Grant Plans and Replans – ‘Thomas Will Attack Vigorously’

November 9, 1863 (Monday)

Grant stares into your soul.
Grant stares into your soul.

Since last we checked in with General Grant at Chattanooga, several things had transpired worth a closer look. On the 6th, a Confederate deserter named Lt. A.C.A. Huntington from the 8th Georgia Infantry, came into the Federal camp. He was from James Longstreet’s Corps and had quite the tale to tell. His claim was that he was born in the north, but moved to Georgia prior to the war. After being caught up in the net of conscription, he found himself in the Army of Northern Virginia. For some reason or another, he picked November of 1863 to finally desert.

With him, he carried the news that Longstreet’s Corps had been ordered by Braxton Bragg to East Tennessee to attack Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Ohio at Knoxville. The news, thus far, was correct. But camp rumor being what it was, the additional post script about General Lee sending more troops from Virginia to join with Longstreet was simply wishful rebel thinking. Lee had problems of his own and could spare not a man.

Still, his story was believable and Grant was suddenly faced with the fact that Longstreet might overpower Burnside. But he was also faced with an opportunity. If Longstreet was gone, Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, still before them on the hills south of Chattanooga, was greatly diminished. Now was the time for an attack.

The next day, Grant ordered General George Thomas, directly commanding the Army of the Cumberland, to attack by the evening of the 8th. He was to launch against the Confederate right wing upon Missionary Ridge. The point was actually to make it impossible for Bragg not to recall Longstreet to his side. It was hoped that this would save Burnside and probably doom the entire Rebel army in the process.

There was, however, a slight disagreement between Grant and Thomas. Thomas did not want to attack Missionary Ridge at all, and rather wanted to hit the Confederate left at Lookout Mountain. Missionary Ridge, he believed, should wait until General William T. Sherman’s reinforcements arrived.

Very approximate map, please.
Very approximate map, please.

Grant and Thomas’ disagreement clearly showed that each had diverging philosophies about what was to be accomplished at Chattanooga. Grant wished to keep Bragg’s army close and Burnside safe. Thomas, on the other hand, wanted to open the Tennessee River to resupply his troops more efficiently.

Nevertheless, Grant caved, and gave Thomas authority to use heavy siege guns to roust the Rebels from Lookout Mountain. On this date, he explained it to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck:

“When Sherman crosses at Bridgeport, [XI and XII Corps commander, General Oliver Otis] Howard will drive the enemy from the west side of Lookout and get possession of the road leading across the foot of the mountain; then join Sherman in his movement up the valley. Thomas will attack vigorously in this valley, and, if the enemy give back, follow them up.”

In this, Grant felt some sort of comfort. It certainly wasn’t the attack that he wanted, but it would do. “Although a large force has gone up the Tennessee Valley that may annoy us,” concluded Grant about Longstreet, “I feel that a decisive movement of the enemy in that direction must prove a disaster to them.”1

  1. Sources:Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 31, Part 3, p92-93; The Shipwreck of Their Hopes by Peter Cozzens; Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword; Nothing But Victory by Larry Daniel. []
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Grant Plans and Replans – ‘Thomas Will Attack Vigorously’ by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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One thought on “Grant Plans and Replans – ‘Thomas Will Attack Vigorously’

  1. If my memory of Grant’s memoirs is correct, Thomas turned around and used the heavy guns as an excuse not to attack, claiming that he did not have draft animals in condition to pull a single piece. (Which may well have been true after the starvation of late October.)

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