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Chapter 27.

  • Bell and Bragg
  • -- Perryville -- Rosecrans and Murfreesboro -- Grant's Vicksburg experiments -- Grant's May battles -- siege and surrender of Vicksburg -- Lincoln to Grant -- Rosecrans's March to Chattanooga -- battle of Chickamauga -- Grant at Chattanooga -- battle of Chattanooga -- Burnside at Knoxville -- Burnside Repulses Longstreet
    From the Virginia campaigns of 1863 we must return to the Western campaigns of the same year, or, to be more precise, beginning with the middle of 1862. When, in July of that year, Halleck was called to Washington to become general-in-chief, the principal plan he left behind was that Buell, with the bulk of the forces which had captured Corinth, should move from that place eastward to occupy eastern Tennessee. Buell, however, progressed so leisurely that before he reached Chattanooga the Confederate General Bragg, by a swift northward movement, advanced into eastern Kentucky, enacted the farce of appointing a Confederate governor for that State, and so threatened Louisville that Buell was compelled abruptly to abandon his eastward march and, turning to the north, run a neck-and-neck race to save Louisville from rebel occupation. Successful in this, Buell immediately turned and, pursuing the now retreating forces of Bragg, brought them to bay at Perryville, where, on October 8, was fought a considerable battle from which Bragg immediately retreated out of Kentucky. [380]

    While on one hand Bragg had suffered defeat, he had on the other caused Buell to give up all idea of moving into East Tennessee, an object on which the President had specially and repeatedly insisted. When Halleck specifically ordered Buell to resume and execute that plan, Buell urged such objections, and intimated such unwillingness, that on October 24, 1862, he was relieved from command, and General Rosecrans was appointed to succeed him. Rosecrans neglected the East Tennessee orders as heedlessly as Buell had done; but, reorganizing the Army of the Cumberland and strengthening his communications, marched against Bragg, who had gone into winter quarters at Murfreesboro. The severe engagement of that name, fought on December 31, 1862, and the three succeeding days of the new year, between forces numbering about forty-three thousand on each side, was tactically a drawn battle, but its results rendered it an important Union victory, compelling Bragg to retreat; though, for reasons which he never satisfactorily explained, Rosecrans failed for six months to follow up his evident advantages.

    The transfer of Halleck from the West to Washington in the summer of 1862, left Grant in command of the district of West Tennessee. But Buell's eastward expedition left him so few movable troops that during the summer and most of the autumn he was able to accomplish little except to defend his department by the repulse of the enemy at Iuka in September, and at Corinth early in October, Rosecrans being in local command at both places. It was for these successes that Rosecrans was chosen to succeed Buell.

    Grant had doubtless given much of his enforced leisure to studying the great problem of opening the Mississippi, a task which was thus left in his own [381] hands, but for which, as yet, he found neither a theoretical solution, nor possessed an army sufficiently strong to begin practical work. Under the most favorable aspects, it was a formidable undertaking. Union gunboats had full control of the great river from Cairo as far south as Vicksburg; and Farragut's fleet commanded it from New Orleans as far north as Port Hudson. But the intervening link of two hundred miles between, these places was in as complete possession of the Confederates, giving the rebellion uninterrupted access to the immense resources in men and supplies of the trans-Mississippi country, and effectually barring the free navigation of the river. Both the cities named were strongly fortified, but Vicksburg, on the east bank, by its natural situation on a bluff two hundred feet high, rising almost out of the stream, was unassailable from the river front. Farragut had, indeed, in midsummer passed up and down before it with little damage from its fire; but, in return, his own guns could no more do harm to its batteries than they could have bombarded a fortress in the clouds.

    When, by the middle of November, 1862, Grant was able to reunite sufficient reinforcements, he started on a campaign directly southward toward Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and sent Sherman, with an expedition from Memphis, down the river to the mouth of the Yazoo, hoping to unite these forces against Vicksburg. But before Grant reached Grenada his railroad communications were cut by a Confederate raid, and his great depot of supplies at Holly Springs captured and burned, leaving him for two weeks without other provisions than such as he could gather by foraging. The costly lesson proved a valuable experience to him, which he soon put to use. Sherman's expedition also met disaster. Landing at Milliken's Bend, [382] on the west bank of the Mississippi, he ventured a daring storming assault from the east bank of the Yazoo at Haines's Bluff, ten miles north of Vicksburg, but met a bloody repulse.

