Bragg Dislodged from Chattanooga.—1863
WITHIN a little over a week after I left it, the Army of the Cumberland had compelled Bragg's forces to abandon the fortified line described in the preceding chapter, by the literally “brief and brilliant” so-called Tullahoma campaign. Had the full execution of Rosecrans's strategic programme not been prevented by the extra ordinary inclemency of the unseasonable weather, he would probably have succeeded in working around the enemy's right flank and upon his lines of communication, and inflicting a complete defeat upon him. As it was, he forced the enemy, with a loss of about two thousand in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and some guns, out of middle Tennessee, while his own loss hardly reached five hundred. Bragg, in his official reports to the rebel authorities, admitted that our flanking movements compelled him to fall back first from the Shelbyville-Wartrace line to Tullahoma, and thence to Elk River, and finally to retreat over the mountains to Chattanooga. He claimed that he did this to save his army from “destruction without a battle,” which latter issue, much desired by himself and his command, he had offered to the enemy, but failed to bring him to it. His retreat was fully approved by the commanders under him, as is shown by a direct communication from Lieutenant-General Polk to President Davis, but was nevertheless a great disappointment to the Confederate Government. It had a right to expect different results from an army whose condition, according to the reports of an aide-de-camp of Jefferson Davis who had made a thorough inspection of it but a short time before, was better as to equipment, drill, discipline, and health than that of any other in the rebel service. This condition was naturally changed for the worse by the inevitably demoralizing effect of a retrograde movement.
Our army thus found itself once more in almost the same position it had occupied twelve months before, until Bragg's flanking march into Kentucky had compelled its abandonment. Nor was there any compensation in the military situation for the grievous loss of a whole year's time, for the task before Rosecrans was now identical with that of Buell, viz., the advance upon Chattanooga; and its accomplishment was really rendered more difficult by the greater strength of the opposing forces, and by the diminished resources of the intervening country in consequence of its long occupation by the rebels.
Rosecrans endeavored to push after the enemy as soon as his retreat from Shelbyville and Tullahoma became known; but the continuous rainfall, the heavy roads, and mainly the high stage of the water-courses and the destruction of the bridges, rendered it impossible to interfere with the falling-back of the rebels over the Cumberland Mountains. The Commander-in-chief therefore determined to bring his main bodies to a halt, and carefully prepare for a further advance in the direction of Chattanooga by repairing the railroads to the Tennessee River and accumulating supplies. The army came to rest in a position extending from McMinnville to Winchester, with advanced posts at Pelham and Stevenson. Flying columns, however, were sent out over the enemy's lines of retreat, by which it was fully ascertained that Bragg had passed the Cumberland Mountains by the so-called Tantallon and University roads, and followed Battle Creek to the Tennessee. He crossed it at three points, and marched directly to Chattanooga, burning the railroad bridges and trestles behind him. The strategic importance of Chattanooga warranted the assumption that Bragg would strive to hold it, and imposed the ingly difficult duty upon Rosecrans of wresting it from the enemy.
The most creditable achievement of the Army of the Cumberland in manœuvring Bragg into a retreat was not appreciated in the North as it should have been. The reason was that the news of it reached the loyal public while it was trembling over the issue of the mighty struggle between the armies of Meade and Lee at Gettysburg, and was in feverish expectation of the final outcome of the siege of Vicksburg. The authorities at Washington, in their elation over the defeat of Lee and the fall of the Mississippi stronghold, and in their angry remembrance of Rosecrans's conduct, also failed to award the meed of praise the latter had expected. Secretary Stanton telegraphed on July 7 to him, in announcing the triumphs of Meade and Grant: “You and your noble army now have the chance to give the finishing blow to the Rebellion. Will you neglect the chance?” This deliberate prod provoked a caustic retort from Rosecrans, in which he said: “You do not appear to observe the fact that this noble army has driven the rebels from middle Tennessee, of which my despatches advised you. I beg on behalf of this army that the War Department may not overlook so great an event because it is not written in letters of blood.”
Rosecrans informed Halleck and the War Department in detail of the difficulties in the way of the movement on Chattanooga, but they were not considered by his superiors as great as by himself. Still, he was allowed some weeks to get ready, but when, towards the end of August, there were no signs of renewed activity on his part, the Government began afresh to spur him on. President Lincoln's cherished plan of relieving the loyalists in East Tennessee was again pressed upon him. Halleck combined this with general urging in despatches and letters on July 24 and 25. But, while Rosecrans's delay at Murfreesboro', with the enemy within easy striking distance, was justly found fault with, he made out a much better case for himself in his explanation to the Government. He was two hundred and sixty-four miles from his primary base at Louisville, and eighty-three miles from his secondary at Nashville. All his subsistence, equipments of every sort, ammunition, and most of his forage had to be hauled the total distance by rail. There was between him and the Tennessee fifty to sixty miles of barren, mountainous country, which would have to be passed by means of difficult roads unless the railroad to the river was repaired. There was also the formidable passage of and movement along the banks of the latter, which was from 2000 to 3000 feet wide and enclosed on both sides by precipitous elevations. But all this, in the judgment of his superiors, did not justify further delay. On August 3, Halleck wired him to report the position of all his forces. The reply having furnished proof that they had remained stationary, a peremptory order reached Rosecrans on the next day from the General-in-chief in these words: “Your forces must move forward without further delay. You will daily report the movement of each corps till you cross the Tennessee River.” Rosecrans, in acknowledging receipt, answered: “As I have determined to cross the river as soon as practicable, and have been making all preparations and getting such information as may enable me to do so without being driven back like Hooker, I wish to know if your order is to take away my discretion as to time and manner of moving my troops.” Halleck replied promptly on August 5: “The orders for the advance of your army and that its movements be reported daily are peremptory.” Rosecrans wired another remonstrance, indicating his purpose to move in a few days, and adding, if literal obedience of the order of the General-in-chief was expected, he must insist upon its modification or upon being relieved from command. The upshot of it all was that the Army of the Cumberland was in motion again by the middle of the month.
The opening campaign was to be supported by the simultaneous movement of an army under Major-General Burnside from southeastern Kentucky into eastern Tennessee. Burnside had not long been kept in retirement after leaving the Army of the Potomac, but in March was put in command of the Department of the Ohio, comprising all the States between the Alleghenies, the Ohio, and the Mississippi, as well as Kentucky, with headquarters at Cincinnati. During the spring and until late in the summer, he was occupied with suppressing active manifestations of rebel sympathy in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, fighting the rebel leader J. H. Morgan's new raid in July, and organizing an army for East Tennessee. He started from central Kentucky in the middle of August with about 15,000 men, organized as the Twenty-third Army Corps, and reached Knoxville on September 4 without having encountered the enemy. The Confederate troops in East Tennessee were under command of General Buckner and not much inferior to Burnside's, but withdrew down the Tennessee, fearing a front movement from him and a simultaneous one to their rear by the force detached from the Army of the Cumberland for the feint against Chattanooga hereinafter mentioned.
