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Chapter 30: Longstreet moves to Georgia.

  • The author reverts to the perils and opportunities in the West
  • -- Proposes to the Secretary of War to reinforce against Rosecrans from the Army of Northern Virginia -- makes plan known to General Lee -- the move finally effected -- difficulties of transportation -- a roundabout route -- General Longstreet narrowly escapes capture when seeking Bragg's Headquarters -- General Bragg assigns Longstreet to command of the left -- instructions for the battle of Chickamauga -- the armies in position -- Federals in command of Generals Rosecrans, Crittenden, McCook, and George H. Thomas.

While the army was lying idle on the south bank of the Rapidan my mind reverted to affairs in the West, and especially to the progressive work of the Union army in Tennessee towards the northern borders of Georgia. Other armies of the South were, apparently, spectators, viewing those tremendous threatenings without thought of turning minds or forces to arrest the march of Rosecrans.

To me the emergency seemed so grave that I decided to write the Honorable Secretary of War (excusing the informality under the privilege given in his request in May) expressing my opinion of affairs in that military zone. I said that the successful march of General Rosecrans's army through Georgia would virtually be the finishing stroke of the war; that in the fall of Vicksburg and the free flow of the Mississippi River the lungs of the Confederacy were lost; that the impending march would cut through the heart of the South, and leave but little time for the dissolution; that to my mind the remedy was to order the Army of Northern Virginia to defensive work, and send detachments to reinforce the army in Tennessee; to call detachments of other commands to the same service, and strike a crushing blow against General [434] Rosecrans before he could receive reinforcing help; that our interior lines gave the opportunity, and it was only by the skilful use of them that we could reasonably hope to equalize our power to that of the better-equipped adversary; that the subject had not been mentioned to my commander, because like all others he was opposed to having important detachments of his army so far beyond his reach; that all must realize that our affairs were languishing, and that the only hope of reviving the waning cause was through the advantage of interior lines.

A few days after the letter was despatched the subject happened up while discussing affairs with General Lee, when I felt warranted in expressing my views and relieving my mind of the serious apprehensions that haunted me. He inquired if I was willing to go West and take charge there. To that I consented, provided the change could be so arranged as to give me an opportunity, by careful handling of the troops before accepting battle, to gain their confidence; providing, at the same time, that means could be arranged for further aggressive march in case of success.

At that time the railway passing our camps on the Rapidan through Virginia and East Tennessee to Chattanooga was open and in good working order. General Bragg's army was near Chattanooga, General Buckner's in East Tennessee, near Knoxville, General Samuel Jones's army, or parts of an army, in Southwest Virginia. There was but one railway,--from Cincinnati via Louisville and Nashville to Chattanooga. On that road General Rosecrans was marching against General Bragg. On the direct route to East Tennessee over the Cumberland Mountains General Burnside was moving into East Tennessee against General Buckner's forces.

A few days after the conversation with General Lee, he was called down to Richmond. In the course of a week he wrote, viz.: [435]


Richmond, August 31, 1863.
Lieutenant-General J. Longstreet, Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia: General,--
I have wished for several days past to return to the army, but have been detained by the President. He will not listen to my proposition to leave to-morrow. I hope you will use every exertion to prepare the army for offensive operations, and improve the condition of our men and animals. I can see nothing better to be done than to endeavor to bring General Meade out and use our efforts to crush his army while in its present condition.

Very respectfully and truly yours, R. E. Lee, General.


Headquarters, September 2, 1863.
General R. E. Lee, Commanding: General,--
Your letter of the 31st is received. I have expressed to Generals Ewell and Hill your wishes, and am doing all that can be done to be well prepared with my own command. Our greatest difficulty will be in preparing our animals. I do not see that we can reasonably hope to accomplish much by offensive operations, unless you are strong enough to cross the Potomac. If we advance to meet the enemy on this side he will in all probability go into one of his many fortified positions. These we cannot afford to attack.

I know but little of the condition of our affairs in the West, but am inclined to the opinion that our best opportunity for great results is in Tennessee. If we could hold the defensive here with two corps and send the other to operate in Tennessee with that army, I think that we could accomplish more than by an advance from here.

I remain, general, very respectfully, Your obedient servant, James Longstreet, Lieutenant-General.

