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A defence of General Bragg's conduct at Chickamauga.

By General W. T. Martin.

Natchez, Miss., Feb'y 3rd, 1883.
Rev. J. William Jones, D. D., Secretary Southern Historical Society.:
Dear Sir,—It has seemed to me that more misrepresentation, intentional or otherwise, in regard to his acts and motives, during the late war, fell to the lot of General Bragg than any other prominent Confederate officer. That he was unselfish, patriotic, and devoted to our cause, few who knew him will doubt. He has been very severely criticised for failing, it is said, to avail himself of opportunities afforded him by the enemy just previous to and during the battle of [202] Chicamauga. There are many living officers and men who know how little of blame should have attached to him for Hindman's palpable disobedience of order in McLemore's Cove, and General Polk's failure to attack Crittenden's corps in its isolated position, immediately after Hindman's fiasco.

The September No. 1881, of the Southern Historical Society Papers contains an interesting and eloquent address of Colonel Archer Anderson at the annual reunion of the Virginia Division of the Army of Northern Virginia. After describing quite graphically and correctly the topography of McLemore's Cove and the singular dispersion of Rosecrans's army, Colonel Anderson says:

Surely if ever an army was caught “in flagrante delicto,” caught in its sin, this was now the position of the Federal army. You can judge of the magnition of its peril, when you learn that it took four days of hard marching to effect its concentration, after Rosecrans awoke to his situation. It was about fifteen miles from Crittenden's position to Thomas's advance, and the Confederate right was almost interposed between these two corps. It required, in effect, thirtyseven miles of marching over mountain roads to pass from McCook's corps to Thomas's, and to crown the opportunity for a swift stroke Thomas's two advance divisions were separated by Lookout Mountain from the rest of his corps.

This was the brilliant opportunity which General Bragg lost with his eyes open, with full knowledge of the false position of Thomas's two divisions. On the very evening of the day they reached it, he gave orders for an attack on the 10th, which should have crushed them. This attack did not take place on the 10th, through causes which may perhaps be accepted as unavoidable, but the enemy was good enough to wait in his false position till after 8 o'clock of the morning of the 11th. During three hours of day-light on that morning, these two divisions lay at the mercy of 30,000 Confederates. Can it be denied, that the Confederates ought to have been ready to attack at day-break? The whole of the day and night of the 10th had been allowed for preparation. Why were they not hurled to the attack at dawn, on the 11th? Why not at 6 o'clock? Why not at 7?

The answer to these questions must, I fear, condemn General Bragg as a commander.

No one with a full knowledge of the facts, can concur with Colonel Anderson in his conclusions.

General Bragg in his report of the battle of Chickamauga, refers to [203] information received from me as in a great manner influencing him in his movement against the two divisions of Thomas in McLemore's Cove. Recently I found among my papers the rough draft of a letter written by me to General Bragg, in the Fall of 1867, when the events referred to were fresh in my memory. Some months afterwards I saw in his possession letters from General Patton Anderson, Colonel Urquhart and others who were conversant with the facts and participants like myself in the movement, all of which concurred with the principal statements in my letter. I give you a copy of what I wrote, and would call attention to the fact that General Hindman was placed under arrest for disobedience in not obeying Bragg's repeated orders to attack at an early hour on the 11th. I may add, that to make Hindman's attack from the direction of Chattanooga effective it was absolutely necessary for General Hill's corps to be passed through Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain to cut off the retreat of the enemy to the south or southwest, while Hindman with his own and Buckner's forces, attacking from the northeast and gaining ground with his right, should envelope the enemy at Davis's Cross-Roads.

Very respectfully,

will T. Martin. Late Major-General C. S. A.


Letter to General Bragg.

Dear Sir,—You ask me to give you my recollection of what transpired a short time prior to the battle of Chickamauga, in a movement made by you to strike the enemy's centre, and capture a portion of Thomas's corps of Rosecrans's army, that had advanced into McLemore's Cove.

I was commanding a division of cavalry which was observing the enemy in the Cove, and holding the gaps of Pigeon Mountain. Duplicate dispatches were regularly forwarded by me to you and General D. H. Hill, then with his corps at Lafayette, where I had my own headquarters.