The Cumberland Mountains divide the waters of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, and extend from eastern Tennessee in a general southwesterly direction to near Athens, Alabama, rising to a height of 1000 to 2000 feet. The chain is cleft in two, for fifty miles from where it abuts on the Tennessee, by the parallel valley of the Sequatchie River, with an average breadth not exceeding four miles. The portion of the Cumberland Mountains between the Sequatchie and the Tennessee bears the specific name of Walden's Ridge. Both the main range and the ridge are masses of rock, rising to a height of 1500 to 2000 feet, with steep sides furrowed by numerous ravines, and wide but broken and timbered crests. The average distance from the line occupied by the army to the Tennessee did not exceed from sixty-five to seventy miles, but the formidable natural barriers and the character of the means of communication made the movement to the river an arduous undertaking. The Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad had been repaired to Bridgeport on the Tennessee, but to transport the army, with its artillery and baggage, ammunition, provision, and forage trains, over its single track with the limited motive-power and rolling-stock available would have required many weeks. The troops had, therefore, to use the ordinary roads over the mountains, which, as a rule, were narrow, extremely rough, and difficult in grade. Their precarious character rendered it further necessary to utilize as many of them as possible.
The configuration of the country and the lines of communication were such that General Rosecrans had the sole choice of approaching Chattanooga either by an eastward movement to the Tennessee and thence down the valley, or of making for the river to the west of the objective-point by way of the Sequatchie and the more direct routes to Bridgeport, Stevenson, and other points on the north bank. As the former course would have had to be made over fewer roads, and would have exposed our lines of communication and possibly invited another rebel invasion of middle Tennessee, the Commander-in-chief determined upon the latter movement. In order to mislead the enemy as to his real purpose, a direct advance was to be undertaken by part of his forces from the Sequatchie over Walden's Ridge to points opposite and above Chattanooga. Accordingly, the three divisions of Crittenden's Twenty-first Army Corps, forming the left, crossed the main ridge of the Cumberland Mountains in three columns, over as many roads, into the Sequatchie Valley. Thence the infantry brigades of Hazen and Wagner, together with Minty's and Wilder's mounted ones, were detached for the diversion against Chattanooga, while the remainder of the corps marched down the Sequatchie. General Thomas's Fourteenth Army Corps, constituting the centre, took the so-called University and Tantallon roads leading to the mouth of Battle Creek and to near Stevenson. Of McCook's Twentieth Army Corps, which was the right, Sheridan's division was already in an advanced position on the river. The other two divisions under Johnson and Davis marched respectively to Bellefonte and Stevenson. The reserve corps under Major-General Granger followed the river as soon as the preceding columns were out of the way. All these movements were so promptly executed that by August 21 the whole army was in the valley of the Tennessee. But the crossing of the river was not commenced till August 29, when it was successfully accomplished over pontoon and trestle bridges, and by boats and rafts, at three different points, by all the troops and their impedimenta in less than a week.
According to the regular tri-monthly returns made to the army headquarters on August 10, the total strength of the Army of the Cumberland was 4735 officers and 75,183 men — cavalry, infantry, and artillery — of which the cavalry corps comprised 9973 officers and men, the Twenty-first Army Corps 14,367 men, the Fourteenth 22,389, the Twentieth 14,222, and the reserve corps 16,936; the remainder consisting of detached bodies serving as escorts, engineers, and in other duties. As the reserve corps took no part in the operations south of the river till some weeks after the other corps, its number should be deducted from the total, thus reducing the aggregate with which Rosecrans at first confronted Bragg to about 64,000. The artillery numbered 216 field guns.
A despatch sent by General Bragg to the Richmond Government on August 24 proves that he learned of Rosecrans's and Burnside's advances only on that day, when the former had already reached the Tennessee. He reported that Rosecrans had four corps with 70,000 men (a rebel estimate for once under the actual number), and Burnside 25,000 men (an overestimate by 10,000). According to his own statements, he himself had less than 30,000 effectives of the two army corps of Lieutenant-Generals L. Polk and D. H. Hill, and the reserve corps under Major-General Walker. Polk's army corps consisted of the divisions of Cheatham and Hindman, Hill's of Cleburne's and Breckinridge's divisions, and Walker's of two small divisions under Brigadier-Generals Gist and Liddell, about Chattanooga, and 8000 under Buckner made up of Preston's and Stewart's divisions in East Tennessee. On these figures he based a strong appeal for reinforcements, which were sent to him at once to the extent of two small divisions from General J. E. Johnston's command in Mississippi. He had the unpleasant duty of announcing, in the above-mentioned despatch, that a Federal force had appeared directly opposite Chattanooga on the day mentioned (this being the advance of the four brigades detached from the Twenty-first Army Corps) and shelled the town. Their sudden appearance was evidently a stunning surprise to him. He was deceived as to their strength, and spoke of them in his report as a “corps” when they hardly numbered 2000 men. Their nearness irritated him so much that, when he was sure that they were isolated from the rest of Rosecrans's army, he formed a plan to capture or destroy them by a coup de main, to be executed by a sudden rush over the river by Hill's corps. Some preparations were made to carry out this plan, but nothing came of it in the end.
Directly in the way of the Army of the Cumberland there rose on the south side of the Tennessee, running in a north easterly direction to the vicinity of Chattanooga, two great mountain ranges, the one nearest to the river being known as Sand Mountain and the other as Lookout Mountain. They are separated by a narrow valley down which Lookout Creek flows into the Tennessee. The sides of Sand Mountain, with a maximum altitude of over 2000 feet, rise so abruptly that no road is practicable along its base except for a few miles; but a few very difficult roads lead over it and into Lookout Valley. Lookout Mountain, a great rocky mass, reaches a height of nearly 2500 feet above the level of the sea, and also declines very steeply on both sides. There were then but three wagon-roads over it — one around its precipitous abutment on the river two miles from Chattanooga, another at a distance of twenty-five miles from the town, and the last forty-two miles from the first. Beyond Lookout Mountain several minor ridges follow the same general course a little east of north. The nearest to it is Missionary Ridge, and, next to this, Pigeon Mountain. Between Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge flows Chattanooga Creek, and between Missionary Ridge and Pigeon Mountain the West Branch of Chickamauga Creek. These are tributaries of the Tennessee, which they enter respectively below and above Chattanooga. The valley of the West Chickamauga bears the name of McLemore's Cove. Pigeon Mountain is separated by Pea Vine Creek from Chickamauga Hills, the next minor ridge. Between this and Taylor's Ridge runs Middle Chickamauga Creek, which, dividing, flows along the western base of the latter ridge as East Chickamauga Creek. This whole region of mountains and valleys was then covered with a dense growth of timber and underbrush, with the exception of clearings here and there for farming purposes. The roads leading over the minor ridges were as steep and rough as those over the higher ones.
