The Chattanooga Campaign
"A Summary Essay By AoT"
Note: AoT is the "handle" chosen by a fine Civil War historian whose specialty was the Army of the Tennessee. He was a lawyer by trade, a Rebel by choice, and was one of the premier experts on the actions of the Army of the Tennessee during the late Rebellion! He recently passed away. His name in history is Stephen Dyer Wakefield.
On Sept. 20 1863 union survivors of the Battle of Chickamauga began to steam into Chattanooga. Union commander Rosecrans was totally confused...he initially thought that the disaster of the right wing of his army had probably resulted in a total rout of his entire 58,000 Army Of The Cumberland (AoC). Later that night he would learn that six of his divisions had continued to maintain a position on the battle field most of the day.
In spite of what history tells us ...make no mistake at nightfall of Sept. 20, 1863 George Thomas and his force was forced from the battle field...they did not retire at their leisure or at their own pace. During the night and early the next day the AoC was in various degrees of demoralization. Many statements would be made later by officers wishing to minimize the Chickamauga defeat, but contemporary accounts are pretty clear the strategic center of the Union war effort was reeling.
When advised of the Chickamauga defeat Lincoln immediately sensed that the Union war effort was in trouble. He was faced with two very difficult problems. First the Ohio State elections where to be held on October 9 and with seeming stalemate in Virginia, repulse at Charleston S.C., the CONFEDERACY seemed to have just possibly recovered from its disasters of the summer and be on the verge of grabbing the strategic initiative.
On Sept. 23 Rosecrans tells all that will listen that the AoC will stay in Chattanooga and to please send help, and lots of help. On Sept. 24 without firing a shot Rosecrans withdraws all elements into the inner defenses of Chattanooga. Rosecrans actions include giving up strong positions on Lookout Mountain. He does this over the objections of Thomas.
The AoC immediately begins a frenzied effort to fortify the Chattanooga defenses within a week these defenses are declared by most Union observers to be nearly impregnable.
On the evening of Sept. 26 Lincoln and his cabinet order Hooker with two corps(11th and 12th) from the Army of the Potomac to reinforce Chattanooga.
Grant is ordered to have reinforcements from Vicksburg assembled in Memphis, Tennessee for movement to Chattanooga. Burnside with some 18,000 men north of Knoxville Tennessee is ordered to move to the relief of Chattanooga. So within a matter of three days Lincoln has reacted by ordering to the aid of Chattanooga some 50,000 union reinforcements.
On the confederate side such decisive actions are non-existent. Braxton Bragg waits a full 36 hours following the end of the Battle of Chickamauga before he advances in force towards Chattanooga. Bragg apparently believes that the AoC is frantically preparing to leave Chattanooga and Bragg seems to be willing to have them go at their leisure. Forrest recons of Chattanooga indicate that the federals seem to be preparing to evacuate the city. The fiery Forrest ask for infantry help to press the advantage but all requests are turned down by Bragg. On Sept. 24 James Longstreet proposes to Bragg that the CS Army of Tennessee (AoT) should swing to its left cross the Tenn. River and completely cut off the AoC from middle Tennessee and possibly retreat. Bragg rejects the suggestion out of hand for two stated reasons. Bragg feels that the AoT lacks the necessary transport and logistical support to make the move and he is unwilling to leave east Tennessee to the forces of Ambrose Burnside. Instead of a grand turning movement off a vigorous pursuit Bragg orders a slow and cautious approach on Chattanooga itself.
On Sept. 26 elements of the AoT take position on Lookout Mountain and the siege of Chattanooga begins. Both armies are nearly mirror images of themselves as the siege begins at the end of Sept.1863. The AoC has a commander Rosecrans who seems to have lost his grip his communications betray such wild swings in emotions and lack of a coherent plan that they persuade Lincoln to comment that Rosecrans seems 'like a duck hit on the head'. There exist turmoil in the command structure of the AoC...two corps commanders Tom Crittenden and Alexander McDowell as well as previously highly regarded division commander Negley are relieved of command bending courts of inquiry to determine their roles in the disaster at Chickamauga. The four corps AoC is reformed into two corps with George Thomas and Gordon Granger the only corps commanders. The entire army is reorganized and many officers and units are shuffled around. The CS AoT also begins to develop discord and dissatisfaction within its officer corps. On Sept. 29 Bragg suspends two officers L. Polk and Tom Hindman for alleged failures during the Chickamauga campaign. Three days before on Sept. 26 Longstreet had written to Richmond and complained bitterly at Bragg's leadership and lack of directions. On October 1 1863 the city of Chattanooga, a dirty and muddy little settlement on the Tennessee River became the focal point of the American Civil War. At issue was perhaps the greatest prize in any war--- the strategic initiative! Which side , north or south , would dictate where and how the remainder of the war would be fought?
