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General Bragg and the Chickamauga Campaign—a reply to General Martin.

By Captain W. M. Polk.
The recent publication of Major Sykes' papers on the army of Tennessee, and of the replies that have been called forth, furnishes an opportunity to settle some of the disputed matters appertaining to the campaigns and battles of that army.

There are a number about which there is much conflict of statement—too many, in fact, to be grouped in one enquiry. I shall, therefore, as a commencement, select one of sufficient interest to call forth comment, and I hope discussion.

I will go backto the number of your journal published April and May, 1883. In that issue is an article from General Will. T. Martin, of Miss., headed ‘A Defence of General Bragg's Conduct at Chickamauga.’ On page 202 he says: ‘There are many living officers and men who know how little blame should have attached to him (General Bragg) for Hindman's palpable disobedience of orders in McLemore's Cove, [379] and General Polk's failure to attack Crittenden's corps in its isolated position immediately after Hindman's fiasco.’

Of Hindman's failure I know nothing save what is to be found in the official reports. Hindman, although commanding one of the divisions in General Polk's corps, having been assigned to it just before the campaign, was, with his division, on September 9th, detached from Polk's corps in order that he might make the movement into McLemore's Cove, under the direct supervision of army headquarters, it being understood that General Bragg was then quite partial to him.

The order detaching him was this:

headquarters army of Tennessee, Gordon's Mills, Sept. 9th, 1863.
General: Orders have been given to Major-General Hindman detaching him from your corps. He is directed to move at once.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

This placed him outside General Polk's jurisdiction for that movement; consequently I do not now ask for any discussion of the McLemore's Cove affair. What I wish to bring out is the history of what General Martin—and General Bragg before him—calls General Polk's failure to attack Crittenden immediately after Hindman's fiasco.

I fully understand that General Martin has but one object in view, viz., the defence of a man that he believes has been misrepresented. He believes that General Polk, and not General Bragg, was responsible for the failure to crush Crittenden; else he would not say that there are many living officers and men who know how little blame should attach to General Bragg for the failure in that emergency.

It is in the same spirit that I now seek the fullest information. If General Polk was to blame, neither he nor any friend of his would wish the responsibility to rest upon another; and in like manner I am sure General Bragg's memory will be best served by resting upon him such responsibilities as a candid enquiry may show to belong to him.

In order to aid in the solution of the question, I shall tell the story from my point of view.

By mid-day, September 11th, 1863, General Bragg knew that Hindman's movement against Thomas in McLemore's Cove had [380] failed. He then had his forces disposed as follows: Hindman's and Walker's divisions, with Buckner's corps and Cleburn's division of Hill's corps—five divisions in all, some 25,000 men—were in McLemore's Cove. Polk, with Cheatham's division — some 7,000 more—was at Anderson's house, four miles south of Gordon's Mills, while Breckenridge's division was at Lafayette, some twelve or more miles to the south again of Gordon's Mills. The relation of the three corps of the enemy to the position of Bragg's force, in the Cove and at Anderson's, was then as follows:

McCook was far away to the south of Lafayette, near Alpine, and Thomas to the west, well out of reach on the top of Lookout Mountain, while Crittenden, completely isolated, was to the east and north, near Ringgold and Gordon's Mills. Two of Crittenden's divisions— Vancleve and Palmer—camped at Ringgold that night; the remaining division—Wood's—camped the same night at Gordon's Mills, west of the Chickamauga. Crittenden's entire force, including Wilder's mounted infantry, was some 16,000 men, less by 15,000 than the force of Confederates that lay between him and the remainder of the Federal army. To secure him it was necessary for General Bragg, immediately after Hindman's failure, only to face about and march towards him.

If one did not refer to the map, in reading General Bragg's official report (page 55, vol. II, Southern Historical Society papers), he would infer that this was the movement next attempted; for, after speaking of the failure in the Cove, he says: ‘Our movement having failed in its justly anticipated results, it was determined to turn upon the third corps of the enemy, approaching us from the direction of Chatanooga. The forces were accordingly withdrawn to Lafayette, and Polk's and Walker's corps were moved immediately in the direction of Lee and Gordon's Mills.’ In other words, the withdrawal to Lafayette was a necessary part of the movement of Polk and Walker in the direction of Lee and Gordon's Mills. This is clearly the interpretation to be put upon General Bragg's statement—the one he intended.

If the extract is a full statement of General Bragg's designs immediately after Hindman's failure, a glance at any good map of the State of Georgia will show how much useless marching was done by the forces that he wished to use against Crittenden.