The passage over the river being effected, and Bragg's army apparently waiting to be attacked in its position about Chattanooga, Rosecrans had to decide between taking the direct offensive against the enemy and a repetition of his Tullahoma plan — that is, to compel Bragg's withdrawal from Chattanooga by a flanking movement against his communications. The great natural obstacles in the way of the former stamped it as a very rash venture to seek the rebels on their chosen fortified ground, and hence the Commander-in-chief once more resolved upon turning operations. He set his troops in motion from the south bank without delay, with McCook again on the right, Thomas in the centre, Crittenden on the left, and Granger in reserve. The general object was to reach and hold or destroy the main rebel line of supply formed by the Atlanta & Chattanooga and East Tennessee & Georgia Railroads, both north and south of their junction at Dalton, Georgia, and thereby also cut all the enemy's lines of retreat in a southward direction.
On our extreme right, a cavalry division, under command of my friend Colonel Edward M. McCook, led the advance, passed over Raccoon and Lookout Mountains into the valley of the Chattanooga River, and pushed on in a general south westerly direction toward Rome as far as the towns of Alpine and Summerville. The whole Twentieth Army Corps followed in its wake as fast as possible. The Fourteenth Army Corps crossed Sand Mountain and had descended into Lookout Valley by September 6. Continuing up Lookout Mountain, it seized the passes at Johnson's Brook and Cooper's and Stevens's Gaps without resistance, and by the 10th had made its way down Lookout Mountain and over the southern end of Missionary Ridge into McLemore's Cove. It proved an exceedingly difficult march. General Thomas describes the roads as the worst imaginable. The ascents and descents were so long and difficult that teams had to be doubled in hauling over wagons and guns, thereby causing great delay. The Twenty-first Army Corps marched from Shellmound on the Tennessee to Hunting Water Creek, issuing from a narrow valley, up which extended the Nashville & Chattanooga railroad track to a long tunnel, with a wagon-road alongside leading over Raccoon Mountain, as the northern end of Sand Mountain is called. The whole corps followed this road into Lookout Valley, and, by the evening of September 6, General Wood's division, forming the left, was at the junction of the Nashville & Chattanooga with the Trenton branch railroad up the valley, only seven miles from Chattanooga.
In the meantime, the two infantry and two cavalry brigades under Hazen, Wagner, Minty, and Wilder had thoroughly performed their part of a feint against Chattanooga by continuously and ostentatiously demonstrating with all three arms at different points opposite the town for a distance of fifteen miles up the river. On September 8, Colonel Wagner, who had taken position in the narrow bend of the river directly opposite Chattanooga, discovered indications that the enemy was withdrawing from the town, and sent word to that effect to the army headquarters. Towards evening the evacuation had become a certainty, so that Wagner crossed over and took unopposed possession the next morning.
This exhilarating fact was quickly made known to all parts of the army. Rumors from various sources of the rebel purpose to abandon Chattanooga had reached Rosecrans for several days before the actual evacuation. In order to test them, several bold reconnoissances were made by General Thomas along the crest of Lookout Mountain, and by General Crittenden down the Lookout Valley and around the northern slope of the Mountain. But Wagner's announcement of the occupation of the town was received by the General-in-chief before the reconnoissances confirmed the retirement of the rebels from it. General Bragg had acquired, by September 6, a sufficiently clear perception of the object of his adversary's movements to come to a decision regarding his own. He recognized the advance of our right upon his southern communications as a most threatening move, and prudently, though reluctantly, accepted the inevitable consequence of it, namely, that he could not allow Rosecrans to get between him and Rome, and that therefore his withdrawal from Chattanooga was necessary. Anticipating this as a possible contingency, he had ordered Buckner to join him. On September 6, he issued a circular order directing that the troops of his army should move immediately toward Rome in four columns. This general indication was followed only by marching directions from Chattanooga to Lafayette, a small town twenty-five miles a little east of south of Chattanooga, and the point of junction of the main roads thence and from Ringgold to the Coosa Valley and Rome. The corps of Polk and Hill were to march via Rossville; the commands of Buckner and Walker, with the supply trains, over a more easterly route. The troops were to carry six days' rations, and to include only “fighting men.”
The dramatic first words of the order (“In order to meet the enemy and strike him”) may have been intended to counteract the demoralizing effect of retreat upon his troops, or may have reflected the rebel commander's actual purpose. The naming of Rome as the army's destination and the six days' rations would seem to confirm the former theory, while his subsequent bold offensive corroborated the latter. In his report of the Chickamauga campaign, he asserts that he purposely accelerated the evacuation and the first marches in order to deceive Rosecrans into the belief that he was actually retreating as fast as he could, and thus induce his adversary to press his columns on in pursuit and “expose himself in detail,” while he was really concentrating against Rosecrans's centre and determined to avail of the first chance to attack. As the assertion is fully borne out by his subsequent acts, he cannot well be denied proper credit for successfully shifting his command so as to protect his main line of supply, and, this being accomplished, to seek rather than avoid his enemy. That his purpose was to fight is also rendered more than probable by the assurance he had obtained from Richmond of further heavy reinforcement by Longstreet's division of Lee's army.
The withdrawal from Chattanooga was intended to begin on the day the order for it was issued, but was postponed till dark the next day. Hill's corps moved first over the direct road to Lafayette, and was followed by Polk. Walker preceded Buckner over the road to Ringgold. The columns marched so quickly that on the evening of the 8th they were in position in McLemore's Cove, between Lee and Gordon's Mills, twelve miles from Chattanooga, and Lafayette, facing the eastern slope of the Lookout Mountains, where they remained to await and take advantage of Rosecrans's movements. Bragg did not have to wait long for tempting developments.
It was but natural and even justifiable that Rosecrans should feel highly elated at the result of his strategy in forcing Bragg to yield Chattanooga to him without a struggle. It may be freely admitted, too, that, but for the subsequent untoward turn of events, his flanking movement, well conceived as it was, and carried out with extraordinary energy in passing first over the mountainous country to the north of Tennessee, then crossing the river, and next overcoming the difficulties of two rugged ranges, all within three weeks, would have ranked as one of the greatest achievements of the Civil War. He claimed his success as a great triumph in exultant language in his telegraphic report to the Government. He believed at first, as shown by his own despatches and those of Assistant Secretary of War Dana (who was with him from September 11) to the Government, that Bragg was retreating south as fast as he could by way of Rome. He was so far carried away that he boldly boasted of having gained a position from which he could effectually advance on Rome and Atlanta and deliver there the finishing blows of the war. He even felt confident of being able to intercept the enemy's retreat before he reached Rome.
Acting upon these assumptions, he issued orders to all the corps commanders to make vigorous pursuit. General Crittenden had marched his corps around Lookout Mountain to Rossville, five miles from Chattanooga, and then pushed on to Chattanooga with Wood's division on the 9th. He was ordered to recall the remainder of his troops from the north side, leave one brigade in the town, and follow the enemy on the road to Ringgold. General Thomas was directed to push over Pigeon Mountain by way of Dug Gap, and make quickly for Lafayette. Neither he nor his superior was aware that this point was also the objective of Bragg's army. General McCook received, on the evening of the 9th, from general headquarters, the news of the occupation of Chattanooga, together with orders to move rapidly upon Alpine and Summerville, so as to get upon the enemy's line of retreat and strike him in the flank.
