All Going Well for General Rosecrans

August 19, 1863 (Wednesday)

The young and brash John Wilder was not Amish.
The young and brash John Wilder was not Amish.

“I do not think there are any [Rebel] forces of consequence this side of Tennessee River,” reported Colonel John Wilder, who commanded a brigade of mounted infantry in General George Thomas’ XIV Corps. Col. Wilder, more of an enthusiastic upstart than anything, had heard that General Rosecrans needed more cavalry. The only problem was a lack of horses. Wilder took it upon himself (with Rosecrans’ delighted permission) to scour the countryside for horses. In turn, his men – all foot soldiers – would be mounted and become an entire brigade of impromtu cavalry.

Rosecrans loved the idea and before long Wilder’s Lightning Brigade came into their own, proving themsevles through the spring and early summer. So far on this campaign, they played their part well. While the official cavalry scouted and screened Rosecran’s left and right, both advancing toward the Tennessee River and Braxton Bragg’s Confederates at Chattanooga, Wilder scouted the center.

Like most of the Federal troops marching south, he found the roads through the Cumberland Mountains to be in horrible shape. The day previous to this, they made only twenty miles, as they had “to repair the roads so that our artillery and trains could pass.” On this date, however, they descended into the Seqatchie Valley, a strange reprieve, cleaving the mountains into two ranges. Leaving the craggy slopes behind them, Wilder’s strange brigade road fast into Thermin, a small southern Tennessee crossroads.

There, he discovered a party of fourteen Rebels reportedly about to hang five Union prisoners. After a quick surprise and capture, his brigade shifted up the Sequatche River to Dunlap, and awaited the arrival of the XXI Corps. It was probably from the captured Rebels that he learned of no Confederate presence on his side of the Tennessee River. Apparently, the Confederates at Chattanooga had but four divisions, two of which were positioned northeast of the city. For a time, there was wonder and worry over Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, but Wilder discovered they had been neutered to picket duty along the Tennessee. Another fret had been Simon Bolivar Buckner’s small army at Knoxville, but Wilder divined that there they still remained.

Here's today's map. I'm trying...
Here’s today’s map. I’m trying…

For General Rosecrans, Wilder’s screening and the movements of Thomas Crittenden’s XXI Corps were a front meant to deceive Braxton Bragg into thinking that he would be attacked from the north. The actual drive, however, would come from the corps under George Thomas and Alexander McCook, which were both on this date nearly in position along the Tennessee River near Bridgeport, Alabama, thirty-five miles downstream from Chattanooga. Like Wilder, they had discovered the roads to be in terrible shape.

Rosecrans was confident that before a couple of days passed, his army could launch the assault and drive Bragg from Chattanooga. One other item remained, however. This was Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Ohio. Though Burnside had claimed to have been ready to move out of Camp Nelson, near Lexington, Kentucky before Rosecrans was prepared to start in campaign in Tennessee, as it turned out, Burnside wasn’t ready at all. He had been waiting for the return of his beloved IX Corps from Vicksburg, but even by this date, only one division had arrived.

Burnside’s objective was Knoxville, Tennessee, where Confederates under Simon Buckner were still positioned. Finally, however, they were on the move, though still some 130 miles away from Knoxville. “We have had a serious delay in mounting the cavalry and accumulating forage and subsistence,” Burnside wrote to Rosecrans, “but all the columns are in motion.”

But Rosecrans was growing impatient. “The head of your column ought to appear soon,” he wrote to Burnside on this date, “if you are in time.” He told him of his plans to cross south of Bridgeport and strike between Rome and Bridgeport. “Let us have full co-operation,” he closed. “Telegraph me position, progress, and plan.”

Look, Rosie! I've got my coat and hat, I'll be there soon!
Look, Rosie! I’ve got my coat and hat, I’ll be there soon!

Though Burnside’s force was in motion, he was still holding back, waiting for all of his IX Corps to come up. The following day, word would arrive that both divisions would be coming along, and Burnside would finally issue specific marching orders for his columns.

Meanwhile, in Chattanooga, Braxton Bragg was mostly oblivious to Rosecrans’ machination. He was busy, like many Confederates in the West, arguing with his fellow officers. The Army of Tennessee was anything but a cohesive unit. The officer corps had been thrown together quickly, and with the hoped-for reinforcements, that wasn’t about to change. The only remaining high ranking General from even a month before was Leonidas Polk, who wanted Joe Johnston to replace Bragg as commander.

Bragg, of course, knew that something would eventually happen, and had been trying to coax reinforcements from anywhere he could. Buckner’s force in Knoxville was an obvious choice, though it would probably mean the final abandonment of East Tennessee. He was also trying to convince Johnston to send troops (though not Johnston, himself, of course). In all, while Rosecrans’ command was moving like a machine, Bragg’s was close to falling apart. Under these circumstances, the outcome of the nearing battle seemed clear, if not certain.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 30, Part 1, p445; Part 3, p72, 74, 78, 80-81; This Terrible Sound by Peter Cozzens. []
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2 thoughts on “All Going Well for General Rosecrans

  1. Give us a little update on just where Gen Joe Johnston is right now, and what he is doing.

    1. Well, I don’t usually take requests (if I did, people would constantly be yelling “FREEBIRD!” at me. But in this case, sure! A quick overview, anyway.

      Davis was none too happy with Johnston after the fall of Vicksburg (even though it was Davis’ original orders that doomed the city). He sent Johnston, then at Mobile, a scathing, over-long diatribe about how Johnston was to blame for the fall of Vicksburg. Johnston replied and the two ended up kind of hating each other for a time.

      In early August, Pemberton submitted his official report from Vicksburg’s fall. This laid 100% of the blame on Johnston. Davis ate it up and the press turned against Johnston. Senator Louis Wigfall went to bat for Johnston, showing everyone he could the private letters they exchanged, hoping to lob the blame of Vicksburg’s fall on Pemberton.

      It went on line this for two months. It’s somewhat intriguing, but not really something that I could base an entire post around.

      Incidentally, my next post about Johnston won’t crop up until Decemberish. His name appears here and there, but for the most part, he was just collecting an army and defending his name. He’ll come into play again in late December when he takes command of a certain western army. But I don’t want to spoil it now.



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