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Chapter 28:

  • Conference of Gens. Bragg and Longstreet the day after the battle of Chickamauga.
  • -- Longstreet's plan of campaign North of the Tennessee River. -- why Gen. Bragg declined it. -- his investment of Chattanooga. -- he cuts off the enemy's supplies. -- he hopes to starve the garrison into surrender. -- reorganization of the Federal armies in the west. -- Gen. Grant's new and large command. -- his first task to relieve Thomas in Chattanooga. -- his successful lodgment on the south side of the Tennessee River. -- surprise of Longstreet. -- the Confederates retreat to Lookout Mountain. -- Longstreet makes a night attack on the enemy's new position, but is repulsed. -- the enemy accomplishes the relief of Chattanooga. -- detachment of Longstreet from Bragg's front to operate against Knoxville. -- this unfortunate movement the work of President Davis. -- military pragmatism and vanity of the Confederate President. -- Grant determines to take the offensive. -- the battle of Missionary Ridge. -- extraordinary strength of the Confederate position. -- two attacks repulsed. -- General advance of the Federal lines to the crest of Missionary Ridge. -- audacity of the movement. -- bad conduct of the Confederate troops. -- a shameful panic. -- causes of the extraordinary misconduct of Bragg's army. -- it falls back to Dalton. -- Longstreet's expedition against Knoxville. -- his pursuit of Burnside. -- his unsuccessful assault on Fort Sanders at Knoxville. -- he retreats to Rogersville, is cut off from Virginia, and spends the winter in North-eastern Tennessee. -- operations in Virginia in the fall of 1863. -- Lee attempts to flank Meade and get between him and Washington. -- an extraordinary adventure of Stuart's cavalry. -- Meade retreats to and beyond Bull Run. -- failure of Lee's flank movement. -- incidents of success for the Confederates. -- Lee retires to the Rappahannock. -- affair of Rappahannock Bridge. -- affair of Germania Ford. -- desultory operations between Lee's lines and East Tennessee. -- Averill's raid. -- close of the campaign of 1863 in Virginia

The morning after the battle of Chickamauga, Gen. Bragg stopped at the bivouac of Longstreet, and asked his views as to future movements. Gen. Longstreet suggested crossing the river above Chattanooga, so as to make ourselves sufficiently felt on the enemy's rear, as to force his evacuation of Chattanooga-indeed, force him back upon Nashville, and, if we should find our transportation inadequate for a continuance of this movement, [454] to follow up the railroad to Knoxville, destroy Burnside, and from there threaten the enemy's railroad communication in rear of Nashville.

The reasons which induced Gen. Bragg to decline this plan of campaign were detailed in a report to the War Department at Richmond, in which he wrote: “The suggestion of a movement by our right, immediately after the battle, to the north of the Tennessee, and thence upon Nashville, requires notice only because it will find a place on the files of the Department. Such a movement was utterly impossible for want of transportation. Nearly half our army consisted of reinforcements just before the battle, without a wagon or an artillery horse, and nearly, if not quite, a third of the artillery horses on the field had been lost. The railroad bridges, too, had been destroyed to a point south of Ringgold, and on all the road from Cleveland to Knoxville. To these insurmountable difficulties were added the entire absence of means to cross the river, except by fording at a few precarious points too deep for artillery, and the well-known danger of sudden rises, by which all communication would be cut off, a contingency which did actually happen a few days after the visionary scheme was proposed. But the most serious objection to the proposition was its entire want of military propriety. It abandoned to the enemy our entire line of communication, and laid open to him our depots of supplies, whilst it placed us with a greatly inferiour force beyond a difficult and, at times, impassable river, in a country affording no subsistence to men or animals. It also left open to the enemy, at a distance of only ten miles, our battle-field, with thousands of our rounded and his own and all the trophies and supplies we had won. All this was to be risked and given up for what? To gain the enemy's rear, and cut him off from his depot of supplies by the route over the mountains, when the very movement abandoned to his unmolested use the better and more practicable route of half the length on the south side of the river. Our supplies of all kinds were greatly reduced, the railroad having been constantly occupied in transporting troops, prisoners, and our wounded, and the bridges having been destroyed to a point two miles south of Ringgold. These supplies were ordered to be replenished, and as soon as it was seen that we could be subsisted, the army was moved forward to seize and hold the only communication the enemy had with his supplies in the rear. His important road, and the shortest by half to his depot at Bridgeport, lay along the south bank of the Tennessee. The holding of this all-important route was confided to Lieut.-Gen. Longstreet's command, and its possession forced the enemy to a road double the length, over two ranges of mountains, by wagon transportation. At the same time, our cavalry, in large force, was thrown across the river to operate on this long and difficult route. These dispositions, faithfully sustained, ensured the enemy's speedy evacuation of Chattanooga for want of food and forage. Possessed of the [455] shortest road his depot and the one by which reinforcements must reach him, we held him at our mercy, and his destruction was only a question of time.”