Strange as it may seem, for three whole days after the occupation of Chattanooga, neither our General-in-chief nor the commanders of the Fourteenth and Twentieth Army Corps suspected that, instead of trying to elude their pursuit, the rebel army was lying like a crouched lion in their path, ready to spring with all its might upon the first hostile body coming within reach. The advance of Crittenden caught up with rebel cavalry on the way to Ringgold and had some lively skirmishes with them. But though his mounted troops followed the enemy some distance beyond the last-named town, they did not discover him in force. The corps commander accepted their reports to this effect, and informed General Garfield, as chief of staff of the army, on the night of the 11th, that “in his opinion the enemy had fled beyond his reach,” and that “his only hope, or rather his great hope,” was “that General Thomas or General McCook may be able to hit them a side lick.” Yet, when he sent this utterly erroneous conclusion, the bulk of his corps was directly east and therefore in the rear of Bragg, at a distance of not more than eight miles in an air-line from him, or, in other words, with Bragg's army driven in like a huge live wedge between him and the rest of our troops. So absolute was Crittenden's delusion that, a few hours after he had sent his message to the chief of staff, he despatched another report in which he expressed the belief that, what with Thomas in the vicinity cf Lafayette, and Wilder's cavalry on the Ringgold road, “all the enemy north of Lafayette would be effectually bagged.”
General Thomas had been ordered to reach Lafayette and connect with McCook on his right by September 10. He tried his utmost to be there, but, most happily for the Union cause, was two days behind time, owing to the un expected difficulties of the roads. Had he managed to debouch earlier from the passes of Pigeon Mountain in the order in which he marched, with one division after another, he would have fallen prey piecemeal to the enemy. Even as it was, he had a narrow escape from that fate. The division of General Negley was in the lead on the 10th, on the march toward Dug Gap. On nearing it, he discovered that the approach was obstructed by felled timber and defended by rebel pickets. Reconnoissances and the statements of residents showing the rebel presence in strength before him, he decided to stop at the mouth of the gorge leading to the Gap till he was assured of support, in case of need, from the rest of the corps. Baird's division came up with his early on the 11th. During the day it became evident that heavy rebel columns were moving from the north over Pigeon Mountain through Catlett's Gap and from the south through Blue Bird Gap, obviously bent upon an early attack upon our forces from both directions.
This surmise was entirely correct. During the 9th, General Bragg had become aware that a Federal column, estimated by him as from 4000 to 8000 strong, had descended from Lookout Mountain into McLemore's Cove. Seeing his first chance to strike an isolated body, he issued orders from Lee and Gordon's Mills just before midnight on the same day to Hindman & and Cleburne's divisions to move at once against the Federals in the Cove through Dug and Catlett's Gaps. Hill, Cleburne's corps commander, on receiving the order, replied that it could not be carried out, as General Cleburne was sick, four regiments of the division were on detached duty, and the two gaps were so blocked that it would take twenty-four hours to clear them for the passage of troops. Hindman moved promptly at midnight, and reached the western foot of the mountain through Worthen's Gap at daylight, having marched thirteen miles. In view of Hill's reply, Bragg ordered Buckner early on the 10th to follow and report to Hindman with his two divisions, and, to make sure that the intended blow would be quickly and vigorously struck, moved his headquarters near the scene of action in the evening of that day. He also ordered General Polk to move Cheatham's division to the support of Hindman from Lafayette, required Cleburne's division to remove the obstructions at Dug and Catlett's Gaps as speedily as possible and to join Hindman, and finally directed Walker's reserve to move up at once.
Thus Bragg left nothing undone to avail of his opportunity to the utmost. His whole army was, in fact, converging upon Thomas's advance. There can be no doubt that Negley's division would have been doomed on the 10th, when it was advancing alone, with Baird's half a day's march in the rear, but for the obstructions in the Gap, for Hindman was making for the junction of roads known as Widow Davis's Cross-roads, near which Negley had halted on the 10th, and would have struck the latter's rear had he not felt in duty bound to await the approach of Cleburne's division. He stopped four miles from the crossroads. He had moved so promptly that he failed to learn Hill's reply, and was left to discover by his own scouting parties in the blockaded gaps the clue to Cleburne's non-appearance. A message from Hill reached him only late in the day, giving the reasons already mentioned for Cleburne's delay. Toward evening, General Buckner reported to him with his two divisions, thereby giving the rebels three divisions for an attack the next morning against our two. Of this superiority they failed, however, to avail themselves.
Hindman had received another communication from Hill during the afternoon, informing him that the Federals were advancing upon Dug Gap in force, and that he, Hill, thought that, if he was attacked, Hindman had a good chance to assail them from the rear. This Hindman read as directing him to attack after Hill had become engaged. Feeling puzzled as to the proper course to pursue, he assembled his general officers late in the evening for a council of war. During the meeting two communications from General Bragg were received, one urging him to finish his allotted work in the Cove as rapidly as possible in view of the advance of Crittenden's corps in their rear, and a later one impressing upon him that their forces were superior to the Federals and that it was of the highest importance to move vigorously and crush them. Notwithstanding this, the council voted to recommend the abandonment of the attack upon the Federals in front of Hindman, and the substitution for it of a concentrated move upon Crittenden. A letter to this effect was sent to the army commander by a staff officer and reached him shortly before midnight. Bragg questioned the officer as to the character of the information that led Hindman and his generals to ask for a modification of his orders. Finding that it was not positive, he said that it amounted to nothing, and started the officer back at once with an oral message that his plans could not be changed and that his orders must be carried out. Half an hour later, a formal order was despatched, reaching Hindman at 4:20 A.M. on the 11th, containing these words: “General Bragg orders you to attack and force your way through the enemy to this point [Lafayette] at the earliest hour that you can see him in the morning. Cleburne will attack in front the moment your guns are heard.”
Hindman inferred from the order that the general commanding looked upon his position as a perilous one, and expected him no longer to capture the enemy, but to avoid being captured himself. Being thus put on his guard, he moved his command at 7 A.M. slowly and with great caution. At about 11 A.M. he encountered the Federal skirmishers, when he formed his line for attack. He had just driven in the former when he received a despatch from headquarters directing him, if he found the enemy too strong for an attack, to fall back at once on Lafayette through Catlett's Gap, which had been cleared of obstructions, and requiring him to make his decision immediately. He answered that he was not sufficiently informed as to the enemy to decide upon his course, but would retire if necessary. An hour later, a staff officer from headquarters appeared to inquire whether he felt certain that he could make good his retreat through Catlett's Gap. He replied that he had no doubt that he could do so in case he decided to retire, but that he had ordered an advance. Soon afterward another despatch from headquarters arrived, advising him that a Federal force of from 12,000 to 15,000 was forming in front of Dug Gap, that the general commanding was most anxious and wished to hear from him by couriers once an hour, and that despatch was necessary. How great Bragg's anxiety was is also shown by a private note to Hindman, dated 3 P.M., sent with this despatch and saying: “Dear General: Time is precious. The enemy presses from the north. We must unite or both must retire. The enemy is in small force in line of battle in our front, and we only wait for your attack.” This record clearly demonstrates that, while Bragg was on the 9th and 10th and up to the morning of the 11th determined upon an attack, he then became uncertain as to his proper course, and vacillated between advance and retreat. This was doubtless due to the evidence that had reached him that the Federals before him now numbered many more than two days before, and also to the intelligence he had received of the appearance of McCook's advance seven miles from Lafayette, and of Crittenden's movements in the rear. But it was only natural that the commanding general's evident indecision made Hindman hesitate, and, after consultation with the generals under him, determine upon retreat. He had hardly issued his order to fall back upon Catlett's Gap when reports of returning scouts that the enemy was retiring reached him. He at once ordered his line to advance as rapidly as possible in order to intercept the retreating enemy. The pursuit was kept up till dark, when, at Davis's Cross roads, General Bragg, who had appeared upon the field in person, ordered it to cease.