Polk lay at Anderson's, four miles from the Mills; Hindman and Walker were in McLemore's Cove. Polk was marched to Lafayette and then marched back to his original position. Hindman and [381] Walker, instead of moving down the Chickamauga Valley towards Crittenden's position, at Ringgold and the Mills, moved to Lafayette, and then from Lafayette in the direction of Lee and Gordon's Mills.

We may get a fair idea of this manoeuvre by likening the position to a triangle—A, B, C. The enemy is just without the limits of the triangle near B. Our forces being at A, and near B, we move all to C, and then move them to B. The distance from the Confederate position in the Cove to the Mills was about equal to that from Lafayette to the Mills, while the distance from the Cove to Lafayette was somewhat less. All the roads were good and open, having been traversed but the day before by various portions of General Bragg's army.

This concentration at Lafayette, being then a movement away from Crittenden rather than towards him, it is impossible to accept it as a part of a movement upon that corps of the Federal army. The key to it will be found in the following dispatch to Hindman. (See General Bragg's official report):

headquarters army of Tennessee, Lafayette, Ga., 12 P. M., September 10, 1863.
Major-General Hindman, Commanding:
General: Headquarters are here, and the following is the information:

Crittenden's corps is advancing on us from Chatanooga. A large force from the south has advanced to within seven miles of this point. Polk is left at Anderson's to cover your rear. General Bragg orders you to attack and force your way through the enemy to this point at the earliest hour you can see him in the morning. Cleburn will attack in front the moment your guns are heard.

I am, General, etc.,

The force seven miles to the south of Lafayette was the cause of the concentration at that point; and as every one on the ground knew, this concentration was not a part of the movement on Crittenden.

This dispatch, together with the extract from General Bragg's report, already given, shows that not only after, but even before Hindman's failure, the Confederate commander had very good knowledge of his enemy's whereabouts. Standing in McLemore's Cove, he [382] knew, and his splendid army of not less than thirty-five thousand men knew, that he held the central position, and that the disjointed corps of the enemy lay around so widely separated that they could render one another no assistance.

A blow had been aimed at Thomas, and although it failed, it sent him up the mountain still further away from his companion corps.

McCook and Crittenden remained. It was for General Bragg to elect which he would strike.

There was scarcely a man in that army of Confederates, having knowledge of the affair, who doubted the direction of the blow. The force seven miles to the south of Lafayette might or might not be McCook's corps. If it were, but little was to be gained by marching towards it, especially as the proximity to the range of Lookout Mountain was such that it could easily escape, as Thomas had just done. But there lay Crittenden well out in the plain, isolated, at our mercy. A march of twelve or fifteen miles at furthest would secure him. With this corps crushed we were free to march through Chatanooga, around the head of Lookout Mountain, and arrange matters with Thomas and McCook as they should attempt to pass northward. No serious opposition could have been offered to this movement by Steedman's force, as it was yet near Bridgeport. It was a mighty opportunity.

The Confederate commander turned towards McCook. He concentrated at Fayette. This, as was expected by many, was a fruitless effort; for McCook was far away at Alpine; and the enemy, seven miles off, who had been the cause of our march, proved to be merely a small reconnoitering force. Then it was that the Confederate commander turned his attention to Crittenden. But it was the twelfth, and twenty-four hours had been lost—twenty-four as precious hours as were ever wasted. Instead of having his army across Crittenden's path, General Bragg had it at Lafayette. Thus was sacrificed not only the ground between Crittenden and Thomas, but the only position the Confederate army ever held commanding Crittenden's sole line of retreat—that by way of Chatanooga.

Crittenden now covered his line of retreat; but as he was still separated from Thomas, the prompt marching of the Confederate army to Lee and Gordon's Mills would have engaged and perhaps have captured him.

This brings us to the movement entrusted to General Polk, the movement that General Martin terms ‘General Polk's failure to attack Crittenden's corps in its isolated position immediately after [383] Hindman's fiasco.’ The movement that General Bragg intimates he made ‘immediately’ after the failure in the Cove.

The first positive step towards it was the following order:

headquarters, Lafayette, Ga., September 12, 1 A. M.
General: The General commanding directs that you will at once proceed with Cheatham's division and take position at Rock Spring. You will order forward also the rest of your corps as soon as practicable.

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

If we look a short distance to the southeast of Lee and Gordon's Mills, we will find Rock Spring. It is about four miles southeast of the Mills, about twelve north of Lafayette, and about seven southwest of Ringgold. It marks the intersection of roads leading from Gordon's Mills on the west. Peavine Church and Greysville on the north, and Ringgold on the east; a line drawn from Ringgold to the Mills passes a few miles to the north of it; and it will be noticed that the Chickamauga flows between it and the Mills.