On September 30...after relieving Forrest of his command and giving it to Joe Wheeler... Bragg sends his cavalry to cross the Tennessee River and disrupt the AoC's supply lines. On October 2 Wheeler's force destroys a large wagon train of federal supplies north of Chattanooga on Waldron's Ridge. But Wheeler's remaining actions on this raid are a total failure. The Nashville to Chattanooga Railroad is not even disturbed. Wheeler spends the next few days in a lengthy running battle trying to get his forces back across the Tenn. River. Wheeler and the AoT cavalry are not a factor in the remainder of the campaign for Chattanooga. Approximately 600 wagons where destroyed on October 2... but the railroad to Stevenson Ala. is not disturbed for the entire campaign. A great what IF--- Nathan Forrest is placed in command of the AoT cavalry and he lead the effort to cut supplies from Nashville... hard to believe that Forrest would have failed to even touch the critical rail line.
On October 2 Rosecrans places AoC on 2/3 rations. For the first time he seems to sense that his supply situation may be critical. One union soldier welcomes the order... his words he thought the AoC had been on rations for the past two weeks! On October 4th in Hooker and the 11th Corps are at Bridgeport Ala. Rosecrans orders his advance halted because at this point Chattanooga needs food more than it needs more soldiers... Because the AoT holds Lookout Mountain and valley Chattanooga's rail line with the Bridgeport rail head is cut... all supplies must come by wagon train over 60 miles of desolate Waldron's Ridge. A wagon trail near the Tenn. River is closed by CS sharpshooters who armed with Whitworth Rifles single handedly destroy a 60 wagon supply train. No forage exists in the Chattanooga region and on October 9th the AoC horses are placed on 1/4 rations.
Oct. 9th is a critical day in the campaign. Ohio state elections are held while the very popular back home Rosecrans is still in command. The copperheads are soundly defeated at the polls. What if? the AoT had been in middle Tennessee by this time? What if Lincoln had sacked the very popular Ohioan Rosecrans? Next Jeff Davis arrives at Chattanooga. He had been told by his aide Gen. Chestnut the army command was near mutiny and discord was rampant following the inaction of the AoT after Chickamauga.
Davis is presented with a petition signed by several key officers. This petition and its creation was really not much short of a mutiny. The petition ask that Bragg be removed from command. In order to create it the officers had clearly had to have meet and discussed the removal of their commanding officer. The petition appears to have been written by Buckner, it was signed by D. H. Hill, Cleburne, and was apparently held at Hill's headquarters while others signatures where sought. Davis took the petition and then called all the corps commanders to a meeting on October 10th. where in the presence of Bragg each officer is asked to tell why Bragg should be removed. The officers at this meeting where... Longstreet, Buckner, Hill and Breckinridge (possibly).
October 11th... Longstreet tells us that he had a very heated private discussion with Davis. Several days later Davis sustains Bragg in command of the AoT. Davis works out a command swap that brings Hardee back from service in Miss. and sends L. Polk to Miss. in his stead. Buckner is sent to Mobile Bay. Bragg relieves Dan Hill for actions detrimental to the morale and effective operation of the army. Shortly after these command changes are made... Bragg in late October totally reorganizes the AoT units. Only one DIVISION is not touched Cleburne's. Every other division of the AoT ( not Longstreet's ANV) troops are shuffled.
On October 16th about the same time Davis and Bragg are tearing the command structure of the AoT apart Lincoln appoints Grant to command the Military Division of the West. Grant is given two sets of orders...one retains Rosecrans in AoC command...one places Thomas in command... Grant chooses Thomas. On Oct. 19 Thomas responds..."We will hold Chattanooga or starve!"
