Chapter 32: failure to follow success.
- Longstreet differs with General Bragg as to movements of pursuit -- the Confederates on Lookout Mountain -- Federals gain comfortable positions around it -- superior officers of Bragg's command call for his removal -- Bragg seeks scapegoats -- President Davis visits the army -- Tests the temper of the officers towards Bragg -- he offers the command to Longstreet -- he declines -- his reasons -- General Bragg ignores signal-service reports and is surprised -- General Joe Hooker's advance -- night attack beyond Lookout Mountain -- Colonel Bratton's clever work -- review of the western movement and combination -- it should have been effected in May instead of September -- inference as to results had the first proposition been promptly acted upon.
About sunrise of the next morning, General Bragg rode to my bivouac, where report was made to him of orders of the night before, to replenish supplies and prepare to take up pursuit at daylight. He asked my views of the next step to be taken, explaining that there were some defensive works about Chattanooga to cover the enemy in that position. I knew nothing of the country except of its general geographical features, but the hunt was up and on the go, when any move towards his rear was safe, and a speedy one encouraging of great results. I suggested that we cross the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga and march against the line of the enemy's rear; that if, after so threatening as to throw General Rosecrans to full retreat, we found it inconvenient to pursue him, we turn back with part of the army and capture or disperse the Union army in East Tennessee under General Burnside. He stated that he would follow that course, ordered the  right wing to march,1 and the left wing to follow as soon as the way was clear,--the left to care for the dead and wounded during the wait. As it was night when the rear of the right wing stretched out on the road, my march was not taken up until the morning of the 22d. General McLaws joined me on the 21st with his other brigades, and General Jenkins joined Hood's division. Afterwards G. T. Anderson's brigade joined the latter. When our march reached General Bragg's Headquarters and reported on the 22d, he gave me orders to direct a division from the line of march to follow the enemy towards Chattanooga. When asked if he had abandoned the course upon which his march was ordered, he said the people would be greatly gratified to know that his army was marching through the streets of Chattanooga with bands of music and salutations of the soldiers. I thought, and did not fail to say, that it would give them greater pleasure to know that he had passed the Tennessee River, turned the enemy out of Chattanooga in eager flight, to save his rearward lines, whilst we marched hammering against the broken flanks of his columns. But the cavalry had reported that the enemy was in hurried and confused retreat, his trains crossing the river and passing over the nose of Lookout Mountain in disorder. The praise of the inhabitants of a city so recently abandoned to the enemy, and a parade through its streets with bands of music and flaunting banners, were more alluring to a spirit eager for applause than was the tedious march for fruition of our heavy labors. General Rosecrans prepared, no doubt, to continue his retreat, anticipating our march towards his rear, but finding  that we preferred to lay our lines in front of him, concluded that it would be more comfortable to rest at Chattanooga, reinforce, repair damages, and come to meet us when ready for a new trial. When General Bragg found that the enemy had changed his mind, and was not inclined to continue his rearward march, he stretched his army in a semicircle of six miles along the southeast front of Chattanooga, from the base of Lookout Mountain on his left, to his right resting on the Tennessee River, and ordered Alexander's batteries to the top of the mountain, my command, McLaws's, Hood's, and Walker's divisions, occupying the left of his line of investment. His plan was to shell the enemy from his works by field batteries, but the works grew stronger from day to day on all sides of the city. Our infantry was posted along the line, as supports for the batteries, with orders not to assault unless especially ordered. The northern point of Lookout Mountain, upon which Alexander's batteries were posted, abuts upon the Tennessee River. The city lies east of the abutment and nestles close under it. The base of the mountain has a steep, rugged grade of five hundred feet above the plateau, and from its height the mountain crops out into palisades of seven hundred feet. General Alexander managed to drop an occasional shell or shot about the enemy's lines by lifting the trails of his guns, but the fire of other batteries was not effective. At the end of a week's practice the Confederate commander found the enemy getting more comfortable in his works, and thought to break him up by a grand cavalry raid. On the 30th he ordered General Wheeler to organize a force of his effective mounts, cross the river, and ride against the railway and such depots and supply-trains as he could reach. The cavalry destroyed some wagon-trains and supplies, and gave the enemy more  trouble than the artillery practice, yet failed to convince him that it was time to abandon his position, but, on the contrary, satisfied him that he was safe from further serious trouble. At that time the shortest line of the enemy's haul of provisions from the depot at Stevenson was along the road on the north bank of the river. The Confederate chief conceived, as our cavalry ride had failed of effect, that a line of sharp-shooters along the river on our side could break up that line of travel, and ordered, on the 8th of October, a detail