    Having abandoned his railroad advance, Grant next joined Sherman at Milliken's Bend in January, 1863, where also Admiral Porter, with a river squadron of seventy vessels, eleven of them ironclads, was added to his force. For the next three months Grant kept his large army and flotilla busy with four different experiments to gain a practicable advance toward Vicksburg, until his fifth highly novel and, to other minds, seemingly reckless and impossible plan secured him a brilliant success and results of immense military advantage. One experiment was to cut a canal across the tongue of land opposite Vicksburg, through which the flotilla might pass out of range of the Vicksburg guns. A second was to force the gunboats and transports up the tortuous and swampy Yazoo to find a landing far north of Haines's Bluff. A third was for the flotilla to enter through Yazoo Pass and Cold Water River, two hundred miles above, and descend the Yazoo to a hoped — for landing. Still a fourth project was to cut a canal into Lake Providence west of the Mississippi, seventy miles above, find a practicable waterway through two hundred miles of bayous and rivers, and establish communication with Banks and Farragut, who were engaged in an effort to capture Port Hudson.

    The time, the patience, the infinite labor, and enormous expense of these several projects were utterly wasted. Early in April, Grant began an entirely new plan, which was opposed by all his ablest generals, and, tested by the accepted rules of military science, looked like a headlong venture of rash desperation. During the month of April he caused Admiral Porter to prepare [383] fifteen or twenty vessels-ironclads, steam transports, and provision barges-and run them boldly by night past the Vicksburg and, later, past the Grand Gulf batteries, which the admiral happily accomplished with very little loss. Meanwhile, the general, by a very circuitous route of seventy miles, marched an army of thirty-five thousand down the west bank of the Mississippi, and, with Porter's vessels and transports, crossed them to the east side of the river at Bruinsburg. From this point, with an improvised train of country vehicles to carry his ammunition, and living meanwhile entirely upon the country, as he had learned to do in his baffled Grenada expedition, he made one of the most rapid and brilliant campaigns in military history. In the first twenty days of May he marched one hundred and eighty miles, and fought five winning battles — respectively Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion's Hill, and Big Black River — in each of which he brought his practically united force against the enemy's separated detachments, capturing altogether eighty-eight guns and over six thousand prisoners, and shutting up the Confederate General Pemberton in Vicksburg. By a rigorous siege of six weeks he then compelled his antagonist to surrender the strongly fortified city with one hundred and seventy-two cannon, and his army of nearly thirty thousand men. On the fourth of July, 1863, the day after Meade's crushing defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, the surrender took place, citizens and Confederate soldiers doubtless rejoicing that the old national holiday gave them escape from their caves and bomb-proofs, and full Yankee rations to still their long-endured hunger.

    The splendid victory of Grant brought about a quick and important echo. About the time that the Union army closed around Vicksburg, General Banks, on the [384] lower Mississippi, began a close investment and siege of Port Hudson, which he pushed with determined tenacity. When the rebel garrison heard the artillery salutes which were fired by order of Banks to celebrate the surrender of Vicksburg, and the rebel commander was informed of Pemberton's disaster, he also gave up the defense, and on July 9 surrendered Port Hudson with six thousand prisoners and fifty-one guns.

    Great national rejoicing followed this double success of the Union arms on the Mississippi, which, added to Gettysburg, formed the turning tide in the war of the rebellion; and no one was more elated over these Western victories, which fully restored the free navigation of the Mississippi, than President Lincoln. Like that of the whole country, his patience had been severely tried by the long and ineffectual experiments of Grant. But from first to last Mr. Lincoln had given him firm and undeviating confidence and support. He not only gave the general quick promotion, but crowned the official reward with the following generous letter:

    My Dear General: I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did-march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition and the like could succeed. When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks, and when you turned northward, east of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the [385] personal acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong.

