May 28, 2013

Sit and starve

While Grant lay in Vicksburg, his leg swollen from hip to foot, the Army of the Cumberland sat in Chattanooga and starved. Rosecrans was in a state of panic. He’d give orders, then countermand them, and then issue new orders only to countermand them too. He was a good general, and a brave fighter, but the catastrophe at Chickamauga had completely unnerved him.

President Lincoln would remark that Rosecrans had been one of the Union’s best generals, but add that he was now like a stunned duck that had been hit on the head. Hit on head and stunned he might have been for his men were starving for no one else’s fault but his. Within a week of losing at Chickamauga, he withdrew General Wood and his division from atop Lookout Mountain.

The mountain not only commanded the entire valley, but also the Tennessee River. The river was too shallow for gunboats to maneuver in, but steamboats could navigate part way to deliver much needed food and ammunition. Ever more important was the railroad which could easily supply Rosecrans’ army from the bulging supply houses at Bridgeport, Alabama, only a few miles upstream.

There was no chance of doing so after Rosecrans surrendered the mountain. Now, Confederate gunners could shell river boats, the railroad, and the Union soldiers sitting in their trenches in Chattanooga Valley. If their cannon couldn’t find the range, then the main mass of Bragg’s army could shell them from Missionary Ridge, which Rosecrans had also surrendered.

Though every division and corps commander, including General Thomas, begged him not to surrender the heights fronting the city, he had nonetheless done so. His army was effectively surrounded with its only open supply line being a meandering 75 mile trail that wound through the mountains between Bridgeport and Chattanooga.

There were places where the trail was hardly wide enough for a wagon. Many times, mules would slip over the cliffs and soldiers would be forced to cut their traces in order to move the wagons. The animals plunged to their deaths. And if that wasn’t enough, Confederate raiders were waiting. The wagon trains leaving Bridgeport never carried enough to adequately supply the army, but not one reached Chattanooga unscathed. They were constantly attacked and their supplies looted by the raiders.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans sent out his own raiding parties and reduced his army to half rations. Now, full rations was not living luxuriously. Hard tack and beans, coffee, salted meat of some type, much of which was spoiled, and little if anything else. Now that meager fare was reduced to half and Rosecrans would soon reduce it to one quarter.

The Army of the Cumberland was starving, and President Lincoln knew that he had to move quickly or a major Union Army would be forced to surrender. That was something that had never happened. Because of Braxton Bragg, it never would. Where Lee would have attacked and triumphed, where any number of fine Confederate officers would have also triumphed, Bragg tarried and waited for Rosecrans to surrender. Events unfolding in Washington would prove to be Bragg’s undoing. Events unfolding at his headquarters were almost as damaging.

May 20, 2013

 Isolated & hurt

By late September, 1863, every Northern Newspaper had told the story of the terrible defeat at Chickamauga. Even the Union garrisons in New Orleans and Arkansas had learned as well as the remote outposts in Minnesota. There was one man who wasn’t in the know, a very important man, General Ulysses Grant, commander of the United States Army of the Cumberland.

After his terrific victory at Vicksburg three months before, Grant had garrisoned his own troops and then looked around for fresh enemy to fight. There weren’t any. Then came a command from the War Department to dispatch General Sherman and his two divisions to aid Rosecrans with his invasion of Georgia. (Doesn’t it seem strange to talk about an American army invading Georgia? It always has to me.)

At that point, Chickamauga hadn’t transpired, but General Grant had only a general idea of where Rosecrans and his army were, and he could only point Sherman in the right direction. Actually Sherman was a very capable, intelligent officer and never needed anyone to point him in any direction.

So Sherman made his divisions ready and started east for Rosecrans with the task of repairing the railroad as he marched. He left and Grant took a steamer south to New Orleans to meet with General Banks and decide upon future strategy. Grant was in favor of invading Mobile and driving up from the Gulf Coast to meet Rosecrans and then conquer the most southern states. Eventually, he would join with Meade and the Army of the Potomac and end the war.

A good sound, strategic plan, but while reviewing troops, Grant’s horse bolted and fell upon his leg and knocked the General unconscious. Immediately, officers pulled the horse from him and carried him into a hotel lobby, which they promptly closed to the public. When Grant regained consciousness, he asked for water, and then ordered that his condition remain secret.

As soon as he was able, he took another steamer back to Vicksburg, and there he lay in bed, his left leg swollen from hip to toe. He would later write that he never felt such excruciating pain. The slightest shift of his body, the meager weight of a sheet being placed upon him, would almost make him faint. Plus, he had the Mississippi heat and humidity to contend with.

He did not falter, he did not complain. Two weeks after his accident while still bed ridden, he reported to Secretary Stanton that he was ready to take the field again. How he would have ridden, I don’t know, but Grant would have found a way.

An annoying problem was that General Grant had no direct connection with Washington. It took almost two weeks for any message from the War Department to reach him. Of all the major players in the Civil War, he was the last to learn of Rosecrans’ defeat at Chickamauga.

What he didn’t know was the President Lincoln was already considering how he could use his best general at Chattanooga.

May 13, 2013

Hero or drunk?
The battle of Shiloh

On April 6th, 1862, the Union Army of the Tennessee was poised to invade Mississippi and drive a stake into the Confederate heart. That was not to be. Waiting approximately nine miles south were 35,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of General Albert Sydney Johnston. They didn’t have to wait long.

A happenstance meeting of opposing pickets brought on one of the most horrendous battles of the war, the battle that would convince General Grant that the Confederates would not surrender until completely defeated. Indeed, that would prove the case, but for the time being Grant would have to fight for his and his army’s life.

After the initial contact, Johnston, one of the top Union officers at the rebellion’s commencement, ordered a fierce assault that drove the Union’s foremost units into complete retreat. Meanwhile, Grant was holding a staff meeting at Savannah, Tennessee, some nine miles away.

In the wake of the battle, Grant would be much criticized by the public and press for not being with his army. There may be some truth to this, but the key word is “some.” He was well in control of his troops, knew their dispositions, and his trusted friend Sherman was commanding the foremost units. Sherman didn’t have pickets posted as he should have, but let’s give the Confederates a little credit for being well in place and stealthily concealed. Theirs was a planned surprise attack that they almost pulled off.

Only a series of Confederate misfortunes kept them from sweeping the field that day, that and Grant’s almost instant recognition that a fierce battle was beginning. As I mentioned before, when the battle commenced, Grant was holding a breakfast staff meeting nine miles from the battlefield. Many high ranking Union officers were gathered around his elongated table where he sat at the center. Upon hearing the initial picket fire, Grant grew alert while the other officers continued talking. Only when he called for silence did they stop. Listening for a moment, Grant stood and looked at his staff. “Gentlemen, return to your units,” he ordered them. Then, without delay, he left for the battle.

For the next two days, the armies would be engaged in a fearsome fight. Only with the timely arrival of reinforcements, and cannon that Grant ordered placed around Pittsburgh Landing, were the Yankees able to hold and then eventually drive the Confederates from the field.

Though they lost the battle, the Confederates did considerable harm to Grant’s reputation. By the end of the week, papers were charging that he was drunk and beginning another party with his staff when Johnston struck. So bad would the criticism grow, that Grant considered resigning.

In Washington, President Lincoln read the papers or had them reported to him, and he listened to the congressional complaints. Temperance union officials called upon the White House asking him to replace Grant. These people were more afraid of the bad influence Grant’s reputed alcoholism might be upon the young Union soldiers than they were of the Confederate minnie balls being fired at them. President Lincoln wasn’t.

