Here is a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.
And here is a field dispatch from CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest that, years later, General Longstreet would say had “fixed the fate of the Confederacy.” (20)
It’s difficult to read because Forrest, “under most exciting conditions,” was up a tree in a post recently occupied by US signalmen (who were now his prisoners), with Federal-issue binoculars, on a spur of Missionary Ridge, dictating to a mounted officer who was using part of his saddle as a writing desk. The horse’s movements jarred the writer’s hand.
On the Road, September 21, 1863.
General: We are in a mile of Rossville—have been on the point of Missionary Ridge. Can see Chattanooga and everything around. The enemy’s trains are leaving, going around the point of Lookout Mountain. The prisoners captured, report two pontoons thrown across for the purpose of retreating. I think they are evacuating  as hard as they can go. They are cutting timber down to obstruct our passage. I think we ought to press forward as rapidly as possible.
N. B. Forrest. Brigadier-General. To Lieutenant-General L. Polk.
Please forward to General Bragg.
Having just come across that, as well as a few new sources, I’m including more coverage of the events of September 22nd this week, as well as the regular timeline.
Battles and Military Events: East Tennessee Campaign. Battle of Blountsville.
Chickamauga Campaign. General Bragg relieves General Polk and a division commander for their actions during the recent battle. This prompts widespread unrest in Bragg’s officer corps. (10) Meanwhile, General Forrest’s cavalry has moved into the suburbs of Chattanooga and remains in line of battle through the night, the right-most at the Tennessee River, the left-most at the base of Lookout Mountain. Forrest waits, but no order to attack comes from Bragg. Despite the arguments of General Longstreet, who wants to attack Rosecrans immediately, General Bragg decides to march around the Federals in Chattanooga, believing they will have abandoned the town tonight. (10, 11) However, the Federals are apparently capable of using misinformation tactics, too. There is only one pontoon bridge across the Tennessee and Rosecrans has it heavily guarded to prevent any soldier from leaving. The US army is in a battle line in Rossville Gap and on Missionary Ridge to the right and left of the gap, with one of its three corps extending across the valley almost to Lookout Mountain. US General Rosecrans is not retreating but building up the defenses of Chattanooga and bringing in supply trains as quickly as possible. (19)
Battles and Military Events: Chickamauga Campaign. General Forrest is now atop Lookout Mountain, where his troops are relieved by infantry to rest and forage, shoe the horses and cook rations. (11) General Bragg orders his other cavalry commander, General Joe Wheeler, on a raid northwestward to Rosecrans’ rear to cut the Federal supply line to Nashville. (10) General Rosecrans telegraphs to US President Lincoln, “We hold this point, and I can not be dislodged, except by very superior numbers, and after a great battle.” (5)
At a late-night cabinet meeting, President Lincoln orders that reinforcements for General Rosecrans be sent from the Army of the Potomac by rail in seven days, thus initiating the largest troop rail movement of the war. (5, 25) He also sends Rosecrans a copy of a dispatch from Bragg that was printed in the Richmond papers and tells his general, “You see he does not claim so many prisoners or captured guns, as you were inclined to concede.” (5)
Military Events: Capetown, South Africa: Captain Semmes and the CSS Alabama leave port and head for the Far East to do some commerce raiding. (12)
Chickamauga Campaign. Planners in Washington under Generals Daniel McCallum and Herman Haupt begin working out the details of the US Military Railroad scheme to reinforce Rosecrans. Federal occupation of Nashville helps tremendously. Meanwhile, General-in-Chief issues orders to get those men moving. (9; 25, including quote below)
The men at the conference worked out the detailed route planning, a task complicated by the different gauges of railroad track in use at the time. The initial movement of troops from Virginia was allocated to the USMRR under COL McCallum’s direction. John Garret and William Smith would supervise the movement from Washington DC to Jeffersonville, Indiana and Thomas Scott would travel west to supervise the move from Louisville, Kentucky to Bridgeport, Alabama. As finally settled the movement involved 9 different railroads in order get the troops from Virginia to Bridgeport. The USMRR operating on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from Bealeton, Virginia to Washington DC passed the movement off to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Washington DC to Benwood, West Virginia. At Benwood the troops crossed the Ohio river via a pontoon bridge and boarded Central Ohio Railroad trains to move from Bellaire, Ohio to Columbus. From Columbus troops moved via the Columbus and Xenia Railroad, Little Miami Railroad, and the Indiana Central Railroad to reach Indianapolis, Indiana. From Indianapolis the route used the Jeffersonville Railroad to return to the Ohio River. The troops crossed the Ohio River to Louisville, Kentucky and boarded trains using the tracks of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad to reach Nashville, Tennessee. From Nashville the final leg of the trip used the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad to deliver the troops to Bridgeport, Alabama.
