The American Civil War Overview
THE WESTERN THEATER: THE TULLAHOMA CAMPAIGN
For six months following the battle of Stones River, Bragg and Rosecrans had uneasily faced each other in Middle Tennessee. Despite repeated urgings from Washington, Rosecrans refused to budge from Murfreesboro until he felt his army was ready. When he did finally decide to advance on June 24, he did so with speed and skill. Sending forces under Crittenden and Granger on diversionary movements to the east and west, Rosecrans sent his main force straight ahead toward Manchester, Tennessee. He was advancing in rough country with several easily defended passes to overcome, but a swift-moving advance by Colonel John Wilder's mounted infantry brigade, armed with the Spencer rapid fire, seven-shot repeating carbines, broke through Confederate forces at Hoover's Gap. Rosecrans was now squarely on Hardee's corps flank with a road open to his rear. Bragg had no choice but to fall back on his supply base at Tullahoma and made preparations to defend against an attack by the Federal forces.
Having reached Manchester on June 27 however, Rosecrans again deceived Bragg by moving southeast instead of southwest and moved around Bragg's right flank. This movement now threatened the railroad that was Bragg's line of supply. With Granger and McCook in Shelbyville, directly north of Bragg's position, he was placed in a difficult position. After another raid on his railroad lines by Wilder's "Lightning" brigade, Bragg decided to yield Middle Tennessee to Rosecrans and retreated again across the Tennessee River.
Thus, with remarkably few casualties, Rosecrans had allowed Federal occupation of all of Middle Tennessee and taken more than 1600 prisoners. By July 7 however, the Washington authorities, elated with the dual successes at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, were already urging Rosecrans to advance again. He would be ready to move forward again on August 16 in cooperation with a movement against Knoxville by Major General Burnside who had set out on August 15. Burnside's opponent, Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner, pulled out of Knoxville and Burnside entered unopposed on September 3. The loss of Knoxville cut the only direct Confederate rail link between Richmond and Chattanooga. Burnside then moved against the Southern forces guarding the Cumberland Gap, and took 2,500 prisoners. He then decided that he no longer needed to support Rosecrans as originally ordered since he had learned that Bragg was in full retreat.
As it turned out, Rosecrans would have been grateful for his support. The most obvious route to his continuing advance on Chattanooga was to the north, but Bragg had it well-defended. To deceive Bragg that the northern route was the one he intended to use, Rosecrans sent three brigades with orders to create the impression that a large force was preparing to cross the river at that point. Bragg moved reinforcements to cover the anticipated movement. Instead, Rosecrans crossed the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, about fifty miles south, virtually unopposed.
For speed of movement and maneuvering options, Rosecrans then split his army into three columns. Crittenden's corps was sent directly north to Chattanooga. McCook's corps was ordered to take a southern detour through Winston Gap. Thomas's corps, which Rosecrans accompanied, moved straight through the middle. Once more, Bragg had been completely outmaneuvered, and was forced to quickly evacuate Chattanooga. Crittenden entered the town without a fight.
It is at this point that Rosecrans became somewhat overconfident. Bragg sent out fake "deserters" who spread the story that the Confederate army was completely demoralized and in full retreat. Rosecrans optimistically believed these stories to be true. In fact, Bragg was looking for Rosecrans to overextend himself so he would open himself up for a counterpunch. With the Federal army split into three widely separated columns, it appeared the opportunity might present itself to defeat each one in detail. It was a good plan, but delays and disorganization within Bragg's own army would prevent it from being successfully executed. Opportunities to crush first Thomas and then Crittenden, were wasted due to misunderstood orders or simply disobeyed by untrusting subordinates in Bragg's army.
When Rosecrans finally realized the danger his own army was in, he desperately tried to reunite the widely separated columns. By September 18, he had been successful in concentrating most of his forces east of the ridge near the Rossville Gap, about seven or eight miles east of Chattanooga on the banks of Chickamauga Creek. Here one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War would be fought; a battle that would give the Confederates a much-needed victory following the triple reverses of Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Middle Tennessee.
This Page last updated 11/20/03
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CHAPTER XI, The Western Theater: Chickamauga and Chattanooga