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Chapter 16: Dana returns to Washington

Dana was the first man from Vicksburg to reach Washington, and although he was anxious to rejoin his family for a few days' rest, and was besought by his friends, George Opdyke, the merchant, and Mr. Ketchum, the banker, to go into business, at the earnest solicitation of Stanton he concluded to remain in the service of the War Department. He had been appointed assistant secretary during the Vicksburg campaign, but probably for the reason that Congress had not yet authorized a second assistant his name was not sent to the Senate for confirmation to that office till January 20, 1864. It should, however, be noted that it was acted on almost immediately.

It will be remembered that the double victory of Vicksburg and Gettysburg marked the culmination of the great Rebellion, and that the country was correspondingly elated and exultant. Dana, with full particulars of the wonderful campaign and siege, in which he had taken such a creditable part, was made everywhere welcome, and by everybody urged to tell the exciting story of Grant and his army. Inasmuch as they had been completely successful, and had defeated in detail and had scattered, killed, or captured almost the entire force, estimated at sixty thousand men, arrayed against them, the story of their deeds could not be [249] repeated too often. The President, the Secretary of War, the general-in-chief, the cabinet, and both Houses of Congress wanted to hear it, and their interest in it was heightened by the fact that although Gettysburg was justly regarded as a great victory it was marred by the escape of the Confederate army across the Potomac into Virginia.

Notwithstanding the necessity of repeating his story and of attending to such other business as pressed upon him, Dana found time to write to me in his own hand from the War Department, July 21, 1863. As this letter has never been published elsewhere, I give it in part as follows:

... I got here very safely, and find everybody in distress because Meade failed to capture Lee. There can be no question that a vigorous attack, seasonably made, must have resulted in the surrender of his entire army. Meade was anxious to make it, but his four principal corps commanders, Sykes, Sedgwick, Slocum, and French, all his seniors in rank, were so determinedly opposed to it, while the only one who strongly urged it, Wadsworth, was only a temporary corps commander and a volunteer to boot, that he yielded and let the critical opportunity go by. The President wrote him a letter recommending such an attack, but it came too late, by some accident. The facts since discovered show that there was no possibility of our failure. ...

... There is no talk of removing General Meade or putting General Grant in command of the Army of the Potomac. ...

... I am going home to Connecticut for a fortnight. Then the secretary desires me to come back here for some duty not yet explained to me. But I am sure I shall not for a long time have anything to do or any association as agreeable and instructive as during my three months with the Army of the Tennessee.

I had almost forgotten to say that the New York riots are over and cannot be repeated. Governor Seymour and the leaders of the Copperhead Democracy were mostly at [250] the bottom of the whole dreadful business. Seymour has had the idea of resisting the draft by the forces of the State, but is too great a coward to attempt the execution of the scheme with the large Federal force now concentrated in the city. ...

The foregoing letter is particularly noticeable because it shows that Dana at least had been considering even at that early day the chance of Grant's being ordered to the command of the Army of the Potomac. Before starting East he had discussed the suggestion with Rawlins and others as a possible consequence of Grant's great victories in the West; but the time had not yet come, though the idea was born. The disgrace of Chickamauga had yet to be incurred and wiped out, and the defeat of Bragg's army at Missionary Ridge had yet to be accomplished before the country and its government could recognize Grant's great merits and call him to the head of our armies. As this narrative proceeds it will become apparent that Dana was destined to play an important part in the accomplishment of that great end.

After a fortnight with his family on the Connecticut coast, where he greatly enjoyed the rest and recreation he had so well earned, he returned to Washington for further service. He wrote to me from the War Department, August 11, 1863. Omitting purely personal matters, I quote as follows:

... You speak with regret of Sherman's retreat from Pearl River. I had the same feeling at first, but on reflection have come to doubt the possibility of pursuing Johnston to the Tombigbee with adequate results, owing to the want of water in the country and the exposure of the line of supplies to being cut by the enemy. The vital place of attack is Mobile, in my judgment, and when you once have that post in your possession you can make the Tombigbee, the Alabama, and all the country about them untenable by the [251] Confederacy. With Mobile to start from, and gun-boats on the river co-operating with your armies, the war may be ended in Mississippi and Alabama together, and the enemy crowded backward into Georgia.

As for the draft in the city of New York, the order was given yesterday to execute it this week. The delay has been caused only by the difficulty in concentrating there the necessary body of troops at the same time that reinforcements in considerable numbers had to go forward to Charleston. From that place there is no news that is not published, and you can doubtless judge a great deal better than I can as to the probability of Gilmore's taking it before the usual storms compel the withdrawal of the fleet. Be sure that at any rate he will not fail for lack of either men or material. My own impression, however, is that he will soon lose the cooperation of the iron-clads; meanwhile, however, he is intrenching himself with a view to that contingency, so as to be able to carry on the siege alone.

I got here yesterday to begin my duties as assistant secretary of war, but have not yet fairly set to work. I dare say, however, that I shall find no lack of employment. I feel some dread of work in an office, and would much prefer the life on horseback and in the field which I enjoyed with you in Mississippi.

Of the Army of the Potomac I can tell you no news that is worth telling. What you see in the newspapers is, of course, mainly fictitious or distorted.

General Grant has made some recommendations for promotions to major-generalships, and so has General Meade. The difficulty in both cases is that the law limits the number of major-generals and that the list is now complete. Perhaps you have already learned that both General Sherman and General McPherson have been appointed brigadiers in the regular army.

Prime is at the home of his family on Long Island. Still very feeble.

