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Bragg's advance and retreat.1

by David Urquhart, Colonel, C. S. A.; member of General Bragg's staff.
General Bragg's Kentucky campaign has drawn on him more criticism than any other part of his career as a military commander. During that memorable march I rode at his side from day to day, and it was his habit to confide to me his hopes and fears.

About the end of June, 1862, General Bragg was visited by many prominent citizens of Kentucky, who had abandoned their homes, and who assured him that Kentuckians were thoroughly loyal to the South, and that as soon as they were given an opportunity it would be proven. Fired with this idea, he planned his offensive campaign. On the 21st of July, 1862, the movement of the Army of Mississippi from Tupelo was ordered. The infantry moved by rail, the artillery and cavalry across the country. Headquarters were established at Chattanooga on the 29th. On the 30th Major-General Kirby Smith visited General Bragg at that point, and it was arranged that Smith should move at once against the Federal forces under General George W. Morgan in Cumberland Gap. In this interview General Bragg was very certain that he would begin his forward move in ten or fifteen days at latest, and if Kirby Smith was successful in his operation against Morgan he would be on his offensive against Buell. Kirby Smith took the field on the 13th of August, 1862. On the 28th, after some inevitable delays, Bragg crossed the Tennessee, his right wing, under Polk, 13,537 strong; the left wing, under Hardee, 13,763 strong,--total effective, 27,320 rank and file.

General Bragg by this time was deeply impressed with the magnitude of his undertaking. He had lost faith somewhat in the stories that had been told him of Kentucky's desire to join the South, but he proposed to give the people a chance of so doing by the presence of Southern troops. At the same time he was resolved to do nothing to imperil the safety of his army, whose loss, he felt, would be a crushing blow to the Confederacy. He reached Carthage on the 9th of September. On the 12th he was at Glasgow, Kentucky, where he issued a proclamation to Kentuckians. About that time also the corps of Polk and Hardee were ordered to unite. Buell was now moving on Bowling Green from the south. On the 16th our army surrounded and invested Munfordville, and General Wilder, with its garrison of four thousand men, was forced to capitulate. General Kirby Smith, having found Morgan's position impregnable, detached a part of his forces to invest it, and, advancing on Lexington, defeated the Federal forces encountered at Richmond, Ky. He was relying on an early junction with General Bragg.

On the 17th of September Generals Polk and Hardee were called to a council at Munfordville. With the map and the cavalry dispatches out-spread before him, General Bragg placed General Buell and his army in our rear, with Munfordville on the direct line of his march to Louisville, the [601]

General Braxton Bragg, C. S. A. From a War-time photograph.

assumed objective point of his movement, General Bragg then explaining his plan, which was discussed and approved by his lieutenants. Our advance was then resumed, leaving General Buell to pursue his march unmolested. This action was subsequently severely criticised by military men, and at the time it was greatly deplored by many officers of his command. At 1 o'clock on the morning of the 18th of September, indeed, Bragg was on the point of rescinding the order to continue the march, and of directing instead an immediate offensive movement against Buell. The importance of recovering Nashville induced the proposed change of operation. But, upon further consideration, he reverted to his previous plans, saying to me with emphasis, “This campaign must be won by marching, not by fighting.” He used similar language at subsequent stages of the campaign before the battle of Perryville. At the moment he evinced no regret at having allowed Buell to pass on our left flank.

The success of the column under Kirby Smith in its combat at Richmond, Ky., elated him. He was worried by the delays that retarded his [602] junction with that officer, and was greatly relieved when all the Confederate forces in Kentucky were united at Lexington.

Here a brilliant entertainment was given to the two generals by our old comrade, General William Preston, in his delightful Kentucky home. But it was here, also, that General Bragg fully realized that the reported desire of Kentucky to cast her lot with the South had passed away, if indeed such a disposition had ever existed; for not only was Kentucky unprepared to enter the Confederacy, but her people looked with dread at the prospect of their State being made a battle-field. Under these circumstances he remarked to me again and again, “The people here have too many fat cattle and are too well off to fight.” He was now aware that he had embarked in a campaign that was to produce no favorable result, and that he had erred in departing from his original plan of taking the offensive in the outset against Buell by an operation on that general's communications. He was determined, however, not to expose his army to disaster, nor to take any chances. The information we were receiving indicated that Buell was being heavily reenforced.

