September 14, 1863 (Monday)
Braxton Bragg had twice let opportunities to strike a decisive blow slip through his fingers. It was due to insubordination and lack of his own clear and direct orders that both chances were gone. However, the Federal Army of the Cumberland, commanded by William Rosecrans, was still fragmented, while his own Confederate Army of Tennessee had been able to concentrate along Chickamauga Creek, outside of Chattanooga.
But Bragg had become lost and confused. According to corps commander D.H. Hill, Bragg was bewildered by “the popping out of the rats from so many holes.” One advantage to having a fractured and scattered army was that they seemed to be everywhere at once.
From all that Bragg knew from his headquarters at La Fayette, Rosecrans’ army was divided into three portions. To the north was Chattanooga. At least one division, but possibly an entire corps had come down and was threatening his left around Rock Spring. Across Pigeon Mountain to his front was another portion of the enemy’s force, again possibly a corps, resting in McLemore’s Cove. On Bragg’s left (to the south) was an entire corps, but he suspected the probability of two. All through the previous day (the 13th), he and D.H. Hill, whose troops occupied the La Fayette area, were constantly looking over their shoulders for an attack that never came.
In truth, there was a full corps at each of the mentioned locations, with Alexander McCook’s XX Corps to the south at Alpine. Rosecrans needed to concentrate his army, but getting McCook’s troops to join George Thomas’ XIV Corps at McLemore’s Cover would be no easy task. The problem was that General McCook still understood the Cover to be held by Bragg’s Confederates, when really it was held by Thomas’ Federals. Running from McCook’s position at Alpine to Thomas’ at McLemore’s was a small mountain road about fifteen miles in length. Since McCook believed that way to be blocked, he was instead left with a fifty mile tramp that would force his corps to recross Lookout Mountain.
And so McCook’s men stepped off on the morning of the 13th, ready to march over three times as far as they actually needed. Oddly, General Thomas knew nothing of this road, either, and suggested on this date that McCook was on the right path. The only person who seemed to know about this shortcut was General Rosecrans, who didn’t bother to clue McCook in on it until the evening of this date. This little mistake would cost McCook’s Corps over two day’s of pointless marching.
Things were looking only slightly better for Bragg. Though his army was concentrated, he believed himself to be outnumbered. And though he had received reinforcements, he had no concrete evidence that James Longstreet’s Corps from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was on their way to him. On the 13th, he heard some rumors of eastern troops on trains arriving in Atlanta, 100 miles to the south, but he had no idea who they were or where they were going (though he probably assumed they were going to him). He wouldn’t know anything for sure until the 15th.
The truth to the rumors was this. Longstreet was en route with two of his divisions, under Lafayette McLaws and John Bell Hook. One of Hood’s brigades had arrived in Atlanta on the 12th, but was in no shape to leave for want of food and shoes until this date. The rest of the troops, including the artillery, were still somewhere in the Carolinas, and were still five days away from Bragg’s Army.
Another huge concern for Bragg was Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Ohio, which had numbered 25,000 at Knoxville, but was currently at large. His fear had been that Burnside would link up with Rosecrans and together crush his Confederate forces. In this, Bragg had a bit to worry about.
Blocking the way, he had left about 2,500 troops, but they had surrendered on the 9th. On this date, Bragg was still unaware of this development and so had a small pillow of false hope to comfort him. While Burnside’s Army was nothing at which to sneeze, Bragg had but little to worry about. On the 13th and on this day, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had finally ordered Burnside to join with Rosecrans at Chattanooga. Due to any number of factors, Burnside wouldn’t receive the orders until the 17th. It had already been days since anyone had heard from him, and several more would pass before any news would come.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 30, Part 1, p186-187, 189; Part 3, p718; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Vol. 2 by Judith Lee Hallock; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel; This Terrible Sound by Peter Cozzens. [↩]