I am sorry not to have been here when Colonel Rawlins was here the other day. At that time, however, I was at [252] Westport, sailing and swimming in Long Island Sound. The most enthusiastic imagination cannot exaggerate the delight of a few days spent in such recreations, nor the contrast with the infernal heat of this city.

Pray let me hear from you as soon as you can, and keep me informed as to movements and improvements in the Army of the Tennessee. General Thayer was here yesterday seeking correction in the date of his commission — in vain.

Remember me cordially to Rawlins and Bowers. Also to the general, who is, I trust, enduring with health and philosophy the climate of Vicksburg.

Dana spent the remainder of that month in the performance of various duties connected with the administration and maintenance of the army, and especially with the supply departments and contractors whose place it, was to furnish what was required. With his wide acquaintance and his vigorous methods he found ready and constant occupation, by which he relieved the secretary of many harassing details.

It will be recalled that he had come to the conclusion, notwithstanding the high character and market abilities of Colonel Rawlins, that he could not be regarded as technically a good adjutant-general. This view, he found, was also held by the leading officers of that bureau. They seemed to forget with him that the paper work of Grant's army, with its many detachments and the great extent of territory covered by their operations during the last six months, must necessarily be less perfect than that of the armies closer to Washington. But knowing, besides, that Grant had recommended and would probably secure the promotion for Rawlins which would make a vacancy that should be filled by the best available man, he wrote to General Grant, suggesting Major Samuel Breck, one of the most accomplished officers of the regular army, for that [253] place. This explains the following “private” letter to me, dated August 31, 1863:

... I have written a note to the general suggesting Major Sam Breck as just the man he needs for assistant adjutant-general, in case he is about to take a new one. Breck is now at the head of one of the departments of the adjutant-general's office here, but, as I have accidentally learned, would much rather serve in the field. I don't suppose any other department commander could get him, but General Grant is pretty omnipotent just now. Breck is a first-rate man in his sphere, and a cultivated, gentlemanly, efficient fellow. If no one is wanted, or if the place is filled, all right.

I have written Rawlins a note to warn him of a storm brewing against him. The complaint is one I mentioned to you the other day; and I suppose if the difficulty is not remedied some sharp corrective will be applied. Between ourselves, the truth is that the adjutant's department in the Department of the Tennessee has never been well administered.

Much to my surprise I find that Judge Scates1 keeps the accounts of his office with the adjutant-general here in excellent order — not quite so perfect, indeed, as those of the Army of the Potomac, with its unequalled adjutant,2 but yet altogether satisfactory.

A charge against the “High Dominie Dudgeon” was squelched the other day.... I hastened to say that Michael was a splendid old fighter, with only two grains of discretion, and this must be a blunder and nothing worse. Anyway it's laid to sleep.3

I am off for Burnside this P. M., and then to Rosecrans.

As soon as it became certain that Rosecrans, in obedience to the official pressure which had been put upon him, was [254] actually moving against Bragg, the secretary decided to send Dana to report the operations of the Army of the Cumberland, as he had reported those of the Army of the Tennessee. Burnside had been sent to repossess east Tennessee, and it was expected that he and Rosecrans would form a junction and continue their operations together. The secretary's instructions required that Dana should join Burnside first, but not finding that feasible he proceeded to join Rosecrans. Chattanooga was now the great objective of the Union forces in that theatre of operations. He bore a letter of introduction to Rosecrans, dated August 30th, in which the secretary designated him as “one of my assistants, who visits your command for the purpose of conferring with you upon any subject which you may desire to have brought to the notice of the department.” He commended Dana as a gentleman of distinguished character, patriotism, and ability, possessing the entire confidence of the government and worthy of every courtesy and consideration.4 Although much delayed, he reached Louisville on September 5th, and Nashville a day or two later. Here he joined Andrew Johnson and General Gordon Granger, whom he met for the first time, and arranged to go to the front with them, which he did a few days later. As Bridgeport on the Tennessee was at that time the end of that section of the railroad by which the army south of the Tennessee was supplied, Dana was compelled to continue his journey on horseback. His route lay through Shellmound, Wauhatchie, and the Lookout Valley, with mountains and magnificent scenery on either hand. Chattanooga had been occupied by Crittenden's corps on September 9th. Rosecrans reached there on the 10th and Dana on the evening of the 11th. He at once reported at headquarters, but Rosecrans, whose head had probably been [255] turned by the success of his preliminary strategy, instead of receiving his visitor courteously burst at once into abuse of the government, declaring that it had not properly sustained him, that his requests had been ignored and his plans thwarted, and that both Stanton and Halleck had done all they could to prevent his success. This outbreak was of course unexpected, but Dana, who always had control of his own temper, replied that he had no authority to listen to such complaints, that his mission was to find out what the government could do to aid him, and that he had no right to confer on other matters.5

