With Buell Sputtering, Bragg Makes His Very Long Move

July 24, 1862 (Thursday)

General Braxton Bragg wasn't going to, but now is.

In the month that had passed since Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard had been ousted from his position as commander of the Army of Mississippi, much planning, reorganizing and backtracking had taken place at their base near Tupelo, Mississippi. Now under General Braxton Bragg, the Rebel army was on the move towards Chattanooga, Tennessee, in hopes of intercepting the Union Army of the Ohio, General Don Carlos Buell at its head. At Chattanooga was the Confederate General Kirby Smith, itching for a full scale invasion of Kentucky and wanting to leave the defense of Chattanooga to someone else.

Through late June and early July, Kirby Smith had again and again called to General Bragg for troops. Bragg was leery of the idea, as he was planning a move of his own into central Tennessee and, aside from that, had already spread his department thin. 9,000 troops went to Mobile, Alabama, while 14,000 went to Vicksburg. To protect the northern Mississippi border, Bragg sent General Sterling Price with 11,000 men. This left the Army of Mississippi with 30,000 troops. Anything less, feared Bragg, would greatly hinder his ability to go on the offensive.

To make matters worse, Union General George Morgan was in Cumberland Gap with his division, threatening to attack south towards Knoxville.1 Kirby Smith wanted to hit him before that happened and to his happy surprise, Rebel raider, John Hunt Morgan (no relation to George) had informed him on July 16 that the bridges between Cincinnati and Lexington had been destroyed and that up to 30,000 secessionist Kentuckians would drop what they were doing and join in the rebellion once Kirby Smith invaded the state. This was a complete misrepresentation, but with news traveling so slowly, Smith had no way (aside from common sense) to know it. On this date, he forwarded the message to Richmond, hoping that George Morgan would have to detach at least a brigade to put down John Hunt Morgan’s raid.

General Kirby Smith wanted Kentucky.

Smith also forwarded this information to General Carter Stevenson, commanding Confederate forces at Knoxville, 100 miles northeast of Chattanooga. If George Morgan dispatched troops to deal with John Hunt Morgan’s raiders, it would “present the most favorable opportunity of pushing forward your operations, and probably enable you to enter Kentucky.”2

All this was said as Union General Buell, still based out of Huntsville, was thought to be knocking at the gates of Chattanooga with 30,000 men. That wasn’t quite true, as his force was spread out garrisoning various towns and rebuilding a few railroad bridges. Buell’s advance had been slow and there were no real signs that he was about to attack.3

The Rebels, of course, could not know this. And rather than sending troops away, George Morgan was calling for more, sending the report of a lieutenant from the Union Engineer Corps stating how great of a defensive location Cumberland Gap was. Though provisions were running low, he wanted to hold his position.4

This is a rather large map of the approximate troops positions around the Chattanooga region.

Back in Chattanooga, Kirby Smith was growing more and more impatient with General Bragg. He wrote that Buell’s Army was about to attack and it really would be nice to have some extra troops around. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry had been sent into the heart of Tennessee to stall Buell. With Buell fending off Forrest, Bragg, thought Smith, should have used that time to make a move into central Tennessee. Instead of taking advantage of Forrest’s raid, Bragg sent some reinforcements to Chattanooga and told Smith that an attack into central Tennessee from Tupelo, Mississippi was impossible.

General George Morgan wanted to do more than he could.

Kirby Smith then began to wildly speculate. “The enemy will,” thought Smith, “attempt no invasion of Mississippi or Alabama this summer.” Instead, the Federals would hold their positions and attempt to secure Eastern Tennessee. Smith then laid it all out.

“Can you not leave a portion of your forces in observation in Mississippi,” asked Smith, “shifting the main body to this department, take command in person?” To entice Bragg further, Smith urged that there was “yet time for a brilliant summer campaign; you will have a good and secure base, abundant supplies, the Tennessee can be crossed at any point by the aid of steam and ferry boats, and the campaign opened with every prospect of regaining possession of Middle Tennessee and possibly Kentucky. I will not only co-operate with you, but will cheerfully place my command under you subject to your orders.”5

All of this was quite enticing, but General Bragg had already made up his mind. On July 21, he decided to move his command to Chattanooga. Two days later, he explained himself to Richmond. Tupelo, Mississippi was of little importance compared to Chattanooga. He had secured Mobile, Vicksburg and left the border as protected as possible. With 35,000, he planned to join Kirby Smith in Eastern Tennessee.

How Bragg and his men would get from Tupelo, Mississippi to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Bragg hopped, “in conjunction with Major-General Smith, to strike an effective blow through Middle Tennessee, gaining the enemy’s rear, cutting off his supplies and dividing his forces, so as to encounter him in detail.” Chattanooga must be held to prevent Buell’s “descent into Georgia, than which no greater disaster could befall us.”6

The trip would not be a simple one. With the Federals holding the railroads in northern Mississippi and Alabama, Bragg’s men were forced to ride the rails south to Mobile, then take a ferry across the bay before boarding another train that would take them north to Montgomery. That train would take them through Atlanta, where they would board another train to Chattanooga. In all, it was a trek of 776 miles using six different railroad lines and a steamboat. The first troops would arrive in Chattanooga on the 27th, just as the last were leaving Tupelo.7

  1. Army of the Heartland Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Louisiana State University, 1967. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p733-734. []
  3. Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel, Louisiana State University, 2004. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p207, 210-211. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p734. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p655-656. []
  7. Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat Vol. 1 by Grady McWhiney, University of Alabama, 1969. []
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With Buell Sputtering, Bragg Makes His Very Long Move by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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