This was a bold statement of Bragg; but it seemed that for once a least his swollen boasts were to be realized, and the enemy at Chattanooga starved into surrender. Starvation or retreat stared in the face of the Army of the Cumberland; its supplies had to be dragged for sixty miles across the country and over abominable roads; and even if it ventured on retreat, it would have to abandon its artillery and most of its materiel. At this critical period, Gen. Rosecrans was relieved, Gen. Thomas succeeding him; and a few days afterwards, Gen. Grant arrived, having been placed in command of a military division, composed of the departments of the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee, in which were the armies of Gens. Burnside, Thomas, and Sherman.

It was the first task of Grant to relieve Thomas in Chattanooga. Reinforced by Hooker with two corps, it was decided that this force should cross the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, making a lodgment on the south side of it, three miles below where Lookout Mountain abuts on the river-this movement being intended to open navigation to the ferry, thus shortening land transportation, and securing certain supplies to the Federal army.

Four thousand men were detailed to execute this movement. Fifty pontoons, carrying twelve hundred men, were floated on the night of the 26th October down the river, passing three miles in front of Longstreet's pickets, without drawing their attention. The alarm was not given until the enemy attempted a landing at the ferry; and another body of three thousand Federals, who had marched down to a concealed camp opposite, being quickly ferried across, the Confederates were forced back and compelled to retreat to Lookout Mountain. In less than forty hours a whole corps of the enemy was across the river. A portion of this force halted in a position plainly visible from Lookout Mountain; and a night attack on the 29th October was planned upon it by Longstreet, who hoped by a surprise to frustrate the entire movement, and to capture the whole of Hooker's wagon train. The attack failed from insufficient force; it was made with only six Confederate regiments, and was withdrawn after three hours fighting with considerable loss. Grant's lodgment on the south side of the Tennessee was now assured; he was in firm possession of the new lines of communication; he had attained all the results he had anticipated; and his relief of Chattanooga was now to be taken as an accomplished fact.

But although the Federal army near Chattanooga had now no fears of starvation or retreat, Grant hesitated to assume the offensive against the strong positions in his front. Gen. Sherman had been ordered from the region of the Mississippi with four divisions; but before his arrival, Grant obtained the astounding news that Longstreet, with eleven thousand infantry, had been detached from Bragg's front (although the Confederates [456] were in momentary expectation of battle, already over-matched by numbers, and in the face of an enemy drawing reinforcements from every quarter), and that this veteran commander, with the best part of the army, had gone to Knoxville to attack Burnside, and with the visionary project of regaining East Tennessee, and perhaps through its gateways again penetrating Kentucky, and making the battle-ground of the Confederacy in this impossible country.

This extraordinary military movement was the work of President Davis, who seems, indeed, to have had a singular fondness for erratic campaigns. His visits to every battle-field of the Confederacy were ominous. He disturbed the plans of his generals; his military conceit led him into the wildest schemes; and so much did he fear that the public would not ascribe to him the hoped — for results of the visionary project, that his vanity invariably divulged it, and successes were foretold in public speeches with such boastful plainness, as to put the enemy on his guard and inform him of the general nature of the enterprise. On the 12th October President Davis visited the field of Chickamauga. He planned the expedition against Knoxville. He was in furious love with the extraordinary design, and in a public address to the army he could not resist the temptation of announcing that “the green fields of Tennessee would shortly again be theirs.”