It was now the eve of the battle of Perryville, and Kirby Smith, at Salvisa, twenty miles to the north-east, was calling for reinforcements, as he was confident that the feint was against Perryville, and that the main attack would surely fall on him. Thus urged, General Bragg, against his own judgment, yielded, and detached two of his best divisions (Withers's and Cheatham's) to Smith's aid. The former division could not be recalled in time, and the latter arrived the morning of the battle. Having placed General Polk in command of the troops, Bragg had gone to Frankfort, the capital of the State of Kentucky, to witness the inauguration of the secessionist governor, Hawes. The inaugural was being read when the booming of cannon, shortly followed by dispatches from our cavalry outposts, announced the near presence of the enemy. As the hall was chiefly filled by the military, who hurried away to their respective commands, the governor was obliged to cut short his inaugural address.

The field of Perryville was an open and beautiful rolling country, and the battle presented a grand panorama. There was desperate fighting on both sides. I saw a Federal battery, with the Union flag planted near its guns, repulse six successive Confederate charges before retiring, saving all but one gun, and eliciting praise for their bravery from their desperate foes.

About dark, Polk, convinced that some Confederate troops were firing into each other, cantered up to the colonel of the regiment that was firing, and asked him angrily what he meant by shooting his own friends. The colonel, in a tone of surprise, said: “I don't think there can be any mistake about it. I am sure they are the enemy.” “Enemy! Why, I have just left them myself. Cease firing, sir. What is your name?” rejoined the Confederate general. “I am Colonel----of the----Indiana. And pray, sir, who are you?” Thus made aware that he was with a Federal regiment and that his only escape was to brazen it out, his dark blouse and the increasing obscurity happily befriending him, the Confederate general shook his fist in the Federal colonel's face and promptly said: “I will show you who I am, sir. Cease firing at once!” Then, cantering down the line again, he shouted authoritatively to [603] the men, “Cease firing!” Then, reaching the cover of a small copse, he spurred his horse and was soon back with his own corps, which he immediately ordered to open fire.

The battle of Perryville, a hard-fought fight against many odds, was merely a favorable incident which decided nothing. Our army, however, was elated and did not dream of a retreat, as we had held the field and bivouacked on it. But the commanding general, full of care, summoned his lieutenant-generals to a council in which both advised retreat.

The next day General Smith's army was called to Harrodsburg, where a junction of the two forces was effected, and where a position was selected to receive Buell's attack ;--this, however, not being made, Bragg was enabled to take measures for an immediate retrograde. Forrest was at once dispatched by forced marches to take position at Murfreesboro‘, and prepare it for occupancy by the retreating Confederates.

The conduct of the retreat was intrusted to Polk. Our army fell back first to Camp Dick Robinson, whence the retreat began in earnest, a brigade of cavalry leading. All the supplies which it was impossible to carry from this depot were burned; the rest were hauled away in wagons, including provisions, merchandise of all kinds, and captured muskets, while captured cannon were drawn by oxen. Refugees, with their families, slaves, and a great deal of household stuff; omnibuses, stages, and almost every other description of vehicle were to be seen in this heterogeneous caravan. Thousands of beef cattle, sheep, and hogs were driven along under the charge of Texans as reckless as the affrighted cattle they were driving.

General Smith's army and Polk's and Hardee's corps followed the trains. The Federal army promptly took up the pursuit and made an effort by a flank movement to intercept our long unwieldly trains. General Wheeler with his cavalry brought up the rear — fighting by day and obstructing the roads at night. Before the pursuit was abandoned at Rock Castle, that officer was engaged over twenty-six times. His vigilance was so well known by the infantry that they never feared a surprise. Hard marching, stony roads, and deep fords lay before us until we had crossed Cumberland Gap. But at last almost all that had been taken out of Kentucky was safely conveyed to Morristown, Tenn.