The rebel movements against Negley, of which he became cognizant on the 10th and 11th, as mentioned, were those just described. He did not feel warranted in accepting battle when he was threatened with attack from two directions, and resolved to retrace his steps to a safer position near Stevens's Gap. Setting first his trains in motion, he commenced falling back with his troops in the middle of the afternoon. Skirmishing with Hindman's pursuing columns soon began, but the division was across the West Branch of the Chickamauga when the enemy appeared in heavy force on the opposite bank. Negley tried to check him from the north bank with ten guns, to which he replied with two batteries. The rebel infantry deployed and advanced against Negley's left, and was soon heavily engaged. By skilful manœuvring, the incipient attack was, however, foiled, and the retreat continued in good order, though at first it had to be made step by step and in constant conflict with the enemy; and the base of Lookout Mountain was reached in safety by the two divisions. It was altogether a lucky escape, for our strength did not exceed 9000, while the pursuing enemy numbered, according to the rebel records, over 15,000.
General McCook had made discoveries by his reconnoissances that left him no choice but to take the responsibility of not obeying his orders to advance rapidly to Summerville. The information brought in by his cavalry was so positive as to leave no doubt in his mind that the bulk of the rebel army was not retreating, but concentrating between him and the other corps. He wisely stopped his command for this and the additional reason that he failed to discover any signs of the approach of General Thomas's corps, which, as already stated, was to be at Lafayette and connect with his left on the 10th. McCook unquestionably did right in not running the risk of getting involved in an unequal contest with the enemy without being assured of support. He accordingly remained stationary, except that he cautiously moved his trains back to a safer position. He received an explanation of the delay of the Fourteenth Corps en route late in the evening of the 11th from General Thomas, indicating his purpose to continue his march to Lafayette, which he expected to reach on the 12th.
General Rosecrans clung to the illusion that Bragg was in full retreat and bent upon flight and not upon fight, until the reports of McCook's discoveries and Negley's experiences opened his eyes as to the real situation on the 11th. As late as the 10th, he chided Thomas for not having reached Lafayette more promptly, and later on expressed doubt as to the necessity of Negley's retreat. The awakening was naturally a rude one. There was his army divided in three parts, more than a good day's march even in an air-line from each other, and this distance was practically much increased by the difficult character of the intervening ground and of the means of communication. There were actually several chains of hills between Crittenden and Thomas, and Lookout Mountain between Thomas and McCook. The Commander-in-chief must have confessed to himself that, with the rebel army concentrated against him, as it appeared to be, he had himself created the opportunity for his adversary to overwhelm him in detail. It must have been clear to him, also, that the separation of his army rendered a rapid retrograde movement upon the only available common point — Chattanooga — out of the question. There was, indeed, no other course left to him than the quickest possible concentration of his command in a good position for offence or defence, which would secure him like wise a good line of retreat to Chattanooga. He resolved upon this at once when the truth had dawned upon him that Bragg was before him on both slopes of Pigeon Mountain, and immediately took energetic steps to bring the concentration about. He would hardly have succeeded but for misunderstandings and accidents on the rebel side, already partly related, which came to his rescue and enabled him to accomplish what he himself in his official report called a matter of “life and death.”
At midnight on September 12, General McCook received orders from army headquarters, through General Thomas, to move with the utmost expedition to his support, after taking proper measures for the safety of his trains. The corps was in motion at daylight on the 13th. McCook first intended to march by the direct road to Dougherty's Gap and through it into McLemore's Cove, and expected to be himself with Thomas on the night of the same day. But, when he learned on the way that the road beyond the Gap was not practicable, and received information during the day from headquarters indicating the presence of the enemy in the Cove, he decided to change his route. He asked and received the advice of General Thomas regarding it, and adopted one that required crossing Lookout Mountain into Lookout Valley, a march down it to the road to Stevens's Gap, and then up the Mountain again and through the Gap to the other side. While an air-line from Alpine to Thomas's position would not exceed twenty-five miles, by his roundabout route McCook marched nearly sixty miles. Instead of joining Thomas within a day or two, it was actually five days before he came in touch with him. Having reported his change of route to army headquarters, he was peremptorily ordered to turn back, against which he angrily remonstrated, and was permitted to keep on; but neither General Rosecrans nor his chief of staff, Garfield, was ever fully satisfied that he had not wasted several days' time, and exposed the other two corps to the danger of being attacked singly on the east side of Lookout Mountain while he was following the west side. The point in dispute has never been fully cleared up, but my opinion has always been that McCook acted properly in the light of his information and instructions. It cannot be denied, however, that the loss of three days by him delayed the execution of the concentrating movement correspondingly, and might have proved fatal.
General Hindman states in his official report that, when he reported in person soon after dark on the 11th at Davis's Cross-roads to General Bragg, the latter said to him at once, “We can't stay here,” and immediately ordered the whole force to make a night march to Lafayette, which was done, Buckner's division going by Dug Gap and the remainder of the army by Catlett's Gap. It seems to have puzzled the generals under him that he should have abandoned the advance when the several divisions were at last united for it. Bragg affirmed that, having become satisfied of the failure of Hindman, the new movement was directed by him with a view to falling upon the separate Federal force moving via Ringgold. In pursuance of this new purpose, General Polk's and Walker's corps moved on the following day from Lafayette in the direction of Lee and Gordon's Mills. Bragg received a report during the day from his cavalry under Pegram that a Federal division was marching by itself up the Pea Vine Creek valley. He informed General Polk of this in a note dated 6 P.M., September 12, and added: “This presents you a fine opportunity for striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. This division crushed, and the others are yours. We can then turn again on the force in the Cove. I shall be delighted to hear of your success.” Bragg followed this communication at 8 P.M. with a positive order worded thus by his adjutant-general: “I now give you the orders of the Commanding General, viz., to attack at day-dawn to-morrow. The infantry column to be attacked is reported at three-quarters of a mile beyond Pea Vine Church on the road to Graysville from Lafayette.” At 11 P.M. a disappointing reply came from Polk, stating that he had taken a strong position for defence, and requesting heavy reinforcements. Bragg answered that he must not defer the ordered attack, that he was already stronger than the enemy, that success depended on the rapidity of his movements, and that Buckner's command would be in supporting distance of him the next morning. Bragg reinforced this prod by another at 12:30 A.M. on the 13th, as follows: “The enemy is approaching from the south, and it is highly important that your attack in the morning should be quick and decided. Let no time be lost.” He relates further in his report that, when he reached the front in the morning of the 13th, he found that Polk had not advanced against the enemy, and that “the latter's forces had formed a junction and recrossed the Chickamauga.” His language clearly conveys the impression that, but for Polk's remissness, the intended attack on part of Crittenden's corps would have been made. It appears, however, from Polk's report to army headquarters, dated September 12, 8 P.M., that Bragg did him injustice. Polk reached the ground in good season, but the information he collected after his arrival led him to believe that not one of Crittenden's divisions, but all three, were in front of him and advancing “with steady step upon my position, and will no doubt attack early in the morning”; hence he considered it his duty to ask “most respectfully and urgently” for reinforcements. Polk added: “My troops I cannot get into position in time to attack, myself, at so early an hour as day-dawn. If I find he is not going to attack me, I will attack him without delay.”