This retort produced a quieting effect, and was followed presently by a rational explanation of the condition of the campaign, the movements and position of the contending forces, and of the hopes and plans of the National commander. The Confederate authorities had concealed their real plans with skill. They had sent Longstreet with a formidable corps of veteran infantry from Virginia to reinforce Bragg,6 and had gathered from Alabama and Mississippi all the detachments and garrisons they could replace by calling back to the colors the men Pemberton had surrendered and Grant had paroled at Vicksburg. No word of this had yet reached Rosecrans. He was unconscious of the storm about to burst upon him. His own army was moving by divergent roads on a front of forty miles or more southeastwardly through the mountains of northwestern Georgia, but with the instinct of a real strategist he foresaw that his columns could not properly support each other in case of a concentration of the enemy against either of them. He saw also that such a concentration was possible, and that the only way to counteract it successfully was to concentrate [256] his own army in such way as to cover both the route back to Bridgeport and that to Chattanooga. Accordingly Rosecrans and his staff, on September 13th, sallied out from Chattanooga for the purpose of joining Thomas's corps at Stevens's Gap. Dana found the army in “the best possible condition.” Its left flank was secured by Burnside's occupation of east Tennessee, but the broken and difficult country in which it was operating filled Dana with the fear that if the enemy should move strongly against Rosecrans's right wing it might endanger his long and precarious line of communications and force him to retreat beyond the Tennessee. To meet this danger Dana made haste, September 14th, to bring it to the attention of the Secretary of War and to urge him “to push as strong a column as possible eastward from Corinth,” in northeastern Mississippi.7 This was in Grant's department, and the railroad running east from Memphis was in his possession, but it was too late to meet the emergency. Grant's troops were too much scattered; shortly after the fall of Vicksburg Grant himself had gone to New Orleans, while Sherman, with the bulk of the army, had been frittering his time and strength away in central Mississippi. The government at Washington had been clearly out-generaled by the government at Richmond, and although Rosecrans had succeeded in concentrating all of his own forces within supporting distance for defence, Bragg had also succeeded in concentrating all the forces placed at his disposal. As it turned out his reinforcements were the larger and his concentration the more formidable. The mystery which surrounded Bragg's purposes was gradually dispelling itself, and yet it was not entirely cleared away till several days after the great battle had been fought. Hour by hour it became more apparent that Bragg was not retreating but was getting [257] ready to give battle. The first clash of arms was at Stevens's Gap, but through misunderstanding or mismanagement on the part of the Confederates their attack was not pushed home. The Confederate forces were not yet sufficiently in hand. Longstreet, unknown to the Union commander, was expected from the eastward by the railroad from Atlanta. The two armies, separated by streams, high ridges, and dense forests, and yet grappling at each other as opportunity offered, drifted gradually towards the northeast. The Army of the Cumberland kept in the valley of the Chickamauga, with its left and rear buttressed against the slopes of Missionary Ridge, and each hour more fully covering Chattanooga, while Bragg swept around to the eastward, covering his own communications with Atlanta and yet more seriously menacing Chattanooga in case victory should crown his efforts. Bragg, of course, knew that Longstreet was near at hand, but Rosecrans was apparently unconscious of this momentous fact, although a despatch from Dana to Stanton, Crawfish Springs, September 16th, shows that a possibility of such reinforcements, by the way of Ringgold or Dalton, had been considered, but that no part of Longstreet's corps had yet been received at Lafayette, which on that day was the seat of Bragg's headquarters. There is no sign yet that Rosecrans had thought of changing from the offensive to the defensive, or that he suspected Bragg of an intention to fight an aggressive battle.

From noon of September 16th till the end of the campaign Dana sent many despatches daily. They refer to every important matter connected with the movements or supply of the army, and must have been of infinite value to the government. One of the earliest of these pointed out that the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, on which the army depended for its supplies, was not only charging the government higher rates than those charged by other roads, but was persistently giving the preference to private freights [258] or lending its cars to other roads. This condition of affairs fully justified Dana's statement that “it will be impossible to maintain this army without a complete change in the management of that road.” His next despatch called for two thousand cavalry remounts, and recommended that the chief quartermaster of that army should be allowed to purchase them.8 On the 17th headquarters were still without information of Longstreet's arrival. The next day reports were received from various sources that Longstreet had reached Atlanta, and this caused Dana to notify Stanton that Burnside's forces were needed by Rosecrans. At noon, September 18th, he reported the appearance of rebel cavalry and infantry at the front, that our position behind the Chickamauga was excellent, and “everything ready for serious attack.” Later in the day he added:

... Our troops are now being drawn towards our left, and concentrated as much as possible. Rosecrans has not yet determined whether to make a night march and fall on them at daylight or to await their onset.

On September 19th, at 10.30 A. M., he telegraphed to Stanton:

... As I write enemy are making diversion on our right. . . An orderly of Bragg's just captured says there are reports in rebel army of Longstreet's arrival, but he does not know that they are true. Rosecrans has everything ready to grind up Bragg's flank.

At 1 P. M. he corrected his earlier despatch and said the attack was on our left.

There is [the] fighting.

[259] At 2.30 P. M.:

The fight continues to rage; enemy repulsed on left by Thomas has suddenly fallen on right of our line of battle held by Van Cleve; musketry there fierce and obstinate .... Decisive victory seems assured to us.

At 3 P. M.:

Enemy forced back by Crittenden on right has just massed his artillery against Davis on centre. His attack there is the most serious of the day. ...

At 3.20 P. M.:

Thomas reports that he is driving rebels and will force them into the Chickamauga to-night.... The battle is fought in thick forest, and is invisible to outsiders. Line [of battle] is two miles long.

At 4 P. M.:

Everything is prosperous.

At 4.30 Pm.:

I do not dare to say our victory is complete, but it seems certain. Enemy silenced on nearly whole line. Longstreet is here.

At 5.20 P. M.:

Firing has ceased.... Enemy holds his ground in many places.... Now appears to be undecided contest. ...

