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Manoeuvring Bragg out of Tennessee.

by Gilbert C. Kniffin, Lieutenant-Colonel, U. S. V.
The brief campaign which resulted in forcing the Confederate army to evacuate their works at Tullahoma and Shelbyville, Tenn., and retire behind the Tennessee River, began on the 23d of June, was prosecuted in the midst of drenching rains, and terminated July 4th, 1863. Both armies had occupied the time since the battle of Stone's River in recruiting their strength and in fortifying their respective positions. Murfreesboro' was Rosecrans's secondary base of supplies, while Tullahoma was Bragg's barrier against Rosecrans's farther advance toward Chattanooga, the strategic importance of which, as controlling Confederate railroad communication between the East and West, had rendered it the objective point of all the campaigns of the armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland.

As the contending armies stood facing each other on the 20th of June, 1863, General Bragg estimated the effective strength of his army at 30,449 infantry, 13,962 cavalry, and 2254 artillery. Polk and Hardee commanded his two corps of infantry, and Wheeler and Forrest the cavalry.

Deducting the garrisons of Nashville and points [636]

Map of the Tullahoma campaign.

north, and the Reserve Corps, 12,575, to be used in emergency, Rosecrans had at the same date “present for duty, equipped,” 40,746 infantry, 6806 cavalry, and 3065 artillery, for an offensive campaign. Having received full and accurate descriptions of the fortifications at Tullahoma, where a part of Polk's corps was intrenched behind formidable breastworks, protected by an abatis of fallen trees six hundred yards in width, and at Shelbyville, where Hardee had fortified his position with equal engineering skill, General Rosecrans determined to force the Confederate army out of its works, and if possible engage it in the open field. A glance at the map will show Shelbyville directly south of Murfreesboro‘, and Tullahoma, on the line of the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, eighteen miles south-east. The high state of cultivation of the country west of Shelbyville, and the connection of the towns by broad turnpike roads, would naturally suggest the route of march for the Union army; moreover, the region to the east of the railroad consisted of sterile uplands through which winding country roads offered continuous obstacles to the rapid advance of an army. Precisely for this reason Rosecrans chose the latter route for one of his corps, while the other two corps were directed against the center of the line at Tullahoma. Sending his supply trains out on the Shelbyville road, the cavalry under Stanley was ordered to Eagleville, twenty miles west, and a little south of Murfreesboro‘, with orders to advance on Shelbyville on the 24th of June in bold array, and at night to fill the country to their rear with camp-fires extending from Hardee's left to the Shelbyville road and beyond, indicating the presence of a heavy infantry force in his support. This ruse had the desired effect, and held Hardee at Shelbyville, while the real movement was against his right.

This advance was made by Hoover's Gap1 in front of Tullahoma, and to this end Colonel J. G. Wilder, in command of his splendid brigade of mounted infantry, was ordered to “trot through the gap,” pushing the Confederate pickets before him, while Thomas was directed to follow as closely in his rear as possible. Wilder obeyed his orders literally, paying no attention to the frequent stands made by the retiring pickets, but driving them back upon their reserves, who in turn fell back upon Stewart's division, posted on the Garrison Fork of Elk River, which is about four miles south of Tullahoma. General Stewart sent Bushrod Johnson's brigade forward, and a brisk fight ensued. The head of Thomas's column was six miles in the rear, but Wilder's plucky regiments used their Spencer rifles to such good purpose as to hold their ground until Reynolds's division secured possession of the bridge, when Stewart, finding that the movement was really an advance in force, that the Gap he was posted to guard was lost, and that a heavy column was crossing the bridge, fell back upon the main line.

Thomas was followed closely by McCook with the Twentieth Corps, Granger with the Reserve Corps holding the ground in front of Murfreesboro‘. Meantime, Crittenden with the Twenty-first Corps, who had seventeen miles to march, over a road that seemingly had no bottom, was toiling through the mud between Woodbury and Manchester on his way to his position before Bragg's right flank and rear. Colonel John F. Miller with his brigade of Negley's division attacked Liberty Gap, and fell in a fierce fight there, badly wounded; but the [637] Gap was held by the brigade until relieved by the Twentieth Corps, which then passed Thomas and took the lead on the Manchester road, both corps camping within two miles of Tullahoma. In front of Stanley, Guy's Gap, held by a battery supported by cavalry, was charged, driving the Confederates toward Shelbyville, near which town they made a stand; but Colonel Minty attacked them on the left with the 4th Regular Cavalry of his brigade, sabering the gunners and pursuing the remainder through the town.

Bragg had ordered Hardee to the support of Polk's threatened left flank, leaving Shelbyville with its elaborately planned fortifications to fall before a cavalry charge after a brief struggle by the rear-guard.

The unforeseen inclemency of the weather retarded Crittenden's advance to such an extent that, notwithstanding the continued exertions of both officers and men, he was four days in marching seventeen miles. Horses and mules, floundering in the mud, were unhitched, and artillery and ammunition wagons dragged through deep morasses by the infantry. In some places mules perished in the mud, unable to extricate themselves. But for the heavy rains Crittenden would have joined McCook and Thomas two days earlier, and the campaign might have had a different ending. When he came up, line of battle was formed fronting the works at Tullahoma, to mask a flank movement through the woods to Elk River Bridge, four miles in rear of Bragg's position. Between the lines the treacherous soil was filled with quicksand, which only needed the soaking of the week's rain to render it impassable. To advance against the Confederate works over this ground, through a dense abatis of tangled tree-tops, in the face of a storm of grape-shot and minie-balls, would have been to doom one-half the army to destruction. Finding, when too late, that the advance against Hardee was only a feint to cover the real movement upon his left and rear, and alive to the paramount importance of protecting Chattanooga, General Bragg again faced his army southward, and crossed the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, the mouth of Battle Creek, and at Kelley's Ferry. The advance of the column against Elk River Bridge arrived in time to witness the crossing of the rear of Bragg's army, and on the afternoon of the 3d of July Sheridan's division occupied Tullahoma.2

The old John Ross House at RossvilleMissionary Ridge on the right. (see map, P. 648.) from a War-time photograph.

1 A range of hills dividing the waters of Duck River from the head-waters of Stone's River, about eleven miles from Murfreesboro' and running nearly east and west, is pierced by several gaps. Hoover's Gap, nearly north from Wartrace, Liberty, and Guy's Gaps, and the Railroad Gap were all guarded by heavy pickets. Cleburne's division was stationed at Wartrace, and Stewart's division held possession of Hoover's Gap and the bridge over the Garrison fork of Duck River five or six miles north of Tullahoma.--editors.

2 The Union loss aggregated 84 killed, 473 wounded, and 13 captured or missing = 570. The Confederate loss is only partially reported. In Liddell's, Bushrod Johnson's, and Bate's brigades the casualties amounted to 50 killed, 228 wounded, and 23 missing = 291. The loss in other commands is not indicated.--editors.

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