Being the master politician he was, he shelved Grant by giving him a superficial promotion until the heat became bearable. He saw what most had missed. Though caught unprepared and much surprised, Grant did rally his army and in the end defeated and made the Confederates retreat back to Mississippi. Lincoln considered the papers, the congressional complaints, and the temperance committees, and then made one of his most memorable statements. “I can’t spare that man. He fights.”

May 6, 2013

The Small Man From Illinois

Any man who commands the largest, most powerful armies on the face of the earth, and then goes on to lead the most powerful country in the world, is bound to stir controversy. General Grant stirred more than his fair share because he was at heart a very simple man, who spoke and lived simply. Many thought him naive because he was devoted to his wife and children. Others thought him lacking in intelligence because he was reluctant to open up unless he was sure of the people surrounding him. Others thought him simple minded because he hated making speeches. Seldom did he address large crowds, and he turned down the chance of serving a third term as president because he couldn’t face the Republican convention to ask for the nomination.

But Grant was far from a simple Illinois farm boy. Actually, he wasn’t a farmer, but a store clerk when history summoned him from obscurity to serve in the Union Army. Even then, the trail wasn’t easy. He sat all day at General McClellan’s headquarters and never got a chance to meet with the general and ask for a commission. Most of Washington ignored him and his requests for a command. Only Congressman Washburne listened and got him a commission as a commanding colonel of an Illinois regiment. Then, his men scoffed.

He was on the small side, only five foot eight, and thin. Only after reaching elder age did he begin to put on weight, and he certainly was never known or seen as a raucous, bellicose, course soldier. Yet, he served in Mexico with distinction, and though a quatermaster he led troops into action many times. It must be added that during the Civil War, he never hesitated to face fire, and never did he retire from it.

Maybe that was the key to his personality. Grant attacked; he didn’t retreat. Only once during the war did the Confederates force him to do so, and that was after a subordinate colonel surrendered his supply depot leaving him little food and ammunition in the middle of Mississippi. That same subordinate surrendered his superior Union force without a fight and lengthened the Vicksburg campaign when he did so.

Grant pushed and pushed and pushed and achieved victories while others failed. Yet there were controversies. Next, we’ll discuss Shiloh and why he was vilified after winning a great victory.

April 29, 2013

The memorable Ulysses S. Grant

General Ulysses S. Grant

Winston Churchill once wrote that Russia was an enigma wrapped in a mystery. The same thing could be said about Ulysses S. Grant. The American Civil War would begin with Grant working in his father’s store as a clerk, yet he would rise to become the Union’s commanding general and in 1868 be elected President of the United States. Hardly anyone before the firing on Fort Sumter would have believed it possible.

Perhaps that’s enough to secure his mystery, maybe that’s all there really is, but I don’t believe so. After the war, and because of the prevailing mystique of General Lee, Grant was branded a butcher. (It’s interesting to note that Mrs. Lincoln was the first person to publically call him so.) Yet, his strategic movements around Vicksburg were brilliant and probably the best of the war, better than Lee at Gettysburg or anywhere else. Also, it should be remembered that Grant’s march through Mississippi in 62 were brought short when a subordinate surrendered his supply depot without firing a shot. With supplies, Grant would have probably taken Vicksburg a year earlier.

That too is after the fact that early in the war, he took Paducah and saved Kentucky for the Union. Next, he marched on Fort Henry and Donelson and captured them both. They were first major Union victories of the war, and as I stated above, they saved Kentucky for the Union. Without the border states, the Union might well have been lost, certainly victory would have been much more dearly obtained. Grant, “The Butcher” saved more lives taking Paducah, and Forts Henry and Donelson than he ever squandered.

But before we go on, I want to write about another myth, that he wasn’t too intelligent. That, I’ve always thought untrue. Grant’s father obtained an appointment for him to West Point, a school he disliked intensely. But he persevered and graduated 23rd in a class of 39. Though not as distinguished as Robert E. Lee was, nonetheless, he did well, especially when you consider that he never studied. He stated in his autobiography that he never looked at a book after leaving class. It takes a pretty smart boy to graduate in the middle of your class without studying. Grant did that.

Now, with Chattanooga surrounded and cut off from supplies, President Lincoln was thinking more and more of turning to this undistinguished West Point graduate to save the Union. Why not, he had won more major victories than the rest of Lincoln’s generals combined.

April 22, 2013

The battle against starvation

On September 23, 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland, lay shattered inside the fortifications surrounding Chattanooga. Pack animals and draft horses lay everywhere, either wounded in battle or run to death as the army retreated with four or five wounded soldiers stacked on their backs. Overturned caissons, cannons, supply wagons were everywhere. Many of the men had abandoned their muskets or rifles and run the eleven or twelve miles from Chickamauga Creek to the Tennessee River.

Those who made it lay flat or their stomachs and drank, others scooped water into their hats, while those few who had preserved a few cups, drank from their canteens. The Confederates were far more lucky. They paused at the creek and drank their fill before pursuing the Yankees or engaging General Thomas on the left flank. What no one noticed that day was that most of the Cumberland’s food wagons had been left on the battlefield.

I wrote earlier of the doctors abandoning their medicine wagons and the suffering which resulted. Don’t be too hasty to blame the doctors. It was either run or be captured or killed. Most wished to live to fight another day.

Thirst & starvation was a tremendous struggle to overcome for Civil War soldiers.

My point is that the army had been crushed. Only General Thomas and his men had prevented complete annihilation. It was up to General Rosecrans and his staff and commanders to try to restore order their army. As I’ve written before, Rosecrans was completely crushed. He knew well that his faulty order had killed many men and driven his army back from its goal of invading Georgia.

(It always seems strange to me to write about invading Georgia, Alabama, or any other of the seceding states. As much as I’ve read about the Civil War, I still cannot picture Americans fighting Americans, and our Midwest and Southern states being torn apart by horrendous battles. The largest fought until that time.)

Once General Thomas and his men reached Chattanooga, the battle ceased, and the fight became a siege. For the next few days, the army had food enough to survive. Supplies had been shipped to the warehouses, and the first few nights after the battle the men ate well enough, not that soldiers on either side ate well.

The primary food for the Union soldiers was hardtack, a very hard biscuit that had been developed for sailors at sea. The nutrition in it was minimal, and it was as hard as a brick, and almost as tasteless. But when your belly is empty, hardtack soaked in hot coffee is more than welcomed.

Meat was usually salted to preserve it, and it might have satisfied a soldier’s hunger, but it sure made him thirsty too. Also, the Union supplied its armies with beef cattle to slaughter and cook for themselves. Modern refrigeration and preservatives do have their advantages.

Fresh vegetables and fruits were unheard of. Coffee was crudely freeze dried, and that was the beginning of the instant coffee we all know today. Dried fruit and vegetables were sometimes available, and they were as tasteless as the hardtack. But they were edible, and an empty belly is very seldom picky.

The citizens of Chattanooga were in desperate straits themselves. Before abandoning the city, Bragg’s men rifled every house, taking every bit of the foodstuffs they could find. This would prove a terrible hardship as the local inhabitants had to preserve their foods for survival through the winter. The Union would feed and save them but only after incredible suffering.

So the citizens of Chattanooga and Army of the Cumberland were in perilous straits. One slip up, one mistake, and they would be plunged into catastrophe. That General Rosecrans did when he ordered his forces behind the city’s fortifications and left Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge undefended. Only General Bragg’s errs kept his army from taking Chattanooga.