from my command for that purpose. As the line was over the mountain about seven miles beyond support, by a rugged road not practicable for artillery, I ordered a brigade of infantry detailed to go over and protect the sharp-shooters from surprise or capture. The detail fell upon Law's brigade. The line for this practice extended from the east side of Lookout Creek some ten miles down the river. The effect of the fire was about like that of the cavalry raid. It simply put the enemy on shorter rations until he could open another route for his trains. But more to be deplored than these novel modes of investment was the condition of the Confederate army. After moving from Virginia to try to relieve our comrades of the Army of Tennessee, we thought that we had cause to complain that the fruits of our labor had been lost, but it soon became manifest that the superior officers of that army themselves felt as much aggrieved as we at the halting policy of their chief, and were calling in letters and petitions for his removal. A number of them came to have me write the President for them. As he had not called for my opinion on military affairs since the Johnston conference of 1862, I could not take that liberty, but promised to write to the Secretary of War and to General Lee, who I thought could excuse me under the strained condition of affairs. About the same  time they framed and forwarded to the President a petition praying for relief.2 It was written by General D. H. Hill (as he informed me since the war). While the superior officers were asking for relief, the Confederate commander was busy looking along his lines for victims. Lieutenant-General Polk was put under charges for failing to open the battle of the 20th at daylight; Major-General Hindman was relieved under charges for conduct before the battle, when his conduct of the battle with other commanders would have relieved him of any previous misconduct, according to the customs of war, and pursuit of others was getting warm. On the Union side the Washington authorities thought vindication important, and Major-Generals McCook and Crittenden, of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps, were relieved and went before a Court of Inquiry; also one of the generals of division of the Fourteenth Corps. The President came to us on the 9th of October and called the commanders of the army to meet him at General Bragg's office. After some talk, in the presence of General Bragg, he made known the object of the call, and asked the generals, in turn, their opinion of their commanding officer, beginning with myself. It seemed rather a stretch of authority, even with a President, and I gave an evasive answer and made an effort to turn the channel of thought, but he would not be satisfied, and got back to his question. The condition of the army was briefly referred to, and the failure to make an effort to get the fruits of our success, when the opinion was given, in substance, that our commander could be of greater service elsewhere than at the head of the Army of Tennessee. Major-General Buckner was called, and gave opinion somewhat similar. So did Major-General Cheatham, who was then commanding the corps recently  commanded by Lieutenant-General Polk, and General D. H. Hill, who was called last, agreed with emphasis to the views expressed by others. The next morning the President called me to private conference, and had an all day talk. He thought to assign me to command, but the time had passed for handling that army as an independent force. Regarding this question, as considered in Virginia, it was understood that the assignment would be made at once, and in time for opportunity to handle the army sufficiently to gain the confidence of the officers and soldiers before offering or accepting battle. The action was not taken, a battle had been made and won, the army was then seriously entangled in a quasi siege, the officers and soldiers were disappointed, and disaffected in morale. General Grant was moving his army to reinforce against us, and an important part of the Union army of Virginia was moving to the same purpose. In my judgment our last opportunity was lost when we failed to follow the success at Chickamauga, and capture or disperse the Union army, and it could not be just to the service or myself to call me to a position of such responsibility. The army was part of General Joseph E. Johnston's department, and could only be used in strong organization by him in combining its operations with his other forces in Alabama and Mississippi. I said that under him I could cheerfully work in any position.3 The suggestion of that name only served to increase his displeasure, and his severe rebuke. I recognized the authority of his high position, but called to his mind that neither his words nor his manner were so impressive as the dissolving scenes that foreshadowed the dreadful end. He referred to his worry and troubles with politicians and non-combatants. In that  connection, I suggested that all that the people asked for was success; with that the talk of politicians would be as spiders' webs before him. And when restored to his usual gracious calm I asked to have my resignation accepted, to make place for some one who could better meet his ideas of the important service. He objected that my troops would not be satisfied with the change. I suggested a leave of absence, as winter was near, when I would go to the Trans-Mississippi Department, and after the troops were accustomed to their new commander, send in my written resignation, from Texas, but he was not minded to accept that solution of the premises. Finally, I asked his aid in putting the divisions that were with me in more efficient working order, by assigning a major-general to command Hood's division. He had been so seriously crippled that he