The announcement of this enterprise alone remained to determine Grant to attack. Burnside was instructed to lure Longstreet to Knoxville, and retire within his fortifications, where he could stand a protracted siege. Lookout Mountain had been evacuated by the Confederates, and Bragg had moved his troops up to the top of Missionary Ridge.

The battle of Missionary Ridge.

On the 25th November, the enemy prepared for the grand assault, Sherman's force having come up, and occupied the northern extremity of Missionary Ridge. Hooker had scaled the rugged height of Lookout Mountain, and the Federal forces maintained an unbroken line, with open communications, from the north end of this dizzy eminence, through Cheat Valley, to the north end of Missionary Ridge. There were more than eighty thousand veteran troops in this formidable line. The Confederate army, numbering not half so many, had yet a position that should have decided the day. They held the crest of the ridge, from McFarlan's Gap almost to the mouth of the Chickamauga; the position was four to six hundred feet in elevation; and it had been strengthened by breastworks wherever the ascent was easy. The position was such that the enemy was [457] exposed to an artillery fire while in the plain, and to the infantry fire when he attempted the ascent of the hill or mountain.

The right wing of the Confederates was held by Hardee, with the divisions of Cleburne, Walker, Cheatham, and Stevenson. Breckinridge commanded on the left his old division, Stewart's, and part of Buckner's and Hindman's. The enemy's first assault was made upon Hardee, who repulsed it with great slaughter. The attack was made here by Sherman, and his bleeding columns staggered on the hill. A second attack on the Confederate left wing was ordered at noon, and repulsed. It was late in the afternoon, when, with an audacity wholly unexpected, Grant ordered a general advance of his lines to the crest of Missionary Ridge. As the Federal columns moved up at a rapid rate, in face of the batteries, whose ill-directed and purposeless fire did not serve to check them, a brigade in the Confederate centre gave way, and in a few moments, what had been a regular and vigorous battle, became a disgraceful panic and an unmitigated rout. Never was a victory plucked so easily from a position so strong. Availing himself of the first gap in the Confederate line, the enemy turned upon their flanks, and poured into them a terrible enfilading fire, that scattered them in confusion. The day was shamefully lost. Gen. Bragg attempted to rally the broken troops; he advanced into the fire, and exclaimed, “Here is your commander,” and was answered with the derisive shouts of an absurd catch-phrase in the army, “Here's your mule.”

An army notoriously lacking confidence in their commander; made weak and suspicious by the detachment from it of Longstreet's veteran divisions; and utterly demoralized by one of Bragg's freaks of organization before the battle, in shuffling over all the commands, and putting the men under new officers, abandoned positions of great strength; broke into a disorderly retreat from a line which might easily have been held against twice their numbers; and gave to the Confederacy what President Davis unwillingly pronounced “the mortification of the first defeat that had resulted from misconduct by the troops.”

The consequence of this disaster was that Gen. Bragg left in the hands of the enemy all of his strong positions on Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga Valley, and Missionary Ridge, and finally retired with his whole army to a position some twenty or thirty miles to the rear. His army was put in motion on the road to Ringgold, and thence to Dalton. Grant claimed as the fruits of his victory seven thousand prisoners, and forty-seven pieces of artillery.

Longstreet's expedition against Knoxville

We have seen that in the beginning of November Longstreet had been [458] despatched by Bragg up the valley towards Knoxville, where Burnside was operating. A part of the army of the latter lay at London, where Longstreet first struck and drove the enemy, capturing at Lenoir Station a train of eighty-five wagons, many of them loaded with valuable medical stores. At Bean Station he captured thirty wagons, a quantity of forage, and some horses; and in the Clinch Valley, forty other wagons, laden with sugar and coffee. Burnside continued to fall back upon Knoxville, but was overtaken at Campbell's Station on the 16th of November. Here he was severely pressed by Longstreet, who hoped to break the retreat into a rout. A running fight of two miles ensued, and Burnside reached Knoxville at daylight the next morning; Longstreet advancing, and laying regular siege to the place.

