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Chapter 10

  • Disposition of the Confederate troops.
  • -- affair at Dug Gap. -- cavalry light at Varnell's Station. -- fighting at Resaca. -- General Wheeler encounters Stoneman's cavalry. -- army withdrawn to Resaca to meet flanking movement of the enemy.

As, since the President's letter of December 23d, no reference had been made to the design of recovering Middle Tennessee, I reminded him of it on the 27th, through General Bragg, who was virtually his chief staff-officer, in the following letter:

Letters received from the President and Secretary of War, soon after my assignment to this command, gave me the impression that a forward movement by this army was intended to be made in the spring. If I am right in that impression, and the President's intentions are unchanged, I respectfully suggest that much preparation is necessary-large additions to the number of troops, a great quantity of field transportation, subsistence stores, and forage, a bridge-equipage, and fresh artillery-horses, to be procured. Few of those we have are fit for a three days march, as they have not recovered from the effect of the last campaign. To make our artillery efficient, at least a thousand fresh horses are required, even if we stand on the defensive. [288] Let me suggest that the necessary measures be taken without delay.

The artillery also wants organization, and especially a competent commander. I therefore respectfully urge that such a one be sent me. I have applied for Colonel Alexander,1 but General Lee objects that he is too valuable in his present position to be taken from it. His value to the country would be more than doubled, I think, by the promotion and assignment I recommend.

Should the movement in question be made, Lieutenant-General Longstreet's command would necessarily take part in it. Other troops might be drawn from General Beauregard's and Lieutenant-General Polk's departments. The infantry of the latter is so small a force that what would remain after the formation of proper garrisons for Mobile would be useless in Mississippi, but a valuable addition to the Army of Tennessee. But of these matters you are much better informed than I.

General Bragg replied on the 4th of March:

In reply to yours of the 27th ult., just received, I hasten to inform you that your inference from the letters of the President and Secretary of War is correct and you are desired to have all things in readiness at the earliest practicable moment for the movement indicated.2 It is hoped but little time will be required to prepare the force now under [289] your command, as the season is at hand, and the time seems propitious.

Such additional forces will be ordered to you as the exigencies of the service elsewhere will permit, and it is hoped your own efforts will secure many absentees and extra-duty men to the ranks.

The deficiency you report in artillery-horses seems very large, and so different from the account given by General Hardee on turning over the command, that hopes are entertained that there must be some error on your part. Prompt measures should be taken by you, however, to supply the want, whatever it may be.

The part of your letter relative to this and field transportation will be referred to the Quartermaster-General.

Colonel Alexander, applied for by you, as chief of artillery, is deemed necessary by General Lee, in his present position. Brigadier-General W. N. Pendleton, an experienced officer of artillery, has been ordered to your headquarters to inspect that part of your command, and report its condition.

Should his services be acceptable to you, I am authorized to say you can retain him.

I am exceedingly anxious to gratify you on this point, for I know the deficiency now existing.

It is more than probable that such a junction may soon be made as to place Colonel Alexander under your command.

Reply, dated March 12, 1864.

I had the honor to receive your letter of the 4th instant, in which I am desired to [290] “have all things in readiness at the earliest practicable moment, for the movement indicated.”

The last two words quoted give me the impression that some particular plan of operations is referred to. If so, it has not been communicated to me. A knowledge of it and of the forces to be provided for is necessary, to enable me to make proper requisitions. Permit me, in that connection, to remind you that the regulations of the War Department do not leave the preparations referred to to me, but to officers who receive their orders from Richmond — not from my headquarters.

The defects in the organization of the artillery cannot be remedied without competent superior officers. For them we must depend upon the Government.

I respectfully beg leave to refer to my letter to the President, dated January 2d, for my opinions on the subject of our operations on this line.

Is it probable that the enemy's forces will increase during the spring? Or will they diminish in May and June by expiration of terms of service? It seems to me that our policy depends on the answers to these questions. If that to the first is affirmative, we should act promptly. If that to the second is so, we should not, but on the contrary put off action, if possible, until the discharge of many of his soldiers, if any considerable number is to be discharged.