Other: President Lincoln writes a letter to his wife, who is still in New York, summing up the Chickamauga battle and informing her of the death of her brother-in-law, Confederate General Helm. (5) My speculation last week on General Helms’s death thereby goes out the window. On looking into it further (as far as Wikipedia, anyway), Mary’s half-sister Emilie had married Benjamin Helm.
Military Events: Taylor’s operations in West Louisiana: “Following the Union defeat at Sabine Pass earlier in the month, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks intended to occupy important locations in Texas. He decided to send troops up the Bayou Teche, disembark them on the plains and journey overland to Texas. Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent him a division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Napoleon J.T. Dana to garrison Morganza and prevent Rebel troops from operating on the Atchafalaya River. A 1,000-man detachment, under the command of Lt. Col. J.B. Leake, was at Stirling’s Plantation to guard the road to the Atchafalaya River and deter any enemy troops from passing by. Brig. Gen. Alfred Mouton, commander of the Sub-District of Southwestern Louisiana, decided that he had a favorable opportunity to defeat the Union forces around Fordoche Bridge. On September 19, he instructed Brig. Gen. Tom Green to prepare for such an attack. Mouton provided Green with reinforcements and gave the order to attack on the 25th.” (23, including quote)
Chickamauga Campaign. US General Burnside’s forces are reported to be at Harrison, Tennessee, some 13 miles away, and General Forrest is ordered to proceed there for picketing duty. However, Federal forces have entered Bradley County, Tennessee. Forrest gets as far as Chickamauga before receiving changed orders, to head to Charleston in Bradley County, over 40 miles away, and drive off any enemies there. Forrest gets as far as Cleveland, Tennessee, by nightfall. In the meantime, Confederate forces around Charleston have forced US troops to retreat across the Hiawassee River. (4, 11, 21)
US General Sherman, in Mississippi, who has been “practicing the destructive tactics that would soon make him famous – or infamous – to Confederate adherents, then and later,” gives all necessary orders to move his divisions east (via a 220-mile river journey to Memphis and then a 240-mile journey overland to Chattanooga) to reinforce Rosecrans. Sherman then goes into Vicksburg with his family. (10, including quote; 23)
Some 5,800 US troops are in motion, heading from the Eastern Theater to reinforce Rosecrans. (25)
An angry telegram from Lincoln to General Burnside is written but not sent. (5) Of note again is that Burnside had offered his resignation on September 10th, but Lincoln had declined it.
Battles and Military Events: Chickamauga Campaign. Forrest reaches Charleston, Tennessee, in the morning. After opening artillery fire on the Federal troops across the Hiawassee, Forrest and his men cross and attack. They drive the US troops northeastward back toward Knoxville, all the to Philadelphia, Tennessee, almost 40 miles away, where, together with local Confederate forces, they also engage and defeat US cavalry, taking 125 prisoners. (11, 21) Per source 10,
This fighting dash up the Tennessee Valley on jaded horses … seems to indicate Forrest’s post-Chickamauga frustration – a desire to do something … Forrest’s East Tennessee chase infuriated Bragg. He soon told another subordinate that Forrest was “nothing more than a good raider” and that his “rampage” toward Knoxville epitomized his ignorance, especially of cooperation. And, Bragg raged, Forrest was all too typical. The Army of Tennessee, Bragg said, did not include “a single officer of cavalry for for command.”
Bragg apparently excluded Wheeler from his indictment.
CS General D. H. Hill saw things differently:
Whatever blunders each of us in authority committed before the battles of the 19th and 20th, and during their progress, the great blunder of all was that of not pursuing the enemy on the 21st. The day was spent in burying the dead and gathering up captured stores. Forrest, with his usual promptness, was early in the saddle, and saw that the retreat was a rout. Disorganized masses of men were hurrying to the rear ; batteries of artillery were inextricably mixed with trains of wagons ; disorder and confusion pervaded the broken ranks struggling to get on. Forrest sent back word to Bragg that “every hour was worth a thousand men.” But the commander-in-chief did not know of the victory until the morning of the 21st, and then he did not order a pursuit. Rosecrans spent the day and the night of the 21st in hurrying his trains out of town. A breathing-space was allowed him ; the panic among his troops subsided, and Chattanooga – the objective point of the campaign-was held. There was no more splendid fighting in ’61, when the flower of the Southern youth was in the field, than was displayed in those bloody days of September, ’63. But it seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga – that brilliant dash which had distinguished him was gone forever. He was too intelligent not to know that the cutting in two of Georgia meant death to all his hopes. He knew that Longstreet’s absence was imperiling Lee’s safety, and that what had to be done must be done quickly. The delay in striking was exasperating to him; the failure to strike after the success was crushing to all his longings for an independent South. He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope.