At 7.30 P. M.:

The firing did not cease till an hour after dark, the feeble light of the moon favoring the combatants; this gives us [260] decidedly the advantage in respect of ground. The result of the battle is that enemy is defeated in attempt to turn our left flank and regain possession of Chattanooga. His attempt was furious and obstinate; his repulse was bloody and maintained to the end. If he does not retreat, Rosecrans will renew the fight at daylight. His dispositions are now being made. ...

At 8 P. M. Dana reported the number of men which had not been engaged as two brigades and one regiment there and the reserve corps of eight thousand at Rossville; the number of prisoners captured as two hundred and fifty from thirty different regiments; ten guns captured, seven lost. At 11 P. M., that the number of wounded did not exceed two thousand. It will be observed that although Dana's despatches show Longstreet as having made his appearance, they leave it to be inferred that Rosecrans had utterly failed to take him into account. This was a fatal error, the deplorable consequences of which were destined to show themselves the next day; but as yet no one in the National army seemed to be conscious of the disaster which was at hand. Withal, the bitter struggle from dawn till dark had filled officers and men, from the highest to the lowest, with feelings of apprehension. They had held their own, especially on the left across the Lafayette-Chattanooga road, but as it turned out the centre and right were not only weakly posted but too much spread out for a successful defence.

That night Rosecrans called a council of war at the Widow Glen's house which Dana and the leading generals attended, but which does not seem to have resulted in any adequate conception of the real situation nor in any immediate dispositions to solidify and strengthen the irregular line of defence into which the army had been forced. Thomas, upon whom the heaviest fighting of the day had [261] fallen, had made good his position and felt sure he could hold it, but wanted reinforcements. Apparently it was the opinion of those present that the position should be strengthened by sending the detached divisions back to their respective corps, closing the army to the left, straightening the line of intrenchments, and strengthening them where necessary. Written and verbal orders for the most essential of these measures were duly sent out, but instead of making the necessary changes at once, under cover of darkness, they were put off till the next day. This delay was due mainly to the fact that both officers and men were overcome with fatigue. They had been marching for several days and fighting more or less constantly for the last fourteen hours. As Dana had already reported, all but two brigades of the National army within reach had been engaged; and so, unwarned by martial instinct or by experiences of the past, the generals, as Dana related to me a few days later, after drinking hot coffee and hearing General McCook sing “The Hebrew Maiden,” repaired to their respective commands and waited till after daylight before starting to consolidate their lines and strengthen their intrenchments.

Within the enemy's lines the situation was far more hopeful. While they had been held in check throughout the day and the battle was an undecided one, they were conscious that with the aid of Longstreet's hardy veterans from the East victory might fairly be expected to smile upon them the next day. They had acquired a wholesome dread of the National left under the invincible Thomas. They had thrown themselves in vain time and again against the improvised breastworks which everywhere barred their advance, and now, reinforced by fifteen thousand fresh troops, they had wisely decided to try their fortunes in a turning movement against the National right. The distances to be passed over to that flank by Longstreet, coming in from the [262] Atlanta Railroad, were several miles greater, but as the country was unknown to him the forenoon was well advanced before he got within fighting range of the Union right. The first shot seems to have been fired at about nine o'clock. By ten o'clock, or a little after, the battle was raging furiously from left to right, but nothing had yet occurred to reveal Bragg's real plan of battle or where his heaviest attack might be expected. The most that can be said is that while Thomas from the first believed he was receiving it and was calling for reinforcements, the fatal weakness of the Union line was not yet apparent. Rosecrans, who was up bright and early, rode from one flank to the other of his army before the action began, but he had as yet failed to detect the weak spots or to insist upon the proper disposition of his troops to render their position impregnable.

The story of the bloody disaster which followed the sustained attack of Longstreet against Rosecrans's right was first made known in Washington by Dana's despatch from Chattanooga, dated September 20th-4 P. Mi. He had been too much engaged in watching the battle to write or send messages from the field, and it must be confessed that the earlier stages of the second day's struggle were too uncertain, too ill-defined, to justify anything but the most general statements. That none whatever was sent is one of the most ominous circumstances of that memorable morning. It is not my purpose to recount the details here, but merely to point out the fact that Dana, who happened to be behind the divisions of Davis and Sheridan, which had just been placed in line to fill the gap made by the withdrawal of Wood, was swept away in the debacle which followed the first successful onrush of the Confederate columns, and as soon as he could disentangle himself rode rapidly to Chattanooga. It must be added that Rosecrans, McCook, Crittenden, Sheridan, Davis, Van Cleve, and many [263] staff-officers, including Horace Porter and J. P. Drouillard, were also borne irresistibly to the rear by the troops who had fled in what Dana designates as “wholesale panic.” 9 These officers, with only one exception, were regulars, with two West-Pointers of approved experience and unimpeachable valor. Had they known or even supposed that the left and left centre would hold fast they would surely have stayed on the field till the battle was over. They did the very best they could with the light they had, and history must so record it, notwithstanding the criticism which was so freely visited upon their conduct at that time and afterwards.