P. S.-Should Sherman join Thomas, this army would require reinforcement to enable it to hold its ground. Our army that takes the offensive should be our strongest in relation to its enemy.


On the 18th Colonel Sale, General Bragg's military secretary, brought me the following letter from that officer, dated the 12th:

In previous communications it has been intimated to you that the President desired a forward movement by the forces under your command; and it was suggested that such preparations as are practicable and necessary should b1e commenced immediately.

I now desire to lay before you, more in detail, the views of the Department in regard to the proposed operations, and to inform you of the means intended to be placed at your disposal. Of course but a general outline is necessary, as matters of detail must be left to your judgment and discretion.

It is not deemed advisable to attempt the capture of the enemy's fortified positions by direct attack, but to draw out, and then, if practicable, force him to battle in the open field. To accomplish this object, we should so move as to concentrate our means between the scattered forces of the enemy, and, failing to draw him out for battle, to move upon his lines of communication. The force in Knoxville depends in a great measure on its connection with Chattanooga for support, and both are entirely dependent on regular and rapid communication with Nashville. To separate these two by interposing our main force, and then strike and destroy the railroad from Nashville to Chattanooga, fulfills both conditions.

To accomplish this, it is proposed that you move as soon as your means and force can be collected, [292] so as to reach the Tennessee River near Kingston, where a crossing can be effected; that Lieutenant-General Longstreet move simultaneously by a route east and south of Knoxville, so as to form a junction with you near this crossing. As soon as you come within supporting distance, Knoxville is isolated, and Chattanooga threatened, with barely a possibility for the enemy to unite. Should he not then offer you battle outside of his intrenched lines, a rapid move across the mountains from Kingston to Sparta (a very practicable and easy route) would place you, with a formidable army, in a country full of resources, where it is supposed, with a good supply of ammunition, you may be entirely self-sustaining. And it is confidently believed that such a move would necessitate the withdrawal of the enemy to the line of the Cumberland.

At the same time when this move is made, it is proposed to throw a heavy column of cavalry, as a diversion, into West Tennessee; and thence, if practicable, into Middle Tennessee, to operate on the enemy's lines of communication and distract his attention.

If by a rapid movement, after crossing the mountains, you can precipitate your main force upon Nashville, and capture that place before the enemy can fall back for its defense, you place him in a most precarious position. But in any event, by a movement in rear of Nashville while the Cumberland is low, similar to the one in passing Chattanooga, you isolate that position and compel a retrograde movement of the enemy's main force.

It is needless, General, for me to impress upon [293] you the great importance, not to say necessity, of reclaiming the provision country of Tennessee and Kentucky; and, from my knowledge of the country and people, I believe that other great advantages may accrue, especially in obtaining men to fill your ranks.

The following forces, it is believed, will be available, if nothing shall occur to divert them, viz.:

Your own command33,0003,0005,00041,000
General Martin's cavalry, now en route to you3,0003,000
From Lieut.-Gen. Polk5,0005,000
From Gen. Beauregard10,00010,000
From Gen. Longstreet's command12,0002,0002,00016,000

It is proposed to hold the reenforcements ready, and to put them in motion just as soon as you may be able to use them. To throw them to the front now, would only impede the accumulation of supplies necessary for your march.

Measures have been taken to aid in supplying you with artillery-horses. Additional means of transportation will be furnished as soon as practicable.

The efficient organization of engineer troops in your command will supply every want in that department.

Ammunition in abundance is on hand, subject to your call; and it is believed that the means of subsistence are ample in your immediate rear, if efficient measures are inaugurated to get them forward. On this point you are desired to act at once, [294] in your own behalf, as the Department here could do no more than refer you to its resources within your reach and control.

It will give me much pleasure, General, to have your views in full on this subject, in all its bearings, and no effort will be spared in bringing to your assistance the resources of the Government not essential at other points.

Communicate fully at once, and afterward in detail, as points may arise requiring action.