About the 31st of October, 1862, General Bragg, having made a short visit to Richmond, there obtained the sanction of the Confederate Government for a movement into middle Tennessee. Returning to Knoxville, General Bragg made preparations with the utmost rapidity for the advance to Murfreesboro‘, where General Breckinridge was already posted, and General Forrest was operating with a strong, active cavalry force. Our headquarters were advanced to Tullahoma on the 14th of November, and on the 26th to Murfreesboro‘. Notwithstanding long marches and fighting, the condition of the troops was very good; and had they been well clad, the Confederate army would have presented a fine appearance.

On November 24th, 1862, the commands of Lieutenant-General Pemberton at Vicksburg, and that of General Bragg in Tennessee, were placed under [604] General Joseph E. Johnston, and his official headquarters were established at Chattanooga. Immediately thereafter General Johnston visited Murfreesboro‘, where he passed some days devoted to a thorough inspection of the army. Our forces numbered somewhat over 40,000 men. General Johnston's visit, was followed during the second week in December by that of President Davis and his aide, General Custis Lee. The President asked Bragg if he did not think he could spare a division of his army to reeforce Pemberton.

Buildings at Murfreesboro‘. from photographs. 1. General Rosecrans's Headquarters. 2. Christian Church, used as a post chapel by the Union army. 3. Soule Female College, used as a hospital. 4. Headquarters of General Bragg; afterward of Generals Thomas and Garfield. 5. Union University, used as a hospital.

Bragg assented and dispatched a division of 8000 men under Stevenson. This step was contrary to the decided opinion previously expressed to Mr. Davis by General Johnston. [See p. 473.]

So well satisfied was General Bragg at having extricated his army from its perilous position in Kentucky, that he was not affected by the attacks upon him by the press for the failure of the campaign. He was cheerful, and would frequently join the staff about the camp-fire, and relate with zest incidents of his services under General Taylor in Mexico.2 On the 26th General [605] Wheeler, commanding the cavalry outposts,3 sent dispatches in quick succession to headquarters reporting a general advance of Rosecrans's army. Soon all was bustle and activity. General Hardee's corps at Triune was ordered to Murfreesboro‘. Camps were at once broken up and everything was made ready for active service. On the 27th of December our army was moving.

On Sunday, December 28th, Polk and Hardee met at General Bragg's headquarters to learn the situation and his plans. Rosecrans was advancing from Nashville with his whole army. Wheeler with his cavalry was so disposed at the moment as to protect the flanks, and, when pressed, to fall back toward the main army. Hardee's corps, consisting of the divisions of Breckinridge and Cleburne, with Jackson's brigade as a reserve, constituted our right wing, with its right resting on the Lebanon Pike and its left on the Nashville road. Polk's corps, composed of Withers's and Cheatham's divisions, was to take post with its right touching Hardee on the Nashville road, and its left resting on the Salem Pike; McCown's division was to form the reserve and to occupy our center. Such was the position of the Confederate army on the 29th of December.

On Tuesday, December 30th, Rosecrans was in our front, a mile and a half away. At 12 o'clock artillery on both sides was engaged. At 3 o'clock the Federal infantry advanced and attacked our lines, but were repulsed by the Louisiana and Alabama brigade, under Colonel Gibson, commanding [606] in the absence of General Daniel Adams. But night soon interposed, quiet prevailed, and the two armies bivouacked opposite to each other. General Bragg was on the field the entire day, but returned to his headquarters that evening at Murfreesboro‘. He called his corps commanders together and informed them that his advices convinced him that Rosecrans, under cover of the day's attack, had been massing his troops for a move on our left flank. It was then agreed that Hardee should at once move to the extreme left Cleburne's division of his corps and the reserve (McCown), and that, next morning, Hardee should take command in that quarter and begin the fight.