    It has already been mentioned that General Rosecrans, after winning the battle of Murfreesboro at the beginning of 1863, remained inactive at that place nearly six months, though, of course, constantly busy recruiting his army, gathering supplies, and warding off several troublesome Confederate cavalry raids. The defeated General Bragg retreated only to Shelbyville, ten miles south of the battle-field he had been obliged to give up, and the military frontier thus divided Tennessee between the contestants. Against repeated prompting and urging from Washington, Rosecrans continued to find real or imaginary excuses for delay until midsummer, when, as if suddenly awaking from a long lethargy, he made a bold advance and, by a nine days campaign of skilful strategy, forced Bragg into a retreat that stopped only at Chattanooga, south of the Tennessee River, which, with the surrounding mountains, made it the strategical center and military key to the heart of Georgia and the South. This march of Rosecrans, ending the day before the Vicksburg surrender, again gave the Union forces full possession of middle Tennessee down to its southern boundary.

    The march completed, and the enemy thus successfully maneuvered out of the State, Rosecrans once more came to a halt, and made no further movement for six weeks. The President and General Halleck were already out of patience with Rosecrans for his long previous delay. Bragg's retreat to Chattanooga was such a gratifying and encouraging supplement to the victories of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, that they felt the Confederate army should not be allowed to rest, recruit, and fortify the important gateway to the heart [386] of the Southern Confederacy, and early in August sent Rosecrans peremptory orders to advance. This direction seemed the more opportune and necessary, since Burnside had organized a special Union force in eastern Kentucky, and was about starting on a direct campaign into East Tennessee.

    Finally, obeying this explicit injunction, Rosecrans took the initiative in the middle of August by a vigorous southward movement. Threatening Chattanooga from the north, he marched instead around the left flank of Bragg's army, boldly crossing the Cumberland Mountains, the Tennessee River, and two mountain ranges beyond. Bragg, seriously alarmed lest Rosecrans should seize the railroad communications behind him, hastily evacuated Chattanooga, but not with the intention of flight, as Rosecrans erroneously believed and reported. When, on September 9, the left of Rosecrans's army marched into Chattanooga without firing a shot, the Union detachments were so widely scattered in separating mountain valleys, in pursuit of Bragg's imaginary retreat, that Bragg believed he saw his chance to crush them in detail before they could unite.

    With this resolve, Bragg turned upon his antagonist, but his effort at quick concentration was delayed by the natural difficulties of the ground. By September 19, both armies were well gathered on opposite sides of Chickamauga Creek, eight miles southeast of Chattanooga; each commander being as yet, however, little informed of the other's position and strength. Bragg had over seventy-one thousand men; Rosecrans, fifty-seven thousand. The conflict was finally begun, rather by accident than design, and on that day and the twentieth was fought the battle of Chickamauga, one of the severest encounters of the whole war. Developing itself without clear knowledge on either side, it became [387] a moving conflict, Bragg constantly extending his attack toward his right, and Rosecrans meeting the onset with prompt shifting toward his left.

    In this changing contest Rosecrans's army underwent an alarming crisis on the second day of the battle. A mistake or miscarriage of orders opened a gap of two brigades in his line, which the enemy quickly found, and through which the Confederate battalions rushed with an energy that swept away the whole Union right in a disorderly retreat. Rosecrans himself was caught in the panic, and, believing the day irretrievably lost, hastened back to Chattanooga to report the disaster and collect what he might of his flying army. The hopeless prospect, however, soon changed. General Thomas, second in command, and originally in charge of the center, had been sent by Rosecrans to the extreme left, and had, while the right was giving way, successfully repulsed the enemy in his front. He had been so fortunate as to secure a strong position on the head of a ridge, around which he gathered such remnants of the beaten detachments as he could collect, amounting to about half the Union army, and here, from two o'clock in the afternoon until dark, he held his semicircular line against repeated assaults of the enemy, with a heroic valor that earned him the sobriquet of “The Rock of Chickamauga.” At night, Thomas retired, under orders, to Rossville, half way to Chattanooga.