As invited at the conclusion of this letter, I expressed “my views” both by telegraph and mail, without delay; and still more fully by the intelligent officer who had brought the plan of campaign to me from Richmond.

The telegram, dispatched in an hour or two, was in these words, addressed to General Bragg:

Your letter by Colonel Sale received. Grant is at Nashville; Sherman, by last accounts, at Memphis; where Grant is, we must expect the great Federal effort; we ought, therefore, to be prepared to beat him here; he has not come back to Tennessee to stand on the defensive; his advance, should we be ready for it, will be advantageous for us; to be ready, we must have the troops you name immediately, otherwise we might be beaten, which would decide events; give us those troops, and if we beat him, we follow; should he not advance, we will then be ready for the offensive; the troops can be fed as easily here as where they now are.

The letter referred to was addressed also to General Bragg on the same day: [295]

I had the honor to receive your letter of the 12th from Colonel Sale yesterday, and to make a suggestion, by telegraph, on the subject to which it relates.

Permit me to suggest that the troops intended for the operations you explain should be assembled in this vicinity. The enemy could, without particular effort, prevent their junction near Kingston by attacking one of our armies with his united forces. His interior positions make it easy. There is another reason: Grant's return to Tennessee indicates that he will retain that command, for the present at least. He certainly will not do so to stand on the defensive. I therefore believe that he will advance as soon as he can, with the greatest force he can raise. We cannot estimate the time he will require for preparation, and should, consequently, put ourselves in condition for successful resistance as soon as possible, by assembling here the troops you enumerate. I am doing all I can in other preparations, and do not doubt that abundance of ammunition, food, and forage, will be collected long before we can be supplied with field-transportation. My department is destitute of mules. I must, therefore, depend on the Quartermaster's Department for them.

It strikes me that we cannot “isolate” Knoxville in the manner you propose, because we cannot hope to be able to take with us such supplies as would enable us to remain on the line of communication long enough to incommode the forces there. We cannot do so unless we can occupy a position from which we can maintain our own communications and [296] interrupt those of Knoxville. Such a position can only be found near Chattanooga.

The march into Middle Tennessee, via Kingston, would require all the stores we should be able to transport from Dalton., so that we could not reduce Knoxville “en route.” Would it not be easier to march into Middle Tennessee through North Alabama I believe fully, however, that Grant will be ready to act before we can be; and that, if we are ready to fight him on our own ground, we shall have a very plain course, with every chance of success. For that, we should make exactly such preparations as you indicate for the forward movement, except that I would have the troops assembled here without delay, to repel Grant's attack, and then make our own; or, should the enemy not take the initiative, do it ourselves. Our first object then should be, your proposition to bring on a battle on this side of the Tennessee.

Should not the movement from Mississippi precede any advance from this point so much as to enable those troops to cross the Tennessee before we move? Lieutenant-General Polk thought at the end of February that he could send fifteen thousand cavalry on such an expedition. Even two-thirds of that force might injure the railroads enough to compel the evacuation of Chattanooga. Certainly it could make a powerful diversion.

I apprehend no difficulty in procuring food (except meat) and forage. This department can furnish nothing. Its officers receive supplies from those of the Subsistence and Quartermaster's [297] Departments at and beyond Atlanta. The efficient head of the Ordnance Department has never permitted us to want any thing that could reasonably be expected from him. I am afraid that the collection of the additional field-transportation will require a good deal of time. None can be obtained within the limits of my authority.

There has been an unnecessary accumulation of bread-stuffs and corn at Mobile-six months supply for a much larger force than Major-General Maury's. Half of it will spoil during the summer, if left in Mobile. It would be economical, therefore, as well as convenient, to transfer that portion of it to this army.

Lieutenant-Colonel Cole, at Augusta, informs me that the artillery-horses required will be furnished by the 1st of May.