At daylight on the 31st (Wednesday), Hardee, with Cleburne's and McCown's divisions, attacked McCook's corps of the Federal army. For a

the Nashville pike out of Murfreesboro‘, looking North-West toward the rise of ground which was the site of fortress Rosecrans, constructed after the withdrawal of Bragg. From A photograph taken in 1884.

while the enemy were disorganized, many of the men being still engaged in cooking their breakfasts, but they very soon got under arms and in

View of Murfreesboro'from the vicinity of fortress Rosecrans. From a photograph taken in 1884.

position, and resisted the attack with desperation. At this juncture Polk advanced with Withers's and Cheatham's divisions, and after hard fighting McCook's corps was driven back between three and four miles. Our attack had pivoted the Federals on their center, bending back their line, as one half-shuts a knife-blade. At 12 o'clock we had a large part of the field, with many prisoners, cannon, guns, ammunition, wagons, and the dead and wounded of both armies.

Between 2 and 3 o'clock, however, Rosecrans massed artillery on the favorable rising ground to which his line had been forced back. On this ground cedar-trees were so thick that his movements had not been perceived. Our line again advanced. Stewart's, Chalmers's, Donelson's, and Maney's brigades, supported by Slocomb's, Cobb's, and Byrne's batteries, were hurled against the Federal line, but could not carry it. Reenforced by Gibson's and Jackson's brigades, another charge was ordered, but the position was not carried and many were-killed and wounded on our side. [607]

A bitter cold night was now on us. We were masters of the field. The sheen of a bright moon revealed the sad carnage of the day, and the horrors of war became vividly distinct. That night General Bragg again made his headquarters at Murfreesboro‘, whence he gave orders for the care of the wounded. All the churches and public buildings were turned into hospitals. He announced to Richmond by telegraph: “God has granted us a happy New year.”

We had indeed routed the Federal right wing, but the bloody work was not over. During January 1st Rosecrans's army was intrenching itself, but General Bragg was of the opinion that their quiet meant a retreat.

During the morning of the 2d (Friday) quiet prevailed, except some shelling on our right. At about noon General Bragg determined to dislodge the force on his right. Orders were given to that end, and our best troops were carefully selected. Hanson's,

Brigadier-General James E. Rains, C. S. A., killed at Stone's River. From a photograph.

Preston's, Gibson's, and Hunt's brigades, with Cobb's and Wright's batteries, were placed under Major-General Breckinridge. A gun fired by one of our batteries at 4 o'clock was the signal for the attack. After a fierce fight we carried the hill. The orders were to take its crest, and there remain intrenched. General Breckinridge endeavored to execute this order, but the commanders of the brigades engaged could not restrain the ardor of their men, who pushed on beyond support. The Federal batteries that had been massed on the other side of the stream now opened on them and drove the Confederates back with terrible slaughter, fully 2000 of our men being killed and wounded in this attack. At 10 o'clock P. M. the news of this disastrous charge, led by the élite of the Confederate army, cast a gloom over all.

Saturday, January 3d, the two armies faced each other, with little fighting on either side.

The miscarriage of the 2d determined General Bragg to begin to fall back on Tullahoma; but all day of the 3d our forces maintained their line of battle taken up early that morning. That night the evacuation of Murfreesboro' was effected.

General Rosecrans entered Murfreesboro' on Sunday, the 4th of January, 1863. Meantime his adversary was in full retreat on Tullahoma, thirty-six [608] miles distant. By this time General Bragg's corps commanders, as well as their subordinates down to the regimental rank and file, scarcely concealed their want of confidence in him as the commander of the army. On the 11th of January he invited from his corps, division, and brigade commanders an expression of their opinion on that point, and their replies, while affirming their admiration for his personal courage, devotion to duty, and ability as an organizer, frankly confessed that his army had lost confidence to such an extent in his capacity for chief command as wholly to impair his further usefulness. On the 4th of February General Polk went so far indeed as to write direct to President Davis with regard to the dissatisfaction felt, and the necessity for the immediate substitution of another commander.4

To vindicate himself, General Bragg at once made an official report of the battle of the 31st of December, especially in relation to the miscarriage of the effort to break the enemy's center.5

The feeling outside as well as inside of his army, however, waxed so strong against Bragg that President Davis ordered General Johnston, then near

Brigadier-General R. W. Hanson, C. S. A., killed at Stone's River. From a photograph.