But while he was investing the place, news came of the great disaster at Missionary Ridge, and Longstreet, well understanding that Grant would now detach a column to relieve Knoxville, saw the necessity of quick work, and determined to risk an assault upon the place. On a hill near the Kingston road was a work, called Fort Sanders, which commanded the approaches to the town. It was a very strong work, and in front of it were felled trees, with the tops turning in all directions, and making an almost impassable mass of brush and timber. A space around the fort was cleared, and the ditch in front was about ten feet deep, with the parapet nearly twenty feet high.

In the morning of the 29th November, the assaulting column, consisting of three brigades of McLaw's division, moved up the slope, and was met by a heavy artillery fire, which fearfully mowed down the advancing soldiers. Still onward they pushed, struggling through the network of fallen timber and other devices laid down to impede them. But, the intricate passage by which they had to mount, was too difficult for them easily to master. The foremost parties stumbled and fell over each other in confusion; at the same time the enemy's fire poured fiercer and fiercer on their heads. The embrasures of the fort, and the whole line of the parapet blazed forth at once. Nevertheless, this did not effectually stop the advance. Pushing on over every obstacle, they soon reached within pistol-shot of the fort; then, suddenly, the enemy's guns launched forth from every quarter, and the Confederate line was shattered. Some, however, managed to spring into the ditch, and clamber up the glacis, planting their flag almost side by side with the Federal colours. They were not supported, however, by the rest of the charging column ; and the attack was withdrawn after a loss of some seven hundred in killed, wounded, and prisoners.

The assault having failed, and news of Sherman's approach from Chattanooga reaching him, Longstreet had no other alternative than to raise the siege, and occupy a new line of operations. He retreated towards Rutledge [459] up the valley, pursued by the combined forces of Burnside and Sherman. On the 13th December, he reached Bean Station, where, being hard pressed by the enemy, he turned and attacked his advance, driving him back to Russellville. Having shaken off the enemy here, Longstreet proceeded to take a position in Northeastern Tennessee, establishing his headquarters at Rogersville. He had hoped to find his railroad communications with Virginia open; but at this time Averill's raid had cut the railroad, compelling Longstreet to fall back upon his own resources, and completely isolating him in a wild and difficult country. The weather was bitterly cold; the mountains were covered with snow; more than half of the men were barefooted; and the cavalry was engaged in daily skirmishes with the enemy, while gleaning supplies east of a line drawn from Cumberland Gap to Cleveland. In February, 1864, the lines of communication with Virginia were repaired; but it was not until the rigour of winter broke that the hardy soldiers under Longstreet united again with Gen. Lee in Virginia, and were on the old ground about Gordonsville.

Operations in Virginia in the fall of 1863.

While such was the train of disaster that followed the brilliant but ill-starred victory of Chickamauga, the record of the operations of the Army of Northern Virginia was comparatively slight, and afforded but little compensation with reference to the general fortunes of the war. From July until October, Gen. Lee quietly rested on the Rapidan, without any incident beyond a grand review of his army. Longstreet had been detached from him; Meade had lost two corps under Hooker, which had been sent to balance the Confederate reinforcement on the Tennessee lines; and the two armies, thus diminished, continued to watch each other, until the public, North and South, became anxious and clamorous for fresh struggles and a new excitement.

That excitement was suddenly given. In October, Gen. Lee prepared to put into execution a campaign, which promised the most brilliant results, as its ultimate object appears to have been to flank Meade, and get between the enemy and Washington. The movement commenced on the 9th October, when Gen. Lee with a portion of his command crossed the river, and by circuitous and concealed roads contrived to get up near Culpepper without notice of the enemy. A cavalry division and a detachment of infantry under Gen. Fitzhugh Lee remained to hold the lines south of the Rapidan and to make a show of force there to deceive the enemy; while Gen. Stuart advanced with Hampton's division to protect from observation the flank of the army then moving towards Madison Court-House. [460]

On the 11th the bulk of the Confederate army was at Culpepper; the command of Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, uniting with that of Stuart, quickly followed; and Lee had now so manoeuvre that he had actually turned Meade's flank. But unfortunately for the success of the movement, the Federal commander had taken timely alarm; he had crossed the Rappahannock, and was rapidly retreating along the line of railroad running to Alexandria.