could not be in condition to take the field again even if he recovered, and a commander for the division was essential to its proper service. As he had no one, or failed to name any one, for the place, I suggested the promotion of the senior brigadier then in command of it, General M. Jenkins, who was a bright, gallant, and efficient officer of more than two years experience in active warfare, loved by his troops, and all acquaintances as well. He had been transferred, recently, by the War Department to the division, upon application of General Hood, and in consequence there was some feeling of rivalry between him and Brigadier-General Law, the next in rank, who had served with the division since its organization, and had commanded it at Gettysburg after General Hood was wounded, and after his taking off in the battle of Chickamauga. The President referred to the services of General Law with the division, but failed to indicate a preference. I thought it unwise and not military to choose a junior for assignment to command over his senior officers, and prejudicial to the esprit de corps and morale of any army, except under  most eminent services, and in this instance where service, high military character, and equipment were on the side of the senior it was more objectionable, but consented that it would be better to have General Law promoted, and the feeling of rivalry put at rest; General Jenkins's heart was in the service, and could submit to anything that seemed best for its interests; but the President was pleased to remain negative, and failed to assign a commander. The interview was exciting, at times warm, but continued until Lookout Mountain lifted above the sun to excuse my taking leave. The President walked as far as the gate, gave his hand in his usual warm grasp, and dismissed me with his gracious smile; but a bitter look lurking about its margin, and the ground-swell, admonished me that clouds were gathering about Headquarters of the First Corps even faster than those that told the doom of the Southern cause. A day or two after this interview the President called the commanders to meet him again at General Bragg's Headquarters. He expressed desire to have the army pulled away from the lines around Chattanooga and put to active work in the field, and called for suggestions and plans by which that could be done, directing his appeal, apparently, to me as first to reply. I suggested a change of base to Rome, Georgia, a march of the army to the railway bridge of the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, and the crossing of the river as an easy move,--one that would cut the enemy's rearward line, interrupt his supply train, put us between his army at Chattanooga and the reinforcements moving to join him, and force him to precipitate battle or retreat. General Bragg proposed that we march up and cross the river and swing around towards the enemy's rear and force him out by that means. No other plans were offered, nor did other officers express preference for either of the plans that were submitted.  Maps were called for and demonstrations given of the two plans, when the President ordered the move to be made by the change of base to Rome, and in a day or two took leave of us. He had brought General Pemberton with him to assign to the corps left by General Polk, but changed his mind. General D. H. Hill was relieved of duty; after a time General Buckner took a leave of absence, and General Hardee relieved General Cheatham of command of the corps left to him by General Polk. About this time General Lee wrote me, alluding to the presence of the President, the questions under consideration, my proposition for him to leave the army in Virginia in other hands and come West to grander, more important fields, to his purpose in sending me West to be assigned to command them, and expressing anticipation of my return to Virginia. 4  The President left the army more despondent than he found it. General Pemberton's misfortune at Vicksburg gave rise to severe prejudice of the people and the army, and when the troops heard of the purpose of the President to assign him to command of Polk's corps, parts of the army were so near to mutiny that he concluded to call General Hardee to that command. A few days after he left us a severe season of rain set in, and our commander used the muddy roads to excuse his failure to execute the campaign that the President had ordered. Late on the 20th of September and during the 21st, General Rosecrans reported his condition deplorable, and expressed doubt of his holding at Chattanooga, and called to General Burnside in East Tennessee, to whom he looked for aid; but finding only feeble efforts to follow our success he recovered hope, prepared defensive works, and was looking to renewal of his aggressive work when he was relieved. From accounts made public since the war it appears that his animals were so reduced from want of forage at  the time of the October rains that General Rosecrans could not move his artillery over the muddy roads, which suggests mention that the campaign ordered by the President for the change of base could have forced him from his works in his crippled condition, and given us comfortable operations between him and his reinforcements coming from Virginia and Mississippi. In his official account, General Bragg said that the road on the south side was left under my command, which is misleading. My command-three divisions — was on his line of investment, east of the city and of the mountain; the road was west of the mountain from six to twenty miles from the command. We were in support of his batteries, to be ready for action at the moment his artillery practice called for it. We held nearly as much of his line as the other eight divisions. None of the commanders had authority to move a man from