The story of the battle, and the events of that afternoon and night, have been told many times and in many different ways from that day to this. Dana's despatches give the essential details as they came to his knowledge, but there is on the whole no better nor more comprehensive summary of what actually took place than is contained in a letter which he wrote to me just a fortnight after the battle. It is dated Chattanooga, October 3, 1863, and as it has not been previously printed I give it in full as a part of this narrative:

... I have been here now some four weeks, having witnessed the movements of the campaign for some ten days previous to the battle of Chickamauga, and seen the greatest but not the best part of that battle. I was standing with General Rosecrans just in the rear of the right of Jeff. C. Davis's division when it was broken by the rebel columns and fled in utter panic. Bull Run had nothing more terrible than the rout and flight of these veteran soldiers. The enemy came upon them in columns six lines deep, formed with brigade fronts, three brigades being massed behind each other, firing as they advanced. The fire was more violent [264] than I ever heard before, but I do not think our lines would have been broken but for a gap in them caused by taking Wood's division from the centre to reinforce the left, and not entirely filling up the space thus vacated. Through that gap the rebels came in, and then Davis's division broke and ran in helpless panic. I never saw anything so crushing to the mind as that scene. I was swept away with part of Rosecrans's staff, and lost in the rabble. Some of these officers, and especially Brouillard and Porter, drew their swords and worked like good fellows trying to rally and reorganize the fugitives; but as often as they got a squad together a shell crashing through the tree-tops (for the battle was fought mainly in a forest), or a few canister-shots dropping on the dry leaves, would send the cowards packing again.

I rode twelve miles to Chattanooga, galloping my horse all the way, to send despatches to Washington, and found the road filled all the distance with baggage-wagons, artillery, ambulances, negroes on horseback, field and company officers, wounded men limping along, Union refugees from the country around leading their wives and children, mules running along loose, squads of cavalry — in short, every element that could confuse the rout of a great army, not excepting a major-general commanding an army corps, . . . while part of the corps . . . remained to cover themselves with glory and save everything by fighting on the left under the lead of that magnificent old hero, General Thomas, and of Gordon Granger, the Marshal Ney of the war. It was a great fight which these twenty-five thousand men waged there against eighty thousand (Bragg had sixty-seven thousand veterans and fifteen thousand militia) till darkness covered the field, and it saved everything for us. In this fight the men who most distinguished themselves were Generals Thomas, Granger, Steedman, Brannan, Palmer, Hazen, Turchin, and Colonel Harker. The last — named commanded a brigade which got out of ammunition, and at the end three times repulsed the columns of Longstreet with the bayonet. But they were all heroes, and we owe them a debt of gratitude we can never sufficiently pay. They punished the enemy so awfully that [265] if our forces had remained on the ground, it is the opinion of General Thomas, as well as of many others less judicious and reserved than he, that the enemy must have retreated. But Thomas was not sure that he could get up supplies of ammunition in season, and retired accordingly.

Our loss in this battle was about fourteen thousand killed, wounded, and missing, and forty pieces of artillery. But we repulsed the enemy even after one-half our line of battle was dissolved, and saved Chattanooga. The conduct of McCook and Crittenden in leaving their commands is to be investigated by a court of inquiry, and the order relieving them from command and consolidating the two corps (now together about fifteen thousand strong) into one under Granger is now on its way here from Washington.

I should also tell you that General Rosecrans came to Chattanooga after the rout of the left, and consequently bore no part; in the glory of the afternoon's battle. He seems in consequence to have lost some of his great popularity with the soldiers, whose idol is now very naturally the man who saved them, and indeed saved us all, Thomas. For my own part, I confess I share their feeling. I know no other man whose composition and character are so much like those of Washington; he is at once an elegant gentleman and a heroic soldier.

But I shall let my pen run on in a protracted scrawl which you will find it very difficult to read, I fear. I must tell you that I am charmed with Porter, and that some of us are trying to make him, or have him made, a colonel. As for the general condition of this army, I must write you another time. There is much to say about it. But at the bottom it is essentially the same sort of an army as that of the Tennessee.

Some of your troops will now come this way, of course. I wish it were possible for you to come with them. This is a much more difficult country to campaign in than Louisiana and Mississippi. Here it is all mountain warfare, to be waged over high ridges with few passes and in narrow valleys. It is a most picturesque region, rich in minerals, but of little worth for agriculture. [266]

Your letter is so good that I shall send it to the Secretary of War. Remember me kindly to the general, to Rawlins, and to Bowers.

It will be observed that this letter contains no explanation of why Rosecrans did not sally out at daylight on the second day of the battle and “grind up Bragg's flank,” as he must have told Dana he intended to do. It makes no explanation of why he failed entirely to assume the offensive, by a turning movement against the enemy's right, as he might have done. It makes no suggestion that the battle was fought primarily to “save Chattanooga,” although that was the actual result. It gives no explanation of Rosecrans's change of plan from a pursuit of the flying enemy to a defensive battle for the salvation of his strategic base of operations. But no one can read Dana's despatches in connection with this letter, and the Confederate reports, without reaching the conclusion that the controlling factor in the great battle was the timely arrival of Longstreet's corps from the East, and the decisive part it took in the second day's fighting.