General Lee next wrote to inquire as to the time necessary for the movement of my corps into Tennessee. As [436] there were but two divisions, McLaws's and Hood's, and Alexander's batteries, two days was supposed to be ample time. The transportation was ordered by the quartermaster's department at Richmond, and the divisions were made ready to board the trains as soon as they could reach us.

The success of the plan was thought from the first to depend upon its prompt and vigorous execution, and it was under those conditions that General Lee agreed to reinforce the army in Tennessee, together with the assurance that vigorous pursuit, even to the Ohio River, should follow success. The onward march was repeatedly urged, not only in return for the use of part of the army, but to relieve General Lee of apprehension from the army in front of him; but it was not until the 9th of September that the first train came to Orange Court-House to start with its load of troops. Meanwhile, General Buckner had left his post in East Tennessee and marched south to draw nearer the army under General Bragg about Chattanooga, leaving nothing of his command in East Tennessee except two thousand men at Cumberland Gap, under General Frazer, partially fortified. General Burnside had crossed the mountains, and was not only in East Tennessee, but on that very day General Frazer surrendered to him his command at Cumberland Gap without a fight.

These facts were known to the Richmond authorities at the time of our movements, but not to General Lee or myself until the move was so far advanced as to prevent recall. So that we were obliged to make the circuit through the Carolinas to Augusta, Georgia, and up by the railroad, thence through Atlanta to Dalton and Ringgold. It was the only route of transit left us. There were two routes between Richmond and Augusta, one via Wilmington, the other through Charlotte, North Carolina, but only a single track from Augusta to Chattanooga. The gauges [437] of the roads were not uniform, nor did the roads connect at the cities (except by drays and other such conveyances). The roads had not been heavily worked before the war, so that their rolling stock was light and limited.

Instead of two days of moving, it was not until the 25th that our artillery joined us near Chattanooga. Hood's division was first shipped, and three brigades, or the greater part of three, were landed at the railroad station, and joined General Bragg's army on the 18th and 19th of September, but that army had been manoeuvred and flanked out of Chattanooga, Buckner's out of East Tennessee, and both were together down below the borders of Georgia.

As I left General Lee's tent, after bidding him goodby, he walked out with me to my horse. As my foot was in the stirrup he said again, “Now, general, you must beat those people out in the West.” Withdrawing my foot to respectful position I promised, “If I live; but I would not give a single man of my command for a fruitless victory.” He promised again that it should be so; said that arrangements had been made that any success that we had would be followed; that orders to that effect had been given; that transportation was also ordered to be prepared, and the orders would be repeated.

While the troops were in transit, Jenkins's South Carolina brigade was transferred to Hood's division, so that we had two South Carolina and four Georgia brigades of the two divisions, which gave us some little trouble in keeping our men on the cars passing by their homes. The people crowded every station to give us their all in most acceptable rations, and to cheer us with wishes for a happy issue.

The train upon which I rode reached Catoosa about two o'clock of the afternoon of the 19th of September. That upon which our horses were came up at four o'clock. Only part of the staff of the corps was with me, and General Alexander was with his batteries far away in South [438] Carolina. As soon as our horses could be saddled we started, Lieutenant-Colonels Sorrel and Manning and myself, to find the Headquarters of the commanding general. We were told to follow the main road, and did so, though there were many men coming into that road from our right bearing the wounded of the day's battle; the firing was still heard off to the right, and wagons were going and coming, indicating our nearness to the field. Nothing else occurring to suggest a change of the directions given us, we followed the main road.

It was a bright moonlight night, and the woodlands on the sides of the broad highway were quite open, so that we could see and be seen. After a time we were challenged by an outlying guard, “Who comes there?” We answered, “Friends.” The answer was not altogether satisfying to the guard, and after a very short parley we asked what troops they were, when the answer gave the number of the brigade and of the division. As Southern brigades were called for their commanders more than by their numbers, we concluded that these friends were the enemy. There were, too, some suspicious obstructions across the road in front of us, and altogether the situation did not look inviting. The moon was so bright that it did not seem prudent to turn and ride back under the fire that we knew would be opened on us, so I said, loudly, so that the guard could hear, “Let us ride down a little way to find a better crossing.” Riding a few rods brought us under cover and protection of large trees, sufficiently shading our retreat to enable us to ride quietly to the rear and take the road over which we had seen so many men and vehicles passing while on our first ride.