That “barren victory” sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy.
Meanwhile, west of the Mississippi, per source 9: “The governors, not to mention the generals, of the Confederate states on the west side of the Mississippi River had long felt they were being treated like unwanted stepchildren by the government in Richmond. When they requested guns, supplies, or manpower, they were more likely to be asked to send these items East for the defense of the capital, rather than have them sent out for the defense of the hinterlands. Now that Vicksburg had fallen and the Mississippi River was in Union hands the situation was becoming grim in the extreme. Gen. E. Kirby Smith tried his hand at firebrand speechwriting today when he issued the following to the populace of the Trans-Mississippi: ‘Your homes are in peril…You should contest the advance of the enemy, thicket, gully and stream; harass his rear and cut off his supplies.’ The inclination, not to mention ability, of civilian farmers to follow this advice was questionable.”
In Washington, D.C., President Lincoln and his administration are upset when the New York Evening Post publishes information on troop movements in aid of General Rosecrans in Chattanooga. (5, 6)
Battles: Arkansas operations/Shelby’s Raid: Moffat’s Station/Haguewood Prairie. (18) Also, see video at end of post.
Military Events: Chickamauga Campaign. In Mississippi, the last of Sherman’s corps that have been designated for reinforcement start from camp. (23) Some 12,600 men, 33 cars of artillery, and 21 cars of baggage and horses are moving by rail toward Rosecrans. “Moving the troops and artillery did not complete the job. September 27 the railroads began loading the camp baggage, wagons, ambulances, horses and mule teams that were part of the corps. The XI Corps had 261 six mule teams, 75 two horse ambulances, 3 spring wagons and the XII Corps needed 150 four horse teams and 156 six mule teams moved.” (25, including quote)
Lincoln to Burnside: (5) “Hold your present positions, and send Rosecrans what you can spare, in the quickest and safest way. In the mean time, hold the remainder as nearly in readiness to go to him as you can consistently with the duty it is to perform while it remains. East Tennesse [sic] can be no more than temporarily lost, so long as Chattanooga is firmly held.”
Military Events: Chickamauga Campaign. “The last of my corps designed for this expedition … reached Vicksburg the 28th, and were embarked on boats provided for them. General Halleck’s dispatches dwelt upon the fact that General Rosecrans’s routes of supply were overtaxed, and that we should move from Memphis eastward, repairing railroads as we progressed, as far as Athens, Alabama, whence I was to report to General Rosecrans, at Chattanooga, by letter.
“I took passage for myself and family in the steamer Atlantic, Captain Henry McDougall. When the boat was ready to start, Willie was missing. Mrs. Sherman supposed him to have been with me, whereas I supposed he was with her. An officer of the Thirteenth went up to General McPherson’s house for him, and soon returned, with Captain Clift leading him, carrying in his hands a small double-barreled shot gun; and I joked him about carrying away captured property. In a short time we got off. As we all stood on the guards to look at our old camps at Young’s Point, I remarked that Willie was not well, and he admitted that he was sick. His mother put him to bed, and consulted Dr. Roler, of the Fifty-fifth Illinois, who found symptoms of typhoid fever.” (23, including quote)
General Bragg isn’t the only one in blame mode. US Generals Crittenden, McDowell and McCook are relieved of duty and ordered to face a court of inquiry after Chickamauga. (6)
Meanwhile, CS President Davis sends Bragg a telegram, warning him of the ongoing massive US troop movement by rail. (9) The president will soon be visiting his general in camp.
Other: Chickamauga Campaign. The New York Herald publishes a map of Rosecrans’ defensive position in Chattanooga. (24)
(2) Morgan’s Raiders.
(3) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).
(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).
(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(7) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(8) The Western Gulf Blockade. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(11) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(12) Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama, US Naval Historical Center.
(14) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)
(15) Friends of the Hunley.
(16) The Chickamauga Campaign, Civil War Home.
(17) The Chickamauga Campaign, About North Georgia
(18) Timeline of the Civil War in Newton County, Missouri (Shelby’s Raid).
(19) Shelby’s Raid (Official Records)
(20) “An Important Dispatch,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Tufts University
(21) “This Just In,” Bradley County, Tennessee, list of Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration events
(23) Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (excerpt)
(25) US Military Railroad, Chattanooga Campaign (Wikipedia)
Categories: American Civil War