On October 23 Grant arrives at Chattanooga and takes command. His first act is to review the planned Brown's Ferry operation that had begun to develop under Rosecrans. For an entire month... Bragg had concentrated his war efforts on the officers of his own army. For an entire month Hooker had sat at Bridgeport waiting to move towards Chattanooga . For an entire month Sherman had been moving some 20,000 troops from Memphis toward Chattanooga. Burnside had been ignoring orders and suggestions and had been marching around East Tenn. chasing an elusive Sam Jones small command stationed in northern east Tenn. and on the right was Brown's ( formerly Cheatham) the troops where there three divisions. The order never came. Brown and Cleburne where there before night fell. Cleburne's adjutant made it clear that their division was just waiting for the word to advance... the word never came ...no I do not blame Forrest but if he had sent the word to somebody may be a different result.
The first week of Nov. Grant is waiting for Sherman who is by now in northern Alabama. Bragg totally frustrated in his personal dealings with Longstreet and in an apparent effort to do something...sends Longstreet to re-capture East Tenn. By Nov. 9 Longstreet and his two divisions are at Cleveland, Tennessee trying to establish a depot and reliable supply system so support an advance on Knoxville. On Nov. 7 Grant fears Bragg is sending troops to East Tennessee. He orders Thomas and Army of Cumberland to attack at Chattanooga the next day. Thomas explains that such an assault is impossible because there are no horses to move the cannon. Grant reluctantly postpones attack. Grant once again ask Sherman to hasten to Chattanooga. Clearly Grant is beginning to show signs that the only officer he can rely upon is Sherman and that the only troops that he can count on are Sherman's,. While waiting for developments.. Bragg on Nov. 15 places his army on half rations! This is required due to the poor rail system and inability convert the Western Atlantic for use solely by the military. Compare this to the Lincoln administrations practical 'nationalization' of the Northern railroad system.
On November 19th Bragg at last believes that Sherman is in the area of Chattanooga. But Bragg comes to the conclusion that Sherman's forces will be sent to east Tennessee and cut off Longstreet's forces now approaching Knoxville. Bragg ponders his next move and sends a note to Grant warning Grant to evacuate civilians from Chattanooga... Grant correctly reads this as pure bluff...but further concludes that Bragg is preparing to retreat. Tells Sherman to move it!
Bragg on November 22 incredibly decides to further weaken his command and to send Cleburne's and Johnson's divisions to aid Longstreet at Knoxville. Bragg clearly has concluded that Grant will send Sherman's troops north of Chattanooga to East Tenn. In point of fact Grant is intending to center his entire offensive operation on Sherman attacking the North end of Bragg's Missionary Ridge Position and thus flanking Bragg out of his position and also cutting Bragg off from Longstreet at the same time. Having observed CS troops leaving Missionary Ridge on Nov. 22 Grant orders a recon. in force by Thomas and the AoC to test Bragg's strengthen in front of Chattanooga and to try and hold Bragg in place while Sherman gets into position to hit Bragg's northern flank. This recon if force is conducted about 2 p.m. on November 23... two union divisions (Sheridan and Wood) advance of two Confederate regiments on the plain in front of Chattanooga and capture a rough knoll... the action is called Orchard Knob.
When Bragg sees his two regiments swamped by two Union divisions he apparently re-thinks his decision to send troops to Longstreet in the span of 45 minutes Bragg sends Cleburne 3 orders to cancel the move to Longstreet and get back to Missionary Ridge. Cleburne returns with his division...Johnson's division is all ready beyond recall. Stevenson now in command at Look Out Mountain is fearful of an attack on what is now a very isolated position on Braggs far left. Bragg apparently does not share this concern because Bragg orders Hardee to come to Missionary ridge and assume command of the right side of Bragg's position. Thus ends the night of November 23.
November 24. At 2:30 a.m. Sherman's troops north of Chattanooga where they have been hidden for the last day and spring forward and cross the Tenn. River north of the tip of Missionary Ridge a bridgehead is established and all CS pickets on south side of river are captured. Throughout the morning Sherman builds a bridge and expects a crushing counter attack at any moment...none comes....The bridge is finally complete. By mid- afternoon Sherman ponderously moves forward with four Union Divisions. In the late afternoon Sherman calls a halt believing his force is squarely on the northern end of Missionary Ridge. He halts his advance just as his troops make contact with southern infantry for the first time all day. Sherman reports he is in position as ordered. Tomorrow will be the 'pay-off'. While Sherman is making his move... Grant at Thomas' continued prodding has also authorized Hooker to make a demonstration against Look Out Mountain on November 24th... perhaps it will divert attention from Sherman's movement---clearly the movement that Grant's battle plan is based upon.
