General Grant Finally Figures Out What Bragg is Up To; Breckinridge Moves on Baton Rouge

July 29, 1862 (Tuesday)

General Braxton Bragg couldn't hide forever.

For many in General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Mississippi, the long train ride from Tupelo to Chattanooga, Tennessee was over. For others, it had just begun. Hoping to take advantage of Union General Don Carlos Buell’s lazy advance towards eastern Tennessee, Bragg decided to move his entire army northeast to block the Federals.

Prior to the move, the Federal Armies of the Tennessee and the Mississippi were on his front and left. After taking command over both of Federal forces in Mississippi and Tennessee, newly-installed General Ulysses S. Grant had little choice but to go on the defensive. This allowed Bragg the opportunity he needed to slip away, which he did on the 24th.

Even before the Rebels left, Grant knew something was up. General William Rosecrans had taken direct command of the Union Army of the Mississippi after General John Pope went east. On July 18, he reported that the Rebels had divided their force and predicted that a column under General Sterling Price was possibly headed towards Chattanooga, while others were moving on Vicksburg and Mobile. 1 This information was more correct than not. Bragg had sent General Earl Van Dorn to take command at Vicksburg, while he gave General Price a sizable force to play upon the Federals along the Mississippi/Tennessee border. He had also sent a few thousand troops by rail via Mobile to reinforce General Kirby Smith at Chattanooga.

Phil Sheridan had already started his rise to fame.

Two days later, Rosecrans reported again, correcting the previous report. In it he claimed that Bragg himself had left Tupelo with most of his army, and was headed for Chattanooga. This was not even close. All the while, both Grant and Rosecrans had been writing to the St. Louis Armory and to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to secure better arms and equipment for the cavalry. It was clear that they would be doing the bulk of the work in this part of the country.2

After going over the various reports, Grant concluded that “nothing absolutely certain of the movements of the enemy has been learned.” The only certainty, Grant reported to Halleck, was that “a movement has taken place from Tupelo, in what direction or for what purpose is not so certain.”3 This, in all its vagaries, was more or less correct. By the 24th, much of Bragg’s Army was en route to Chattanooga, while Price was moving north independently.4

Earl Van Dorn was feeling lucky.

Finally on the 28th, things started to come together. Rosecrans’ cavalry, under General Philip Sheridan, had just returned from a mission. Along the way, they captured a Confederate Captain and a bundle of letters offering proof that most of the Rebel force was on their way to Chattanooga.5

The next day, both Rosecrans and Sheridan filled in the details. “The enemy have been and still are moving in large numbers to Chattanooga, via Mobile and Montgomery, concentrating at Rome, Ga,” reported Sheridan about Bragg’s men. “A large number of troops are at Saltillo, not less than 10,000.” Saltillo, ten miles north of Tupelo, was where General Price was basing his operations.

The mail, lifted from the 26th Alabama Regiment, talked of moving to Chattanooga and then to Huntsville, Alabama, where General Buell was headquartered as his slow-moving Army of the Ohio inched its way towards Chattanooga.6


Breckinridge Moves to Retake Baton Rouge

John Breckinridge wasn't so sure.

While Bragg was making his move to Chattanooga and Price was holding his own north of Tupelo, General Earl Van Dorn was defending Vicksburg. Having driven the Federal Naval fleets away from the city, he decided the time was right for his Confederates to retake Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which had been surrendered after the fall of New Orleans.

For the job, he selected former United States Vice-President John Breckinridge, now a General in his command. Breckinridge, along with a few fellow officers, believed Baton Rouge almost worthless. If captured, it could not be held. As a defense along the Mississippi River, it offered no place to erect heavy artillery. All, even Van Dorn, knew that Port Hudson was a much better locale for river defense. Baton Rouge, however, was the Louisiana State capital. Its capture would be quite a coup for General Van Dorn.7

Union camp at Baton Rouge, early August, 1862.

And so, on July 27, Breckinridge’s force of 4,000 boarded trains in Vicksburg, riding the rails east to Jackson, Mississippi, and then south to Camp Moore, a Confederate training camp near Kentwood, Louisiana. They were roughly sixty miles northeast of Baton Rouge.

Upon arrival, Breckinridge organized his force into two divisions and prepared for battle. On this date, General Van Dorn sent word that he was to begin his march towards the state capital. They would step off at dawn.8

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p103. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p108. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p108. []
  4. Army of the Heartland by Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Louisiana State University, 1967. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p130. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p131-132. []
  7. The Battle of Baton Rouge by Thomas H. Richey, Virtualbookworm Publishing, 2005. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 15, p76. []
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One thought on “General Grant Finally Figures Out What Bragg is Up To; Breckinridge Moves on Baton Rouge

  1. An important point about Baton Rouge is that the Union at that time had naval supremacy in the area. To counteract this, the Confederates needed the CSS Arkansas, which had just been repaired to more-or-less battle-ready condition. But her skipper was away and sick, and had ordered the exec not to move the ship without his permission.

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