The truth was, however, that while Bragg's information, on which he based his order to Polk to attack the one division of Crittenden's corps, was reliable, Polk's assumption that three divisions were before him was also well founded. General Harker's brigade of Wood's division, forming the rear of the corps, had been ordered by Crittenden early on the 11th to make a reconnoissance from Rossville to Lee and Gordon's Mills. Early in the afternoon Wood was ordered to move at once to the support of Harker with his other brigade (his third had been left at Chattanooga), which he did. It was the movement of these two brigades that was reported to Bragg. But when General Rosecrans perceived that his salvation lay in the immediate concentration of his army, he sent, simultaneously with his orders to McCook to join Thomas, directions to Crittenden to move also towards the latter by marching his whole corps “by the most available route,” and as quickly as possible, to the road from Rossville to Lafayette that Wood had followed, and to close up with the latter. Crittenden marched promptly early the next morning, and, on the evening of the 12th, his three divisions were in exactly the positions in which Polk reported them to be to Bragg. But Polk was mistaken in assuming that Crittenden was steadily advancing on him and would attack early in the morning. Crittenden of his own accord did what Polk had done before him, on the morning of the 13th, by taking up a good defensive position, and had no more thought of attacking than the bishop-general opposed to him had before receiving reinforcements. There was, however, this great difference between them, that the rebel commander acted cautiously because of his knowledge of the presence of the enemy in force before him, while the Federal general stood on the defensive from utter ignorance of the rebel whereabouts. Crittenden not only knew nothing of Polk's advance upon him, but had not yet divested his mind of the belief that the enemy was continuing his retreat towards Rome, and persisted in expressing it to the army headquarters, even after reaching Lee and Gordon's Mills. The chief of staff found himself obliged, indeed, to tell him, in a despatch dated September 12, 9:30 P.M.: "There is no longer any doubt that the enemy is in heavy force in the neighborhood of Lafayette, and there is far more probability of his attacking you than that he is running. Get your command well in hand, and be ready for defense or advance as may be necessary." Yet, just before receiving this emphatic rebuke of his credulity, Crittenden had, in a report dated 9:45 P.M., reiterated his disbelief in these words: "I do not yet believe that there is a strong force of infantry in the vicinity of Lafayette." This town is twelve miles from Lee and Gordon's Mills, so that, while he would not be persuaded that the enemy was within that long distance, Polk was really no further than two or three miles from him.
According to the official rebel story, Bragg, on reaching Polk's front on the morning of the 13th, accepted the latter's conclusion that Crittenden's whole corps was united before them, and decided to concentrate all his forces along the West Chickamauga Creek for an offensive flanking movement. This was done between the 13th and the 17th, and on the latter day the rebel line was fully formed and extended up the eastern bank of the Creek from Reed's Bridge to some distance above Lee and Gordon's Mills. General Bushrod R. Johnson, with six brigades, of which five were reinforcements just arrived by rail, formed his right; next came Walker's corps, opposite Alexander's Bridge; then Buckner's, near Tedford's Fork, followed by Polk's opposite Lee and Gordon's Mills, with Hill's on the extreme left. General Wheeler, with two divisions of cavalry, protected the left; General Forrest, with two other mounted divisions, the right and front. Both of these leaders had achieved equal success and renown as cavalry commanders.
On September 16, Bragg issued a characteristic “General Order,” in part to this effect: “The troops will be held ready for an immediate move against the enemy. His demonstration on our flank has been thwarted, and twice has he retired before us when offered battle. We must now force him to the issue. Soldiers, you are largely reinforced. You must now seek the contest. In so doing I know you will be content to suffer privations and encounter hardships.” It cannot be said that Bragg overstated the case in claiming that Rosecrans's flanking movement had been thwarted, and that he had twice declined the offer of battle, for our efforts to concentrate meant, of course, an abandonment of the flanking operations, and the retreat of Negley could be taken as one declination to fight, while Bragg's boast of another was occasioned by Crittenden's next movement away from Polk's front, of which I will speak directly.
On the night of September 17, Bragg issued his “order of battle.” His plan of attack was just the reverse of that in the battle of Stone's River. His line, beginning on the right and with the centre as a pivot, was to execute a “grand wheel” across the Chickamauga and thence up its west bank. Our line was to be rolled up from left to right, forced from the roads to Chattanooga, and driven up McLemore's Cove against Lookout Mountain, and thus destroyed or dispersed. As the order prescribed in detail: Johnson to cross at or near Reed's Bridge and turn to the left up the stream toward Lee and Gordon's Mills; Walker to cross at Alexander's Bridge and join in this move; Buckner to cross at Tedford's Fork and join Walker to the left and press the enemy up the stream from Polk's front; Polk to push his troops to the front of Lee and Gordon's Mills and unite in the attack wherever the enemy may be; Hill to cover the left flank, and, in case the enemy should He developing his main strength at the Mills, to attack him in the flank; Wheeler's cavalry to hold the gaps of Pigeon Mountain and cover the rear. The order closed: “These movements will be executed with the utmost promptness, vigor, and persistence.”
Crittenden had hardly got his corps into a favorable position on the 13th when he received orders, dated 12:20 P.M., to post Wood's division in a strong defensible position at Lee and Gordon's Mills, in which it could resist stoutly any attempt of the enemy to seize the Chattanooga road; to move his other two divisions during the evening and night to a position on Missionary Ridge, so as to cover the roads in both the valley of Chattanooga Creek and Chickamauga Creek; and to send Wilder's cavalry brigade up the former stream to join General Thomas as soon as possible. Another order, dated five minutes later and not very clearly expressed, was understood by Crittenden to require him merely to hold himself in readiness to execute the new movement, so that it was only begun early the next morning on receipt of another order to start promptly. His troops reached the new position on the Ridge in a few hours' march, and he rode in advance of them to reconnoitre. At 12:30 P.M., he reported to the army headquarters as the result that he was confident no considerable force of the enemy was in his front for five miles. He added, that no water had been found on the Ridge, and that hence he could not remain and would have to descend into the valley or return to his former position. He was directed consequently, late in the evening, to move his corps back to a good position for water along the Chickamauga from Owen's Ford to Gower's, which he did the next morning. In this position the corps remained quietly during the 15th and 16th. Crittenden certainly had not the remotest conception that a battle-cloud was gathering near him and about to burst until it was indicated to him by an order, received at 9:30 P.M. on the 16th, to issue to his command three days rations in haversacks, and twenty rounds for the pockets of each man, in addition to full cartridge-boxes.