On the 12th, Lee arrived on the Rappahannock, at Warrenton Springs, after a skirmish with the Federal cavalry at Jeffersonton. That night, Gen. Stuart pushed on to Warrenton. He had guarded the flank of the army, driven off the enemy's forces everywhere, and performed invaluable service. The next day the army pushed on, the cavalry now in advance. Meade's army was at this time across the Rappahannock, and believed to have halted at Warrenton Junction, and between that point and Catlett's Station. Two thousand cavalry were sent down from Warrenton to reconnoitre in the direction of Catlett's. On arriving near the latter place, they found the enemy were moving heavy columns of infantry along the railroad towards Manassas; and they thereupon immediately turned to retrace their steps toward Warrenton; but on reaching a road which crossed their route, leading from Warrenton Junction to Manassas, they found that the enemy were also moving infantry , large masses along this road. They were thus completely hemmed in. Nothing remained but to “lay low,” in camp parlance, within a distance of the enemy where every word of command could be distinctly heard.

The body of Confederate cavalry was concealed in a thicket of pines The accidental discharge of a fire-arm, the neighing of a horse, the rattling of an artillery chain, would have discovered them to the enemy. The night was passed in fearful suspense. Stuart gave his officers and men to understand that surrender was not to be thought of, but that the enemy was to be fought to the last. A council of war having been called, it was resolved, as the best thing that could be done under the circumstances, to desert the nine pieces of horse artillery, and for the cavalry in six columns to endeavour to cut their way through the enemy. But after some reflection, Stuart resolved not to do this. At daybreak the rear-guard of the enemy were seen in camp cooking their breakfasts, not a quarter of a mile distant. Gen. Stuart had sent several scouts on foot through the enemy's lines to announce his situation to Gen. Lee. He ordered them to put on infantry knapsacks, and, shouldering muskets, to advance in the darkness to the road, fall into the enemy's column, and, crossing it, to make their way to Warrenton, and say to Gen. Lee that he was surrounded, and he “must send some of his people to help him out.” Three of the scouts reached Warrenton in safety.

The last division of the enemy halted and bivouacked opposite Stuart [461] and within one hundred and fifty yards of his position-so close that he could hear the Federal cavalrymen pouring out oats to feed their horses. During the night two of Meade's staff straggled into his lines, and were taken prisoners. At daylight next morning, Stuart was informed by the cracking of skirmishers' muskets, that Lee had received his message, and was sending “some of his people” to help him. As Lee's advancing columns attracted the enemy's attention, Stuart, from the rear, opened on them with grape and canister. The enemy was much disordered by the cannonade from so unexpected a quarter, and, taking advantage of the confusion, Stuart limbered up his guns, and, with cavalry and artillery, dashed through the hostile ranks, and rejoined Gen. Lee. The enemy suffered a loss of one hundred and eighty killed in this affair.

Lee's whole army was reunited at Warrenton, and a halt was made to supply the troops with provisions. On the 14th, he again pushed on in two columns, and, by different roads towards Bristoe Station, where the rear-guard of Meade, under Gen. Warren, was attacked by the advance of Gen. Hill. As Hill's corps approached the station, what appeared to be a small portion of the enemy was discovered behind a long embankment of the railroad, and two brigades of Heth's division were ordered to dislodge them. A severe action ensued, in which Hill was repulsed, with three or four hundred killed and wounded, and the loss of five pieces of artillery.

Before the main body of Lee's army could get up the action was over, Meade had retreated across Broad Run; and the next morning was reported to be fortifying beyond Bull Run. The enemy had thus been forced back to the old battle-fields around Centreville and Manassas. Gen. Lee deemed it unwise to continue the pursuit further, as the entrenchments around Washington and Alexandria rendered it impossible to turn Meade's position; and the country affording no subsistence to the Confederate army, while the enemy, on the other hand, was at the door of his magazines, it returned to the line of the Rappahannock.

