October 20, 1863 (Tuesday)
While Stuart and Kilpatrick were racing, events in Chattanooga, Tennessee were slowly evolving. The previous day (the 19th), General William Rosecrans found himself nearly enthusiastic at the prospect of reopening a supply line across the river. This would better allow troops and supplies to enter (and more than likely exit) the besieged city. He spent the day doing this and that, even visiting a hospital to see his wounded soldiers. When he returned to his headquarters that evening, however, he met his fate.
General Orders No. 337 was waiting for him. Those already in his office, including Dan Butterfield, who had been sent west with Joe Hooker, knew the contents. As Rosecrans opened and read it, he was shocked. The order removed him from command, and placed General George Thomas in his place. General Ulysses Grant was now the department commander. Though he was seething with bitterness, Rosecrans took it coolly, immediately calling for General Thomas.
Thomas had wanted to command the Army of the Cumberland all along, and even though he feigned humility and, at first, moved to not accept the promotion, he was more than happy to fill Rosecrans’ small shoes. General Grant’s order to Thomas was to hold Chattanooga at all hazards. Quipping back, Thomas replied, “we shall hold the town till we starve.” All that night, Thomas and Rosecrans stayed up discussing the army and what it might do next.
Fairly embarrassed, Rosecrans refused to give his troops a final, personal farewell. Instead, he penned a paragraph singing the praises of Thomas, their new commander. “He has led you often in battle,” wrote Rosecrans. “To his known prudence, dauntless courage, and true patriotism, you may look with confidence that under God he will lead you to victory.” It was read to the troops on this date (the 20th), after Rosecrans made his shadowy egress.
This same date found General Grant in Nashville shaking hands and refusing to give speeches. He was three days away from Chattanooga, where he would command his new department from the field, acting as guardian to George Thomas.
Opposite General Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, the Confederates in Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee did not know it, but their last chance to whip the demoralized Yankees had slipped away on a train bound to Cincinnati that rainy morning. Bragg’s own army was in the midst of a great upheaval, and so, even if he had a plan to act (which he didn’t), it’s unlikely that he would have been able to accomplish much at all.
Along with the new Union commander would come new Union reinforcements. William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops were drawing nearer, as Joe Hooker’s had already been close at hand. Other troops from Memphis were filtering in, while Ambrose Burnside was close enough to perhaps threaten the Confederate rear. All that was needed was a general to orchestrate the music. This general was coming, and in three days he would arrive.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 30, Part 4, p478; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel; Fighting for the Confederacy by E. Porter Alexander; Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword; The Shipwreck of their Hopes by Peter Cozzens. [↩]