‘Can’t You Spare Me Another Division?’ – Bragg Appeases Longstreet

November 22, 1863 (Sunday)

Brother, can you spare a division?
Brother, can you spare a division?

Confederate General Braxton Bragg knew the Federals were up to something. An attack was immanent, that much was certain. Also certain, at least in the mind of General Bragg, was that his enemies would hit upon his left flank, anchored by Lookout Mountain. He knew that General Grant had been reinforced by William Tecumseh Sherman, whose troops had entered the scene through the Lookout Valley. Suspecting that time was not on his side, Bragg turned to James Longstreet, whose corps had been sent to oust the Yankees under Ambrose Burnside from Knoxville.

Bragg did not wish to recall Longstreet’s forces without a victory, but wanted them back as soon as possible. Could he not bring on a battle at Knoxville? Longstreet doubted that it could be done, but nevertheless made ready for an assault upon the entrenched Union troops.

He called upon Lafayette McLaws’ Division to make a night attack, which he believed “would result in great success.” Writing to McLaws on the 21st, Longstreet felt assured that his losses “will not be great compared with the importance of the move.” The assault was to take place well after sunset on this date.

But McLaws could not convince his officers that the Federal position could be carried, and the attack was postponed. Longstreet explained to Bragg that his force was simply not strong enough to “warrant my taking his works by assault.”

In this, Bragg seemed to understand, but revealed to Longstreet that there were rumors of a Federal column trying to get between the two Confederate forces. This was, Bragg determined, Sherman’s troops, who were now poised to do something on the hills north of Chattanooga. It wasn’t with outright certainty that Bragg explained this to Longstreet, but it was close.

Longstreet was again asking for reinforcements, inquiring, “Can’t you spare me another division? It will shorten the work here very much.” By this date, Bragg was nearly convinced of two things. First, that his left was in grave danger and second, that Sherman’s troops were moving against Longstreet from Chattanooga. Bragg did his best to convince Longstreet of such things, but Longstreet was wary.

How about this approximate map?
How about this approximate map?

“There can be no force to move against my rear, unless it comes from your front,” countered Longstreet, “and it cannot come from there without your being advised in time to send more troops to me.”

Bragg felt that he simply couldn’t convince Longstreet of everything he wanted to be accomplished, and so sent a staff officer to the Confederate lines before Knoxville “to express my views more in full than can well be done by telegram or letter.” That said, he was also sending Longstreet 11,000 reinforcements to end his work against Burnside “promptly and effectively.”

The troops Bragg was sending were two divisions under Bushrod Johnson and Patrick Cleburne (with the latter in command of both). These divisions held the right of his line atop Missionary Ridge, opposite the hills north of Chattanooga. Johnson’s troops stepped off this day, while Cleburne’s were to follow the next.

For Longstreet, this was a great boon. He needed troops, and Bragg was surprisingly sending 11,000, sapping his strength to less than 35,000, while facing a newly-reinforced enemy who could field over 60,000. Indeed, Bragg, while under the great anxious suspicion that he was about to be attacked, depleted his ownnumbers by nearly twenty-five percent.

Cleburne will be right there!
Cleburne will be right there!

While Bragg and Longstreet both fretted over time, General Grant too was vexed by such worries. Having no clear idea what was going on at Knoxville, he wanted to make sure that his attack upon Bragg would draw off Longstreet’s troops from Burnside’s front. He did not have any plans to send a column against Longstreet, as Bragg believed. Instead, Grant reasoned that an attack upon the Confederate right on Missionary Ridge would force Bragg to recall Longstreet, while driving a wedge between them.

But there had been delays. Sherman’s advance had been slowed by rain, Sherman’s own mismanagement, and on this date, the Rebels themselves. Word came into Grant’s headquarters that the Confederates were building rafts to float down the Tennessee River to destroy the pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry, across which Sherman’s troops were marching. The reports had been true. During the day, the bridge was sundered by the Confederate rafts, cutting off most of one division and the entirety of another.

Grant had wanted to launch an attack on this date, but due to the delays, he postponed it another day. Since it was also on this day that Bragg sent Johnson’s and Cleburne’s troops north to aid Longstreet, it was a fortuitous turn of events – a eucatastrophe, if you will.

After dark, Patrick Cleburne moved his two divisions from the lines on Missionary Ridge to the railroad depot at Chickamauga Station. Behind them, their campfires were left tended and burning.

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‘Can’t You Spare Me Another Division?’ – Bragg Appeases Longstreet by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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2 thoughts on “‘Can’t You Spare Me Another Division?’ – Bragg Appeases Longstreet

  1. The chess moves leading up this battle are pretty interesting. For Bragg to send around 25% of his force to Knoxville, just when he felt himself was about to be attacked, leads me to believe that he really did believe the ruse that Sherman was headed to Knoxville. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have sent those men, right? Bragg was a pretty smart guy and a capable administrative officer. Surely he would have kept troops in Chattanooga if he thought there was a chance Sherman was staying to help out Grant. Just my speculation.

    1. I think Bragg falls into something like the category of McClellan — lots of intellectual potential, but prone to major mistakes because he insisted on seeing things as he wanted them to be rather than as they actually were. But Bragg’s administrative abilities do not seem to have been anywhere near those of McClellan. The Confederates besieging Chattanooga were not well-fed, and there were only minor bombardments of Union positions because of the shortage of artillery ammunition. President Davis would eventually appoint Joseph Johnston, whom he despised, to head the Army of Tennessee because he knew only Johnston had the administrative skills to feed, clothe, equip, and restore the morale of the men.

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