the lines until the 8th of October, when he gave orders for posting the sharp-shooters west of the mountain. The exposure of this detachment was so serious that I took the liberty to send a brigade as a rallying force for it, and the exposure of these led me to inquire as to the assistance they could have from our cavalry force operating on the line from the mountain to Bridgeport, some eight or ten miles behind them. The cavalry was not found as watchful as the eyes of an army should be, and I reported them to the general, but he thought otherwise, assured me that his reports were regular, daily and sometimes oftener. Nevertheless, prudence suggested more careful guard, and I ordered Captain Manning, who brought from Virginia part of my signal force, to establish a station in observation of Bridgeport and open its communication with my Headquarters. General Bragg denied all reports sent him of the enemy from my signal party, treated them with contempt, then reported that the road was under my command.  His report is remarkable in that he failed to notice the conduct of his officers, except of the killed and wounded and one division commander whom he found at daylight of the 21st advancing his line of skirmishers in careful search of the enemy who had retreated at early twilight the evening before under shouts from the Confederate army that made the heavy wood reverberate with resounding shouts of victory. That officer he commended as the “ever vigilant.” He gave due credit to his brave soldiers for their gallant execution of his orders to charge and continue to charge against the enemy's strongholds, as he knew that they would under his orders until their efforts were successful, but the conduct of the battle in all of its phases discredits this claim. When the right wing of his army stepped into the Lafayette-Rossville road the enemy's forces were in full retreat through McFarland Gap, and all fighting and charging had ceased, except the parting blows of Preston's division with Granger's reserve corps. A peculiar feature of the battle was the early ride of both commanders from the field, leaving the battle to their troops. General Rosecrans was generous enough to acknowledge that he left his battle in other hands. General Bragg claimed everything for himself, failing to mention that other hands were there. While General Rosecrans was opening a route beyond reach of our sharp-shooters, his chief engineer, General W. F. Smith, was busy upon a plan for opening the line of railway on the south side, and his first step was to break up the line of sharp-shooters. On the 19th he made a survey of the river below Chattanooga. On the same day General Rosecrans was superseded in command by General George H. Thomas. A day or two after that my signal party reported some stir about the enemy's camps near Bridgeport, and the cavalry reported a working force at Nicojack Cave. The cavalry was put under my orders for a  reconnoissance, and I was ordered to send a brigade of infantry scouting for the working party. Nothing was found at the Cave or by the reconnoissance, and the cavalry objected to my authority. On the 25th orders came to me to hold the mountain by a brigade of infantry. After ordering the brigade, I reported a division necessary to make possession secure, suggesting that the enemy's best move was from Bridgeport and along the mountain crest; that we should assume that he would be wise enough to adopt it, unless we prepared against it. But our commander was disturbed by suggestions from subordinates, and thought them presumptuous when they ventured to report of the probable movements of the enemy. On the night of the 27th of October, General Smith moved to the execution of his plan against our line of sharp-shooters. He put fifty pontoon-boats and two flatboats in the river at Chattanooga, the former to take twenty-five men each, the latter from forty to seventy-five,--the boats to float quietly down the river eight miles to Brown's Ferry, cross and land the troops. At the same time a sufficient force was to march by the highway to the same point, to be in readiness for the boats to carry them over to their comrades. The sharp-shooters had been posted for the sole purpose of breaking up the haul along the other bank, and not with a view of defending the line, nor was it defensible, while the enemy had every convenience for making a forced crossing and lodgement. The vigilant foe knew his opportunity, and only waited for its timely execution. It is needless to say that General Smith had little trouble in establishing his point. He manned his boats, floated them down to the crossing, landed his men, and soon had the boats cross back for his other men, pushed them over, and put them at work intrenching the strong ground selected for their holding. By daylight he was comfortably intrenched, and had his  artillery on the other side in position to sweep along the front. The Confederate commander did not think well enough of his line when he had it to prepare to hold it, but when he found that the enemy proposed to use it, he thought to order his infantry down to recover the ground just demonstrated as indefensible, and ordered me to meet him on the mountain next morning to learn his plans and receive his instructions for the work. That afternoon the signal party reported the enemy advancing from Bridgeport in force,--artillery and infantry. This despatch was forwarded to Headquarters, but was discredited. It was repeated about dark, and again forwarded and denied. On the morning of the 28th I reported as ordered. The general complained of my party sending up false alarms. The only answer that I could make was that they had been about two years in that service, and had not made such mistakes before. While laying his plans, sitting on the point of Lookout