Hooker sees his great chance to redeem himself... the mountain . To capture it would be his salvation. There was no way he could actually capture the summit but the lower shelve was possible . On Nov 24 the elements of the 11th 12th corps and Osterhause's division assaulted the position and drove the lone confederate brigade defending western face back to the Craven's house position Here Walthall's Miss. regiments where joined by Moore's brigade of paroled Vicksburg defenders...the worst equipped units of the AoT. These two brigades fought for their position the rest of the afternoon. The overall commander of the Southern lower shelve was "MUDWALL" Jackson. Jackson never comes to the actual front. Command and coordination by southern forces are non-existent. Southern troops on the top of Lookout Mountain can do little but watch... some light artillery shells and throw them at the advancing federals below. At dark a decision is made to evacuate the Mountain to try and hold the lower shelve seems unlikely of success and to wait longer may result in the loss of the other cs. troops on the summit... In the dark the confederates abandon the mountain. Grant would later call the "Battle Above the Clouds" pure fiction. Hooker would call it the most magnificent feat of the war. The truth lay in between for those men that fought there it was a truly nasty little engagement.
On the afternoon of Nov. 24th Cleburne's division had been ordered by Bragg to race to the northern end of Missionary Ridge to meet the threat of Sherman's ponderously slow advance on the AoT's right flank. At About 3:30 Cleburne's troops arrive at the northern end of the totally undefended ridge. Cleburne sees the advance elements of the union advance and sends his Texas brigade under A. J. Smith to blunt their advance... the Texas charge down the ridge and hit the union advance on the next adjacent hill ( Now called Goat's Hill). The union advance halts but the Texas can not force the Federals back. Cleburne recalls his Texans and places his division in a series of criss crossing field of fire positions. Cleburne reports to Hardee that there is no way his lone division can cover the entire 2 miles assigned it . Cleburne places his men facing to the north and ignores his own exposed left. Cleburne realizes that if Sherman advances any further he will actually be on the north end of the ridge. and the whole AoT will be cut off from its base at Tyne Station. Sherman HAS MADE A FATAL ERROR... HE IS NOT ACTUALLY ASTRIDE THE RIDGE! Sherman if he had taken the time to personally look would have seen he was not in possession of the ridge. Whether he could have taken on Nov. 24 it in the face of Cleburne's Division is unknown .
As night begins to fall on Nov 24 here is the situation... Grant believes incorrectly that Sherman is in position to sweep down Missionary Ridge tomorrow and flank Bragg and cut him off from Longstreet and the other forces in Eastern Tenn. Grant orders Hooker to keep the pressure up on Bragg's Left. Grant tells Thomas to be prepared to conduct a demonstration to aid Sherman's effort on the confederate right. On the confederate side... Bragg, Breckenridge and Hardee are meeting to determine what to do. Hardee advises retreat he argues that the Missionary Ridge position can be flanked by either or both Sherman or Hooker... get out while the getting is good. Breckenridge ( who Bragg later charges is drunk) argues that the ridge position is too good and that 'if we can not whip them here where can we?' Bragg agrees with Breckenridge...calling into question whether Bragg really thought Breck was drunk! All this is good OH YES FOR THE FIRST TIME!!!! FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE Sept.24TH!! FOR THE FIRST TIME BRAGG ORDERS THE AOT TO DIG IN!!!! Bragg orders the Missionary Ridge position to be prepared for defense over and above the rifle pits at their base.
Cleburne who had expected to be ordered to retreat learns at 9 p.m. there will be no retreat. He hastens his troops efforts to dig in. The key to his defense is a knoll held by his Texas Brigade. Along the rest of Missionary Ridge the preparations that night and the next day can best be called the 'Keystone Cops" prepare for defense. Not enough shovels...a engineering officer that laid the line at the top of the ridge and not at it military crest and then apparently some one who came up with the brilliant idea that the forces would stay in their rifle pits at the base of the ridge and when any union advance got to within 200 yards these troops would retire upon the ridge and join their comrades at the top for the final defense! As if this idea was not bad enough only about of the troops at the base ever got the word and the troops at the top of the ridge apparently knew nothing of the plan! This plan appears to have been Hardee's or perhaps Breckenridge... I believe the evidence more strongly indicates Hardee.