To reach it from Lafayette General Polk had to pass over the road he had marched the evening before.

Cheatham's division, first in motion, reached the position by evening. Walker's demi-corps (four brigades) followed promptly; arrived about dark. Hindman, allowed to rest at Lafayette till 9 or 10 P. M. by General Bragg, reached the line about daylight.1 Having [384] shown the position to which General Bragg ordered General Polk, and the steps taken to occupy it, we now reproduce General Bragg's orders to attack:

headquarters army of Tennessee, Lafayette, Ga., 6 P. M., September 12.
Lieutenant-General Polk:
General: I enclose you a dispatch from General Pegram. This presents you a fine opportunity of striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. This division crushed, and the others are yours. We can then turn on the force in the Cove. Wheeler's cavalry will move on Wilder so as to cover your right. I shall be delighted to hear of your success.

Very truly yours,

headquarters army of Tennessee, Lafayette, Ga., 6 P. M., Sept. 12th, 1863.
Lieutenant-General Polk, Commanding Corps
General: I enclose you a dispatch marked ‘A,’ and I now give you the orders of the Commanding General—viz. to attack at daydawn to-morrow the column reported in said dispatch, at three-quarters of a mile beyond Peavine Church, on the road to Graysville, from Lafayette.

I am, General, etc.,

Geo. W. Brent, Assistant Adjutant General.

headquarters army of Tennessee, Lafayette, Ga., Sept. 12th, 1863.
Lieutenant-General Polk, Commanding Corps:
General: The enemy is approaching from the south, and it is highly important that your attack in the morning should be quick and decided. Let no time be lost.

I am, General, etc.,

Geo. W. Brent, Assistant Adjutant General.


In full reliance upon the information furnished from army headquarters, and by the cavalry that had been operating against Crittenden during the day, General Polk, at 8 P. M., wrote General Bragg of his disposition, and suggested, in order to make the expected attack overwhelming, that Buckner's corps be moved in supporting distance, the dispatch ending thus:

‘The enemy is moving with steady step upon my position, it is a strong one, and will no doubt attack early in the morning. My troops I cannot get into position in time to attack myself at so early as day-dawn. If I find he is not going to attacke, will attack him without delay.’

At day-dawn the Confederate cavalry were pushed out to develop the enemy, but none could be found. At 8:30 A. M., a brigade from each division was moved forward on each of the three roads, and still none could be found.

Then came the following dispatch from General Pegram:

headquarters 12 miles from Lafayette, Ala., road, Sept. 13th, 8:30 A. M.
General: My scouts from Ringgold have returned; no enemy there, and I believe no enemy in the valley. I shall move up at once with my effective force to the road leading from this road, westwardly to Leet's tan-yard, where I had the first skirmish yesterday.

Respectfully, etc.,

John Pegram, Brigadier General.

To General Cheatham and General Armstrong.

Continued search served only to confirm General Pegram's opinion. Excepting the outposts in front of Lee and Gordon's Mills, there was no enemy east of the Chickamauga. Crittenden had crossed the river the day before, and was at Lee and Gordon's Mills. While this search for the enemy was going on, General Bragg arrived on the ground. General Polk explained the situation to him, and expressed the belief that from the Commanding General down all had been deceived. There had been no enemy to the front of Rock Spring since dark, the day before (the 12th). The reports of the immediate and threatening presence of the enemy delivered to General Polk on his arrival at Rock Spring the evening before had been founded upon Wilder's fierce and persistent assault on Pegram at Leet's tan-yard that afternoon, and upon a forced reconnoissance [386] made about the same time by one of Wood's brigades from the direction of Lee and Gordon's Mills. By noon of this day (13th), or soon after, any doubts that may have existed in the minds of the Confederate commanders as to Crittenden's real position were cleared away. He was found at Gordon's Mills to the west of the Chickamauga; Buckner, who, at General Polk's suggestion, had been moved up to support the expected attack, was then near by. This gave General Polk a force of 26,000 men with which to advance upon his enemy; an enemy but four miles away, still isolated, and numbering but sixteen (16,000) thousand. To complete the object of Polk's march to Rock Spring it was necessary for General Bragg only to order him to cross the Chickamauga and attack Crittenden at Lee and Gordon's Mills. But General Bragg declined to order the movement. The force to the south of Lafayette—a force that then had no bearing on the situation in front of Rock Spring, for it was hastily retracing its steps to join Thomas, then on the top and sides of Lookout Mountain awaiting its arrival—was still the disturbing element. Polk was therefore ordered to hold his position at Rock Spring, Buckner was ordered back to Lafayette, and the Commanding General departed for the same place later that afternoon. Thus ended General Bragg's sole effort to attack and destroy Crittenden's corps.

