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A Cursory sketch of General Bragg's campaigns. Paper no. 3.

By Major E. T. Sykes, of Columbus, Mississippi.

Retreat from Murfreesboro.

On the 4th day of January, 1863, the Confederate army fell back and took up winter quarters at Shelbyville and Tullahoma. While there General Joe Johnston was sent out by the Department to investigate and report upon the operations and discipline of the army. He found both satisfactory, and so reported.

Retreat out of town.

In June following, to counteract a flank movement on the part of Rosecrans, Bragg commenced a retreat to and across the Tennessee to Chattanooga. The Federal commander, Rosecrans, and H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief, had been in correspondence for some time prior, the latter urging the former to advance and attack Bragg, the former holding back and assigning, for reason, the impropriety of risking ‘two great and decisive battles at the same time,’ besides his general officers, including corps and division commanders, discouraged an advance at that juncture. Halleck, rebutting, stated that, as Johnston and Bragg were acting on interior lines, between his own and Grant's armies, and it was for theirs, and not the Federal commander's interest, to fight at different times, so as to use the same force in turn against Rosecrans and Grant, his cherished military maxim, not to risk ‘two great decisive battles at the same time,’ was not applicable—and at the same time warning him of the other and more truthful military maxim, ‘councils never fight.’

To these persuasive arguments, accompanied with the assurance of the constantly growing complaint and dissatisfaction, not only in Washington, but throughout the country, Rosecrans yielded, and on the 24th of June, commenced a series of movements with the view of creating the impression of a main advance on our center and left, in the direction of Shelbyville, whilst he would strike the decisive blow by a rapid march, in force, upon our right, and after defeating or turning it, to move on Tullahoma, and thereby seize [491] upon our base and line of communication from that point. In furtherance of that design he moved upon and took possession of Liberty and Hoover's Gaps, which gave to him a commanding position, and he had only to advance, as he soon afterwards did, to Manchester and Winchester, to accomplish the flank movement on our right at Tullahoma, and cause Bragg to retreat, which was consequently at once begun.

Bragg at Chattanooga.

On reaching Chattanooga, Bragg fortified his position and threw up defensive works at points along the Tennessee river as high as Blythe's Ferry. But the enemy, in overwhelming force1 having a passage of the river at various points2 and seizing important gaps, and threatening Chattanooga by the pass over the point of Lookout Mountain, Bragg was again forced to retreat,3 and on the morning of the 9th Crittenden's corps occupied Chattanooga, the objective point of the campaign, while Rosecrans, with the remainder of the army, pressed forward through the passes of the Lookout Mountain, threatening Lafayette and Rome, Georgia.4

Thus Rosecrans realized the explosion of his pet theory of not risking two decisive battles at one time, because he had accomplished his aim, and at the same time Grant had reduced Vicksburg.

The government at Washington deemed it all important to their arms that the success of Rosecrans should be utilized and his position, at all hazards, maintained. To effect this, and to prevent a flank movement on Rosecrans's right flank, through Alabama, General Halleck at once sent telegrams to Generals Burnside, in East Tennessee; Hurlburt, at Memphis; Grant, or Sherman, at [492] Vicksburg; also to General Schofield, in Missouri, and Pope, in command of the Northwestern Department, to hasten forward to the Tennessee line every available man in their departments, and the commanding officers in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, were ordered to make every possible exertion to secure General Rosecrans's line of communication. And learning that Longstreet had been ordered to Bragg, Meade was ordered to attack General Lee, at least to threaten him, so as to prevent him from sending off any more troops. In the meanwhile Thomas's corps,5 while in the act of passing one of the gaps leading from McLemore's Cove, enclosed between Lookout and Pigeon Mountains to Alpine's, in Broomtown valley, where lay McCook's corps, he was suddenly confronted by a portion of our forces under General Hindman,6 which compelled his hasty retreat. This sudden show of strength excited uneasiness and doubt in the mind of Rosecrans. He could not decide whether it evinced a purpose to give battle, or a movement to secure a safe retreat.7 But he gave the benefit of the doubt to the former contingency, and commenced a backward movement, with orders to close on the center, and Crittenden, at Gordon's mills, to be put in good defensive position.8

McLemore's Cove.

To return for a moment to McLemore's Cove, General Bragg had sent General Hindman to attack Thomas in flank and rear, whilst he would move up the mountain in force from Lafayette and attack in front; § the attack in front to commence when the guns of Hindman [493] were heard in the rear. His guns were not heard by us on the mountain, and consequently the ‘golden opportunity of bagging that portion of the enemy,’ as tritely remarked by ex-Governor Harris of Tennessee (then volunteer aid on General Bragg's staff), was lost to us. For this blunder or failure of General Hindman's he was soon relieved from command.9

Battle of Chickamauga:

On the evening of the 18th September General Pegram, of cavalry, having reported the enemy in force at the river (Chickamauga), Walthall's brigade, which was leading the advance, was formed in line of battle and ordered to advance and take possession of the bridge and ford, which was done; the enemy, after a brisk encounter, retiring without wholly destroying the bridge. Speedily repairing the bridge, the army crossed over, camped for the night, and next morning moved forward a short distance, formed in line of battle as each successive division came up, and gave battle to the enemy upon the ever-memorable field of Chickamauga.

