October 17, 1863 (Saturday)
Ulysses Grant had spent the short night in Cairo, Illinois, being called to that place by Washington so that he could receive orders of some kind or another. Upon rising on this date, he was met with a telegram telling him to continue northwest by rail to Louisville, Kentucky, where an officer from the War Department would meet him. Grant’s train would first stop at Indianapolis, before steaming south to his beckoned destination. The locomotive took on coal and water and as it was pulling out of the station, it was flagged to stop.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s special train out of Washington had made surprisingly good time, arriving in Indianapolis just as Grant’s train was pulling out. Since both were headed to Louisville, Stanton had the trains halted and joined Grant in his private car.
The two had never met before, and Stanton rushed up to Grant’s staff surgeon, vigorously shook his hand and exclaimed, “How do you do, General Grant? I recognize you from your pictures!” This was, of course, not General Grant at all, but soon the mystery was solved, though not without Grant turning slightly grumpy.
Stanton’s objective was to give Grant the choice between two orders. Each were alike, but in one crucial detail. Both orders combined the Departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland and the Tennessee into one large “Military Division of Mississippi,” which actually encompassed all the land between the Mississippi and Allegheny Mountains (though not the New Orleans area – that was still under Nathaniel Banks).
Though the three departments were combined and Grant was placed at their head, the department commanders would still command their own territories. The difference between the two orders was here. One retained all of the commanders, while the other replaced General William Rosecrans with General George Thomas.
It was well known that Grant had little affection for Thomas, but it was also known that he had no love at all for Rosecrans. This worked out perfectly well for Stanton, who had been looking for a way to cashier Rosecrans out of the army for months. Not surprisingly, Grant chose Thomas.
That evening, after an awkwardly silent train ride to Louisville, Stanton and Grant parted company. The next day they would fully exhaust themselves (or at least Grant) on the strategies for Chattanooga, as that was where Grant was truly needed. Grant would stay in Louisville until the 20th, preparing himself and his staff for their next task.
Meanwhile, around Chattanooga, both Union forces under William Rosecrans and Confederate forces under Braxton Bragg went about their siege. For the most part, the Federals drew in reinforcements, while Bragg and his subordinates, including James Longstreet, waged a war against each other. This war drew in even President Jefferson Davis, who sided with Bragg, which meant that he got to keep his job. Few apart from the President were happy with this.
Both Bragg and Davis wanted to completely squash any opposition and so soon swapped Leonidas Polk, a former corps commander under Bragg, with William Hardee, who had been operating in Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department. Since there was really no way they could turn on Longstreet, they focused next upon D.H. Hill, also a corps commander.
Though Bragg liked few of his subordinates, he had a special fondness for hating Hill. Unlike Polk, Hill had made almost as few friends as did Bragg. Firing him would offend almost nobody. Since Bragg (thanks to Davis) did not have to accept the blame for the mistakes made at Chickamauga, and Polk was good friends with Davis, Hill was left as the scapegoat. On October 15th, he received the orders, approved by Davis, that he was dismissed from the Army of Tennessee and was to report to Richmond for further assignment.
Hill was baffled and demanded that Bragg put into writing the reasons he was being dismissed. Rather than standing behind his own words, Bragg insisted that whatever the reason was that Richmond had removed him, it didn’t have anything to do with Chickamauga. Hill was never given any specific reasons, and was even denied a court of inquiry by Davis himself.
Before the fighting would begin anew, Bragg would have vanquished not only Polk and Hill, but Thomas Hindman (who was already gone, but would eventually return), Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Simon Buckner (who would take a leave of absence after his department was folded into Bragg’s and his rank reduced from corps to division commander).
Even through the quarreling, Bragg understood that he had to do something with his army of 46,000. Different ideas were batted around, but nothing had yet to be decided. By this time, Bragg knew that the Yankees were able to slip a limited amount of supplies into Chattanooga, and tasked Longstreet with blocking the routes. So far, however, Longstreet had done little.
Things would continue in this fashion for another week, until Grant arrived in Chattanooga and Bragg would be forced to act.1
- Sources: Personal Memories by Ulysses S. Grant; The Shipwreck of their Hopes by Peter Cozzens; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat by Judith Lee Hallock; Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword. [↩]