At the time last named, McCook had not yet connected with Thomas, who remained stationary about Stevens Gap awaiting his approach, and Crittenden communicated with the Fourteenth Corps only by his cavalry. Even when the Twentieth Corps had finally come within supporting distance of the Fourteenth on September 17, the line of the Twenty-first Corps was not in contact with Thomas as the centre. Thus, if Bragg had been able to execute the attack ordered by him for early morning on the 18th, the Army of the Cumberland would have been struck while still divided, and would probably have suffered a much worse fate than actually befell it. Crittenden would doubtless have been overwhelmed, and the rear of Rosecrans and the roads from his position to Chattanooga gained. But, as the rebel commander relates: “The resistance of the enemy's cavalry and the difficulties arising from the bad and narrow country roads caused unexpected delay in the execution of my orders.” In fact, a whole day was lost by him, and the onset upon the Federals, intended for the 18th, did not begin until the following day.
There is no evidence on record that General Rosecrans began to perceive Bragg's real purpose against his left before the night of the 15th to 16th. He was aware on the 14th that the rebels had abandoned the valley between Lookout and Pigeon Mountains, and he had also learned of strong indications of their withdrawal from Lafayette, but nothing was known at the army headquarters of the direction in which the bulk of their forces had subsequently moved. Their drift down the Chickamauga towards our left, however, was sufficiently recognized, by the time named, to produce an order dated September 16, 8:05 A.M., which showed that Rosecrans was then roused to the great gravity of the situation. This, summarily stated, was that the enemy with his whole army was practically half a day's march nearer to Chattanooga than himself, and had to push only a few miles to the eastward to get between him and the town. The order required Thomas to concentrate his corps, provided with three days' rations and extra ammunition, between Gower's and Bird's Mills, so as to command the Chattanooga Road, and “to do it to-day and as secretly as possible.” This meant a movement to the left down the Chickamauga so as to bring his corps close to Crittenden's right. Thomas received the order at 3:30 P.M., but failed to comprehend its urgency probably because he was not informed of the enemy's designs and considered it unwise to leave his position before the arrival of McCook; hence he answered: “General McCook's troops have not yet arrived. I will send Baird's and Negley's divisions to take position to-morrow morning, and Reynolds's and Brannan's the day following.” To this came response from the chief of staff, dated 8:45 P.M.: “The General Commanding fears that the movement will be too late if delayed till the time you mention. The enemy seems to be massing on our left, and the General Commanding desires that our flank movement to the left may be accomplished as soon as possible.” With this exchange of despatches the day went by, and General Thomas did not get under way before the morning of the 17th, but was in the new position by evening, with his left connecting with the Twenty-first Corps at Owen's Ford.
It has already been mentioned that the Twentieth Corps did not effect contact with Thomas until the 17th, when the latter was already in motion down the Chickamauga. General McCook himself, however, was already at the foot of Stevens Gap on the evening of the 16th, when he reported the whereabouts of his divisions to the general headquarters. He was as ignorant as the other corps commanders of the doings of the enemy. Indeed, in a despatch to General Thomas dated September 16, 3:15 P.M., he expressed the opinion that the rebel forces were at Lafayette, “except Loring's division, which went to Charleston,” and that he did not think they would fight there, “as they could find much better places further to their rear.” It may be easily imagined, therefore, how surprised he must have been when he received, soon after, an order from General Rosecrans to issue three days' rations and extra ammunition to his men, and to mass his corps at once between Pond Spring and Gower — that is, to move also to the left, following Thomas, and connect with him at the last-mentioned point, and to send his trains down Chattanooga Creek. He sent corresponding orders to his three divisions, of which Sheridan's reached the foot of Stevens Gap in the evening, and Davis's at noon and Johnson's in the afternoon of the next day. Starting them as soon as possible to his new destination, he soon found himself obstructed by Thomas's troops moving in advance of him on the same road, and asked for a modification of his orders, which he received, with directions to take position to the right and left of Pond Spring. This he did early on the 18th, making connection with Thomas's right.
The Army of the Cumberland was now extricated from the peril involved in the isolation of the several corps which had hung over it for a week. But, although the three corps were at last in supporting distance of each other, the army was not yet secure against being cut off from Chattanooga by the flanking movement of the enemy. Evidence of the rebel preparations for an attack en masse against our left accumulated on the 18th, and made Rosecrans alive to the necessity of another rapid counter-concentration. The very great urgency of the situation made him resolve upon a bold and almost desperate manœuvre in order to meet the apparent overreaching of our extreme left (Wood's division) by the enemy, viz., the withdrawing of Thomas's corps from the centre and moving it during the evening and night by the rear of Crittenden's corps to its left, and simultaneously shifting McCook's corps to the position vacated by Thomas. The great risk lay in breaking and entirely reversing our line in the face of the enemy, whose onslaught might be expected any moment. The shift was accomplished not entirely, but sufficiently, as events proved, to save the Army of the Cumberland from destruction. Thomas was under way by 4 P.M., and kept in motion all night. His columns had a most toilsome task in finding their way in the dark over narrow cross-roads and through the woods; and although the distance traversed was only between four and five miles, the head, Baird's division, reached its destination at “Kelly's Farm” on Crittenden's left only at daylight on the 19th. This was the very position whose valiant defence by Thomas and his troops during the impending battle was destined to prevent the utter rout of all of Rosecrans's forces.
McCook received his orders to move to the position vacated by Thomas shortly after midnight, and marched at early dawn, with Johnson's division in the lead, followed by Davis's and Sheridan's. He himself reported in person between eight and nine to the Commander-in-chief at Crawfish Springs (about a mile southeast of Lee and Gordon's Mills), and was ordered by him to mass his corps about that point and await further instructions, which was done. Crittenden's corps lay still on the 17th, except that he moved Palmer's division to the left in order to make room for one of Thomas's then approaching.
Between 10 A.M. and noon on the 18th, General Wood sent in several reports that the enemy was advancing on both his left and right, and asked for reinforcement by a brigade. But no collision came from this move on the part of the rebels, which was apparently intended simply to secure a new position, but led to a change of Crittenden's line by shifting Van Cleve's division from the right to the left of Wood's, and of Palmer's to replace Van Cleve's. This extension of our left, Crittenden made on his own responsibility. It anticipated to that extent Thomas's night move to the left. It seems almost incredible, but Crittenden says distinctly, in his official report, that he heard of Thomas's march by his rear accidentally the next morning, implying that he had not received any official advice of it.
