Thursday, August 15, 2013

11 Things I Learned about the Battle of Chattanooga

Dave Lintern talking about the second Battle of Chattanooga at the Mentor Public Library.
Rangers and volunteers from the James A. Garfield National Historic Site have been hosting a monthly series of talks about the battles of the Civil War at the Mentor Public Library.

On Wednesday, Volunteer Interpreter Dave Lintern talked about the Battle of Chattanooga -- more specifically, the second Battle of Chattanooga.

Here are 11 interesting facts from Lintern's talk.

1. There were three Battles of Chattanooga during the Civil War. You're most likely familiar with the third one in which Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant defeated Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

However, Lintern's subject was the second battle and the preceding Tullahoma campaign, which began on June 24, 1863, and continued until Aug. 21 of the same year.

Both the campaign and battle were the prologue for the better known Battle of Chickamauga, which will be the subject of the next talk in the Civil War series.

2. A little bit of context is necessary to understand what happens during the second Battle of Chattanooga -- henceforth, known as Chattanooga II.

The people of eastern Tennessee were Appalachians and loyal Unionists, which didn't sit well with many of their neighbors to the south.

The civilians often suffered at the hands of conscription agents who would plunder the towns and kill those who opposed them.

Consequently, President Lincoln wanted to protect these people and that meant taking Chattanooga.

3. The aforementioned Bragg was Confederate officer in charge during the campaign and battle. He was unpopular with both his superiors an subordinates (and this ended up making a big difference later.)

Meanwhile, General William Rosecrans was in charge of the Union's Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans' chief of staff was a familiar name around these parts -- General James A. Garfield.

4. Chattanooga II was appropriately also the second battle of three between Bragg and Rosecrans.

The first round was the Battle of Stones River, which happened Dec. 31, 1862, to Jan. 2, 1863.

Rosencrans won that battle. It was a big win at the time for the Union who needed some good news after the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The win earned Rosecrans some good will, which he proceeded to squander with six months of inactivity.

5. Maybe "inactivity" is too harsh a word, but he wasn't doing a lot of fighting.

Instead, he oversaw the construction of Fort Rosecrans, a 225-acre headquarters that was the biggest fort constructed during the Civil War.

It took six months (from January to June) to build.

6. While Bragg's and Rosescrans' infantries were mostly inert, their cavalries occasionally skirmished.

One of Bragg's cavalry leaders was Major General Earl Van Dorn -- a tangential character to the story of Chattanooga II but interesting enough to merit a footnote.

Dorn, in addition to being a soldier, was a painter, writer and a bit of a cad. A reporter at the time labelled him "the terror of ugly husbands."

He was shot and killed in May 1863, but not by a Union soldier. One Dr. George Peters said he shot him for "violating the sanctity of (his) home." Peters was never charged with a crime.

7. Not everyone was indolent during this 6-month span. Union Colonel John T. Wilder turned his infantry into cavalry by commandeering horses.

He also outfitted his men with 7-shot repeating rifles, as opposed to muskets. When the government refused to pay for the repeaters, Wilder ordered them anyhow and his men agreed to pay for them out of their monthly wages.

When Washington got wind of their own stinginess, they were so embarrassed that they paid for the rifles.

8. On Garfield's encouragement, Rosecrans finally ordered his soldiers to attack Bragg.

From June 24 to July 3, the Union executed the Tullahoma campaign -- one of the most masterful strokes of planning and execution by either side during the Civil War.

Wilder set the tone for the offensive when his brigade held Hoover Gap against the Confederates despite being outnumbered three to one.

The odds were so bad that Wilder was actually ordered to retreat but he didn't follow orders.

Afterward, his superiors told him that his brigade's work saved three days of fighting and 1,000 lives.

The message, according to Lintern, "If you're going to disobey orders, you better be right."

9. Rosecrans both outflanked and outmaneuvered Bragg during the Tullahoma campaign, and Bragg was forced to retreat.

So, on July 3, the Union took Tullahoma without firing a shot.

This might have been a bigger deal if General Grant and General Meade didn't win even larger battles in Vicksburg and Gettysburg, respectively, in the next two days.

10. As he was wont to do, Rosecrans stalled again after taking Tullahoma instead of pursuing Bragg.

He did not press his advantage until August 21 when he began shelling the city of Chattanooga.

Once again, most everything went the Union's way. By coincidence, most Confederates were in church when the shelling began so they were caught unaware. And, when the Confederates finally set up their own artillery, the Union's cannons hit it on their first try.

The shelling continued for several days and, on August 29, the Union crossed the Tennessee River at four different locations.

On September 8, Bragg retreated again and Rosecrans took Chattanooga.

11. Then Rosecrans did something unusual: He pressed his advantage.

He pursued Bragg, stretching his own army over a stretch of 50 miles.

At about the same time, Bragg received about 20,000 reinforcements from the Army of Northern Virginia. That gave both him and Rosecrans about 65,000 men.

All of this might have provided Bragg with a tactical advantage if only his subordinates would have listened to him. (Remember, he was not a well-liked guy.)

On September 10 and 12, Bragg ordered one of his generals to attack an isolated unit of Rosecrans'. But, in both cases, his generals disregarded his orders because they feared more the Union Army was lurking nearby. (In hindsight, it wasn't.)

Thus far, almost everything had gone Rosecrans' way; but his and Bragg's fortunes were to be reversed during the Battle of Chickamauga.

Our Civil War series continues at noon on September 11 in our Main Branch when the subject will be the Battle of Chickamauga. You can register for the talk here.

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