We reached General Bragg's Headquarters at eleven o'clock, reported, and received orders, which he had previously given other commanders, for attack early in the morning. Our bivouac was made near the general headquarters, [439] and we rode at daylight to find the troops. Hood's brigades that had arrived before us had been at work with the left of the army, which was assigned as my command. Lieutenant-General Polk was commanding the right wing.

Two brigades of McLaws's division, Kershaw's and Humphreys's, came in the afternoon, and marched during the night and across the Chickamauga River.

The army had forced its way across the Chickamauga under severe skirmishes, little less than a battle, during the greater part of the 19th, and some of the commands had been engaged on the 18th working on the same plan.

The written order giving the plan was issued on the 18th. In general terms, it was to cross the Chickamauga, strike the enemy's left, and roll it back on his right by a wheel to the left so as to come in between the enemy and Chattanooga. The work had been so persistent and assiduous during part of the 18th and all of the 19th, that General Rosecrans came to understand the plan as well as his adversary, and to arrange accordingly.

With my instructions for the 20th the commanding general gave me a map showing prominent topographical features of the grounds from the Chickamauga River to Mission Ridge, and beyond to the Lookout Mountain range.

At early dawn I found the left wing. It was composed of Buckner's corps (Stewart's and Preston's divisions), a new division under General Bushrod R. Johnson, the division of General T. C. Hindman, and three of Hood's brigades. Buckner's corps had been cut in two. His division on the right of the left wing was under General Stewart, while Preston's division, on the extreme left, on the bank of the Chickamauga, was assigned, by the order for battle, as the pivot upon which the battle should wheel. The commands stood: Stewart's, Johnson's, Hindman's, and Preston's divisions; Hood's brigades in rear [440] of Johnson's line. General Buckner reported his artillery as amounting to about thirty guns. Three batteries were reported, of four guns each, with Hindman's division, Johnson's and Hood's commands being without artillery. The brigades of Kershaw and Humphreys were ordered, with Hood's, to be used as a column of assault, by brigades, at a hundred paces interval.

As the battle was ordered for daylight, it seemed too late to draw Buckner's divisions into reciprocal relations, and we had yet to find the right wing. As it was not in touch or sight, General Stewart was ordered to find it. He marched about half a mile to his right and found that he was nearly half a mile in advance of the right wing. His move made place for Hood's column, which was called to the line, and General Stewart broke his right to rear to guard that flank until the right wing could get to the front. The divisions were formed in two lines, two brigades on the front line, others of the second line in support, except Hood's five brigades in column. General McLaws and two of his brigades, two of Hood's, and Alexander's artillery were on the rails, speeding for the battle as fast as steam could carry them, but failed to reach it. When organized for battle the left wing stood about three hundred yards east of the Lafayette-Chattanooga dirt road. As the battle was ordered for wheel to the left on Preston's division as pivot, his (Trigg's) brigade was echeloned on the left of Hindman's division. The purpose of the commander in ordering the wheel on the left as pivot was to push in, from the start, between the enemy and his new base at Chattanooga.

No chief of artillery for the command reported, and a brief search failed to find one. The field, so far as it could be surveyed, however, was not a field, proper, but a heavy woodland, not adapted to the practice of artillery. The hour of battle was at hand, but the right wing was not yet organized. Some of the troops were without rations, [441] their wagons, having lost the lines of march through the woodlands, failing to reach them until after daylight, when they were further delayed cooking their food.

The right wing was formed of D. H. Hill's corps, Breckenridge's and Cleburne's divisions, W. H. T. Walker's corps of Walker's and Liddell's divisions, Cheatham's division of Polk's corps, artillery battalions of Majors Melancthon Smith, T. R. Hotchkiss, and R. E. Groves, and batteries of Lieutenant R. T. Beauregard, Captain E. P. Howell, Captain W. H. Fowler, and Lieutenant Shannon.

As it formed it stood with D. H. Hill's corps on the right, Breckenridge's and Cleburne's divisions from right to left, Cheatham's division on the left of Cleburne's rear, and Walker's reserve corps behind Hill's corps; but when arranged for battle it was about half a mile in rear of the line upon which the left wing was established. The Confederate commander rode early in the morning to hear the opening of the battle. As the sounds failed to reach him, he became anxious, sent orders of inquiry for the cause of delay, and repeated his orders for attack, and finally rode to his right wing and gave peremptory orders.