Thus the hostile hosts became arrayed against each other for the terrible struggle into which they were about to plunge. Rosecrans tried his utmost to get ready for it, but was not, as his new line was still forming when the fighting began. He had been forced to exchange the confident part of victory and pursuit for that of an anxious defensive. He was not only anxious, but was actually apprehensive of failure, as is shown by his orders anticipatory of a possible defeat. And well he might be, in view of the positive information that had reached him, in the last few days, of the heavy reinforcements sent to Bragg from the West as well as from Lee's army. He knew, too, that, although orders had been sent from Washington in the light of those facts to Generals Grant, Hurlbut, and Burnside to send him all the troops they could possibly spare, help from any quarter could not arrive in time. Here these singular circumstances may be recorded: First, General-in-chief Halleck was under the delusion, almost to the middle of the month, that, instead of Bragg being reinforced from Lee, the reverse was the case. His belief was based upon misleading rebel newspaper reports, the surrender of Chattanooga without a fight, and upon Rosecrans's positive reports that Bragg was in full retreat southwardly. Secondly, Burnside, though repeatedly directed from Washington and requested by Rosecrans, after the occupation of Chattanooga, to close up with him, had made no serious efforts to that effect. He excused himself by Rosecrans's advices that Bragg was in full retreat, which seemed to him to render haste unnecessary.
No proof exists that Bragg knew, before the battle, of the desperate effort made by Rosecrans to thwart him by massing his forces on the left, but it is not probable that such knowledge would have made him hesitate to offer battle; for, as is shown in the exhortation addressed to his army, he must have been inspired with faith in success by the reinforcements of his command already received and about to arrive. There is a riddle, however, in this connection which the rebel records fail to clear up. While, according to Bragg's report of the battle, a considerable body had joined him some days before, Longstreet's corps was still on the way to him when he decided to attack on the 18th, and could not reach the field in time to support him. How did it happen that he deliberately did not wait for the advent of the flower of Lee's army, sent to him especially to ensure a victory over Rosecrans? Had he fought on the 18th, Longstreet would have been too late for any share in the action. As it was, he arrived only in time to contribute to the rebel success on the second day. No light has ever been thrown on Bragg's motive.
The battle about to be fought forms no exception to the all but general rule that, in the great actions of the Civil War, the losing as well as the winning side claimed that it had to contend against far superior numbers. Yet, as will be seen from the following comparison, the contestants in this struggle were almost evenly matched, there being but a slight numerical superiority on the Union side. According to the tri-monthly return of the Army of the Cumberland of September 10, the Fourteenth Army Corps had then present for duty 22,781 officers and men, the Twentieth 13,156, and the Twenty-first 14,660, making a total of 50,597 infantry and artillery. This aggregate was reduced by about ten per cent. by the disabled and stragglers lost during the continuous and hard marching between the 10th and the 19th, thus leaving (say) about 45,000 effectives, less about 2000 on escort and other detached duties. There was also the cavalry corps, with 9676 officers and men; but, owing to the broken and thickly wooded character of the scene of action, the mounted troops did only desultory fighting on a part of the front and on the wings, and may well be excluded, therefore, from the number of participants in the main action. The reserve corps under General Granger did not come into action until late on the second day, with the exception of one brigade under Colonel Daniel McCook, whose presence was, however, more than offset by the absence of Wagner's brigade of the Twenty-first Corps, garrisoning Chattanooga, and of one of Davis's brigades of the Twentieth Corps left to guard Stevens Gap. Hence it is right to say that there were about 43,000 combatants, exclusive of cavalry, on the Union side, with 196 pieces of artillery.
Bragg had 35,000 effectives, exclusive of cavalry, when he marched away from Chattanooga, from which five per cent. may be deducted for decrease from sickness and straggling (the rebels having been campaigning only half as long as the Unionists). He admits having been strengthened in time for the battle by two brigades of foot from Mississippi and five brigades of Longstreet's corps, which he, however, describes as weak and not exceeding five thousand effectives. But the seven brigades numbered certainly not less than 8000, bringing the effectives up to something under 42,000. This total is borne out by the aggregates of officers and men engaged given in the reports of the corps and division commanders, which foot up exactly 41,700 infantry and artillery. The rebel cavalry was stronger than the Federal, but its part also was confined to small and scattering fights, excepting the attack, hereafter mentioned, by Forrest's corps at the opening of the battle on the first day. The artillery numbered about the same as the Unionists'.
In another respect than numbers, about equal conditions prevailed on both sides. Neither the Unionists nor the Confederates were in fresh condition. The officers and men in the two armies, from the generals in command down to the privates, were tired out by all but continuous marching by day and night. The former had been steadily on the move for nearly five weeks, the latter since the evacuation of Chattanooga. The last week, neither the one nor the other had had proper rest or regular nourishment. For days before the battle, the bulk of the troops on each side had not had cooked meals. There was much suffering, not only from hunger, but from thirst, owing to the scarcity of water on the ridges between the several streams. The animals, too, had fared very badly as to food and water. The long lack of rain in that region had caused such dryness that the movements of the masses of men and animals took place in suffocating clouds of dust, which greatly in creased their hardships. By the dust rising from the roads, the signal services of the two armies divined their respective movements. The Union forces, having been longer under way by three weeks, were naturally more exhausted than their enemies. As nearly the whole of them were in motion during the entire night of the 18th to the 19th, they were really unfit for a general action. The Confederates were at least lying still during that night, and hence were better prepared for their bloody task.
It is difficult to give a description of the ground fought over on the memorable 19th and 20th of September that will convey a clear idea of it. It lay entirely on Georgia soil just south of the Tennessee boundary. It comprised the part of the valley of the West Chickamauga extending northerly from Lee and Gordon's Mills for a distance of a little over four miles. The course of the stream is so meandering that the width of the valley varies greatly and its form is very irregular. The surface is undulating, and was then generally covered with heavy timber, and largely also with an undergrowth so dense that a clear view ahead could be had only for a hundred to two hundred feet. The timber entirely concealed the movements of the hostile forces from one another. There were, however, a number of farms with clearings and cultivated fields of greater or less extent. General Thomas took position on the largest of these at Kelly's, three and a half miles from Lee and Gordon's Mills and about two miles from the Chickamauga. The road from Lafayette to Chattanooga, the possession of which was the object of the struggle, crossed the whole length of the battle-field due north and south from Kelly's to Lee and Gordon's Mills. The road ran along the eastern foot of Missionary Ridge, but between it and the slope there was first a narrow skirt of timber, stretching from “Widow Glenn's Farm,” one and a half miles north of Lee and Gordon's Mills, for nearly three miles to McDonald's, about three-quarters of a mile north of Kelly's. Beyond this strip, and parallel to it, there was a succession of cultivated clearings. The reason for taking the Unionist position between the State road and the Chickamauga instead of along the stream itself was the winding flow and numerous fords, which rendered it impossible to form any defensive line on the bank not exposed to flank and rear attacks.
- Bragg subsequently preferred charges against Hindman and relieved him from command for “disobedience of the lawful command of his superior officer.” Hindman asked for a court of inquiry, but the difficulty was settled in the end by the intervention of the President of the Confederacy.