September 9, 1863 (Wednesday)
Since last we checked in, things had gone well, and yet not as well as hoped, for William Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland. On the 4th, they could be seen clawing and scratching their way up Lookout Mountain in an attempt to maneuver the Confederate Army of Tennessee, Braxton Bragg commanding, out of Chattanooga.
The mentioned clawing lasted another two days, as Federal supply wagons took their time lumbering across the Tennessee River, following their respective divisions. Rosecrans was, of course, very interested in finding out what lay before his army, and whether this strenuous hike was worth the effort. To suss this out, he tried to send Thomas Wood’s infantry division from Thomas Crittenden’s XXI Corps along the railroad to have a poke toward Chattanooga. At the same time, he tried to coax a division of cavalry under David Stanley to move through the passes into the valley beyond Lookout Mountain.
Wood had no great desire to follow these particular orders, citing that his flanks and rear would be exposed. Since the order contained no specific hour for the move to begin, Wood allowed it to not begin at all. Following a stern rebuking from Rosecrans, however, Wood threw forward a single brigade to pacify the testy commander. Stanley, on the other hand, believed that he was outnumbered and though the order for him to move came on the 6th, he took the next two days off.
The reports that were actually making their way into Rosecrans’ headquarters brought sobering news. All figured that Braxton Bragg would drag his Rebel army out of Chattanooga for the fight, but nobody could really figure out where or when this might happen. Word that Bragg had received upwards of 20,000 reinforcements did little to settled Rosecrans’ apprehension.
Somehow or another, though his army had been strung out and mismanaged, by nightfall of the 8th (really, the early morning of the 9th), it was more or less in position to his Bragg in almost any direction he moved. Before Rosecran’s head hit the pillow, he had learned that Bragg had evacuated Chattanooga that afternoon.
On this date, he ordered a brigade from Crittenden’s XXI Corps to occupy the city, while the rest join with the XX Corps, under Alexander McCook and the XIV Corps, helmed by George Thomas, in figuring out where Bragg was headed. Rosecrans hoped it was for Rome, Georgia because his Federal Army was closer to it than the Rebels (which might have been a fine indication that Bragg wouldn’t be headed for Rome, Georgia anytime soon).
“The enemy has decided not to fight at Chattanooga,” Rosecrans informed Halleck, avoiding the nagging question of the location of said enemy, if he no longer tarried in Chattanooga. This was the problem. But still, why focus upon it when a victory could be claimed?
“Chattanooga is ours without a struggle, and East Tennessee is free,” wrote the enthusiastic Rosecrans in another letter to Halleck. “Our move on the enemy’s flank and rear progresses, while the tail of his retreating column will not escape unmolested.”
Halleck, no doubt, noticed the future tense of this missive. The enemy’s tail was not currently unable to escape unmolested – “it will not escape,” wrote Rosecrans, speaking of some fine sunny day when he was actually able to locate the enemy.
Still, the stars and stripes waved free over Chattanooga, placed by an Illinois regiment of mounted infantry, specifically selected by Rosecrans for the task. For some reason, this irked the irascible General Wood, who wanted the strange bit of glory for himself.
Back at Rosecrans’ headquarters, the commanding general was trusting the news that he wanted to hear and discarding everything else. From this, he gleaned that Braxton Bragg’s demoralized Army of Tennessee was streaming straight for Rome, just as he had dreamed. And if that news wasn’t good enough, loyal citizens claimed that if pushed, Bragg wouldn’t stop short of Atlanta. These were truly wondrous days to behold.
Unfortunately for Rosecrans, this wasn’t quite the case. Bragg’s army had retreated his army out of Chattanooga, but halted between Chickamauga Creek and La Fayette. Missionary Ridge separated his force from a division from Thomas’ isolated XIV Corps. When Bragg received word that the enemy was spread out and near by, his mind turned to the idea of defeating Rosecrans in detail.
The Federal unit in question was James Negley’s Division, which was now ten miles up Chickamauga Creek. It was the only Federal division on Bragg’s side of Missionary Ridge and seemed easy enough pickings.
For this task, he simply selected the two nearest divisions, Patrick Cleburne’s from D.H. Hill’s Corps, and Thomas Hindman’s from Leonidas Polk’s Corps. Both were to be placed under the command of Hindman, a nice enough fellow, but probably not the best man for the job. Hindman was to move by easy roads southwest to hit the Yankees, while Cleburne was ordered to scramble through Pigeon Mountain’s Dug Gap from La Fayette. The two division would meet at McLemore’s Cove, at Davis’ Crossroads currently occupied by Neagley’s Federal division, and the day would be won.
Orders went out and as soon as Hindman received them, he got his division on the road. Hill, however, would not get the message until the following dawn, and would then list multiple reasons why he couldn’t help. Though this specific jab would come to little, Bragg believed he was onto something, and perhaps he was.
Also on this date, the New York Herald printed an alarmingly accurate story about how Confederate General James Longstreet’s Corps was leaving General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to fight in Tennessee along side Braxton Bragg. Longstreet was, of course, fairly cross that his plan was uncovered, but by the time the copy appeared, his men were already on the trains.
Longstreet and President Davis had managed to convince Lee that not only did Bragg require assistance in Tennessee, but that Longstreet was the man to give it. Lee was naturally apprehensive, but honestly felt that a great victory would reverse the setbacks of both Vicksburg and Gettysburg.
“General, you must beat those people out there,” said Lee to Longstreet as he was about to board. The departing general promised that Rosecrans “shall be beaten if I live.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 30, Part 3, p479; This Terrible Sound by Peter Cozzens; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Vol. 2 by Judith Lee Hallock; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. [↩]