From Dana's two despatches of the 20th, as well as from the more deliberate statements of the correspondents and historical writers, there can be no doubt that the fortuitous coming of Granger and Steedman, with five thousand men of the reserve corps, to the right of the line at Chickamauga arrested the progress of Longstreet and saved the Union army from ruin. Dana did all in his power for Granger and Steedman, as he did for many others whose qualities attracted his attention in this campaign. Colonel Harker, whom he mentions with others as having especially distinguished himself, was a young West-Pointer who was promoted to brigadier-general for conspicuous gallantry in this battle. Many other officers who fought at Chickamauga, and especially those who held the field with Thomas, owe much of [267] their future distinction to Dana's recommendation. Indeed, it may be said that in this campaign as well as in that of Vicksburg, Dana's greatest service was due to the light his correspondence and his conversation threw upon the conduct and personal qualities of the various officers who came under his observation. There can be no doubt that his influence with Stanton was from the first in favor of relieving Rosecrans from the command of the Army of the Cumberland and placing it in charge of Thomas. He was also one of the first persons in official station to urge the consolidation of the military departments in the country tributary to the Mississippi under one supreme commander, as suggested by Grant in his memorable letter from Memphis, January 20, 1863.10 He had been fully acquainted at Milliken's Bend with Grant's views on that subject, and in his despatch of September 27th he specially spoke of that general for the chief command. Preceded as this mention was by a searching analysis of Rosecrans's character, and a conclusive demonstration of his incapacity to meet the great emergencies of his position, it could not fail to command Stanton's approval. Grant, it will be remembered, was left at that time comparatively idle. After capturing Fort Donelson and the army defending it, he had captured Vicksburg and its still larger garrison. He had thus gained two out of the three great strategic centres of the Mississippi Valley; and inasmuch as his were the only complete victories so far won by the National forces, it seemed to be inevitable that Grant should be called upon to make good the nation's hold upon the third great objective point of the war in the Southwest.

Dana's despatches to the secretary are conclusive on these points, but in addition they throw important light on the entire course of events both before and after the great [268] battle. Not the least important report sent by him to Washington, September 21st, was the rumor that Ewell's corps from Virginia had also joined Bragg, too late to take part in the battle, that it was said to be now moving to the Tennessee River about Chattanooga. He evidently doubted this report, for in the same despatch he added, with a perfect insight into the probabilities of the case, “but if Ewell be really there, Rosecrans will have to retreat beyond the Tennessee.” Only that morning he had reported for the first time that Longstreet was certainly there. Two hours and a half later, on the testimony of “an intelligent deserter,” he added that all of Johnston's Mississippi army was with Bragg, that Mobile had been stripped of soldiers, and that the entire Confederacy seemed to be concentrated in front of Chattanooga. While it turned out later that these reports were not literally correct, that Ewell had not yet arrived, and that the Confederacy had not concentrated all of its forces under Bragg, Dana's vigorous despatches had the immediate effect of so arousing the government that it at once put forth its best efforts to reinforce the army now gathered at Chattanooga by troops from every quarter that could spare them. Burnside was again ordered down from east Tennessee. On September 23d two army corps under Hooker were ordered out from Virginia, while two under Sherman had been already ordered up from Mississippi. But what was still more important as a direct consequence of the situation at and about Chattanooga, and of Dana's voluminous representations in regard to it, were the orders which finally transferred Grant himself to that theatre of operations, consolidated the departments of the Tennessee, the Cumberland, and the Ohio into the Military Division of the Mississippi, and gave its commander complete authority over all the military forces within its widely extended limits. That Dana's letters and despatches contained the first suggestions on which these [269] great measures were based there can be no doubt. Between September 21st and October 18th, inclusive, a period of twenty-eight days, Dana sent fifty-eight despatches, or a daily average of slightly over two, to Stanton; and these despatches touched every important rumor and event, as well as every important officer, connected with the campaign and battle of Chickamauga, and with the events which followed the retreat of the Union army into the intrenchments of Chattanooga. After making it clear that the army was safe from the enemy behind the fortifications, he laid bare with a pitiless hand the incapacity, the imbecility, and the utter lack of firmness which characterized the conduct of Rosecrans. He called attention to his failure to enforce the discipline of the army against superior officers charged with drunkenness and neglect of duty, and finally declared that it often “seemed difficult to believe him of sound mind.” He commented with the utmost freedom upon every circumstance connected with the alleged misconduct of corps, division, and brigade commanders, and pointed out the needs of the army in every department. He was one of the first to mention the starving condition of the artillery horses, and also of the mules used for hauling supplies from the rear. Recognizing that with the break-down of the transport department the soldiers themselves would soon be starving, unless the most vigorous efforts should be put forth to shorten the line of supplies and to maintain it intact against interruption by the enemy, he reported that “the appointment of Baldy Smith as chief engineer of the department infuses much energy and judgment into that branch of the operations” ; that the department staff had been entirely reorganized, with Major-General Reynolds chief of staff, General Smith engineer, and General Brannan chief of artillery, and that “the remarkable strength of the new staff cannot fail to add much to the discipline of the army.” [270]

On October 8th he mentions General Rousseau as one “who seems to be regarded throughout this army as an ass of eminent gifts” --that the consolidation of the two corps was well received and “must produce the most happy consequences” --but to avoid the impression that the measure was intended as “a token of disgrace and punishment,” he recommended that an order should be issued from Washington complimenting the steadiness and gallantry of the men, and putting the consolidation on its true grounds. On the 11th he called attention to the fact that his despatches had been deciphered and their contents partly made known while in transit through Nashville and Louisville, and that he should have a new cipher whose meaning no operator could guess out. The next day he called attention to the fact that if Bragg should make a serious effort to march into Kentucky, “this army will find itself in a very helpless and dangerous condition,” that “it has on hand but two days rations for the troops,” that the mountain and bottom roads north of the river “might any day be made impracticable by a little rain,” that a fatal mistake had been made in “the abandonment of Lookout Mountain to the rebels” against the earnest protest of Granger and Garfield, that they were “unquestionably right,” and that

Rosecrans, who is sometimes as obstinate and inaccessible to reason, as at others he is irresolute, vacillating, and inconclusive, pettishly rejected all their arguments, and the mountain was given up. It is difficult to say which was the greater error, this order or that which on the day of battle created the gap in our lines. At any rate, such is our present situation: our animals starved, and the men with starvation before them, and the enemy bound to make desperate efforts to dislodge us.