That the effort was a failure every man in that army knew, but who was to blame? At the interview at Rock Spring, General Bragg, though expressing great disappointment, had not a word of censure to offer. Later, reports began to circulate through the army that he blamed General Polk, and when his official report appeared there was no longer a doubt as to his position. He threw the blame on Polk. It was never communicated to General Polk officially, and the report he never saw.

General Martin, in common with General Bragg's friends, accepts General Bragg's version, and in more than one history of this campaign, notably ‘Cists' Army of the Cumberland,’ a like view is expressed.

We have endeavored to meet the issue with all candor, but our story is not complete till we offer side by side the account of General Bragg and that of General Crittenden.

We give all in the reports that relates to the movement of the two forces during the period that covers General Polk's responsibility; we ask the reader carefully to compare the extracts with what we have written and at the risk of repetition we beg to restate General Polk's orders. They were to take position at Rock Spring on the night of [387] the 12th and to attack on the Peavine Church on Greysville road on the morning of the 13th. He had no orders to find and attack Crittenden on the 12th, nor, when found at Lee and Gordon's Mills on the 13th, was he ordered to cross the Chickamauga and attack him there.

Extract from General Bragg's report.

Our movement having thus failed in its justly anticipated results, it was determined to turn upon the Third corps of the enemy, approaching us from the direction of Chattanooga. The forces were accordingly withdrawn to Lafayette, and Polk's and Walker's corps were moved immediately in the direction of Lee and Gordon's Mills. The one corps of the enemy in this direction was known to be divided—one division having been sent to Ringgold. Upon learning the dispositions of the enemy from our cavalry commander in that direction on the afternoon of the twelfth, Lieutenant-General Polk, commanding the advance forces, was directed in the following note:

headquarters army of Tennessee, Lafayette, Ga., 6 P. M., Sept. 12.
Lieutenant General Polk:
General,—I enclose you a dispatch from General Pegram. This presents you a fine opportunity of striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. This division crushed, and the others are yours. We can then turn on the force in the cove. Wheeler's cavalry will move on Wilder so as to cover your right. I shall be delighted to hear of your success.

Very truly yours,

To attack at daylight on the 13th. Upon further information, the order was renewed in two notes, at later hours of the same day, as follows:

Extract from General Crittenden's report.

September 11, at 1 A. M.—The General commanding feeling uncertain about the position and strength of the enemy in our front, ordered me to proceed to the front at once. Was misled by the guide and did not reach my command until six A. M.; and two of my orderlies on duty with Captain McCook in search of me, thinking I had taken the wrong road, were captured, he narrowly escaping. Early in the morning, Colonel Harker, with his brigade, was moved back to Rossville, and by night made a reconnoissance up the Rossville road, as far as Gordon's Mills, driving squads of the enemy before him. At half-past 2 P. M., gave General Wood his orders through one of my staff, who received them in person from Department Headquarters to move his other brigade at once to Gordon's Mills to support Colonel Harker, and at hve P. M. my staff officer reported to me at Ringgold. My entire Second and Third divisions were then at Ringgold. General Hazen, with his brigade, having crossed the river yesterday, rejoined his division (Palmer's) to-day. Colonel Deck, with Second brigade, Van Cleve's division, (left at McMinnville to guard stores,) rejoined his command on the ninth. Your instructions received at this time, and dated a quarter-past nine A. M., were to move with the balance of my corps on the Chickamauga and Pea Vine Valley roads, keeping in view two [388]

headquarters army of Tennessee, Lafayette, Ga., 6 P. M., Sept. 12, 1863.
Lieutenant-General Polk, Commanding Corps.
General,—I enclose you a dispatch marked ‘A,’ and I now give you the orders of the commanding General, viz: to attack at day-dawn tomorrow the column reported in said dispatch, at three quarters of a mile beyond Peavine Church, on the road to Graysville from Lafayette.

I am, General, etc.,

George W. Brent, Assistant Adjutant-General.

headquarters army of Tennessee, Lafayette, Ga., Sept. 12, 1863.
Lieut-General Polk, Commanding -Corps.-
General,—The enemy is approach ing from the South, and it is highly important that your attack in the morning should be quick and decided. Let no time be lost.

I am, General, etc.,

George W. Brent, Assistant Adjutant-General.

