of the Mississippi belonging to the Department of the Gulf because Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, that department’s commander, still outranked Grant.

The two orders differed on the second clause. One version left all department commanders in place under him, and the other replaced Rosecrans with Major General George H. Thomas. Grant, who had been unimpressed with Rosecrans during the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, quickly chose the latter version. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside would stay as head of the Department of the Ohio, while Major General William T. Sherman would replace Grant over the Department of the Tennessee.

Grant and Stanton spent the next day discussing strategy at the Galt House in Louisville. That evening, Stanton received word from Charles Dana that Rosecrans planned to abandon Chattanooga, which would result in Federal disaster. Stanton informed Grant of this news and told him that the Federals could not withdraw under any circumstances.

Grant quickly sent two messages: one informed Rosecrans that he had been relieved, and one ordered Thomas to “Hold Chattanooga at all hazards.” The next day, Rosecrans received General Order No. 337 removing him from command. Hiding his shock and bitterness, Rosecrans summoned Thomas and passed the army command to him. Thomas replied to Grant’s message, “We will hold the town till we starve.”

Dana was wrong–Rosecrans was not planning to evacuate; rather, he was working with engineers to open a new supply line to feed his men so they could renew the offensive, just as the administration hoped he would do. But he had not done so fast enough.

Before leaving, Rosecrans discussed the military situation with Thomas. He decided not to issue a farewell order to avoid demoralizing the troops. Instead, he issued a brief statement urging the troops to follow their new commander. It was to be read after Rosecrans left: “He has led you often in battle. To his known prudence, dauntless courage, and true patriotism, you may look with confidence that under God he will lead you to victory.”

Grant left Louisville on October 20 and headed for Chattanooga to take personal command of the situation. It would be a harder journey than expected.

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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. 428-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 334; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 767, 784-85, 802-03; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 559; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 420, 423-24; 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; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500-01, 542-43; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642

Chattanooga: Federal Leadership Questioned

October 11, 1863 – Federal reinforcements from Virginia entered Chattanooga, but it was becoming clear that Major General William S. Rosecrans was not up to the task of breaking the Confederate siege paralyzing his Army of the Cumberland.

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

As Major General Joseph Hooker’s XI and XII corps began reinforcing Rosecrans’s army, Hooker telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “You may justly claim the merit at having saved Chattanooga.” He placed his four divisions below the city to prevent Confederates from crossing the Tennessee River and attacking the Federal rear.

Despite the reinforcements, there seemed to be no viable way to break the siege. Information from the city became scarce, and President Abraham Lincoln had to ask Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson, “What news have you from Rosecrans’ Army?…”

In eastern Tennessee, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio showed no signs of moving southwest to try breaking Rosecrans out. To the west, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals from Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee were moving very slowly toward Chattanooga, repairing the railroad as they went.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding Federal naval forces on the Tennessee River, informed Grant that the river was low, preventing the larger Federal gunboats from supporting Sherman’s advance. Porter assured Grant that he would bring the vessels up as soon as possible, adding, “My intention is to send every gunboat I can spare up the Tennessee. I have also sent below for light-drafts to come up.”

As Sherman left Memphis to join his men heading west, his train was attacked at Collierville, about 20 miles out of Memphis, by General James R. Chalmers’s Confederate cavalry. A four-hour fight ensued when Sherman refused to surrender unconditionally. The Confederates finally withdrew upon learning that a Federal division was coming from Memphis to reinforce Sherman. The Federals sustained 110 casualties (14 killed, 42 wounded, and 54 captured); Sherman lost five staff horses and his second-best uniform. The Confederates lost 51 men (three killed and 48 wounded).

Meanwhile, Lincoln became increasingly convinced that Rosecrans could not handle his predicament. Lincoln remarked that Rosecrans seemed “stunned and confused, like a duck hit on the head.” This was bolstered by gloomy reports from Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, Stanton’s operative in Chattanooga. Dana had called for Rosecrans’s removal, and he repeated it on the 12th:

“I have never seen a public man possessing talent with less administrative power, less clearness and steadiness in difficulty, and greater practical incapacity than General Rosecrans. He has inventive fertility and knowledge, but he has no strength of will and no concentration of purpose. His mind scatters; there is no system in the use of his busy days and restless nights… Under the present circumstances I consider this army to be very unsafe in his hands.”