rock, the enemy threw some shells at us, and succeeded in bursting one about two hundred feet below us. That angered the general a little, and he ordered Alexander to drop some of his shells about their heads. As this little practice went on, a despatch messenger came bursting through the brushwood, asking for General Longstreet, and reported the enemy marching from Bridgeport along the base of the mountain,--artillery and infantry. General Bragg denied the report, and rebuked the soldier for sensational alarms, but the soldier said, “General, if you will ride to a point on the west side of the mountain I will show them to you.” We rode and saw the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps under General Hooker, from the Army of the Potomac, marching quietly along the valley towards Brown's Ferry. The general was surprised. So was I. But my surprise was that he did not march along the  mountain top, instead of the valley. It could have been occupied with as little loss as he afterwards had and less danger. He had marched by our line of cavalry without their knowing, and General Bragg had but a brigade of infantry to meet him if he had chosen to march down along the top of the mountain, and that was posted twenty miles from support. My estimate of the force was five thousand. General Bragg thought it not so strong, and appearance from the elevation seemed to justify his estimate. Presently the rear-guard came in sight and made its bivouac immediately in front of the point upon which we stood. The latter force was estimated at fifteen hundred, and halted about three miles in rear of the main body. A plan was laid to capture the rear-guard by night attack. He proposed to send me McLaws's and Jenkins's divisions for the work, and ordered that it should be done in time for the divisions to withdraw to the point of the mountain before daylight, left me to arrange details for attack, and rode to give orders for the divisions, but changed his mind without giving me notice, and only ordered Jenkins's division. After marching his command, General Jenkins rode to the top of the mountain and reported. The route over which the enemy had marched was along the western base of a series of lesser heights, offering strong points for our troops to find positions of defence between his main force and his rear-guard. After giving instructions to General Jenkins, he was asked to explain the plan of operations to General McLaws in case the latter was not in time to view the position from the mountain before night. A point had been selected and ordered to be held by one of Jenkins's brigades supported by McLaws's division, while General Jenkins was to use his other brigades against the rear-guard, which rested in the edge of a woodland of fair field of approach. The point at which Law's brigade rested after being forced  from its guard of the line of sharp-shooters was near the northern base of the mountain about a mile east of the route of the enemy's line of march. As General Law's detached service had given him opportunity to learn something of the country, his brigade was chosen as the brigade of position between the parts of the enemy's forces. General Law was to move first, get into position by crossing the bridge over Lookout Creek, to be followed by Jenkins's other brigades, when McLaws's division was to advance to position in support of Law's brigade. I waited on the mountain, the only point from which the operations could be seen, until near midnight, when, seeing no indications of the movements, I rode to the point that had been assigned for their assembly, found the officers in wait discussing the movements, and, upon inquiry, learned that McLaws's division had not been ordered. Under the impression that the other division commander understood that the move had miscarried, I rode back to my Headquarters, failing to give countermanding orders. The gallant Jenkins, however, decided that the plan should not be abandoned, and went to work in its execution by his single division. To quiet the apprehensions of General Law he gave him Robertson's brigade to be posted with his own, and Benning's brigade as their support, and ordered his own brigade under Colonel Bratton to move cautiously against the rear-guard, and make the attack if the opportunity was encouraging. As soon as Colonel Bratton engaged, the alarm spread, the enemy hastened to the relief of his rear, encountered the troops posted to receive them, and made swift, severe battle. General Law claimed that he drove off their fight, and, under the impression that Colonel Bratton had finished his work and recrossed the bridge, withdrew his command, leaving Colonel Bratton at the tide of his engagement. General Jenkins and Colonel Bratton were  left to their own cool and gallant skill to extricate the brigade from the swoop of numbers accumulating against them, and, with the assistance of brave Benning's Rock brigade, brought the command safely over, Benning's brigade crossing as Bratton reached the bridge. The conduct of Bratton's forces was one of the cleverest pieces of work of the war, and the skill of its handling softened the blow that took so many of our gallant officers and soldiers. Colonel Bratton made clever disposition of his regiments, and handled them well. He met gallant resistance, and in one instance had part of his command forced back, but renewed the attack, making his line stronger, and forced the enemy into crowded ranks and had him under converging circular fire, with fair prospects, when recalled under orders to hasten to the bridge. So urgent was the order that he left the dead and some of the wounded on the field.
|General Law lost of his own brigade (aggregate)||43|
|General Robertson (1 wounded and 8 missing）||9|
|Colonel Bratton lost (aggregate)||356|
|Union loss (aggregate)||420|