At eleven P. M., a dispatch was received from the General stating that he had taken a strong position for de fence, and requesting that he should be heavily reinforced. He was promptly ordered not to defer his attack, his force being already numerically superior to the enemy, and was reminded that his success depended upon the promptness and rapidity of his movements. He was further informed that Buckner's corps would be moved within supporting distance the next morning.

Early on the thirteenth I proceeded to the front, ahead of Buckner's command, to find that no advance had been made on the enemy, and that objects: First to support General Thomas, in case the enemy is in force in the vicinity of Lafayette; or second, to move eastward and southward toward Rome, in case he has continued his retreat. Other verbal instructions received by my staff-officer urged upon me the importance of keeping my separate divisions in supporting distance of one another. At half-past 8 A. M. I received your dispatch of half-past 3 P. M., informing me that the enemy was in heavy force in the valley of Chattanooga, and instructing me to move my whole force across by the most available route, and as quickly as possible, to the Rossville and Lafayette road, to some defensible point between Gordon's Mills and Shield's House, and to close Wood up with me or myself to him. I at once called my general officers together, and after a long consultation and diligent inquiry of citizens as to the nature of the roads and country, gave orders to move the command in the direction ordered at five in the morn-

September 12.

Sent word early this morning to Colonel Wilder, who was in the advance and near Tunnel Hill, to return to Ringgold with his command, and to follow on my line of march, covering my left flank. He moved promptly and met me at Ringgold, and reported that the enemy was in force in his front last night, and that he learned from deserters that Forrest was to leave to-day to flank and cut off this command, and Wharton in an opposite direction to the same purpose. General Van Cleve with the train, moved to Pecler's and met no enemy; General Palmer to Gilbert's, where he met some squads of the enemy, and skirmished with [389] his forces had formed a junction and recrossed the Chicamauga. Again disappointed, immediate measures were taken to place our trains and limited supplies in safe positions, when all our forces were concentrated along the Chickamauga, threatening the enemy in front. him. After opening communication with General Van Cleve and General Wood, moved the whole command to Gordon's Mills, Colonel Wilder also coming in after night, having had a severe skirmish during the day near Leet's tan yard, and losing thirty men killed and wounded.

September 13.

In the morning the Fourth United States cavalry, six hundred and fifty strong, reported to me for duty. The three divisions were put into position for defence.

General Croft and Colonel Wilder sent out to reconnoitre on the left, the Fourth cavalry on the right, to McLeMore's Cove, and General Van Cleve to the front and centre on Lafayette road. The latter only found the enemy (cavalry with artillery), who retired skirmishing a distance of three miles, when the brigade was halted, and soon after returned to camp.

From this it is plain that when General Bragg, at 6 oa clock, September 12th, was writing his order to Polk to attack Crittenden on the east of the Chickamauga on the Greysville road, Crittenden was west of the Chickamauga, at Lee and Gordon's Mills, and it is also evident that the General commanding the Confederate army, ordered his subordinate to make an attack in a direction in which there was no enemy, and then held him responsible and even blamed him for failing to find and engage an enemy in a position to which he had been ordered and in which there was none.

The questions suggested by this study are: when General Bragg saw that he had failed to strike Thomas, why did he turn on McCook, miles away to the south, and neglect Crittenden, who lay close by and in his power? when he did turn on Crittenden, why did he send Polk to attack him to the east of the Chickamauga, when he lay to the west? Why did he not attack on the 13th, 14th and 15th?

This, Mr. Editor, is my version of this portion of the Chickamauga campaign. If I am in error I wish to be put right, for I have no desire to do General Bragg injustice. But if I am right, you and your [390] readers must see that the statement that General Polk was responsible for General Bragg's failure to crush Crittenden, is in every particular incorrect.


Headquarters A. T. In the field, Lafayette, September 12, 1863, 8 1-2 P. M.
General: In reply to your communication of this date, in regard to the moving your command, the General commanding directs me to say that he regards your march this evening as of the first importance. He desires that you will move up promptly, and report to Lieutenant-General Polk.

I am, General, your obedient servant,


headquarters Hindman's division, Sept. 12, 1863, 9:45 P. M.
Respectfully forwarded for the information of the Lieutenant-General commanding the corps. In reply to a communication from General Mackall, enquiring as to the time my command would move, I stated that the hour originally designated was at dark this evening, but that subsequently, at my urgent request, the order to march was suspended until daylight tomorrow. The within order was received at 9:05 P. M. My command will be ready to move at 10 P. M. I respectfully request that a staff-officer from corps headquarters may meet me at the head of my column, to designate to me the place where my command is to be camped.

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