Chickamauga 150 Countdown: The Winner, Part III
By Ron Fritze
This is excerpt three from a three-part article for the Chickamauga 150 Countdown:
On 23 June 1863, William Rosecrans and his Union Army of the Cumberland took the offensive against Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee encamped at Tullahoma, Tennessee. Bragg commanded an army riven by dissent. He did not communicate his plans with his subordinate generals and they were generally uncooperative with his orders. Meanwhile Rosecrans conducted a series of flanking maneuvers that kept Bragg off-balance. By 8 September, he had forced Bragg to abandon the strategically crucial city of Chattanooga and to retreat into Georgia.
By 4 July 1863, Northern armies had achieved great victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. This Confederacy was facing a dire crisis. Rosecrans’ offensive seemed to be a threat they could do something to oppose. By August, Bragg began to receive reinforcements. After the capture of Chattanooga, Rosecrans continued his pursuit of Bragg but he had allowed his army to be dispersed dangerously. Bragg hoped to defeat and to destroy isolated units of Rosecrans’ army but his orders to attack isolated Union forces on 10 and 13 September were ignored. Some minor engagements took place on 18 September. At that point Bragg received substantial reinforcement in the form of two divisions from Mississippi, a division from East Tennessee, and divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General James Longstreet.
On 19 September, Bragg began attacking Rosecrans’s position in earnest. By that time, Rosecrans had his troops in good defensive positions. Although the fighting was intense and casualties were harsh on both sides, the Union forces held their ground against the unimaginative frontal attacks favored by Bragg. The second day saw Rosecrans’s critical error when he created a gap in his line by moving Thomas Wood’s division. Longstreet attacked that very hole in the Union line which collapsed except for General George Thomas’s rearguard stand at Horseshoe Ridge.
Chickamauga was the worst Union defeat in the Western Theater and, in fact, it was the only major Union defeat in the Western Theater. It temporarily restored the fortunes of the Confederacy. And Braxton Bragg’s abilities as a general contributed virtually nothing to bringing about that result. The Union Army of the Cumberland made a largely disorganized retreat to Chattanooga. Bragg needed to purse immediately but he halted to give his badly damaged army a chance to reorganize itself. That delay allowed the Union troops in Chattanooga to dig in to defend themselves and the city. As a result, Bragg had to lay siege to Chattanooga.
His subordinate generals were once again outraged. A petition was sent to Jefferson Davis requesting that Bragg be relieved of command. Longstreet advised James Seddon, the Confederate secretary of war, that it would take divine intervention to save the cause of the Army of the Tennessee if Bragg remained in command. The cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest became so disgusted that he threatened to kill Bragg if he ever crossed him again and took his troops back to Mississippi and Alabama. Things were so bad that Jefferson Davis had to make a trip down to Georgia to end the discord. His visit accomplished nothing because he left the unpopular and ineffectual Bragg in command. Meanwhile Union armies gathered to break the siege of Chattanooga. Doom fell on Bragg army on 24 and 25 November at the battles for Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. He offered his resignation which Jefferson Davis promptly accepted. He moved to Richmond to become a military advisor for Davis.
Now here are some questions for the readers:
1) What do you think of Bragg and his generalship?
2) What do you think of Jefferson Davis and his conflict management efforts?
3) Finally, does anyone know how a clown like Bragg got a military based named in his honor and why is there no Fort Longstreet?
Stay tuned for a discussion of William Rosecrans. Meanwhile think about joining ASU’s Center for Lifelong Learning’s bus trip to the Chickamauga 150 commemoration on 21 September.