Chickamauga & Chattanooga – Death Knell of the Confederacy

Thomas’ soldiers were sent to relieve the pressure on Sherman by assaulting the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. This was swiftly accomplished, but then, without orders, Thomas’ men scaled the heights in one of the great charges of the war. The Confederate line collapsed and Bragg’s troops fled to the rear, retreating into Georgia. The siege and battle for Chattanooga were over and Union armies now controlled the city and nearly all of Tennessee. The next spring, General Sherman used Chattanooga for his supply base as he started his march to Atlanta and the sea.

Today, the Chickamauga Battlefield features a seven-mile self-guiding auto tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking trails, and horse trails. The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center contains exhibits and the Fuller Gun Collection which contains over 300 examples of military long arms.

The Siege of Chattanooga

Battle of Chattanooga, L. Prang and Co, 1880

Battle of Chattanooga, L. Prang and Co, 1880

Thomas remained in position at Rossville, Georgia throughout September 21st, but, it was evident that the Confederates could turn his right flank and cut him off from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He suggested to Rosecrans that the Union Army concentrate at Chattanooga. In anticipation of receiving an order to withdraw to the town, Thomas instructed his officers to prepare their commands for the movement. Rosecrans adopted the suggestion and that evening Thomas withdrew the Union forces to Chattanooga. All wagons, ambulances and surplus artillery had already departed for Chattanooga during the day. By the morning of September 22, all Union troops were in position in the town.

The situation in which the men in blue found themselves in Chattanooga was not pleasant. The Tennessee River walled them in on the north, although a pontoon bridge and two ferries offered escape possibilities. Lookout Mountain blocked the way on the west, and Missionary Ridge to the east and south, now held by the Confederates, completed the circle.

Confederate troops began to take up siege positions around Chattanooga. In these positions, the Confederates dominated the Union lines. Bragg’s men controlled all the railroads leading into the town; Confederate batteries and sharpshooters commanded the Tennessee River, and river traffic ceased; they controlled the roads on the south side of the river and kept under fire the one road north of the river leading to Bridgeport, the nearest Union supply base. Only the road over Walden’s Ridge and down through the Sequatchie Valley to Bridgeport was open to General Rosecrans.

Reinforcements for the Besieged Army

As early as September 13, General in Chief Halleck ordered reinforcements sent to Rosecrans. His dispatches on September 13, 14, and 15 to Major Generals Hurlbut at Memphis and Grant and Sherman at VicksburgMississippi directed the troop movements. These dispatches, however, were delayed for several days en route from Cairo to Memphis and, in the meantime, the Battle of Chickamauga was fought. Grant received the orders on the 22nd and immediately instructed four divisions under Sherman to march to Chattanooga.

One division of the Seventeenth Corps, already in transit from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Helena, Arkansas, was ordered to proceed on to Memphis. General Sherman quickly brought three divisions of his Fifteenth Army Corps from the vicinity of the Big Black River into Vicksburg, where they embarked as fast as water transportation could be provided. By October 3, all of the movement of 17,000 men was underway.

The route of travel was by boat to Memphis, then by railroad and overland marches to Chattanooga. From Memphis, the troops followed closely the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, which Sherman was ordered to repair as he advanced. By November 15, the troops were at Bridgeport, Alabama, having traveled a distance of 675 miles.

When the War Department in Washington received word that the Army of the Cumberland was besieged in Chattanooga, it considered the situation so critical that President Abraham Lincoln was called out of bed late at night to attend a council meeting. This meeting occurred on the night of September 23, and was described:

“Rosecrans dispatch, Mr. Stanton sent one of the President’s secretaries who was standing by to the Soldier’s Home, where the President was sleeping. A little startled by the unwonted summons, — for this was “the first time” he said, Stanton had ever sent for him, — the President mounted his horse and rode in through the moonlight to the War Department to preside over an improvised council to consider the subject of reinforcing Rosecrans.

There were present General Halleck, Stanton, Seward and Chase of the Cabinet; P. H. Watson and James A. Hardie of the War Department, and General D. C. McCallum, Superintendent of Military Transportation. After a brief debate, it was resolved to detach the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps from the Army of the Potomac, General Hooker to be placed in command of both . . .”

Army of the Potomac Soldiers

Army of the Potomac Soldiers

The movement of the Eleventh and Twelfth Army Corps from the Army of the Potomac to Tennessee eclipsed all other such troop movements by rail up to that time. It represented a high degree of cooperation between the railroads and the government and was a singular triumph of skill and planning. It also shows the great importance the War Department attached to the Chattanooga Campaign.

The troops began to entrain at Manassas Junction and Bealton Station, Virginia, on September 25, and 5 days later on September 30 the first trains arrived at Bridgeport, Alabama The route traveled was by way of Washington, D. C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Bellaire and Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Bridgeport, Alabama. Several major railroad lines, including the Baltimore and Ohio, Central Ohio, Louisville and Nashville, and Nashville and Chattanooga were involved.

Not all of the troops, however, made such good time as the first trains, and for the majority of the infantry, the trip consumed about nine days. The movement of the artillery, horses, mules, baggage, and impediments was somewhat slower, but by the middle of October, all were in the vicinity of Bridgeport ready to help break the siege. These two corps under Major General Joseph Hooker, comprising 20,000 troops and more than 3,000 horses and mules, traveled 1,157 miles. Differences in the railroad gauges hampered the movement, but most of the changes in gauge occurred at river crossings which had no bridges and the troops had to detrain at these points anyway.

Confederate cavalry raids, bent on destroying the railroad bridges and otherwise interfering with the reinforcing effort, imposed a more serious difficulty, but, except for delaying the latter part of the movement a few days, the raids were ineffective.

At the beginning of the siege, the Union Army had large supply trains in good condition and transporting supplies seemed feasible. But, early in October rain began to fall and the roads became almost impassable. To make the situation more critical, General Braxton Bragg sent Wheeler to harass and destroy the Union supply trains as they moved over Walden’s Ridge on their trips to and from Bridgeport. Wheeler destroyed hundreds of wagons and animals and it was not long before the Union soldier received less and less food. Wagon horses and mules and artillery horses were on a starvation diet and many died each day.

Command of the two hostile armies had undergone a considerable change during the siege period. General Ulysses S. Grant received orders to meet “an officer of the War Department” at Louisville, Kentucky. He proceeded by rail to Indianapolis, Indiana, and just as his train left the depot there, en route to Louisville, Kentucky, it was stopped. A message informed Grant that Secretary of War Stanton was coming into the station and wished to see him. This was the “officer” from the War Department who gave Grant command of the newly organized Military Division of the Mississippi. Thomas replaced Rosecrans. McCook and Crittenden had previously been relieved of their commands and their corps consolidated into the Fourth Corps under command of Granger. Stanton accompanied Grant to Louisville and there, the two spent a day reviewing the situation.

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