However, Lincoln had no replacement in mind, so he continued trying to motivate Rosecrans to fight his way out of Chattanooga. Lincoln wired: “You and Burnside now have (the enemy) by the throat, and he must break your hold or perish.” Rosecrans responded that the Confederates had ripe corn to eat but “our side is barren… we must put our trust in God, who never fails those who truly trust.”

A week later, Dana received reports that hungry soldiers were shouting “Crackers!” at officers inspecting fortifications. Dana wrote Stanton:

“Amid all this, the practical incapacity of the general commanding is astonishing, and it often seems difficult to believe him of sound mind. His imbecility appears to be contagious… If the army is finally obliged to retreat, the probability is that it will fall back like a rabble, leaving its artillery, and protected only by the river behind it.”

Stanton shared Dana’s reports with Lincoln. Meanwhile, heavy rains had made most of the roads outside Chattanooga virtually impassable, preventing supplies from getting over Walden’s Ridge to feed the Federals.

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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. 332, 334; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 765-67, 782-83; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83, 85-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 419-20

Chattanooga: Federal Reinforcements Arrive

October 2, 1863 – Reinforcements from the Federal Army of the Potomac arrived at Bridgeport, Alabama, after being hurried from northern Virginia to support the Army of the Cumberland besieged in Chattanooga.

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

As the month began, Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland sat trapped in Chattanooga with their supplies running out. The Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General Braxton Bragg, held positions on the mountains and hills overlooking Chattanooga, and since Bragg did not believe he had the strength to attack the Federals directly, he decided to besiege them instead.

Meanwhile, Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XII Corps from the Army of the Potomac were hurrying to reinforce Rosecrans. Their overall commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, arrived at Nashville on the 1st. By that day, his entire XI Corps and part of his XII Corps had moved through Nashville toward Chattanooga.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, received enough information to finally conclude that XI and XII corps were gone. He wrote President Jefferson Davis, “I consider it certain that two corps have been withdrawn from General (George G.) Meade’s army to re-enforce General Rosecrans.” Lee stated that a scout “saw General Howard take the cars at Catlett’s Station, where his headquarters had been established, and saw other troops marching toward Manassas, which he believes to have been the Twelfth Corps.”

Lee then advised Davis: “Everything that can be done to strengthen Bragg ought now to be done, and if he cannot draw Rosecrans out in any other way, it might be accomplished by operating against his re-enforcements on the line of travel.” Bragg had the upper hand at Chattanooga, but these reinforcements would help even the odds. And more Federals could potentially join Rosecrans from Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Army of the Ohio in eastern Tennessee and Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals heading east from Mississippi.

By the 2nd, all of XI and XII corps had arrived at Bridgeport, southwest of Chattanooga. The force consisted of nearly 20,000 men, 3,000 horses, 60 guns in 10 batteries, and 100 railcars filled with ammunition, equipment, provisions, and other necessities. The 1,159-mile railroad trip took just seven days, making it the fastest troop transfer in history up to that time. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton telegraphed Thomas A. Scott, managing the railroad at Louisville, “Your work is most brilliant. A thousand thanks. It is a great achievement.”

However, getting these troops to Rosecrans remained a problem. The Confederates controlled not only all the roads south of the Tennessee River, but the road linking Bridgeport to Chattanooga north of the river as well. The only viable route to the city was a convoluted path over Walden’s Ridge and through the Sequatchie Valley.

But President Abraham Lincoln remained optimistic nonetheless; he wrote Rosecrans on the 4th, “If we can hold Chattanooga and East Tennessee, I think the rebellion must dwindle and die. I think you and Burnside can do this…” Lincoln proposed that Rosecrans attack Bragg. Soon, the reinforcements were augmented by the arrival of elements of Sherman’s Federals from the west.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, despite its tremendous victory at Chickamauga and its siege of Chattanooga, the Confederate Army of Tennessee was in vast disarray. Bragg had relieved Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk and Major General Thomas C. Hindman of their commands for allegedly disobeying orders, and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest had left the army after threatening Bragg’s life.

Bragg had sent Polk to Atlanta to await formal charges of disobedience and dereliction of duty. When Davis learned of this, he recommended that Bragg (his personal friend) drop the charges against Polk (his other personal friend). As Davis explained, “It was with a view of avoiding a controversy, which could not heal the injury sustained and which I feared would entail further evil.”

