August 2, 1863 (Sunday)
“If we can spare most of Johnston’s army temporarily to re-enforce you,” asked Richmond to Braxton Bragg, “can you fight the enemy?”
Ever since General Bragg had retreated from his position at Tullahoma to Chattanooga, along the Tennessee River, he had been advocating a revolutionary plan of concentration. Though this was hardly a new idea, he felt that having three different armies scattered all over the West made it impossible to use any to achieve victory, their numbers so scant.
Bragg wanted his own army and that of General Joe Johnston to join, and in mid-July suggested that his army of 45,000 reinforce Johnston’s of 23,000 in Mississippi. Together, they could defeat Grant, whose numbers hovered about their equal. Following General Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Johnston had been pushed back well east of Jackson, Mississippi. In Johnston’s mind, it was too late for such machinations. “Such a combination might have been advantageous before or during the siege of Vicksburg,” wrote Johnston in his memoirs, “but not after its disastrous termination.”
No doubt fuming over Johnston’s reply, Bragg wrote to P.G.T. Beauregard, now defending Charleston Harbor from the building Federal assault. He had wanted such a concentration last spring, he broiled to Beauregard, but had been unable to convince “others who control” that it was a good idea. Now, these “others” were seeing the light of day.
This wasn’t exactly true. Bragg, like everyone apart from Joe Johnston, failed to see the importance of concentration prior to the siege of Vicksburg. Bragg spilled praise mixed with lamentations upon Johnston and his unheeded warnings: “How we can now see the folly of last spring’s operations in diverting you from your aims.”
But now, Bragg was a convert, though Richmond still resisted. Though General Leonidas Polk, one of his corps commanders, Bragg pushed his initiative on President Davis. On July 26, Polk urged that Johnston’s Army and Bragg’s Army be concentrated, not against Grant, but against General Rosecrans, who appeared to be languishing around Tullahoma, Tennessee, Braggs’ old camp. Additionally, Polk suggested the abandonment of East Tennessee, which was held by General Simon Bucker and about 5,000 men. All told, they could now bring upwards of 80,000 men to crush Rosecrans’ 60,000. With Rosecrans annihilated, they could turn on Grant.
But there was also a bit of fear that the Federals were about to steal a march on them. Rumor had it that Grant was pulling out of Vicksburg. He was, feared Jefferson Davis, either moving south to Mobile, Alabama, or joining with Rosecrans to crush Bragg. Though it turned out to be unfounded, it sent enough fear through Davis that he suddenly liked this concentration idea, and, on this date, asked Bragg if he could attack Rosecrans, should be be reinforced with Johnston’s Army.
Bragg was, of course, more than interested. “With the most of his forces, if I correctly estimate them,” replied Bragg, “I should look for success if a fight can be had on equal terms.” Though things like terrain, roads and time had to be considered, Bragg was hopeful. “I have invited a conference with General Johnston, and will write in full. My present inclination is for a flank movement.”
Not only was he interested, he was already planning. With what he believed to be 80,000 men, he stood every chance of a decisive victory. There was, however, one small hitch. Bragg believed Johnston’s army to consist of 23,000 well armed and rested men ready to do battle. With these tens of thousand, Bragg no doubt envisioned crossing the Tennessee River, storming north undedicated and smashing General Rosecrans’ right flank, dashing the enemy against the rocks of the Cumberland Mountain. Such dreams were horrifically beautiful and certainly gave General Bragg a wonderful night’s sleep. But soon, this blissful ignorance would itself be dashed.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 52, Part 2, p514; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds; Narrative of Military Operations by Joseph E. Johnston; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth. [↩]