Vicksburg, to go to Tennessee, with authority, if he thought it wise, to relieve Bragg from command. Johnston's arrival was hailed with joy, for our army specially wanted him as their commander. But after spending more than a week looking into its condition, he decided that he would not relieve Bragg, and thereupon returned toward Vicksburg with his staff. This result quieted the bad feeling somewhat, but did not restore harmony between the corps [609] commanders and their commanding general. Seldom did either of them visit headquarters except officially. On the other hand, Bragg was on good terms with the division and brigade commanders, namely, Wheeler, Cleburne, and Withers, Patton Anderson, J. C. Brown, J. K. Jackson, Bate, and Walthall.

The certainty he felt that General Rosecrans would retire from his front had led him to suffer the 1st to pass without advancing his right to cover the rising ground, thus giving ample leisure to Rosecrans to intrench and to restore order to his army after the fight of the 31st, when all the advantages of battle had remained with us. But on Friday, the 2d of January, he was convinced that Rosecrans was not going to retreat and that fighting must soon be resumed. After riding over the ground early on the morning of the 2d, at 11 o'clock he had adopted the following plan: To seize and carry by a vigorous assault that rising ground now occupied by the Federal forces, allowing only one hour to intervene between the time of the attack and dark, so that night should stop the fighting and give us opportunity to fortify at once. It was for that reason the hour of 4 P. M. was selected for the operation. The failure of Friday to secure the heights on our right necessitated an entire change of our lines, and Saturday his determination was to fall back to Tullahoma and await General Rosecrans's advance. No such move, however, having been made, our army went into winter quarters, undisturbed.

While the army was at Murfreesboro‘, no firing of guns being allowed, the country remained full of rabbits, some of which during the battle, alarmed by the din, rushed swiftly past one of our regiments, which at the time was advancing under a heavy fire of musketry. One of our soldiers was heard by a staff-officer to yell out, “Go it, cotton-tail; I'd run too if I hadn't a reputation.”

At Tupelo an order had been issued forbidding the men firing their muskets when in camp. One of the volunteers shooting at a chicken killed a man; he was tried and shot, not, as unjustly stated, for disobedience of orders, but for killing the man. During one of General Bragg's rides near Tullahoma, he happened to meet a countryman dressed in his “butternut” garb, one of those rough, independent citizens of the mountain district of Tennessee, who, after intelligently giving all the information asked of him about the roads we were looking for, was also asked by the general if he did not “belong to Bragg's army.” “Bragg's army?” was the reply. “He's got none; he shot half of them in Kentucky, and the other got killed up at Murfreesboro‘.” The general laughed and rode on.

1 see also articles by General Wheeler and General Buell, pp. 1 and 32.

2 He told how on one occasion, when he was asleep, the men of his battery had placed under his cot a shell, which exploded, tearing everything to pieces, but without harming him. He told us also that at the battle of Buena Vista General Taylor did not use the words so frequently quoted, “A little more grape, Captain Bragg,” but had ridden up to him and exclaimed, “Captain, give them hell!” He also often related anecdotes of Buell, Thomas, and Sherman. Thomas had been in his old battery and he never could praise him too much. While at Murfreesboro' flags of truce were the order of the day, and almost always some kind message from old army friends was sent thereby to General Hardee, usually accompanied by a bottle of brandy.--D. U.

3 Wheeler had shortly before relieved our dashing cavalryman, John H. Morgan, who, since the return from Kentucky, had commanded a brigade picketing our front. As early as the 1st of December Morgan had been ordered by Bragg to operate on Rosecrans's lines of communication in rear of Nashville, and to prevent him from foraging north of the Cumberland. Learning that the Union force at Hartsville, at the crossing of the Cumberland, was isolated [see map, p. 635], Morgan resolved to capture it, and while two brigades of Cheatham's division, with Wheeler's cavalry, made a demonstration before Nashville, he set out on the 6th from Baird's Mills, with four regiments and one battalion of cavalry under Colonel Basil W. Duke, and two regiments of infantry and Cobb's battery from Hanson's brigade, under Colonel T. H . Hunt. The Union force at Hartsville consisted of Colonel A. B. Moore's brigade of Dumont's division and numbered about two thousand men. At Castalian Springs, nine miles distant, there were two brigades numbering 5000, and at Gallatin, other forces, all belonging to Thomas's command. Morgan crossed the Cumberland on the night of the 6th, and disposed his forces so as to cut off the retreat from Hartsville on the roads to Lebanon, Gallatin, and Castalian Springs, and, closing in, attacked the troops who were drawn up to receive him. Morgan won a complete victory after a stubborn fight of an hour and a half, and promptly retired with his prisoners and some wagons, animals, and stores. While he was retiring, the advance of a brigade of reenforcements under Colonel John M. Harlan, coming up from Castalian Springs, reached Hartsville and attacked the Confederate rear-guard.

