September 16, 1863 (Wednesday)
Federal commander, William Rosecrans, had been warned. The previous day, General Gordon Granger, heading the reserve corps in Chattanooga, informed him that at least two Confederate divisions had marched through the town of Ringgold, fifteen miles southeast. From all previous information, Rosecrans was fairly certain that the bulk of Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was at La Fayette, twenty-five miles south. Any enemy troops around Ringgold, he surmised, were probably stragglers still poking around from the Rebel retreat from Chattanooga. When, upon this date, the Federal cavalry reported what seemed to be infantry massing on the army’s left, General Thomas Crittenden flatly refused to believe it, and failed for forward the information upwards.
Still, Rosecrans was doing his best to concentrate his spread out army along Chickamauga Creek. He had made his headquarters near Lee & Gordon’s Mill, the current left flank. Crittenden’s XXI Corps was already there, but George Thomas’ XIV Corps, which was holding the center, was unmoved from its position. Thomas was waiting for Alexander McCook’s XX Corps to fall in on his right. McCook had taken a very round about path from his line at Alpine to Thomas’ at McLemore’s Cove. He was ordered to move on this date, but decided to wait until the following day to move out.
In the meantime, Braxton Bragg was planning. On the 15th, he called a rather fruitless council of war. He and his four corps commanders (D.H. Hill, Leonidas Polk, Simon Buckner, and W.H.T. Walker) batted around ideas, finally deciding that they should try to get between Rosecrans and Chattanooga. They understood that the Federal Army’s supply line went through the city, and but cutting them off from it would force either a fight or an unceremonious retreat.
To cut Rosecrans off from Chattanooga, a crossing of Chickamauga Creek was essential. They discussed exactly where to cross, and precisely which towns to hold so they could get around Rosecrans’ left and attack him on the flank. By the time the meeting was adjourned, everyone seemed certain of what they were to do and that success would soon follow.
But instead, Bragg did nothing. No orders were issued on the 15th at all. It wasn’t until this date, a full twenty-four hours later, that Bragg acted. He wrote out a set of strange and sort of pointless orders, commanding only portions of his army to move. Bragg ordered no crossing at all of Chickamauga Creek, and placed his entire force on the defensive. Those who were to move were to do so the following morning.
Both Rosecrans and Bragg seemed to be forgetting a fairly important detail. Two divisions from James Longstreet’s Corps of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, had bordered trains the previous week and were now drawing closer to Chattanooga. On this date, one brigade was moving towards Ringgold, while two others had reached Atlanta. In the council called by Bragg on the 15th, the Virginian reinforcements were folded into the makeshift plan. But when Bragg issued the orders, he mentioned them not at all. Perhaps he was merely not counting chickens before they were hatched, but he wasn’t doing much else, either.
Word had gone through the Federal camps that as many as three divisions from Longstreet’s Corps would soon be arriving from Virginia. General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had wired Rosecrans, corroborating the information gleaned by the Federal cavalry. Though Rosecrans seemed to have believed it well enough, he did little about it.
He wired Ambrose Burnside, who, with his Army of the Ohio, was in the vicinity of Knoxville, telling him that “the enemy, reinforced by Johnston and Longstreet from Virginia, doubtless intend us all the mischief in their power.” Burnside was to come as soon as he could, but Rosecrans seemed much more worried about covering his flank against Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry than against a reinforced Bragg gathering upon his left flank near Lee & Gordon’s Mill.
Though it may seem fairly strange, both armies had tried to concentrate and both had failed, holding nearly the same positions as they did two days previous. Rosecrans came the closest to doing something by ordering his entire army to focus upon Lee & Gordon’s Mill, but that hardly seemed to matter since McCook was on a long walkabout and Thomas decided to wait for him. Bragg’s original plan was a pretty good one, but the actual orders he issued were severely lacking, and at the end of the day, nobody moved anyway.