April 15, 2013

A stable of brave soldiers

As I write this blog, I’m listening to the news commentary about the terrorist attack in Boston. I think what first interested me in the Civil War was the incredible bravery of the common soldier. I mean, these guys, and there are three or four accounts of women who secretly served during the war, did things that are incredibly difficult to believe, let alone understand. Realize too that I’m writing this as a veteran. I spent four years in the army. I know what it means to answer the call to duty, to live through tense moments, not knowing what is going to happen next. But I never lived through a horrible battle or suffered bodily harm. More than 600,000 American soldiers did not return from the Civil War, and this is from a country with a population of 30,000,000. The percentage of wounded and killed was horribly high.

I think the most chilling Civil War photo I’ve ever seen is of Union soldiers calmly sewing their names into their shirts the night before the attack at Cold Harbor. These men knew what General Grant failed to realize, that they could not take the Rebel position, and that they weren’t coming back. I read of one lieutenant walking the battlefield after the initial assault, kicking his men on their feet or sides, ordering them to get up and attack again, until he realized they were all dead. Their name tags served them well. Their bodies could be identified and their families notified.

Navy shipmen during the American Civil War.

It takes a great deal of bravery to so calmly look death in the face. Not many people have it, a great many did during the Civil War. It wasn’t only at Cold Harbor either. I wrote earlier of General Thomas’ stand at Chickamauga. His corps and the scavenged units that retreated to him, and General Granger’s men, stood off superior Rebel forces all afternoon and late into the night before retreating. Pickett ordered 15,000 Rebel soldiers to almost certain doom, and they never flinched, and did not retreat until driven from the Union lines. The same can be said of the Union Army at Fredericksburg. At least seven times Burnside’s army formed up and attacked an impregnable position, only to be driven back. Never did they flinch, on and on they kept coming, only to be killed or wounded.

These few examples, only scratch the surface, and our Civil War is not the only example of brave American men and women serving and making the ultimate sacrifice for their country and fellow citizens. Today, a terrorist enemy attacked the United States from within, and unfortunately it will not end in Boston. There are not enough soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen, or marines to protect against every terrorist attack. It just can’t be done, not even by the most powerful nation on earth.

Unfortunately, our president in 2001, sought vengeance instead of justice. We attacked a country that had done nothing to the United States, and from which there was no exit strategy. That thought, that there was no exit strategy, is going to haunt us for years to come.

The president who made that decision served in the Air Guard, and there is no dishonor of serving in the Air Guard, but he used his influential daddy to get him enrolled so that he wouldn’t have to serve in Vietnam. More than thirty years later he would order thousands of American men and women to their deaths or horrible wounds and destroy a country and kill many more of its citizens, saying that he was bringing democracy to Iraq. What he brought was mayhem and catastrophe, and we are reaping his wind of ill content and contempt.

Navy men during the Civil War.

Decisions like our former president’s are not made by men who sew their name tags into their shirts so stretcher bearers can identify them after being killed. Decisions like his are not made by any of the 15,000 men waiting to charge at Gettysburg or Fredericksburg, or who have fought most of the day at Chickamauga. They are made by men who use their influential daddies to get them a cushy assignment while a war rages in Vietnam.

My regret is that I didn’t protest more loudly, that I didn’t make my feelings better known. At least I tried, though not nearly hard enough. President Obama was willing to risk his entire political future to protest the war. He might not have ever been a soldier, but he did the right and honorable thing. I would imagine that is what the soldiers at Cold Harbor, Gettysburg and Fredericksburg and Chickamauga thought too.

April 8, 2013

The Siege Continues

Maybe my title this week is a misnomer. I had hardly begun the story of the siege at Chattanooga before I ended my last blog. There were many weeks of suffering and starving to follow, so I call this blog: The Siege Continues.

Before I continue, there are a few facts to relate. First, this was the only time during the war that a Southern army laid siege to a Union army.

This must have given Bragg a great deal of satisfaction. For more than two years, the Union had blockaded the Confederacy, bringing ruinous inflation to its currency, and causing a great deal of hardship to its people.

At the time of the Chattanooga siege, a barrel of flour was selling for one hundred dollars in Richmond. Meat and fresh vegetables were also going for a premium. Not so much for lack of farmland but for a breakdown in the transportation system, and for the fact that Southern agriculture was geared to raise cotton and tobacco, hardly edible foodstuffs.

Now General Bragg had forty thousand Yankee soldiers holed up in Chattanooga. Though Rosecrans had ample defenses, he was sooner or later going to run out of food and ammunition. Once he surrendered the high ground, Bragg controlled the railroad and the river. Rosecrans and his forty thousand men were at his mercy. He could shell them, starve them, or bid his time.

I’ve never read any good reason as to why General Rosecrans evacuated Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. What I do think is that in a state of panic, he thought it best to consolidate his lines and defend the city while waiting for Washington to send him help. Already, President Lincoln was meeting with Secretary of War Stanton to arrange just that, but for the time being Rosecrans would have to depend upon his own resources.

So Rosecrans drew within his defensive line and Bragg assumed the heights, and the Confederate generals stewed. I don’t believe in the whole war there was an army commander on either side who was so intensely disliked. Where Robert E. Lee’s men adored him, Bragg’s men, officers and enlisted alike, detested him.

He was noted as a disciplinarian, and the most despicable thing I ever read about him was when he ordered a soldier shot as a deserter. (He ordered many others, but this one stands out.) The young man had left the army to go home to help his widowed mother put out her spring planting. When he finished, the soldier voluntarily returned to duty. Bragg ordered him arrested, and after a court martial, shot.

It was a very unfair and unpopular action. His whole army despised him for it, and what he accomplished in doing was shoot an apparently honorable man and good soldier, and ensure that his men would not fight so fervently as The Army of Northern Virginia.

After Chickamauga, The Army of the Cumberland was in shambles. Thomas’s corps remained intact and ready to fight, but half the army was dead or wounded, and completely demoralized. They could have put up a feeble resistance at best. Everyone of Bragg’s generals begged him to attack Chattanooga before Rosecrans stabilized his defenses. That, Bragg refused to do, stating that his army was spent.

In fairness to Bragg, the Confederate was severely strained. Only by happenstance had they broken the Union defenses, and they were just as battle weary and exhausted as Rosecrans’s men were. Still, Bragg would have most likely defeated Rosecrans and instead of laying siege to Chattanooga, he could have swept north and taken back Tennessee and Kentucky.

There was little standing in his way. Grant was in Vicksburg with The Army of the Tennessee, but the War Department had taken part of his troops and sent them to Banks in New Orleans. There were garrison units in Kentucky and Tennessee, but little else.

The Union would have been hard spent to stop Bragg. If they hadn’t, the President might have lost popular support and been forced to ask for a truce. Believe me, Lincoln never had it easy selling the war to the North, and with casualty rates as high as Chickamauga’s his job only became more difficult.

But Bragg tarried, and earned greater animosity from his generals and men alike, especially Nathan Bedford Forrest. Perhaps, most probably, Forrest was the greatest cavalry commander of the war. He had that sure soldier’s knack of knowing when to attack and when not to, and he was absolutely livid that Bragg refused to attack. Within weeks Forrest would leave Bragg’s command, taking with him an intense dislike that did not ease with age.

So, Bragg didn’t attack and the siege began, but it was going to be a close call. Union soldiers would weaken and many would starve and many more succumb to illnesses that their bodies were too  weak to fight off. Ammunition supplies would run low and uniform and boots would be in short supply, and winter had arrived. Given a different Confederate commander, the Battle for Chattanooga would have probably had a different ending.

