November 3, 1863 (Tuesday)
Often, when councils of war are called, the commanding general and his assembled subordinates have yet to make any concrete decision upon which path to follow. Ideas are brought to the table, suggestions and corrections are made, intelligence is presented, and by the end of the small congress, a final choice lay before them. Such was not the case with Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, which had, until recently, besieged the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.
Even as early as October 31st, when he sent his three corps commanders, James Longstreet, John Breckenridge, and William Hardee, to the crest of Lookout Mountain to scout for a possible attack, Bragg’s mind was made up about his next move. There had been a near coup against him, and many of the officers involved were ushered out of his army. However, General Longstreet, instrumental in pushing forward the agenda to replace Bragg, remained.
President Jefferson Davis had, before the latest debacle at Brown’s Ferry, suggested that since the enemy was besieged, James Longstreet’s Corps might be sent northeast toward Knoxville to deal a blow to the small Federal Army of the Ohio under Ambrose Burnside. Now, of course, the situation had changed. Both supplies and reinforcements were flowing into their camps, and soon Bragg would be grossly outnumbered.
Still, he seemed to care little about this. At the forefront of his mind was ridding himself of Longstreet. And when he called a council of war upon this date, that was exactly what he intended to accomplish.
Through camp rumors, Longstreet was already aware that Bragg wished to see him filed off to Knoxville and then back to Virginia, but with the late changes, he believed that nothing would come of it. To the meeting, Longstreet came with a course of his own, though what that was is lost to history. According to Longstreet, he arrived with the designs to move on Burnside in East Tennessee. But, by General Hardee’s word, Longstreet wanted the army to move down the Tennessee River and hit the Union supply depot at Bridgeport. Either way, he thought it would be best for the entire army to back away from Chattanooga, cross the Tennessee River and then move on to strike at Burnside.
General Hardee added some spiritless support to the Bridgeport idea, but Bragg brushed it aside. According to Hardee, it was then that Longstreet suggested marching 15,000 men to attack Burnside in Knoxville.
Other certainty of other details are similarly unknowable. Longstreet claimed to suggest that Bragg move his entire army away from Chattanooga, to Missionary Ridge, where they should remain in a defensive position until he and his men returned from defeating Burnside. Hardee, on the other hand, asserted that Longstreet never brought up any such move, let alone what to do when he returned.
As it stood, Bragg decided that Longstreet was going to leave for Knoxville as soon as possible. To accompany him, he would attach Joseph Wheeler’s Cavalry. Longstreet claimed to have expressed his fear that he had not enough men. To this, Bragg was supposed to have flashed a “sardonic smile,” which indicated “that further talk was out of order.”
Somehow or another, it was decided. Longstreet was to move out with all haste, leaving the Army of Tennessee with but 36,000 (or so) troops to face nearly twice their number. Neither would Bragg heed the advice given by Longstreet to fall back to Missionary Ridge (if Longstreet offered it at all). His army would remain before the Federals and Chattanooga.
To Longstreet, dividing the army into two small portions would “thus expose both to failure, and really take no chance to ourselves of great results.” Longstreet would leave on the 5th.1
- Sources: Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword; The Shipwreck of Their Hopes by Peter Cozzens; The Army of Tennessee by Stanley Horn. [↩]