The flank movement had failed in what it had designed; but it was accompanied with a considerable success in the Valley district; the sum of its incidents was in favour of the Confederates, and its visible fruits were large. Gen. Imboden, who commanded in the Shenandoah Valley, had been left to guard the mountain passes, while the flank movement and advance of Lee was in progress. He not only performed this service, but on the 18th October, pressed on to Charlestown, took the town with four hundred and thirty-four prisoners, and brought off a large amount of captured property.

The entire movement of October cost the Confederates about one thousand men. Its fruits were two thousand four hundred and thirty-six prisoners, including forty-one commissioned officers. The railroad was destroyed [462] from Manassas to Rappahannock Station; and Gen. Lee having placed his troops again in position, on both sides of the railway, upon the line of the Rappahannock, Ewell on the right, Hill upon the left, and the cavalry protecting each flank, quietly awaited the time when Meade, repairing the railroad, should again advance and confront him.

On the 6th November the enemy came in force upon Lee's army at Rappahannock Station and Kelly's Ford. Near the latter place the enemy crossed the river; and Gen. Rodes, who had fallen back before superiour numbers, was reinforced by Johnson's division. To meet the demonstration at the bridge near which Ewell's corps was stationed, Early's division was put in motion, and the two brigades of Hoke and Hayes were passed to the other side, to hold the north bank, and watch the enemy's front. It was believed that these troops would be able to maintain their position if attacked, the nature of the position being such that the enemy could not attack with a front more extended than their own; and that even if they were compelled to withdraw, they might do so safely under cover of the guns on the banks of the river.

The night was excessively dark; a high wind effectually prevented the movements of the enemy being heard; and taking advantage of these circumstances, two entire Federal corps advanced to overwhelm the small force of Confederates exposed on the north side of the river. The first line of the enemy was broken and shattered; but the second and third lines continued to advance, overwhelming Hayes, and, by a movement towards the left, enclosing Hoke's brigade in a manner that rendered escape impossible. Owing, it is said, to an opposite wind, no information was obtained of the attack on the south side of the river, until too late for the artillery stationed there to aid in repelling it. The darkness of the night and the fear of injuring our own men, who were surrounded by and commingled with the enemy, prevented Gen. Early from using artillery; and the unlucky commander witnessed the loss of the greater portion of two of his brigades, without, as he declared, the possibility of an effort to extricate them. Many of our men effected their escape in the confusion; some by swimming the river, and others by making their way to the bridge, passing over under a shower of balls. But not less than two thousand prisoners were left in the hands of the enemy, and was the cost to us of this unfortunate surprise.

On the 27th November, another incident, but without general significance, occurred on the line of the Rappahannock. On that day Meade again advanced upon the Confederates at Germania Ford, his immediate object being to get in the rear of Johnson's division,which was posted in the advance about a mile and a half from the river. In the action thus brought on, the enemy was punished and repulsed with a loss of several hundred in killed and wounded. The next day, Meade withdrew from the front, [463] and re-occupied his position about Brandy Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. This virtually ended the campaign for the year 1863.

In other parts of Virginia there were operations about the close of the year, which must be very briefly and generally referred to, as they belong to a very minor theatre of the war. That theatre lay between Gen. Lee's lines in Virginia and East Tennessee in the district commanded by the active and eccentric Gen. Sam Jones, and almost constantly disturbed by incursions and raids of the enemy. Here the great annoyance was from the famous Federal raider Averill, who, after a various and unequal career, succeeded in December, 1863, in striking the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad at Salem, and badly severing what was at that time the most important line of communication in the Confederacy.

Gen. Lee finding no prospect of Longstreet's arrival or other reinforcement from the West, retired to the old line of the Rapidan. The Federal forces went into winter-quarters on the line of the Rappahannock about the 6th December; the Confederate army did the same on the Rapidan; and the curtain of winter dropped on the great scenes of the war in Virginia.

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