April 1, 2013

The siege begins…

I wrote last week of President Lincoln, the greatest man I’ve ever studied in history. It is my belief, and the belief of many others, that the United States would not have survived as a nation if it had not been for his extraordinary leadership. His brilliance and calmness in the face of severe adversity were not only outstanding, but uncanny. He always saw the light at the end of the tunnel. He knew that once managed properly, the Union armies would be unstoppable, that the Confederacy did not have the resources nor the population to withstand the North.

This blog entire blog is based on my novel The Boys of Chattanooga, available for purchase on Amazon.com.

He also knew that the collection of compromises that held the Union together for the previous sixty years would no longer work. The West had no natural boundaries in which to hide slavery. There was no major river dividing the West as the Ohio did the Eastern portion of the country. Another Mason – Dixon line would not work in the West. There would be continually border fights. War was coming sooner or later, and Lincoln did prefer later. Slavery was bound to die a natural cause. It could not be justified, and with the advent of technology it would no longer profitable. Then it would die.

But now it was September of 1863 and Rosecrans had suffered a tremendous defeat at Chickamauga. His army was shattered, literally broken in half with the defeated half retreating to Chattanooga and the fighting half making the most heroic stand of the war.

I want to make this point again. Rosecrans made a terrible blunder. Until he mistakenly opened a hole in his defensive line, the Confederates were not making headway against his army. All of his men fought valiantly and were forced to retreat when Longstreets’ corps poured through the open hole. The Union flanks were turned. There was no way they could continue to fight.

George Thomas’s side of the line was in tact and his corps fought until well into the night before retreating to Rossville and then on to Chattanooga the next morning. I must add that Gordon Granger led his division to reinforce Thomas. Without Granger’s reserves, General Thomas might well have been forced to surrender the field.

In Chattanooga, Thomas found chaos supplemented with panic. The dead and wounded were everywhere, stacked on the city’s sidewalks like wood next to a fireplace.

In numerous houses, surgeons operated non stop, hacking and sawing appendages like the firewood I just alluded to. The Confederate breakthrough had been so sudden and so unexpected that most medical wagons were abandoned, leaving the surgeons without anesthesia. Men were give a shot of whiskey and a stick to bite and then the doctors or orderlies sawed off their arms or legs.

Men wounded in the abdomen were left to writhe in pain until they expired. There was nothing the doctors could do for them. Others were just left on the sidewalk to die because they were too weak to survive. Many, even after the best medical treatment available, still died.

At headquarters, Rosecrans was in a state of near panic. He would make orders and then countermand them, and then make them again, and then once more countermand them. He was a brave man, and a good man, but he knew that his blunder had caused a very serious defeat and that many of his men had died because of him.

Thomas, always unperturbed, reported to Rosecrans, and together they began to plan their defenses. Then, Rosecrans made another serious blunder. He withdrew his men from Missionary Ridge and General Wood’s division from Lookout Mountain. Withdrawing from Missionary Ridge meant that the Confederates would be overlooking the city and able to bombard it. Giving up Lookout Mountain meant that they would have control of the Tennessee River and the railroad running in and out of Chattanooga. Without the river, The Army of the Cumberland would survive; without the railroad, it would starve.

Every general officer begged Rosecrans not to surrender the heights, but he went ahead anyway. Then, after the defenses were adjusted and most of the men reorganized, Rosecrans sent the fateful telegram to Washington informing Secretary Stanton and President Lincoln of the defeat and that he had retreated to Chattanooga. He did not mention the heights, or that in a few days Bragg might lay siege to his army.

Another person not informed was General Ulysses Grant, commander of The United States Army of the Tennessee. Don’t get Grant’s army confused with Bragg’s. During the Civil War, the United States named its armies after rivers while the Confederates named theirs after states. Therefore, Grant’s army was The United States Army of the Tennessee, the river that flowed through Chattanooga, and Bragg’s was The Confederate Army of Tennessee, the state in which the battle would be fought.

That September morning Grant awoke at his headquarters in Vicksburg, Mississippi having no idea that Rosecrans and Thomas were scrambling to put together defenses in Chattanooga. Actually, Grant didn’t awake too pleasantly. A few weeks before, he had fallen from his horse while reviewing troops in New Orleans and severely injured his leg. It was swollen from hip to ankle, and so tender that he couldn’t move without severe pain. Yet he cabled the Secretary of War that he was able and ready to take the field again.

This message was from the most successful general of the war. From the beginning Grant had taken the fight to the Confederates, winning victories at Forts Donelson and Henry. Then he drove the Confederates through Western Tennessee to confront and defeat them at Shiloh. He fought again and won again at Corinth where he considered relieving Rosecrans before the later was promoted to command The Army of the Cumberland.

Perhaps the most brilliant maneuver of the war was when Grant maneuvered his army around Pemberton’s inside Vicksburg to eventually take the city on Independence day 1863. Vicksburg and Chattanooga were the two most tactically important victories of the war. Vicksburg split the Confederacy in two while Chattanooga would destroy railroad connections and open the path to Atlanta. But on September 23, 1863, General Grant lay on his bed in Vicksburg wondering where his next assignment would be.

March 26, 2013

Abe Lincoln: The greatest man I have ever studied

I want to say from the start that in all of history, President Lincoln is the greatest man I have ever studied. What he accomplished during the Civil War is not only astounding and amazing, it is almost miraculous. When one studies our Civil War, one should also remember that all the European powers were sure the United States would not be able to subdue the South. Remember too that the Southern Confederacy was a larger land area than what Napoleon conquered in his lifetime. Such a large area had never been subdued before. Most thought it could not be done when President Lincoln assumed office.

In addition, most of the South had been preparing for war the previous ten years. Jefferson Davis had served as Secretary of War and had seen to it that Southern officers got the best assignments and training and were in the best duty stations to facilitate secession if the South chose to do so. In addition, armories and ships and large artillery were conveniently stock piled in the South. President Lincoln inherited only dissension and trouble when he was elected, certainly not quantities of weapons or a large army bent upon subduing the insurrection.

In addition to these disadvantages, President Lincoln was an unknown to the general population. The Lincoln Douglas Debates had garnered him some national fame, but he had no large scale following, and he had no administrative experience in government or anywhere else for that matter. He had served a session in Congress, and he was not returned by the Illinois electorate. He was an self educated unknown, a man whom most of the South hated, and a man who selected a cabinet who thought for the most part that they were being led by a bumpkin. They weren’t.

One of my favorite stories about President Lincoln is that his Secretary of State, Seward, came to Washington thinking that he’d be the defacto president. He had been the front runner for the Republican nomination and had lost to Lincoln after the third ballot. Though he wasn’t bitter, he still thought he was the better man. Yet within a month of being sworn into office, he told his wife that when the cabinet met, the President was the best man in the room.

They would become close friends. It was to Seward that Lincoln turned most for advice, and it was to Seward’s house that Lincoln would journey when he needed to get away from the strain for a few minutes. It was with Seward that Lincoln loved to swap stories.

That does not mean that they didn’t have their differences. At the beginning of the administration, Seward wanted to invade Mexico and drive the French out. He had hopes of bringing the South back into the Union if they had a common cause to fight. He also differed with Lincoln about the Emancipation Proclamation and its wording. Also, he wanted to wait until the Union had scored a clear cut victory instead of the stalemate after Antietam. Lincoln changed some of the language, but issued the proclamation. That is how well they worked together.

Lincoln worked well with his whole cabinet. His major problem was Secretary of Treasury, Chase, who clearly wanted to be president, and who clearly thought he could do a better job. Through his first administration, Chase constantly back stabbed him and demeaned him privately. Lincoln was no fool; he was a genius. Yet he stuck with Chase because of one thing. He did his job well, and that was what was paramount with Lincoln. When the time came to accept his resignation, Lincoln did, but not until he had gotten a lot of good out of him.