The army was now divided into two corps or wings,10 the right commanded by Lieutenant-General Polk, the left wing by Lieutenant-General Longstreet. From its inception to its close the battle was furious, but had the orders of General Bragg to General Polk, issued on the night of the 19th, to move on the enemy at daylight, the remainder of the army to await his advance and to move forward when he (Polk) had become engaged, been carried out, it is believed that the results of that battle, glorious and welcome as they were, would have been made more glorious.11 But as it resulted, the anxious anticipations of the morning's first gun had to be indulged until the humored delay reached long past the day's sunrise,12 for [494] which falterings General Polk was a few days thereafter removed from the command of his corps.13

It may be just and proper to state here that some assign as a reason why Polk did not move and attack as ordered, was that he ascertained that Longstreet's right lapped his (Polk's) left front, and to have advanced would have resulted in the slaughter of our own men.14 But to a military mind this cannot operate as a sufficient excuse, because the danger apprehended could have without delay been obviated by proper instructions to his skirmish line and due notification to the troops in his front of his approaching columns.

Enemy's retreat to Chattanooga.

On the morning of the 21st September, the enemy having the night previous commenced his retreat to Chattanooga,15 Bragg moved rapidly forward, preceded by General Forrest and his troopers, who were sorely pressing and harrassing the retreating foe, that night reached Missionary Ridge and commenced fortifying.16 All the passes of Lookout Mountain, which had been in possession of the enemy since our abandonment of Chattanooga during the month previous, and which covered his line of supplies from Bridgeport, were now regained by us.

Wheeler's cavalry sent to enemy's rear.

To cut off their supplies and force them, if possible, to evacuate Chattanooga, Wheeler with his cavalry was ordered to ford the Tennessee and destroy a large wagon train known to be in the Sequahatchie Valley on its way to Rosecrans, which was done, besides capturing McMinnville and other points on the railroad, making his retreat out of Tennessee by fording the river at Decatur, Ala., and [495] thus almost completely cutting off the supplies of Rosecrans's army. We occupied the entire south side of the river, from Lookout to Bridgeport; and as the latter place, with Stevenson, was supplied from depots at Nashville and Louisville by a single railroad, and the river road on the north side rendered unsafe by the unerring fire of our sharp-shooters, it necessitated the hauling of supplies by the enemy a distance of sixty miles over mountains, which placed the Federal army almost in a starving condition. But Grant, with heavy reinforcements, having in the meantime arrived and assumed command, and Longstreet having been detached to operate against Burnside in East Tennessee,17 began to put a new phase on the issue involved.

Battle of Lookout Mountain.

Throwing a heavy column under Hooker to the south side of the river by means of floating pontoons, and fortifying at the mouth of South Chickamauga, then bridging that and the Tennessee rivers, and under cover of the darkness cutting off our entire picket line, consisting of the Twenty-seventh Mississippi, under the command of Colonel Campbell,18 they had reached midway the mountains, when the ever-watchful, gallant, and chivalric Walthall, who with his brigade was stationed at the point, observed them and commenced to give them battle. Failing to obtain from General J. K. Jackson, then in command of Cheatham's division, the needful reinforcements, although staff officer after staff officer had been sent for that purpose, Walthall, after a most obstinate and bloody resistance, was forced to yield the Mountain, falling back to the Ridge; [496] and Hooker, on the night of the 25th of November, occupied it and placed himself in communication with Thomas's right.

In that engagement the enemy's batteries at Moccasin Bend, just across from the point, not only threw grape and canister midway up the mountain, but easily threw shot and shell over the point, a distance of over 2,000 yards in altitude, whilst our guns at the point of the mountain were rendered useless against the enemy on account of the utter impossibility of giving them the necessary depression.

Battle of Missionary Ridge.

Thus General Bragg was threatened on both flanks and a heavy line of battle in his front. To hold his line of railroad was all important. Hooker's force on the mountain could be distinctly seen. To oppose him and resist the threatenings of the enemy, Bragg reinforced his right heavily, leaving, as he reasonably supposed from the natural strength of the position, enough to hold his left and centre. The first attempts of the enemy on the evening of the 25th under Sherman were unsuccessful for a time, but finally he was enabled to take two hills (the third he several times tried, but was repulsed), and then he moved around as if to gain Bragg's rear, when the latter began to mass against him. Both sides, appreciating the importance of the deal, played each for a winning hand with eyes fixed steadily on his opponent, until finally Hooker moved his columns along the Rossville road towards General Bragg's left, and thus forced the latter to reinforce his left still more at the hazard of his centre. It was then that Thomas advanced the ‘Army of the Cumberland,’ and succeeded in taking the rifle-pits at the base of the ridge, and rushing headlong to the crest of the ridge amid a storm of shot and shell, drove us in confusion from the field.19 The victory was as great to the enemy as the blow was severe to our cause. But a few days before, and we had the enemy at the point of starvation; either that or its alternative, a surrender. Now that he had been overwhelmingly reinforced, and by armies flush with recent victories, he had given us battle and won the day. It was a [497] desperate alternative, and equally desperately accepted.20 He succeeded, and, tested by the measure of military rules, was justly entitled to wear the plume of victory. Whether or not he won it by superior forces, or by superior military skill, it was none the less a victory—a victory that made for its hero a name in the military annals of this country second only to the immortal Lee——a victory that secured for him the high and exalted rank of General of the Army, and finally President, for two terms at least, of the United States.

