September 30, 1863 (Wednesday)
With Union reinforcements coming toward Chattanooga from three different directions, this hardly seemed like the best time for Confederate General Braxton Bragg to plunge his entire command structure into chaos. Yet, that is more or less what he did.
Though he had been victorious against William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga, he was far from pleased with the performances of Generals Leonidas Polk and Thomas Hindman. The former, being a corps commander, received most of his wrath. Hindman, however, was not at all exempt, being, in Bragg’s mind, fully responsible for the debacle at McLemore’s Cove on the 18th.
Just two short days after the battle, Bragg demanded that Polk explain why he did not make the morning attack as ordered on the 20th. General Polk put off replying for a few days, prompting Bragg to ask again.
While Bragg was trying to oust two of his generals, four of his generals were trying to oust him. Around the 26th, Generals Polk, along with D.H. Hill, James Longstreet and Simon Buckner were working behind the scenes to convince Richmond to find a replacement for Bragg. Longstreet, being the most respected general of the bunch, wrote both Richmond and General Robert E. Lee asking that Lee be sent west to command.
Their plans were, however, stymied when Bragg, unsatisfied with Polk’s version of the story, tried to suspend both Polk and Hindmand. When Richmond caught wind of this (on the 29th), they tried to diffuse the situation by informing Bragg that he had no authority to suspend one of his officers. His only power in this case was to arrest them. However, Bragg had to “show cause by preferring charges as prescribed.” Apparently, Davis figured that Bragg would back down if he actually had to draw up formal charges. In this, Davis was mistaken.
That same day, Polk was charged with disobedience of command and neglect of duty. According to Bragg, Polk disobeyed the command to attack at dawn and instead attacked at 10am. Furthermore, he had to be told twice. The neglect of duty charge was tacked on by Bragg, noting that Polk failed to tell him that the order would not be followed.
This whole ordeal would drag on for weeks. Bragg requested statements from a number of generals, hoping to prove to Davis that Polk had to be dismissed. In the meantime, Polk was to remove himself to Atlanta to await the outcome. Bragg, somewhat victorious, would soon make moves against other generals, while Longstreet made moves against Bragg. For a time, Davis considered personally dropping in on Bragg for a visit, but decided to wait, sending Col. James Chesnut instead.
And while the Rebels fought each other, the Federals were quickly gathering (though not without a bit of squabbling and axing).1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 30, Part 2, p55-56, 64-65; The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. [↩]