The same can be said about General McClellan, a general I’ve learned not to like. I used to be sympathetic toward him because I thought he cared about his troops and did everything he could to ensure their safety. Now, I see him as an egotist who squandered lives by not backing Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Yet Lincoln stuck with him while so many were calling for the general’s dismissal.

Why, a person might ask. Lincoln answered why when confronted by a congressman who demanded that he replace McClellan.

“Who will I replace him with?” President Lincoln demanded.

“Anyone,” the congressman shouted at him.

“Anyone may do for you,” President Lincoln informed him. “But I need someone.”

These are the qualities of President Lincoln’s that I appreciate the most. His common sense, calm approach to steering the country though the war.  His amazing capacity for work. His absolutely wonderful regard for his soldiers. He spent hours poring over trial transcripts, trying to find ways to commute death sentences of men convicted of desertion. If there was a loophole, Lincoln would seize upon it and send the man back to duty.

I love most of all the Trent affair when the United States took Confederate envoys off the British ship Trent. Britain demanded the men back, and the United States refused. Lincoln held a cabinet meeting, poled every member present, and they all voted to go to war with Great Britain rather than release the Confederate envoys. After Lincoln took the vote, he commented that there were twelve ayes and one nay. “The nays have it,” he told them. “One war at a time.”

That may be worded simply, but it’s still brilliance. Now, the United States Army of the Cumberland had been routed at Chickamauga. The Union had suffered its first major defeat in the West. Once again, the simple tall man in Washington would stand fast and see the country through its latest disaster.

March 19, 2013

Thomas and Granger at Chickamauga

Last week I wrote about the first horrendous day at Chickamauga and how Rosecrans’ defenses held, and then how the men went without water until late the next day. I can’t imagine that, and I’ve always wondered why the men didn’t call a truce so they could fill their canteens, but they didn’t, and many suffered. They suffered much more when Longstreet’s corps burst through the open section of Rosecrans’ line.


Army Officer George Thomas

The rout was on, and it became a footrace for Chattanooga. Hundreds of men were killed outright by the rebels. Though the majority of the army escaped, many hundreds more were captured, and what had been the potential for a huge Union victory ended up a disastrous defeat. Only George Thomas and Gordon Granger saved the day.

Thomas’s left side was well fortified, and his men were as stalwart as their commander. When he saw the disaster unfolding to his right, he immediately began to enlist the disbanded troops into his corps. Most of all, he continued to fight. Later he would be called, “The Rock of Chickamauga,” and his men were too. They were the “Rocks of Chickamauga.” Time and again superior rebel forces attacked and time and again “The Rocks” drove them back.

All the while, Thomas sat on his horse, directing the fighting, not flinching no matter how close the minnie balls flew, and while he sat and directed and his men fought, Rosecrans led the retreat of his other two corps to Chattanooga. Now, I’m not going to demean General Rosecrans. He was a great soldier who made a bad mistake, and he intended to make his way to Thomas and take command and fight himself, but was dissuaded from this by General Garfield, a future president.


Army Officer Gordon Granger

Garfield, Rosecrans’ chief of staff, argued that it would be better if Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga and organized the defenses there. There is a great deal of merit to this suggestion because Rosecrans was far superior to any of the other retreating generals. Knowing this, he continued on to Chattanooga while Garfield rode to Thomas and greater glory. I’ll touch on Garfield a little later in my blogs.

Meanwhile Gordon Granger had been holding his division in reserve. When he heard of the terrible disaster and that Thomas was making a stand, he did not hesitate. Immediately, he ordered his men forward to help Thomas and his men. That, they did, and perhaps it was because of his aid that Thomas succeeded in holding the rebels until the rest of the army retreated safely behind the defenses at Chattanooga. That’s why their pictures are at the top of this blog. Both were heroes at Chickamauga, though both would later run afoul of General Grant.

March 11, 2013

Chickamauga – The worst mistake of the year

It’s easy to judge someone’s else’s mistakes. That’s why Christ admonished us not to judge others. The problem with military mistakes is that they can cost so much in blood and life. Each commanding general at Chickamauga made a glaring mistake. The Union mistake cost thousands of lives, the Confederate mistake destroyed a golden opportunity to win more than the battle, possibly the war.

On September 19, 1863 the United States Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee locked horns and began the two most horrendous days of the war. As I pointed out last week, the Confederates were attacking and attacking armies suffer more casualties than defensive armies. Wave after wave, attack after attack the Confederates threw at the Union, but General Rosecrans’ defenses held. Always the Yankees repulsed the Rebels, though not by much. It was a close, hard, brutal fight that only ceased with the coming of dark.

I’m going to bring it up again, both armies that night had no access to water, though Chickamauga Creek flowed between them. Many thousands of men went thirsty that night, and until you’ve gone without water for a long period of time, you can’t imagine the agony. And these men had fought all day and would fight the next.

Through the night Confederate reinforcements continued to arrive. While they did, both commanding generals met with their staffs, trying to plan strategy for the next day. Everyone was exhausted from the commanding generals to the lowest private. At the conference table, General George Thomas kept falling asleep. When nudged awake, he would only mumble, “Strengthen the left, strengthen the left.” It would be a few days before Thomas slept again.

Early the next morning, the Confederates began with a terrific cannonade, and then they assaulted all of Rosecrans’ defensive line, seeking a weak point, somewhere they might break though. They found nothing. All that morning the Union defenses held, so the Confederates settled down to attacking different sections of the line, still probing for a weak point.

Keep in mind that while one division of Confederates was attacking, the remainder of Bragg’s army kept firing steadily into the Union positions, carefully gauging the returning fire. They kept searching for a weak point, a place undefended. Early the afternoon of the 20th they found one.

In the middle of the fight, with muskets and cannons roaring, a messenger approached General Rosecrans telling him that a hole had developed in his defensive line. Only moments before, Rosecrans had dispatched his chief of staff, James Garfield, to check on another problem. Harried, exhausted, and without help, Rosecrans ordered General Wood to move his division to fill that hole.

General Wood received the orders and knew that instead of filling a hole, he was creating one. He hesitated to ask Rosecrans for he’d received a tongue lashing from his commander only hours before. This I always find questionable. It’s better to get another tongue lashing than have thousands killed and lose a major battle. But General Wood’s military record is impeccable, and I did take from the Scriptures that we shouldn’t judge lest we be judged.

Upon receiving his order, General Wood moved his division from the line, and within minutes, the Confederates learned that he and his men were gone, and that a looming space had developed in the Union line. Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, they charged through the open hole. This I believe is the single largest and worst mistake of the war. Grant blundered at Cold Harbor, and Longstreet tarried at Gettysburg, but none were as large or serious as Rosecrans ordering General Wood’s division off the line.

The Confederate charge, immediately began to roll back the flanks of the Cumberland’s line and in minutes the rout was on. There just wasn’t time to do anything but run. And run the Army of the Cumberland did, all the way back to Chattanooga.

So complete was the rout that the Union abandoned its medical stores and left wounded men on the battlefield. So complete was it, that those thirsty thousands ran all the way to Chattanooga before they stopped to drink from the Tennessee. It was the most complete defeat of the war, except for a lone corps commander, George Thomas.

Being in command of the left side of the Union line, Thomas quickly saw what was happening, and scavenged what units he could and ordered his division commanders to hold fast. What was a rout did not turn into a complete catastrophe. George Thomas and his men staved off a horrendous defeat. Because of them, the Union would make a stand in Chattanooga. More next week.