Marching through the woods to line up on the left wing, the left of the right wing was found to overlap my division on the right, yet our extreme right was found to overreach the left of the enemy's field-works by two brigades, and reconnoissance found the road between the enemy and Chattanooga open and free of obstructions or troops to defend it. On the right of Breckenridge's division was Armstrong's division of cavalry dismounted, and beyond his right was Forrest's other division of cavalry, Pegram's. Some miles off from our left was Wheeler's division of cavalry, under Wharton and Martin.

The Union army from left to right was: first the Fourteenth Corps, General George H. Thomas commanding, four divisions,--Baird's division on the left, then Reynolds's [442] and Brannan's, the latter retired to position of reserve, and Negley's. (The last named had been left, on the night of the 19th, on guard near the Glen House, but was ordered early on the 20th to join General Thomas, and one of the brigades did move promptly under the order; the other brigades (two) failed to receive the order.) Then the Twentieth Corps, three divisions,--Jefferson C. Davis's, R. W. Johnson's, and P. H. Sheridan's,--on the right, General A. McD. McCook commanding the corps. Next was the Twenty-first Corps, three divisions,--T. J. Wood's, J. M. Palmer's, and H. P. Van Cleve's,--General T. L. Crittenden commanding the corps. It was in position on the east slope of Mission Ridge, ordered to be prepared to support the corps of the right or left, or both; one of its brigades had been left to occupy Chattanooga. Wilder's mounted infantry, on the right of the Twentieth Corps, was ordered to report to the commander of that corps for the day's work. A reserve corps under General Gordon Granger was off the left of the Union army to cover the gap in Mission Ridge at Rossville and the road from the Union left to that gap. Minty's cavalry was with this corps, and posted at Mission Mills. General Granger had Steedman's division of two brigades and a brigade under Colonel D. McCook. General R. B. Mitchell, commanding Union cavalry, was on their right at Crawfish Springs, with orders to hold the crossings of the Chickamauga against the Confederate cavalry.

It seems that parts of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps, Johnson's and Van Cleve's divisions, were under General Thomas in the fight of his left on the 19th, and remained with him on the 20th. The purpose of the posting of the Union army was to hold open its routes for Chattanooga by the Rossville and Dry Valley roads. As before stated, the Confederate commander's design was to push in between the Union army and Chattanooga, recover his lost ground, and cut the enemy's line of supplies. [443]

The commanders of the armies were on the field early on the 20th. The failure of the opening of the Confederates at daylight gave opportunity for a reconnoissance by light of day, by which it was learned that the road from the Union left was open, not guarded nor under close observation; but the commander ordered direct assault under the original plan,--his back to the river, the Union army backing on Mission Ridge. The Chickamauga River, rising from the mountains south, flows in its general course a little east of north to conflux with the Tennessee River. The Ridge runs nearly parallel with the river, and opens up a valley a mile wide. It is a bold outcropping of limestone about one hundred feet above the valley, with occasional passes, or gaps, that are strong points of guard for defence. Four miles northwest from the Union left was the gap at Rossville, called for the old Cherokee chief. On its right was the pass of the Dry Valley road, and immediately in its rear was the McFarland Gap. The line of the Lafayette road lies about parallel with the Ridge to within a mile of the Union left, when it bends westward and leads to the Rossville Gap. The Dry Valley road crosses the Chickamauga at Glass's Mills, courses along the east slope of the Ridge, crosses it, and joins on the west the road that crosses at the McFarland Gap.

The Union left was east of the Chattanooga-Rossville road, but crossed the road to the west and formed in broken front. The left and right of Thomas's line was retired or broken to the rear. The Union commander rode over his lines on the afternoon of the 19th and ordered his front covered by such field-works as could be constructed during the night.

General Thomas covered his lines by log and rail obstructions. The corps of Rosecrans's right formed two lines of rail defences for infantry. The batteries had the ascending slopes of the Ridge for positions, and their field [444] was more favorable otherwise for artillery practice than was that of the Confederates advancing from the valley and more densely timbered forests. They had two hundred and forty-six guns. The records do not give satisfactory accounts of the number of Confederate guns, but they probably numbered not less than two hundred.

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