The Union loss was: k, 58; w, 204; m, 1834,--total, 2096. The Confederate loss was 139 in all. Colonel Moore was taken prisoner and his assistant adjutant-general, Captain W. G. Gholson, was killed.--editors.

I have been present in my life at many marriages, religious and civil, but only once did I witness one purely military, and never one with which I was so much impressed as that of John H. Morgan. A few days before the battle of Stone's River his marriage ceremony was performed at the house of the bride. General Bragg and his staff, with a few of Morgan's comrades, were gathered as witnesses in the front parlor. General Polk, Bishop of Louisiana, performed the ceremony and gave the blessing. That evening Morgan and his command left Murfreesboro' on a raid toward Kentucky. Social recreation at Murfreesboro' at this time was at its zenith; Christmas was approaching. The young officers of our army were all bent on fun and gayety. Invitations were out for a ball on the day after Christmas.--D. U.

4 Colonel Brent once showed me an order from General Bragg to place General Polk under arrest. Knowing what feeling against General Bragg such a step would produce, I was deeply pained and hastened to the latter's tent, where I besought, as a personal favor to myself, that the order should not be executed at present. After a short conversation General Bragg authorized me to direct Colonel Brent to withhold the arrest. The next morning, however, General Bragg, sentfor me, and expressed his appreciation of what I had said, and said that he realized the feeling it would excite against himself, but that he felt that the urgent exactions of discipline made General Polk's arrest absolutely requisite. The arrest was therefore made, but it was not sustained by the Richmond authorities. It is hardly necessary to say that the incident deepened General Bragg's unpopularity with his army, while the feeling between his two corps commanders and himself grew from “bad to worse.” On the eve of the battle of Chickamauga hi s relations with General Longstreet were no better than with the other two.--D. U.

5 In his report General Bragg says, in part:

To meet our successful advance and retrieve his losses in the front of his left, the enemy early transferred a portion of his reserve from his left to that flank, and by 2 o'clock had succeeded in concentrating such a force on Lieutenant-General Hardee's front as to check his further progress. Our two lines had, by this time, become almost blended, so weak were they by losses, exhaustion, and extension to cover the enemy's whole front. As early as 10 A. M. Major-General Breckinridge was called on for one brigade, and soon after for a second, to reinforce or act as a reserve to General Hardee. His reply to the first call represented the enemy crossing Stone's River in heavy force in his immediate front; and on receiving the second order he informed me they had already crossed in heavy force and were advancing on him in two lines. He was immediately ordered not to wait attack but to advance and meet them. About this same time a report reached me that a heavy force of the enemy's infantry was advancing on the Lebanon Road about five miles in Breckinridge's front. Brigadier-General Pegram, who had been sent to that road to cover the flank of the infantry with the cavalry brigade (save two regiments, detached with Wheeler and Wharton), was ordered forward immediately to develop such movement. The orders for the two brigades from Breckinridge were countermanded, whilst dispositions were made at his request to reenforce him. Before they could be carried out the movements ordered disclosed the facts that no force had crossed Stone's River; that the only enemy in our immediate front there were a small body of sharp-shooters, and that there was no advance on the Lebanon Road.

These unfortunate misapprehensions on that part of the field (which, with proper precaution, could not have existed) withheld from active operations three fine brigades until the enemy had succeeded in checking our progress, lad reestablished his lines, and had collected many of his broken battalions.

The orders referred to by General Bragg as having been sent to General Breckinridge were in part written by me, and the receipts for their delivery were given to and retained by me for some time. General Bragg cordially said to me afterward that my preservation of those receipts had saved his reputation.--D. U.

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