March 4, 2013

The two most horrific days of the Civil War

After occupying Chattanooga, General Rosecrans split his army into three corps to better move through the mountains separating Chattanooga from Northern Georgia. Many historians have condemned this move, claiming that Rosecrans was being hasty, and it must be said that General Thomas cautioned him against a quick move from Chattanooga. But Rosecrans was under pressure from Washington to move, and he saw a chance to make a quick and decisive drive into Georgia, so after a week’s rest, he began his advance into Georgia. Many in the North believed that the beginning of the end was near. Many in the South did too.

What Washington and General Rosecrans didn’t know was that Richmond was sending Bragg James Longstreets’ Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia. It was the first time that large numbers of men would be moved by rail. Though no way comparable to modern railroads or trucks, the trains did afford the Confederates much more rapid transportation than Washington or Rosecrans could have possibly expected.

Indeed, Rosecrans was greatly surprised when lead elements of his corps began to encounter resistance while still marching through the mountains. Realizing that Bragg was planning resistance and possibly a counter attack, Rosecrans began to hastily reassemble his army. That he barely managed to do after several bumbled attempts by Bragg’s generals.

I should stop at this point to remind you that Bragg was not a well liked General. His only fan seems to have been Jefferson Davis, who kept him in command for far too long of a time. In the prelude to Chickamauga, Bragg’s division and corps commanders didn’t follow his orders and several keen opportunities were lost.

Because of these lost opportunities, the two armies met and battled on September 19 and 20, 1863. The horror of this battle cannot be easily exaggerated. Only at Gettysburg were more men killed and wounded, and Gettysburg required three full days of fighting. The casualties at Chickamauga were achieved in less than two days.

It’s also interesting to note that in this battle, the Confederates outnumber the Yankees, and that the Confederates were attacking while the Union soldiers fought from behind field fortifications. Thus, the Confederate losses were heavier than the Union. I always hate it when people refer to General Grant as a butcher. He was a military genius who almost always fought as the attacking general. Lee’s casualty rates were as high or higher than Grant’s when he attacked.

But I stray from Chickamauga. Rosecrans had hastily reassembled the Army of the Cumberland, built what fortifications he could, and on September 19th, the Confederate onslaught began. Attack after attack, charge after charge, Bragg hurled at Rosecrans, and after a horrible day of fighting, neither army had gained an advantage, though Rosecrans was in the better position.

If his army held off the Confederate onslaught, he could be more easily resupplied, or he could retreat to Chattanooga and wait out the winter before beginning a new advance into Georgia. For Bragg, it was win at Chickamauga or retreat deeper into Georgia.

I want to add that after the first day of fighting, many of the men of both armies had no water. The Chickamauga Creek flowed between them but no truce was called so the men could refresh themselves. This is unusual in a war where many times soldiers would exchange coffee for tobacco or other food stuffs and medicine’s. Later truce lines would be made at Chattanooga so both sides could drink from the creek that flowed between them, but not at Chickamauga. Having no water after fighting all day must have been a horror in itself. Next blog, I’ll talk about the most frightful mistake of the war.

February 27, 2013

Rosecrans invades Georgia

I recently finished Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, a book I would recommend to anyone, especially those with an interest in the Civil War and President Lincoln. I learned from Mr. Drehle for the first time that most of the European powers did not believe the Union could subdue the South. The European governments simply believed the South’s area was too large to be subdued by any power.

There was a great deal of validity to this reasoning. The American South of 1861 was larger than the area conquered by Napoleon, and almost as large as the Roman Empire at its height. A conquering country would have to sustain armies far too great to control such a vast area. Those European beliefs were beginning to change in September of 1863 when the Army of the Cumberland took over Chattanooga, and then in little more than a week’s time began its invasion of Georgia.

Already, Grant had subdued Vicksburg and New Orleans, the largest city of the South, was occupied. Union armies were marching on Texas, Rebel armies in Arkansas had been beaten, and Missouri was not exactly pro-Union, but it wasn’t loyal to the South either. I might point out that President Lincoln, brilliantly mollified the border states of Kentucky and Missouri to remain in the union. He also helped create West Virginia, the section of Virginia that remained loyal to the Union, and he was feverishly hoping to get Eastern Tennessee pacified for it had always been Union in sentiment.

Now, the daggers blow was about to fall. Rosecrans would drive into Georgia, and the Confederacy would be on the eve of destruction. To do this, Rosecrans had to march his army across the rugged mountains that separated Tennessee and Georgia. This meant that he would divide his army into three separate corps and take three separate trails.

Modern historians, write that this was a grave mistake, and it certainly was a prelude to a great many deaths and one of the most horrendous battles of the entire war, but I really don’t see too much else General Rosecrans could have done. First, it’s very difficult and requires a great deal of planning to move fifty thousand men. Tons of equipment, ammunition, food stuffs, everything that an army needs has to be moved as well as the men. To send an entire army over one mountain trail would have created snafus and traffic jams and left the army open for attack from guerrilla bands waiting in the passes and higher peaks. Plus, the entire trail might be blocked for days by much smaller Confederate units.

Time was growing short. It was already September. Soon the winter snows would begin to fall and Rosecrans might well be trapped in the mountains. So, he divided and sent his three corps on three separate trails to reunite in Georgia. Good plan – one of worth and admiration except that Richmond, the beloved capital of the Confederacy, was hastily dispatching reinforcements – a corps from the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by James Longstreet.

It would be the first time in history that an army would be transported by rail, and their quick movement would be just in time to staunch The Army of the Cumberland’s invasion. Chickamauga is our next blog.

February 18, 2013

Rosecrans in Chattanooga

In early September, 1863, Braxton Bragg retreated from Chattanooga to Georgia, thinking that General Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberlan had crossed the Tennessee River and were preparing to attack. How Bragg could have been so colossally fooled as to believe this, I don’t know. I wonder if anyone really does, but as I wrote in my last blog, Bragg was not well respected by his men or officers.

What really matters though is that General Rosecrans occupied the city, secured Lookout Mountain, and made sure that his rail lines from Bridgeport to Chattanooga were open, and that he’d have a safe supply line. Then, after seven days of resting and refitting, Rosecrans began his advance to Georgia.

After two and one half years of bloody struggle, the end was in sight. Occupying Atlanta and then the rest of Georgia would drive a stake into the Confederacy’s heart. What direction would follow no one knew. Probably, Rosecrans would have driven on to the sea, as Sherman did more than a year later, and then begin to march north to catch Lee between two huge Union armies.

What Europe had deemed impossible would have come to pass. The Confederacy would be crushed and the Union would be reunited. Also, many bloody battles would be saved. Of course no one knew any of this in 1863. What they did know was that Rosecrans was marching through the mountains toward George, and no one could move troops any better or more stealthily than he could. His march across Tennessee had proven this.

A few historians believe that Rosecrans moved too quickly, and his best corps commander, George Thomas, asked him to go more slowly, but Washington was hot for Rosecrans to move. Both Stanton and President Lincoln were worried that Rosecrans might tarry another six months as he did after Murfreesboro. And Rosecrans was over confident. His scouts told him that Bragg had retreated. What they didn’t know was that the Confederacy had a few tricks up their own sleeves and that Bragg regrouping and planning on marching back through the mountains.

More next week.

February 11, 2013

The ineffective leadership of Braxton Bragg

Last blog, I wrote about the lay of the land around Chattanooga and how that made the city and valley vulnerable for siege and attack. And that is the reason Bragg retreated to Georgia rather than try to defend the city. His mistake was not in retreating, but in making sure that Rosecrans had indeed crossed the Tennessee River. Since he hadn’t, Bragg could have well defended Chattanooga and might have held it for months, and time was running out for the Union.