At Dawn Sherman realizes his mistake he turns to his Brother in law Gen Ewing and says "Well Ewing you might as well go forward and do not ask for help unless you really need it".... Without going into the operational details by 2;00 it is clear to everyone that Sherman's grand advance is stuck. In fact Sherman's four divisions have not been able to even make a lodgment on Missionary ridge. Cleburne's reinforced division has stopped Sherman cold in its tracks. Grant is nervous and he is showing it. At Orchard Knob he begins to get visibly nervous and upset. He walks to Thomas and says that a demonstration must be made to stop Bragg from continually reinforcing the troops facing Sherman. IN FACT NO LARGE NUMBERS HAVE BEEN SENT TO CLEBURNE. At 3:00 p.m. Four divisions of the Army of the Cumberland begin their advance.. The four divisions are from left to right Baird, Wood, Sheridan, and Johnson. They start out with virtually no coordination as to their objective...many of the regimental commanders would later say they understood they were to capture the ridge fully as many others would say they understood they were just to press the rifle pit positions.
The struggle up Missionary ridge lasted almost 1 hour. The advance was in several disjointed and uncoordinated regimental size triangles. The colors leading the way and soldiers fanning out behind. Some units started up the ridge under orders to do so. Some units started up the ridge because to stay at the base of the ridge was to imitate the often mentioned fish in a barrel. In some places units actually climbed nearly half way up the ridge only to come back down when ordered to do so. The fire was heavy and in some places local confederate commanders executed very effective counter attacks. The initial union breakthrough occurred in the area of Tucker's Miss. Brigade of Anderson's Division. The site is generally called Sharp's Spur. At a critical point in the struggle a caisson of Slocum's famed Washington Artillery battery exploded causing confusion and disorder in the counter artillery barrage. The CS artillery had not been properly dug in. As the federals of Willich and Hazen's Brigades cracked the CS position at Sharp's Spur they moved to the right and left widening the breach. Bragg had no strategic reserve and could do nothing to close the breach. Because the CS position ran along the top of the ridge they was no method for lateral movement of the defenders. Before long other breaches occurred. The confederate infantry men of Anderson and Bate's Divisions in large groups turned and ran rather than await being flanked and captured. By 5:00 p.m. the federal Army of the Cumberland stood atop Missionary Ridge...the terrible shame of the rout at Chickamauga had been erased from their banners! At its conclusion Grant by all rights should have uttered under his breath.. "I would rather be lucky than smart anytime!", because that was what General Grant had been --- very very lucky!
In reviewing Livermore's NUMBERS & LOSSES, I found the Battle of Chattanooga was very similar to the Battle of Fredericksburg. Let me allow the statistics to make the case further. At Chattanooga for every 1000 effectives in the Union Army 97 where shot. At Fredericksburg for every 1000 Union effectives engaged 103 were shot. Similarly at Chattanooga for every 1000 Union effectives they shot 44 Confederates. At Fredericksburg for every 1000 Union effectives they also shot the exact same 44 Confederates. Clearly the numbers are nearly identical. Look at the Confederate stats... At Chattanooga for every 1000 effectives engaged 118 US soldiers were shot, at Fredericksburg for every 1000 effectives 150 US soldiers were shot! Finally for every 1000 CS effectives at Chattanooga 55 were shot and at Fredericksburg for every 1000 CS effectives 64 were shot. I realize that this can get a little confusing but the bottom line for these stats is that from the Union side at Fredericksburg a huge Union disaster-- the AoP suffered 10.3% hits while inflicting 6.4% hits on the defenders. At Chattanooga the Battle that propelled Grant to over-all command, the Union forces suffered 9.7% hits while inflicting 5.5% hits on the defender. True at Fredericksburg the ANV was more efficient in their hitting of federals but not tremendously so. A final note should in fairness be made these stats do NOT take into account the some 4000 Confederates that were captured. However, I think that these stats do show that if the AoT leadership had been more diligent in preparing for a defense of their Missionary Ridge position the chances are at the very least good that a true blood path would have resulted and perhaps, just perhaps U.S. Grant's career might have followed more closely that of Ambrose Burnside! Food for thought!
This Page last updated 02/16/02
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