Pressing charges would mean a court-martial, “with all the crimination and recrimination there to be produced… I fervently pray that you may judge correctly, as I am well assured you will act purely for the public welfare.” Noting the hostility of Bragg’s subordinates toward their commander, Davis stated, “The opposition to you both in the army and out of it has been a public calamity in so far that it impairs your capacity for usefulness…”

Davis dispatched Colonel James Chesnut to meet with Polk at Atlanta and assess the army’s condition. Chesnut discussed the situation with Polk and then met with Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who told him about the army’s “distressed condition, and urged upon him to go on to Richmond with all speed and to urge upon the President relief for us.”

Nearly every high-ranking officer in Bragg’s army–12 corps, divisional, and brigade commanders–signed a formal petition asking Davis to remove Bragg from command. The petition acknowledged “that the proceeding is unusual among military men,” but “the extraordinary condition of affairs in this army, the magnitude of the interests at stake, and a sense of the responsibilities under which they rest to Your Excellency and to the Republic, render this proceeding, in their judgment, a matter of solemn duty, from which, as patriots, they cannot shrink.” The appeal read:

“Two weeks ago this army, elated by a great victory, was in readiness to pursue its defeated enemy. Whatever may have been accomplished heretofore, it is certain that the fruits of victory of the Chickamauga have now escaped our grasp. The Army of Tennessee, stricken with a complete paralysis, will in a few days’ time be thrown strictly on the defensive, and may deem itself fortunate if it escapes from its present position without disaster.”

The commanders argued that Chattanooga must be taken back, but if Bragg was not removed, “this campaign is virtually closed.” The incoming Federal reinforcements “must be met as nearly as possible by corresponding re-enforcements to this army,” but even “the ablest general could not be expected to grapple successfully with the accumulating difficulties of the situation.”

They pleaded, “In addition to reinforcements, your petitioners would deem it a dereliction of the sacred duty they owe the country if they did not further ask that Your Excellency assign to the command of this army an officer who will inspire the army and the country with undivided confidence…”

The officers diplomatically refrained from listing all their criticisms of Bragg, instead simply stating that “the condition of his health totally unfits him for the command of an army in the field.” When the petition reached Chesnut on the 5th, he forwarded it to Davis and urged him to come address these issues in person as soon as possible.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 330-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 765-66, 814-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 356-57; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 78-79, 84; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 416-18; 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

Wheeler’s Tennessee Raid

October 1, 1863 – Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry force entered the Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee to raid the supply lines of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland.

Maj Gen Joseph Wheeler | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As October began, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was laying siege to Rosecrans’s Federals trapped in Chattanooga. To help starve the enemy into submission, Bragg directed Wheeler to lead 4,000 cavalrymen in attacking Federal supply trains north of the Tennessee River. Wheeler had two divisions led by Brigadier Generals William Martin and John Wharton.

Wheeler also had three of Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brigades under Brigadier General Henry Davidson, even though Forrest had argued that they were not ready for such an expedition. Wheeler confirmed this by later reporting that the men were “mere skeletons” who were “badly armed, had but a small supply of ammunition, and their horses were in horrible condition, having been marched continuously for three days and nights without removing saddles. The men were worn out, and without rations.”

Nevertheless, the Confederate force moved out and crossed the Tennessee near Muscle Shoals, upstream from Chattanooga. Brigadier General George Crook’s 2,000 Federal cavalry, stationed nearby at Washington, Tennessee, rode up and fired on the approaching enemy. Wheeler left his casualties in the river and stormed through the Federal horsemen. He then rode up Walden’s Ridge at Smith’s Crossroads, driving off small Federal patrols, with Crook’s troopers in feeble pursuit.

The next morning, the Confederates descended the ridge and entered the Sequatchie Valley. Wheeler divided his force by sending Wharton toward McMinnville while he stayed with Martin to wreak havoc in the Sequatchie. Martin’s force advanced 10 miles, burned a small wagon train, and seized the mules. Martin and Wheeler then rode on to Anderson’s Crossroads, where they came upon a 400-wagon supply train. The Federal escort tried putting up a fight but eventually fled. The Confederates seized what they needed and destroyed the rest.

Rosecrans was alerted to Wheeler’s presence and began assembling forces to stop him. Residents of McMinnville warned the Federals stationed there that as many as 10,000 Confederates were coming down the Sequatchie Valley toward them. However, a scout told the local commander, Major Michael Patterson of the 4th Tennessee (U.S.), that “there was no enemy in force this side of the Tennessee River.” The commander believed his scout over the residents.