A hundred and fifty years after the fact, and two world wars later, even Americans tend to forget that the American Civil War was the largest war fought up to that time, and its battles the largest and most costly. More men were killed at Shiloh than all the previous battles fought on the Northern Continent, and the blood letting was just beginning.


Commander Braxton Bragg.

It was a horrendous war, terrible, even by today’s standards. People also forget that until the last year, it was a war fought without rapid fire weapons. Such blood letting was appalling, and the side that would eventually win the war would have to have leaders that would inspire their armies to make such great sacrifices.

The Union always had President Lincoln, but it would take our greatest president years to find generals of the caliber of Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Meade, and George Thomas. One of the main reasons the South held out for so long was because of Robert E. Lee, Joe Johnston, and Stonewall Jackson. Unfortunately, one of the South’s army commanders was Braxton Bragg.

Bragg was easily the most controversial of all the Confederate full generals and army commanders. And where Robert E. Lee’s men worshiped him, Bragg’s despised him. There was a long list of officers, both Confederate and Union who disliked him, including Grant. Things grew so bad during the siege of Chattanooga that Jefferson Davis had to journey to Bragg’s army headquarters to meet with Bragg and his commanders.

To a man, they all wanted Davis to relieve Bragg. Nathan Bedford Forrest, probably the best cavalry commander on both sides, left Bragg’s command, telling him in no uncertain manner that he had no use for him. As I said, Grant, disliked Bragg before the war, and disliked him during it, and after it. The list goes on and on.

Perhaps the story that best illustrates Bragg’s inability to command successfully is his execution of a soldier who left the army to go home to help his widowed mother put out the spring planting. Once he accomplished that, the soldier returned to duty where Bragg had him arrested and tried for desertion.

The young soldier was found guilty and shot by firing squad while Bragg’s army stood in attendance. No one except Bragg thought the verdict and punishment just. To a man, his army hated him for it. Instead of instilling discipline, his actions instilled hate. This was the man leading the Confederate forces at Chattanooga, and the South would suffer for it.

February 8, 2013

The Lay of Chattanooga

First, and most important of all, Chattanooga is located in one of the Tennessee River’s many valleys. The city is surrounded by tall mountains with a narrow river outlet to the west that leads to Bridgeport, Alabama. The valley extends to the east, but becomes so narrow that any army would find it too difficult to march through.

To the south of the city is a single pass that leads through the mountains to Georgia, and Atlanta, Georgia  was the prize that Rosecrans was seeking and which Bragg was defending. Though Atlanta wasn’t the largest city in Georgia, and 15th largest in the entire Confederacy, it nonetheless was an important rail center, and a growing manufacturing base.

Mountains near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Even more important, once safely ensconced in Atlanta, Rosecrans could drive on to the sea and split the Confederacy in half. Then, the rebels might surrender, or at least the Union would split the Confederacy into sections and conquer each separately. Both sides were keenly aware of this, and no one more than President Lincoln. “As long as we hold Chattanooga, we are a thorn in the rebels’ vitals,” is his famous quote.

So, to control Chattanooga, Rosecrans had to first cross Tennessee, which he accomplished with his brilliant ruse of building boats to do so. Bragg, fearing the worst, had no choice but to retreat to Georgia, where he would have better ground upon which to fight. So he did. Rosecrans crossed the river and occupied the surrounding heights without firing a shot.

These heights included, Lookout Mountain, a high peak from which an army could control the river and the vital rail traffic leading from Chattanooga to Bridgeport. Without control of this mountain, an army would be effectively besieged. The remaining supply route, was an arduous 75 mile trail that led over high mountains with very narrow clearance on very precarious cliffs. An army could not hope to feed and supply itself using this wagon trail, especially if enemy cavalry lay in wait to attack and plunder its supply wagons.

Besides Lookout Mountain, overlooking the small Tennessee city is a huge ridge that separates Chattanooga from the Georgia mountains and passes. This ridge was already called Missionary Ridge after the mission the Spaniards had built upon it the century before. If an army occupied Missionary Ridge it would have control of the valley and from it could shell the city and the fortifications of the opposing army.

Control of Chattanooga meant control of the heights surrounding it, and immediately, General Rosecrans secured those heights to protect his army. Unfortunately, he would forget his wise judgment in doing so, but more about that in the blogs to come. Next, we must consider Braxton Bragg, perhaps the worst army commander on either side.

February 1, 2013

Chattanooga, Tennessee

I wrote last of General William Rosecrans and his brilliant march through Middle Tennessee that culminated with his capture of Chattanooga. That capture was one worthy of the books. Once Bragg and his Confederate Army of Tennessee occupied Chattanooga, Rosecrans moved up river and took over a sawmill and began to cut lumber. Bits and pieces he chucked into the stream. As it floated past Chattanooga, Bragg became convinced that Rosecrans was building boats with which to cross the Tennessee. Once he did, Bragg would have his back to the mountains and his front to the river, and there would be no retreat, only surrender. Reluctantly, he led his Confederate Army of Tennessee across the mountains to Georgia.

I don’t fault Bragg for his tactical decision. I do fault him for not sending scouts to check the situation out and see if Rosecrans was actually building boats. He wasn’t, and that cost the Confederacy dearly. As I’ve stated before, Chattanooga was the key railhead for east and west traffic in the Confederacy. Without control of Chattanooga, the Western Confederacy would slowly strangle and die. Without the aid of the Western Confederacy, the East could not hope to withstand the North. So Chattanooga was very important and Rosecrans had captured it without firing a shot.

It’s also important to note that Rosecrans occupied Chattanooga as Lee was launching Pickett’s division against Meade at Gettysburg while the next day Grant captured Vicksburg. While the Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war, and Grants capture of Vicksburg ended a long, arduous siege, don’t think that the public overlooked the accomplishments of Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland. They didn’t.

In the North, Rosecrans was hailed as a hero. He had captured an entire state without fighting a major battle, his men lived while soldiers in other Union armies suffered and died, and that’s not mentioning the thousands of horribly maimed and wounded. Union fathers and mothers wanted their sons to serve under Rosecrans. Local politicians extolled his military expertise while southern politicians hated him. But Washington had different thoughts.

Fearing that Rosecrans would tarry in Chattanooga as he had Murfreesboro, President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton urged Rosecrans to follow Bragg across the mountains and fight him in Georgia. With the fall of Vicksburg and the victory at Gettysburg, a smashing defeat of Bragg in Northern Georgia or at Atlanta might well force the Confederacy to surrender. The war would end and the suffering stop.

Infuriated that Washington expressed so little gratitude for his army’s fine accomplishment, Rosecrans wired Stanton that though his army’s victory was not written in blood, it had accomplished as much as either the Army of the Tennessee commanded by Grant, or The Army of the Potomac commanded by Meade. With that, Rosecrans occupied Chattanooga and let his men rest, a rest they well deserved. Next time, we’ll talk about the lay of the land in the Chattanooga River Valley.

January 25, 2013

More on Rosecrans

Old Rosy. Yesterday I misspelled General Rosecrans nickname. It wasn’t “Old Rosey,” but Old Rosy instead. He was beloved by his men, as I wrote yesterday. He shared battles with them, he led from the front, not from the rear, and he took as good of care of his men as he possibly could. No Civil War general cared anymore for their troops than General Rosecrans, and most didn’t care as much. He was an exceptional general with one bad flaw.

He cared not with whom he argued, and would yell at General Grant or any other commander if he felt he should. Yelling at Grant and arguing tactics and strategy was not the way to get along with one of the true geniuses of the war.

General Ulysses S. Grant.