Thinking, as I then saw no effort to avail ourselves of the enemy's extraordinary dispersion of his army, that his object and position might be misapprehended, I wrote directly to you a somewhat lengthy [204] communication, in regard to the isolated fragment of Thomas's corps then at Davis's Cross-Roads in the Cove, between 9 and 11,000 strong, of all arms. This communication was sent to you at Lee and Gordon's Mills during the afternoon of the day preceding the abortive movement.

Between 12 and 1 o'clock that night I received an order to report to you in person, at General Hill's quarters. On my arrival I found a Major of engineers—in broken English giving you a very incoherent report of the topography of the Cove, and the situation of the enemy's troops and our own. He was urging you to change the orders you had given for an attack upon the enemy by General Hindman. I remember very well, there was nothing in what he said, and I so remarked to you.2 You ordered him to return immediately to General Hindman, and to say to him, that there would be no change of orders, and he must carry out those he had received. I then learned from General Hill and yourself, that he had erred in supposing that the enemy had concentrated or was concentrating McCook and Thomas's corps, on his left and rear at Alpine, southwest of Lafayette, and just at the eastern base of Lookout Mountain. General Hill had mistaken the purport of the information received, which you had correctly understood and acted upon The mistake arose from a want of maps and knowledge of the country. You then stated that the three corps of Rosecrans's army were so far separated by distance and mountains as to make a concentration impossible in time to save his army, if he were struck in his centre in the Cove, and that you having your army well in hand could hurl the whole of it in succession upon the detached corps of the enemy. * *

After some inquiries of me about roads, distances &c., you issued orders for a joint attack at an early hour next morning, Hindman to move upon the enemy and cut off his retreat to Well's Valley, and Hill, moving through Dug Gap, to second Hindman's attack, when it had become developed. I heard you dictate the orders, or heard them read by you. You gave me unlimited discretion in the use of my cavalry, so as to aid Hindman's attack. Breckinridge, with his division and my battery and some other artillery, was left at Lafayette to confront any force McCook might advance from Alpine. Hill's troops moved promptly into the Gap at a very early hour. Having seen them well advanced, I rode rapidly through Catlett's Gap and [205] met General Hindman advancing upon the enemy. I reported to him for duty, took command of my troops, which were in observation in front and upon his flank, with a detachment on the road between the enemy and Lookout Mountain, in rear of the force we were to attack and between it and any support or reinforcement.

I gave General Hindman what information I possessed about the Cove and the object and importance of the movement. The enemy remained apparently unconscious of the presence of our large force. Hours were lost in consultations. Certainly an attack could have been made by General Hindman by 11 o'clock, and probably sooner. He halted within cannon shot of the Cross-Roads. The delay was inexplicable to me. I remained near Hindman, at his request. I heard of no countermanding orders while with him. The enemy, at about 12:30, moved from his camp and escaped. Some infantry was double-quicked in the direction of the enemy then in motion. It was too late. I received a verbal order to charge the enemy's rear, and did so with some Alabama cavalry, about 150 strong, all that I had in that part of the field. I was repulsed after sharp loss inflicted by infantry and artillery.

Withdrawing to Davis's Cross-Roads, I met you there indignant and excited at what you called the utter disregard of your orders.

In reply to your inquiries, I stated what had transpired under my own observation. You expressed in the most emphatic manner your disappointment at the unexpected failure of an attack so easily to have been made and so nearly successful. I shared in your regrets, for it was then quite clear the enemy could elude your plan of attack and save his army.

I was present when General Hindman rode up, and remember your greeting was by no means cordial. I had acquainted myself, in advance of its occupation by the enemy, with the roads, gaps and topography generally of the Cove, and knew the situation and strength of the advance forces. If a prompt advance had been made by General Hindman, the enemy would have been forced to a surrender, or utter annihilation, and the destruction of this body would have left you completely master of the situation, and at liberty to turn in overwhelming force upon either Crittenden or McCook.

I had kept General Hindman constantly advised during the forenoon of what was occurring in the enemy's camp. The army was greatly chagrined at the result. Though serving constantly with it I never heard it surmised that Hindman did not attack in the forenoon [206] because he was held back by you, until months afterwards it was reported that he had so stated.

His troops were on the ground and I knew could have attacked, and were eager to do so; I cannot now, nor did I then understand why he failed to move.

The facts above stated, I remember distinctly. The lost opportunity made a deep and lasting impression on my mind.

Very respectfully and truly yours,

will. T. Martin.


1 Day and month are not given in the original draft of my letter.

2 This man subsequently deserted, wearing it is said, a uniform stolen from some general officer.

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