In the midst of this the commanding general devotes that part of the time which is not employed in pleasant gossip to the composition of a long report to prove that the [271] government is to blame for his failure. It is my duty to declare that while few persons exhibit more estimable social qualities, I have never seen a public man possessing talent with less administrative power, less clearness and steadiness in difficulty, and greater practical incapacity than General Rosecrans. He has inventive fertility and knowledge, but he has no strength of will and no concentration of purpose. His mind scatters; there is no system in the use of his busy days and restless nights, no courage against individuals in his composition, and with great love of command, he is a feeble commander. He is conscientious and honest, just as he is imperious and disputatious; always with a stray vein of caprice and an overweening passion for the approbation of his personal friends and the public outside.

Under the present circumstances, I consider this army to be very unsafe in his hands, but know of no man except Thomas who could now be safely put in his place.

That same afternoon Dana reported Jefferson Davis as being present with Bragg's army. On the 12th he asks Stanton if it would not be possible for General Halleck to come to Chattanooga, adding, “What is needed to extricate this army is the highest administrative talent, and that without delay.” After thirty-six hours of heavy rain, which had swollen the rivers and greatly injured the roads, he reported the country as denuded of forage and food, that the troops had been put on three-quarter rations, and that it was imperatively necessary to open the river and shorten the lines of wagon transportation. On the 15th he reported that it was still raining with great violence, the mud in the roads was constantly growing deeper, that the troops had now been put on half rations, and that it would soon become necessary for all persons except soldiers to leave Chattanooga. In that case he asked if he should return to Washington or endeavor to make his way to Burnside. On October 16th he reported that although there had been but [272] little rain for sixteen hours the mud was growing deeper, the mortality along the animals increasing, that the mules “were too weak to haul the wagons up the mountains without doubling the teams,” and that the chief of artillery had told him that in case of retirement “he could not possibly haul away the artillery with the horses that are left.” In the same despatch he adds:

... Nothing can prevent the retreat of the army from this place within a fortnight, and with a vast loss of public property and possibly of life, except the opening of the river. ... In the midst of all these difficulties General Rosecrans seems to be insensible to the impending danger, and dawdles with trifles in a manner which can scarcely be imagined. ... Meanwhile, with plenty of zealous and energetic officers ready to do whatever can be done, all this precious time is lost because our dazed and mazy commander cannot perceive the catastrophe that is close upon us, nor fix his mind on the means of preventing it. I never saw anything which seemed so lamentable and hopeless.

The same afternoon he telegraphed that he had just had

... “a full conversation with General Rosecrans upon the situation, in which he says that the possession of the river as far up as the head of Williams Island, at least, is a sine qua non to the holding of Chattanooga.” . . That Rosecrans expects “as soon as the weather will allow, the enemy will cross the river in force on our left, and then it will be necessary for us to fight a battle, or else to retreat from here, and attempt to hold the line of the Cumberland Mountains” . . . And finally that Rosecrans “inclines to the opinion that they will rather attempt to crush Burnside first.”

In the foregoing it is painfully manifest that there is neither plan nor purpose. All is vague, uncertain, and vacillating in the mind of the commanding general. So [273] much so, indeed, was this the case, that Dana, at eleven o'clock on the 17th, turns again to the subject with the declaration that

The general organization of this army is inefficient, and its discipline defective. The former proceeds from the fact that General Rosecrans insists on personally directing every department, and keeps every one waiting and uncertain till he himself can directly supervise every operation. The latter proceeds from his utter lack of firmness, his passion for universal applause, and his incapacity to hurt any man's feelings by just severity. . . . There is thus practically no discipline for superior officers, and, of course, the evil, though less pernicious in the lower grades, is everywhere perceptible.

On the 18th, although it was raining again, there was hope for the final cessation of the storm.

Meanwhile [Dana adds] our condition and prospects grow worse and worse. The roads are in such a state that wagons are eight days making the journey from Stevenson to Chattanooga, and some which left on the 10th have not yet arrived. Though subsistence stores are so nearly exhausted here, the wagons are compelled to throw overboard portions of their precious cargo in order to get through at all. The returning trains have now, for some days, been stopped on this side of the Sequatchie, and a civilian who reached here last night states that he saw fully five hundred teams halted between the mountain and the river, without forage for the animals, and unable to move in any direction.

I rode through the camps here yesterday, and can testify that my previous reports respecting the starvation of the battery horses were not exaggerated. A few days more and most of them will be dead. ... It does not seem possible to hold out here another week without a new avenue of supplies. . . . Amid all this the practical incapacity of the general commanding is astonishing, and it often seems difficult [274] to believe him of sound mind. His imbecility appears to be contagious, and it is difficult for any one to get anything done;... and if the army is finally obliged to retreat, the probability is that it will fall back like a rabble, leaving its artillery, and protected only by the river behind it. If, on the other hand, we regain control of the river and keep it, subsistence and forage can be got here, and we may escape with no worse misfortune than the loss of twelve thousand animals.

This was the last of Dana's despatches for that period. It will be observed that they were written from hour to hour and gave an exact account of events as they appeared to him at the time. What is more, they had thoroughly aroused the government and caused it to put forth its best efforts to save Chattanooga and the army which had been shut up and beleaguered within its fortifications. In addition to these despatches Dana also wrote letters from time to time to the Secretary of War, but as they have not been published in the Official Records it is probable that they were considered as private and confidential. Dana himself kept no copies, and if the originals are in existence they will probably be found among the private papers and correspondence of Stanton.