Most people play down Grant’s intellectual capabilities; I don’t. I read one article that described him as a military genius, and even today his military strategies are studied and followed at West Point. If you don’t believe that Grant was a military genius, then I’d suggest you study his campaign record. But I write away from the point, which is that Rosecrans was a very good general, and a very superior strategist and tactician.

The Union Army of the Cumberland and The Confederate Army of Tennessee lay spent and wasted after The Battle of Murfreesboro. They had good reason. The respective armies suffered higher casualty rates than after any major battle during the war. So exhausted were they, that after Bragg retreated to Tullahoma both armies remained encamped until Rosecrans began to advance the following June.

What followed was probably the second greatest campaign during the war. In my opinion, only Grants advance upon Vicksburg was greater. Lee’s two advances into the North ended with his defeat at Antietam and Gettysburg, McClellan was rebuffed on the peninsula while Sherman enjoyed such superior numbers and supplies that the Confederates could do little but annoy him. (That is a direct quote of Confederate General Joseph Johnston.)

As the great historian, Bruce Catton stated that Rosecrans maneuvered Bragg clear across Tennessee. Their armies were nearly equal in size, Bragg had been resupplied, and his army was fit to fight. Yet, time and again Rosecrans flanked him thus leaving him with no choice but to retreat. By the end of June, he had forced Bragg back to Chattanooga, and then with trickery made Bragg believe that he had crossed the Tennessee River downstream and was advancing upon his works. He then retreated to Georgia and Rosecrans occupied Chattanooga.

All of this was accomplished without a major battle. Rosecrans’s losses were minimal to say the least. No other Civil War campaign cost so little in manpower and supplies. Even President Lincoln lauded it as one of the finest examples of Civil War strategy, and it was.

But once inside Chattanooga, Rosecrans began to encounter new problems.

January 23, 2013


William Rosecrans, the commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland.

William Rosecrans, the commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland, is one of the great mysteries of the Civil War. Mystery or not, I admire him a great deal. Almost to a man, his subordinates admired him too and claimed he was the smartest man they ever knew. He was also a general who was devoted to his troops.

He spent hours walking the camp streets meeting and greeting his men, and he was always concerned with their welfare. If there were supplies, and if anything was needed, Rosecrans saw that his men got it.

Once, while inspecting a company, he came to a man who was wearing soleless shoes. “Why didn’t you see your company commander?” he demanded of the soldier.

“I did, sir,” the soldier.

“Well, if he didn’t do something, you should have seen your battalion commander, and if he didn’t, go to your brigade commander, and if they won’t do anything, then you come to me.”

And Rosey meant it. The welfare of him men was only second to his mission. Being a veteran of the ranks, that means a great deal to me. What means even more is that Rosey shared every battle with his men. As I wrote in my last blog, he was all over the field at Murfreesboro, leading charges, preparing defenses, encouraging his men. Where the fighting was toughest, you’d find Rosey.

And when there were lulls in the fighting, and his army was in encamped, Rosey only had to step out of his tent to be greeted by cheers. Popularity is not the mark of a great general, but Rosey’s men had good reason to love him. He was valorous, caring, and not afraid to face enemy fire, and one of the finest tacticians on either side.

As I wrote in my last blog, Bragg retreated to Tullahoma giving Rosecrans a tactical victory. Though, like most people, I’m not a fan of Bragg’s, I do believe he should have retreated. Rosecrans was being reinforced and resupplied, and he wasn’t and that resupplying led to Rosecrans’s rub with Washington.

The percentage of losses at Murfreesboro were tremendous, almost 24 percent, the highest percentage of any major battle during the war. Can you imagine 24 percent losses with today’s military? Can you imagine the public uproar and horror? In addition, Rosecrans’s army was spent as was Bragg’s. The men were too exhausted, wounded, and shell shocked to move forward, so Rosey fortified Murfreesboro and hunkered down to lick his wounds.

That didn’t please Secretary of War Stanton or President Lincoln. They wanted him to push forward and attack Bragg, but Rosecrans waited. Meanwhile, the War Department sent every piece of equipment he ordered, new recruits were rushed to him, and still he tarried. Not until Vicksburg fell the next July did Rosey and start his drive across Tennessee. That would prove to be the second most brilliant campaign of the war.

Next blog we’ll talk about Rosecrans’s campaign in Tennessee.

January 17, 2013

“The battle for Murfreesboro”

When one tries to decide when the Battle For Chattanooga actually began, they might start with the firing upon Fort Sumter. But I’ll try to be more practical and say that the fight actually began with the Battle for Murfreesboro that was fought December 31, 1862 to January 3, 1863. It ended when General Braxton Bragg retreated  to Tullahoma, Tennessee after two days of fearsome fighting. So fearsome that both armies suffered higher casualty rates than any other time during the war. So fearsome that at one point, General Thomas’s division commanders asked him to retreat.

“This is as good a place to die as any,” he told them. “There will be no retreat.”

General Rosecrans, the commander of The Union Army of the Cumberland was equally courageous. When the Confederates killed his executive officer, Colonel La Rouche. General Rosecrans only replied, “Brave men die in battle.” Then he drew his sword and prepared for the next Confederate onslaught. Later, he would cry for the loss of his subordinate and friend, but at that moment he had to contend with the Rebels.

All the major contestants at Chattanooga were at Murfreesboro – Bragg, who would command The Confederate Army of the Tennessee at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. General Rosecrans who would command The Union Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga and Chattanooga until relieved by General Grant, and General Thomas, who would make a valorous stand at Chickamauga and command the Cumberland at Chattanooga.

The previous year, Bragg had led his army through Kentucky and even threatened Southern Indiana and Ohio. The Union had been in panic until he was pushed back to Southern Kentucky. Still, Tennessee had to be won, and when President Lincoln grew upset with General Buell, he replaced him with General Rosecrans.

The scene was thus set for Murfreesboro and Murfreesboro would set it for Chickamauga and then Chattanooga. What followed Murfreesboro was the domination of Tennessee by The Army of the Cumberland. That domination would wait for seven months as Rosecrans nursed and repaired his battered army.  Then he would lead a brilliant campaign all the way across the state to end with the capture of Chattanooga. We’ll talk about General Rosecrans in my next blog.

January 11, 2013

“5 reasons why the Battle of Chattanooga was the
greatest charge of the American Civil War”

January 9, 2013

The Battle for Chattanooga, fought November 23, 24, and 25th of 1863, is without a doubt, the most remarkable and miraculous of any battle fought in the American Civil War. Not only was it fought for three days, it produced the most improbable and remarkable charge made in the war.

25,000 men of the Army of the Cumberland stormed what was considered an impregnable Confederate position on top of Missionary Ridge, which runs through the city of Chattanooga. Not only was this charge the most remarkable and improbable, it was also the largest charge made by either side during the war. Pickett’s much more famous charge was made with 15,000 men – 10,000 less than those who charged at Chattanooga.

Yet this remarkable battle is relatively unknown today, and only in the last half of the 20th Century was it given its due as being of great strategic importance. President Lincoln himself said – “As long as we hold Chattanooga, we’re a thorn in the Rebel’s side.” This was particularly true for Union control of Chattanooga severed direct rail contact of the Eastern and Western Confederacy.

Add to this that for more than a month, The Confederate Army of Tennessee besieged The Army of the Cumberland inside Chattanooga, and General Rosecrans came perilously close to surrendering. If he had, Atlanta might not have been captured in November of 1864. If Atlanta had not fallen, President Lincoln would probably not been reelected, and the war lost.

But the Battle for Chattanooga was a long time in culminating. It really began on January 2, 1863 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I’ll talk about that horrendous battle in my next blog.