November 20, 1863 (Friday)
With Ambrose Burnside holding tight in Knoxville, mostly hemmed in by James Longstreet’s Confederate Corps, Union General Grant was about to launch a series of attacks upon Braxton Bragg’s Rebel Army of Tennessee before Chattanooga. Grant’s sprawling army actually marched under three flags. Its bulk consisted of the Army of the Cumberland, now helmed by George Thomas, and 36,000-strong, manning the defenses of Chattanooga. To the west and in the Lookout Valley, a detached portion of the Army of the Potomac numbering 10,600, was encamped under the command of Joseph Hooker. Newly arrived from Mississippi, the remainder consisted of 16,800 men from the Army of the Tennessee, William Tecumseh Sherman at the front.
According to Grant’s original plan, General Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland was to attack the Confederate right. Thomas had some major misgivings, and pleaded that the attack be called off. It soon was discovered that Bragg’s right extended too far to the north, and it was unlikely if Thomas could pull off a successful assault. Instead, he favored an strike upon Bragg’s left at Lookout Mountain.
Grant acquiesced to a point, and reconstructed his ideas. Now, with Sherman’s army on hand, he could extend his own left to get around Bragg’s right. And so it was decided that Sherman would march from Bridgeport, around Lookout Mountain, through Chattanooga to a point beyond Bragg’s flank. He would then loosen them upon Missionary Ridge, believed to be unfortified by Bragg’s Confederates. At the same time, General Hooker would throw his two corps against the Rebel left atop Lookout Mountain. When one or both of the flanks were turned, then Thomas would attack.
Still, Thomas was unhappy. He preferred that the assault focus mainly upon Lookout Mountain. Grant, however, disagreed. While the ultimate objective was to drive Bragg’s army away from Chattanooga, a secondary goal was to get between the Rebels before him and James Longstreet’s Corps at Knoxville. This, he believed, would necessarily draw off the latter and rescue Burnside.
The attack was scheduled for this date, November 20th. But due to Sherman coming down with a strange case of the slows, it had to be postponed. Though the skies poured rain down upon them, turning roads to churning seas of mud, on this date, Sherman’s men marched through the Lookout Valley, passing by Hooker’s command. It was the first major meeting between the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Potomac.
“It was on this occasion,” remembered Sherman, “that the Fifteenth Corps gained its peculiar badge: as the men were trudging along the deeply-cut, muddy road, of a cold, drizzly day, one of our Western Soldiers left his ranks and joined a party of the Twelfth Corps at their camp-fire. They got into a conversation, the Twelfth Corps men asking what troops we were, etc., etc. In turn, our fellow (who had never seen a corps-badge, and noticed that every thing was marked with a star) asked if they were all brigadier-generals. Of course they were not, but the star was their corps badge, and every wagon, tent, hat, etc., had its star. Then the Twelfth Corps men inquired what corps he belonged to, and he answered, ‘The Fifteenth Corps.’ ‘What is your badge?’ ‘Why,’ said he (and he was an Irishman), suiting the action to the word, ‘forty rounds in the cartridge box and twenty in the pocket!'”
The story (or some variation upon it) would soon filter up through the ranks, and before long, the cartridge box with “40 Rounds” stamped upon it was the badge for the XV Corps.
As the western troops passed by their eastern comrades, a great deal of chiding, both good natured and not, flew between them.
“This army looked quite unlike our own,” recorded a soldier from New York. “They all wore large hats instead of caps; were carelessly dressed, both officers and men, and marched in a very irregular way, seemingly not caring to keep closed up and in regular order. They were a large fine type of men, all westerners; it was easy to see that at any serious time they would close up and be there. As they passed by we viewed their line and a good deal of friendly chaffing was done. They expressed their opinion that we were tin soldiers. ‘Oh look at their little caps. Where are your paper collars? Oh how clean you look, do you have soap?'”
Through this day and the next, the Army of the Tennessee slogged through the mire, crossing the pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry, and then to the hill north of Chattanooga. But time, feared Grant, was soon running short.1
- Sources: Soldiering by Rice C. Bull; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth. [↩]