Wharton’s vanguard approached McMinnville on the morning of the 3rd. The Federals stopped the skirmishers, but soon the entire Confederate force arrived, which easily outnumbered the 400 Federal defenders. Patterson rejected a verbal demand to surrender, insisting that it be put in writing. When the written demand arrived at 1 p.m., he agreed to capitulate. According to Patterson:

“From 1 until 8 p.m. the men stood in line and were compelled to submit to the most brutal outrages on the part of the rebels ever known to any civilized war in America or elsewhere. The rebel troops or soldiers, and sometimes the officers, would call upon an officer or soldier standing in the line, when surrendered, for his overcoat, dress-coat, blouse, hat, shoes, boots, watch, pocket-book, money, and even to finger-rings, or, in fact, anything that happened to please their fancy, and with a pistol cocked in one band, in the attitude of shooting, demand the article they wanted. In this way the men of the 4th Tennessee Infantry were stripped of their blankets, oil-cloths, overcoats, a large number of dress-coats, blouses, boots and shoes, jewelry, hats, knapsacks, and haversacks…

“While all this was going on, Major-General Wheeler was sitting on his horse and around the streets of McMinnville, witnessing and, we think, encouraging the same infernal outrages, seeming to not want or desire to comply with his agreement…

“Several of the officers of the Fourth Tennessee Infantry called on General Wheeler for protection. He would pay no attention to them, saying that he had no control over his men, &c… Wheeler then ordered the command outside of his immediate lines, on the Sparta road, a section of country infested with guerrillas, where there was robbing and plundering the paroled prisoners all of the way, even compelling captains to sit down in the middle of the road and pull off their boots.”

The next day, the Confederates set out raiding the countryside northwest of McMinnville. Crook’s troopers continued their pursuit, charging the Confederate rear guard with sabers and pushing it back into the main force near Readyville. The Confederates disengaged and continued riding northwest toward Murfreesboro. On the 5th, they destroyed the important railroad bridge over the Stones River, which temporarily cut the Federal supply line from Nashville to Chattanooga. Wheeler reported:

“The following day we destroyed a train and a quantity of stores at Christiana and Fosterville, and destroyed all the railroad bridges and trestles between Murfreesborough and Wartrace, including all the large bridges at and near the latter place, capturing the guards, &c. We also captured and destroyed a large amount of stores of all kinds at Shelbyville, the enemy running from his strong fortifications upon our approach.”

Wheeler dispersed his three divisions along the Duck River, while Crook’s force was augmented by another cavalry division under Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell. The Federals surprised Davidson’s troopers, making up Wheeler’s isolated right flank, just south of Shelbyville. Davidson fell back toward Farmington as Wheeler hurried to bring his other two divisions up to reinforce him. The Confederates formed a strong line and awaited Crook’s approach. Crook reported:

“Finding the enemy vastly superior to me, I left one regiment of cavalry to protect my rear, holding the other two regiments as a support to the infantry, the country being impracticable for the cavalry to operate in. The enemy’s battery was posted in a cedar thicket some 400 yards distant from me, pouring into me a heavy fire of grape, canister, and shell, and made one or two charges on my men, at the same time attempting to turn both of my flanks.”

According to Wheeler:

“The enemy soon came up in strong force with a division of infantry and a division of cavalry. We fought them with great warmth for 20 minutes, then we charged the line and drove it back for some distance. General Wharton’s column and our train having now passed, and the object for which we fought being accomplished, we withdrew without being followed by the enemy.”

One of Crook’s brigades under Colonel Robert Minty did not receive orders to advance and thus stayed back near Shelbyville while the rest of the forces fought at Farmington. Crook wrote that had Minty been there, “I should have thrown him on the left flank, and as things turned out since, I would have captured a large portion of his (Wheeler’s) command, together with all his artillery and transportation.”

Instead, the Confederates raced southward, having accomplished their mission. They re-crossed the Tennessee at Muscle Shoals on the 9th. During this spectacular raid, Wheeler had inflicted over 2,000 enemy casualties, seized or destroyed 1,000 supply wagons and hundreds of draft animals, burned five bridges, tore up hundreds of miles of railroad track, and caused damage estimated to be worth over $1 million.

The Federal surprise attack on the 7th, as well as Wheeler’s loss of 3,000 men killed or wounded, blemished an otherwise flawless campaign. The Federal Army of the Cumberland, already on half-rations while under siege in Chattanooga, now had even fewer supplies to draw from due to Wheeler’s raid.

——

References

Brooksher, William R./Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 330-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 761; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 356-58; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 79-80; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 418; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 819; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

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