    The President was of course greatly disappointed when Rosecrans telegraphed that he had met a serious disaster, but this disappointment was mitigated by the quickly following news of the magnificent defense, and the successful stand made by General Thomas at the close of the battle. Mr. Lincoln immediately wrote in a note to Halleck: [388]

    “I think it very important for General Rosecrans to hold his position at or about Chattanooga, because, if held, from that place to Cleveland, both inclusive, it keeps all Tennessee clear of the enemy, and also breaks one of his most important railroad lines .... If he can only maintain this position, without more, this rebellion can only eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals.”

    And to Rosecrans he telegraphed directly, bidding him be of good cheer, and adding: “We shall do our utmost to assist you.” To this end the administration took instant and energetic measures. On the night of September 23, the President, General Halleck, several members of the cabinet, and leading army and railroad officials met in an improvised council at the War Department, and issued emergency orders under which two army corps from the Army of the Potomac, numbering twenty thousand men in all, with their arms and equipments ready for the field, the whole under command of General Hooker, were transported from their camps on the Rapidan by railway to Nashville and the Tennessee River in the next eight days. Burnside, who had arrived at Knoxville early in September, was urged by repeated messages to join Rosecrans, and other reinforcements were already on the way from Memphis and Vicksburg.

    All this help, however, was not instantly available. Before it could arrive Rosecrans felt obliged to draw together within the fortifications of Chattanooga, while Bragg quickly closed about him, and, by practically blockading Rosecrans's river communication, placed him in a state of siege. In a few weeks the limited supplies brought the Union army face to face with famine. It having become evident that Rosecrans was incapable of extricating it from its peril, he was relieved [389] and the command given to Thomas, while the three western departments were consolidated under General Grant, and he was ordered personally to proceed to Chattanooga, which place he reached on October 22.

    Before his arrival, General W. F. Smith had devised and prepared an ingenious plan to regain control of river communication. Under the orders of Grant, Smith successfully executed it, and full rations soon restored vigor and confidence to the Union troops. The considerable reinforcements under Hooker and Sherman coming up, put the besieging enemy on the defensive, and active preparations were begun, which resulted in the famous battle and overwhelming Union victory of Chattanooga on November 23, 24, and 25, 1863.

    The city of Chattanooga lies on the southeastern bank of the Tennessee River. Back of the city, Chattanooga valley forms a level plain about two miles in width to Missionary Ridge, a narrow mountain range five hundred feet high, generally parallel to the course of the Tennessee, extending far to the southwest. The Confederates had fortified the upper end of Missionary Ridge to a length of five to seven miles opposite the city, lining its long crest with about thirty guns, amply supported by infantry. This formidable barrier was still further strengthened by two lines of rifle-pits, one at the base of Missionary Ridge next to the city, and another with advanced pickets still nearer Chattanooga. Northward, the enemy strongly held the end of Missionary Ridge where the railroad tunnel passes through it; southward, they held the yet stronger point of Lookout Mountain, whose rocky base turns the course of the Tennessee River in a short bend to the north. [390]

    Grant's plan in rough outline was, that Sherman, with the Army of the Tennessee, should storm the northern end of Missionary Ridge at the railroad tunnel; Hooker, stationed at Wauhatchie, thirteen miles to the southwest with his two corps from the Army of the Potomac, should advance toward the city, storming the point of Lookout Mountain on his way; and Thomas, in the city, attack the direct front of Missionary Ridge. The actual beginning slightly varied this program, with a change of corps and divisions, but the detail is not worth noting.

    Beginning on the night of November 23, Sherman crossed his command over the Tennessee, and on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth gained the northern end of Missionary Ridge, driving the enemy before him as far as the railroad tunnel. Here, however, he found a deep gap in the ridge, previously unknown to him, which barred his further progress. That same afternoon Hooker's troops worked their way through mist and fog up the rugged sides of Lookout Mountain, winning the brilliant success which has become famous as the “battle above the clouds.” That same afternoon, also, two divisions of the center, under the eyes of Grant and Thomas, pushed forward the Union line about a mile, seizing and fortifying a hill called Orchard Knob, capturing Bragg's first line of rifle-pits and several hundred prisoners.