1 Rosecrans's effective force of infantry and artillery amounted to fully 70,000 men, divided into five corps, whilst Burnside, who at the same time was advancing from Kentucky towards Knoxville, East Tennessee, had an estimated force of 25,000. By the timely arrival of two divisions from Mississippi, our effective force, exclusive of cavalry, was 35,000. (Official report of the battle of Chickamauga, by General Bragg, page 1.)

2 The main force crossed at Carpenter's Ferry, the most accessible point from Stevenson. (Ib. page 3.)

3 The enemy, by a direct route, was as near our main depot of supplies as we ourselves were, and our whole line of communication was exposed, whilst he was positively secured by mountains and the river. (lb. page 3.)

4 Dalton was also threatened. (Ib. page 3.)

5 One division of one brigade of Thomas's corps, about 8,000 men. (General Bragg's letter to me dated February 8th, 1873.)

6 Hindman's force was composed of his own and Rucker's, 10,922 men, and Martin's cavalry, about 500, besides a force of two divisions—Cleburne's and Walker's—at least 8,000 more, immediately in the enemy's front, with orders to attack as soon as Hindman's guns were heard on the flank and rear. (General Bragg's letter, February 8th.)

7 It was not a retreat, but a movement by Bragg to meet the enemy in front whenever he should emerge from the mountain gorges. He put his army in position from Lee & Gordon's mills to Lafayette, on the road leading south from Chattanooga and fronting the east slope of Lookout Mountain. (General Bragg's report, page 4.)

8 See General Bragg's letter to me of February 8th, also letters of Generals Patton, Anderson, and W. T. Martin, furnished to me by General Bragg, and on file.

9 See the charges and specifications preferred by General Bragg against this officer, copies of which are in my possession.

10 This division of the army did not take place until the night of the first day's fight, when General Longstreet reached the army from Ringold and a council of war was held. His corps, consisted of five (5) small brigades, about 5,000 men, effectives, infantry (no artillery), and reached us in time to participate in the action-three 13) of them on the 19th, and two (2) more on the 20th. (General Bragg's report, page 19)

11 General Bragg says in his letter of February 8th, if Polk had carried out his orders ‘our independence might have been gained.’

12 It was 10 o'clock A. M. before General Polk made the attack. (General Bragg's letter, February 8, 1873.)

13 See the charges and specifications preferred by General Bragg against this officer, copies of which are in my possession. Also, General Bragg's reasons, telegraphed to the President at Richmond, October 1, 1863, from near Chattanooga, likewise in my possession.

14 General Polk's assigned reasons for his delay appears in part in the reports of his subordinate commanders, but were not satisfactory to the Commanding General. (General Bragg's official report of the battle, p. 21.)

15 See the official report of the battle, p. 24.

16 As to the results and consequences of this battle, read the concluding part of General Bragg's report.

17 For the reasons for sending General Longstreet into East Tennessee, instead of General Breckinridge, see General Bragg's letter to me of February 8, 1873. Governor Benjamin G. Humphries, at that time commanding a brigade (Barksdale's) in General Longstreet's corps, once told me in the presence of General Stephen D. Lee, at the residence of Mr. James T. Harrison, that he concurred with General Bragg in attributing the capture of Lookout Mountain by Hooker to the disobedience of orders by Longstreet. General Bragg had ordered him to occupy Sand Mountain, I think it was, with a division and hold it at all hazards. Instead of placing a division there, which would have held it against the possible assaults of any force, he only sent one brigade (McLaws's or Jenkins's, South Carolina), and consequently not only was that position carried by Hooker, but it opened the way for him to join Grant in Chattanooga.

18 Hooker's corps, which Longstreet had permitted to obtain a lodgment on Lookout Mountain.

19 Brigadier-General Alexander W. Reynolds's (this officer recently died in the service of the Khedive of Egypt) brigade of East Tennesseeans were the first to give way, and could not be rallied. (General Bragg's letter of February 8th, 1873.) At the time this brigade broke, Hardee was far down the plains in advance of his works, rapidly driving Sherman. It was with difficulty that he was extricated.

20 General Bragg says in his letter of February 8th: ‘Grant was so reduced that he could not recross the mountains, for his troops could not be fed and his animals were already starved. He could not move twenty pieces of artillery.’

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