Besides the foregoing, other reasons for opposing the plan of operations explained by General Bragg, were committed to Colonel Sale, to be delivered orally-such as: That the interior positions belonged to the enemy, instead of being held by us as was supposed by the military authorities in Richmond; for the Federal army at Knoxville, equally distant from Chattanooga and Dalton, was exactly between Longstreet and our main army-and, to unite near Kingston as proposed, each of our armies would be compelled to march in front of a much greater Federal force, exposed to attack in a column five times as long and not a tenth as strong as its order of battle; that the only manner in which we could “isolate” Knoxville would be by placing our [298] united forces on the road from that place to Chattanooga, at the point nearest to Dalton, and employing our cavalry, with its artillery, to close the navigation of the Tennessee — the army in Chattanooga might be induced in that way to attack in order to drive us back and reopen the routes to Knoxville; and that the attempt to unite the Army of Tennessee and Longstreet's corps, near Kingston, would be a violation of a sound military rule, never to assemble the troops that are to act together, in such a manner that the enemy's army may attack any considerable body of them before their union.

General Bragg replied on the 21st to my dispatch of the 18th. His telegram, received on the 22d, indicated that the plan of offensive operations devised by the Administration was an ultimatum. “Recent Northern papers report Grant superseded Halleck, who becomes chief of staff. Sherman takes Grant's command. Your dispatch of 19th does not indicate an acceptance of the plan proposed. The troops can only be drawn from other points for an advance. Upon your decision of that point further action must depend.”

To correct the misapprehension of my views on the part of the Administration which General Bragg's language indicated, I replied immediately: 3

In my dispatch of the 18th I expressly accept taking the offensive. Only differ with you as to details. I assume that the enemy will be prepared to advance before we are, and will make it to our advantage. Therefore I propose, as necessary both for the offensive and defensive, to assemble our troops here immediately. [299] Other preparations for advance are going on.,

No notice was taken of this explanation.

In the mean time our scouts were furnishing evidence of almost daily arrivals of Federal reenforcements, which was punctually communicated to the Administration through General Bragg. From these indications it was clear that the military authorities of the United States were assembling in our front a much greater force than that which had driven us from Missionary Ridge a few months before. On the contrary, our army had not recovered from the effects of that defeat-numerically, that is to say. It was as plain that these Federal preparations were made not for the purpose of holding the ground won from us in the previous campaign, but for the resumption of offensive operations. On the 25th, therefore, I again urged upon the Government the necessity of strengthening the Army of Tennessee, and suggested that further delay would be dangerous.

On the 3d of April Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. Cole, one of the most efficient officers of the Quartermaster's Department, came to Dalton. He was instructed, as he informed me, to superintend the procuring the number of artillery-horses and the amount of field-transportation required by the army for an offensive campaign.

The fact that my letter of the 18th and telegram of the 22d of March were not answered made me apprehend that my correspondence with General Bragg in relation to the spring campaign had not been understood by the President. Colonel B. S. Ewell, [300] Adjutant-General of the Army of Tennessee, my personal friend, and an officer who had my full confidence, was therefore sent to Richmond on the 8th, to endeavor to remove any misapprehension of the subject that might exist in his Excellency's mind.

He was instructed to show the President that in my correspondence with the Government I had not declined to assume the offensive — as General Bragg charged-but, on the contrary, was eager to move forward whenever the relative forces of the opposing armies should justify me in such a measure; to point out the difference between the plan of operations proposed through General Bragg and that which I advocated, and in that connection to explain that I had been actively engaged in preparations to take the field-those over which I had control being in a satisfactory state of forwardness. But in the important element of field-transportation, the need of which had several times been represented to the Government, and which I had neither means nor authority to collect, nothing had been done, while steps to collect the large number of artillery-horses necessary, had just been taken; and that the surest means of enabling us to go forward was to send the proposed reenforcements to Dalton at once; then, should the enemy take the initiative, as was almost certain, we might defeat him on this side of the Tennessee, where the consequences of defeat would be so much more disastrous to the enemy, and less so to us, than if the battle were fought north of that river.

He was also desired to say that, according to the best information we could obtain, the Federal army [301] opposed to us had been increased, since the battle of Missionary Ridge, by about fifteen thousand men; but that ours was not so strong as on the morning of that battle.