    So far, everything had occurred to inspirit the Union troops and discourage the enemy. But the main incident was yet to come, on the afternoon of November 25. All the forenoon of that day Grant waited eagerly to see Sherman making progress along the north end of Missionary Ridge, not knowing that he had met an impassable valley. Grant's patience was equally tried at hearing no news from Hooker, though that [391] general had successfully reached Missionary Ridge, and was ascending the gap near Rossville.

    At three o'clock in the afternoon Grant at length gave Thomas the order to advance. Eleven Union brigades rushed forward with orders to take the enemy's rifle-pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, and then halt to re-form. But such was the ease of this first capture, such the eagerness of the men who had been waiting all day for the moment of action, that, after but a slight pause, without orders, and moved by a common impulse, they swept on and up the steep and rocky face of Missionary Ridge, heedless of the enemy's fire from rifle and cannon at the top, until in fifty-five minutes after leaving their positions they almost simultaneously broke over the crest of the ridge in six different places, capturing the batteries and making prisoners of the supporting infantry, who, surprised and bewildered by the daring escalade, made little or no further resistance. Bragg's official report soundly berates the conduct of his men, apparently forgetting the heavy loss they had inflicted on their assailants, but regardless of which the Union veterans mounted to victory in an almost miraculous exaltation of patriotic heroism.

    Bragg's Confederate army was not only beaten, but hopelessly demoralized by the fiery Union assault, and fled in panic and retreat. Grant kept up a vigorous pursuit to a distance of twenty miles, which he ceased in order to send an immediate strong reinforcement under Sherman to relieve Burnside, besieged by the Confederate General Longstreet at Knoxville. But before this help arrived, Burnside had repulsed Longstreet, who, promptly informed of the Chattanooga disaster, retreated in the direction of Virginia. Not being pursued, however, this general again wintered [392] in East Tennessee; and for the same reason, the beaten army of Bragg halted in its retreat from Missionary Ridge at Dalton, where it also went into winter quarters. The battle of Chattanooga had opened the great central gateway to the south, but the rebel army, still determined and formidable, yet lay in its path, only twenty-eight miles away.

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    Chattanooga (Tennessee, United States) (17)
    Vicksburg (Mississippi, United States) (13)
    Missionary Ridge, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (12)
    Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (8)
    Tennessee River (United States) (5)
    Port Hudson (Louisiana, United States) (5)
    Washington (United States) (3)
    Mississippi (Mississippi, United States) (3)
    Knoxville (Tennessee, United States) (3)
    Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (3)
    Yazoo River (United States) (2)
    Yazoo City (Mississippi, United States) (2)
    Rossville (Georgia, United States) (2)
    Port Gibson (Mississippi, United States) (2)
    Perryville (Kentucky, United States) (2)
    Murfreesboro (Tennessee, United States) (2)
    Mississippi (United States) (2)
    Milliken's Bend (Louisiana, United States) (2)
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    Grenada (Mississippi, United States) (2)
    Grand Gulf (Mississippi, United States) (2)
    Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, United States) (2)
    Yazoo Pass (Mississippi, United States) (1)
    Shelbyville, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
    Priddy (Mississippi, United States) (1)
    Orchard Knob (Tennessee, United States) (1)
    Lookout Mountain, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
    Lake Providence (Louisiana, United States) (1)
    Jackson (Mississippi, United States) (1)
    Iuka (Mississippi, United States) (1)
    Holly Springs (Mississippi, United States) (1)
    Georgia (Georgia, United States) (1)
    Edgefield (Tennessee, United States) (1)
    East Chickamauga Creek (Georgia, United States) (1)
    Dalton, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
    Chattanooga Valley (United States) (1)
    Champion's Hill (Mississippi, United States) (1)
    Cairo, Ill. (Illinois, United States) (1)
    Bruinsburg (Mississippi, United States) (1)
    Big Black (Mississippi, United States) (1)

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