In connection with this subject it may be well to call attention to the fact that long after the campaigns of Chickamauga and Chattanooga were closed, General Rosecrans and his friends set up the claim that the battle of Chickamauga was fought for the primary purpose of making good his hold on Chattanooga, which had been the principal objective of the campaign from the first, and that after his army had occupied that place and come so near being forced by starvation to retreat from it, he had formed a definite plan for shortening his supply line by opening the river and the Lookout Valley to Bridgeport. This view of the case is in no way supported by Dana's despatches. While they mention the fact that Rosecrans recognized the necessity [275] of shortening the line, and intimate that he may have had a vague purpose of that sort, they make it clear that he did not regard the emergency as nearly so great as it appeared to Dana, nor believe that the shorter line could be opened till Hooker's corps, detached from the Army of the Potomac on the 23d, should arrive at Bridgeport and occupy the country between there and Chattanooga. It is specially worthy of note that there is not a word in any of these despatches foreshadowing the plan which was actually devised by General William F. Smith, and successfully carried into effect under his supervision. While it is abundantly evident that Dana reported from time to time everything that came under his observation, it is also evident that he was really much more concerned with conditions as they actually existed than with the means of changing them, that he felt it to be a matter of much greater importance to get rid of the incapable Rosecrans and secure the appointment of a competent man to take his place than to report or pass upon such plans as might be passing through his hazy mind. And that this was the view that the secretary took of Dana's recommendations is abundantly shown by the sequel. As early as September 30th Stanton telegraphed him:

... If Hooker's command get safely through, all that the Army of the Cumberland can need will be a competent commander. The merit of General Thomas, and the debt of gratitude the nation owes to his valor and skill, are fully appreciated here, and I wish you to tell him so. It was not my fault that he was not in chief command months ago.

But this is not all. Immediately after receiving the analysis of Rosecrans's character contained in Dana's despatches of September 27th and September 30th, the Secretary of War ordered Grant to Cairo by telegraph for conference. [276] This was on October 3d, but as this despatch had to be transmitted to Grant at Vicksburg by steamer, it did not reach him till the 10th. It was, however, expected, and no time was lost in complying with its terms. General Grant and his entire headquarters started at 11 P. M. that night, but the steamboat was a slow one, and did not reach Cairo till the morning of the 16th. Having reported his arrival at once, he received a telegram the next day from Halleck, directing him to proceed to Louisville, where he would “meet an officer of the War Department with orders and instructions.” As it turned out, the secretary himself was the officer who was to meet Grant, and the first meeting between these distinguished men took place on the morning of September 18, 1863, in the Union Station at Indianapolis. It was not altogether free from embarrassment to Stanton, who had somewhat impulsively mistaken Dr. Kittoe, the staff surgeon, for the general. Trivial as this incident may seem, Dana and the officers present always believed that it produced an unfavorable impression which lasted till the secretary's death. That he was disappointed in the general's appearance and bearing cannot be positively stated, but it is certain they never became devoted friends. They went on together to Louisville, arriving there the same night. They spent two days together in continued conference, the result of which was that Grant was placed in command of the Military Division, Rosecrans was relieved, Thomas was assigned to the command of the Army of the Cumberland, and a full understanding was reached in reference to future operations.

On his departure from Washington, Stanton had telegraphed Dana also to meet him at Louisville, but this order was delayed in transmission did not reach Dana till the 19th. Meanwhile he had come to the conclusion that Rosecrans, unless restrained by a positive order, “would retreat at once front Chattanooga.” To make sure that [277] this should not be done he sent a despatch to the secretary at Louisville, and then set out on a most fatiguing horseback ride across Walden's Ridge through Jasper to Bridgeport, where he arrived the same night. The next day the special train by which he was going North met General Grant and his staff near Nashville in another special going South. Stanton, having finished his mission, had returned to Washington, but before leaving had authorized Grant to take Dana, whom he had not met, back to Chattanooga, and this was done, to the satisfaction of all concerned.

It will be noted that every point made by Dana had been covered by the secretary's orders. Rosecrans had not only been relieved, but to prevent the possibility of the further disaster, Thomas had been ordered, October 19th, 11.30 P. M., to “Hold Chattanooga at all hazards,” and had replied at once, “I will hold the town till we starve!”

It is of course possible that these orders would have been issued without Dana's interposition, but under all the circumstances of the case it must be considered as greatly to his credit that he should have anticipated them one and all by the information as well as by the specific recommendations contained in his despatches from the immediate scene of action. When it is recalled that Lincoln himself had styled Dana “the eyes of the government at the front,” and that all of his despatches as soon as read at the War Department were sent at once to the White House, the conclusion is irresistible that they were the actuating cause of the changes which they recommended.

1 Adjutant--general of the Thirteenth corps, a distinguished lawyer and ex-judge of Illinois.

2 General Seth Williams, of the regular army.

3 This refers to General M. K. Lawler, than whom there never was a more honest or capable soldier in the volunteer army.

4 Dana, Recollections of the Civil War, p. 104.

5 Dana, Recollections of the Civil War, p. 106 et seq.

6 The earliest notice of this movement received by the government was from General Meade, September 14, 1863. See Official Records, Serial No. 50, p. 35.

7 Dana to Stanton, September 14, 1863.

8 This entire series of despatches will be found in the Official Records, Serial No. 50, pp. 182-221.

9 Dana to Stanton, Chattanooga, September 20th.

10 Badeau, Military History of U. S. Grant, vol. i., p. 626.

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