A day or two after Colonel Ewell's departure, General Pendleton, commander of the artillery of General Lee's army, came to Dalton from Richmond. He was sent by the President, to explain his Excellency's wishes in relation to the employment of the Army of Tennessee, and to ascertain if I was willing to assume the offensive with an army weaker by sixteen thousand men than that proposed in General Bragg's letter of March 12th.

The object of Colonel Ewell's mission to Richmond was explained to him, and the instructions given to that officer repeated, as explanations of my military opinions.

Neither General Pendleton's report nor Colonel Ewell's representations led to any action on the part of the Executive-none, at least, that concerned the Army of Tennessee.

This correspondence between the Administration and myself has been given fully, because I have been accused of disobeying the orders of the President and the entreaties of General Bragg to assume the offensive. As there was no other correspondence between the Administration and myself on the subject, the accusation must have this foundation, if any.

In the morning of the 2d May, a close reconnaissance of our outpost at Tunnel Hill was made under the protection of a strong body of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The reports received on the 1st, 2d, and 4th, indicated that the beginning of an active campaign [302] was imminent. They showed that the enemy was approaching our position, and repairing the railroad from Chattanooga to Ringgold. The intelligence received on each day was immediately transmitted to General Bragg. That officer suggested to me, on the 2d, that I was deceived, probably, by mere demonstrations, made for the purpose.

On that day, Mercer's brigade, about fourteen hundred effective infantry, joined the army, from Savannah. It was to be replaced there by J. K. Jackson's, of the Army of Tennessee. The latter was retained, for the present, where it was most needed, for we were threatened, and Savannah was not.

The effective strength of the Army of Tennessee, as shown by the return of May 1, 1864, was thirty-seven thousand six hundred and fifty-two infantry, twenty-eight hundred and twelve artillery (forty thousand four hundred and sixty-four), and twenty-three hundred and ninety-two cavalry. This was the entire strength of the army, “at and near Dalton,” at that time. Canty's brigade (thirteen hundred and ninety-five effectives) is included improperly. It had just arrived at Rome, sent there from the vicinity of Mobile, by Major-General Maury. But, on the other hand, Mercer's was not; nor was Martin's division of cavalry, then near Cartersville, because its horses, worn down by continuous hard service since the beginning of the previous summer, were unfit for the field. It had seventeen hundred men fit for duty, however.

The Federal army which Major-General Sherman was about to lead against us was composed of the troops that fought at Missionary Ridge, under General [303] Grant, the Sixteenth and Twenty-third Corps, and Hovey's division. The veteran regiments of this army had made a very large number of recruits while on furlough in the previous winter-probably fifteen or eighteen thousand. These men, mixed in the ranks, were little inferior to old soldiers. We had been estimating the cavalry, under General Kilpatrick, at five thousand; but, at the opening of the campaign, Stoneman's, Garrard's, and McCook's divisions arrived-adding, probably, twelve thousand.

Our scouts reported that the Fourth Corps and McCook's division of cavalry were at Cleveland, and the Army of the Ohio at Charleston, on the 2d, both on the way to Chattanooga; and that these troops and the Army of the Cumberland reached Ringgold in the afternoon of the 4th and encamped there.

Our pickets (cavalry) were at the same time pressed back beyond Varnell's Station, on the Cleveland road, and within three miles of Tunnel Hill, on that from Ringgold.

Upon these indications that the enemy was advancing upon us in great force, I again urged the Administration, by telegraph, to put about half of Lieutenant-General Polk's infantry under my control, and ordered Major-General Martin, with his division, from the valley of the Etowah to that of the Oostenaula, to observe it from Resaca to Rome. Brigadier-General Kelly, whose little division of cavalry had just come up from the vicinity of Resaca, was ordered to join the troops of that arm in observation on the Cleveland road.

1 Recommending his promotion.

2 Under rules established by Mr. Seddon, I had no authority to do so.

3 In the original, the words in italics were written in cipher.

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