Friday, December 27, 2013

Johnston Given Department of Tennessee

After his defeat at the Battle of Chattanooga, Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate army, offered his resignation on November 29, and President Jefferson Davis quickly accepted it. But he had trouble deciding on a replacement. William Hardee, the senior corps commander, took over temporary command. But he did not want it permanently, having seen the responsibility and governmental politics it involved. He recommended Joseph E. Johnston, as did Polk, another corps commander. Davis did not like Johnston and doubted whether he was willing to attack the enemy. The only other officer in the Confederacy of that rank was P. G. T. Beauregard, and Davis thought he would be even worse. The generals and the soldiers wanted Joe Johnston, but many in Richmond were not sure he had what it took. But finally, after nearly a month, Davis accepted the inevitable, and gave Johnston command of the Confederate army.

William Hardee

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lincoln's 10% Plan

In December of 1863, the Civil War was still far from over. Major Confederate armies still remained under Bragg and Lee, but overall it had been a good year for the Federals. Lee's second invasion of the north had been defeated by Meade at Gettysburg in July, and just the next day Vicksburg fell to Grant, and the Mississippi River was captured, dividing the Confederacy in half. The Union suffered their greatest defeat in the west at Chickamauga, but when Grant arrived he turned the campaign around and broke the siege of Chattanooga.

Lincoln, 1863
With these new victories to his credit, Lincoln turned his mind to how to reintegrate the southern states back into the nation. This task was not without its problems. Except for a few areas like East Tennessee, the vast majority of the voters in the southern states supported the Confederate war effort, and they would not go back kindly into the country they were fighting to leave. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect January 1st 1863, declared the slaves in the Confederacy free, which created social problems for the United States. Nearly 40% of people in the south would be freed from their slavery, overthrowing the entire culture of the south.

To address the question of how states would rejoin the USA, Lincoln released The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, explaining what would come to be called the 10% Plan. He would fully pardon anyone who participated in the rebellion who was not a member of the government, or fell into a few other cases, if they swore to support the U.S. Constitution, the Union and the United State's new policy on slavery. He also said that a loyal southern state government would be recognized if it was formed by a group who swore the loyalty oath which numbered 10% of those who voted in 1860.

The terms Lincoln offered were lenient. In exchange for giving up slavery, most of those who participated in the war would be pardoned, and they could quickly rejoin the nation as a full state. But Lincoln could not unilaterally offer these terms. In his proclamation he recognized that the Constitution gives Congress the right to control their own membership. If they disagreed with Lincoln they could refuse to seat elected Congressmen from the southern states, denying recognition of those governments.

Cartoon of Lincoln rebuilding the Union

Lincoln would meet opposition in his plan for reconstruction from the radical Republicans. They believed that the southerners needed to be punished for their rebellion, and they wanted a much longer reconstruction process which would involve a reconstruction of the entire southern society and economy. This question would not be resolved before Lincoln's death, and it would continue to be debated for many years.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Battle of Fort Sanders

Ambrose Burnside, having gotten ahead of the pursing army of James Longstreet at the Battle of Campbell's Station, arrived in the works around Knoxville, Tennessee on November 17. The Confederates came up as well, and began to consider an attack. Longstreet decided that Fort Sanders was the most vulnerable point on the Yankee line. It was west of the town, positioned at a salient in the earthworks. It was 70 feet high and surrounded by an 8 foot ditch.

The Confederate positions were 2,400 yards from the fort. Longstreet's attack plan called for three brigades to be used. No artillery bombardment would be made, to avoid alerting the Federals of the attack, but this advantage was lost anyway because skirmishers were deployed long before the actual attack was made.

The southerners attacked at dawn on November 29th, after a cold night, with rain and snow falling. Moving out, they encountered obstacles made of telegraph wire which strung to trip the men. Alerted to the attack, the Federals opened fire and began shooting the rebels down. Eventually the Confederates made it to the fort, and jumped down into the ditch. But here they were confronted with a problem. Looking through binoculars at the position, Longstreet saw a Union soldier walking across the ditch. Not realizing that the man was on a narrow plank, he concluded that the ditch was very shallow and that scaling ladders would not be needed. But down in the ditch, the Confederates discovered the truth was much different. It was nearly impossible to climb out of the ditch onto the wall, especially slippery frozen as it was. The Confederates fruitlessly tried to dig footholds in the earth, as the Federals poured musketry into the packed men and stabbed with their bayonets, even tossing down artillery shells as hand grenades. Some southerners made it to the parapet by standing on each others shoulders. Several flags were planted on the top, but no breakthrough was made.

Union engineers on the battlefield
After 20 minutes Longstreet recalled his men. It was one of the most disastrous attacks of the entire war. The attack had been badly planned, and victory was nearly impossible without ladders. The Confederates lost 813 men, the Federals only 13. This reverse. Combined with the defeat of Bragg at Chattanooga, ended the Siege of Knoxville, and the Confederate's attempt to gain control of East Tennessee.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The First Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving is the 150th annual celebration of the holiday in American history. Although the holiday is traditionally associated with the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving in the 1600s, its celebration annually by the nation begun in 1863 with a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. Before that time, Thanksgiving days were called on special occasions. To learn more about the history of Thanksgiving, watch this video from Discerning History.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Battle of Ringgold Gap

After the Confederates were defeated at Chattanooga, Bragg retreated south towards Atlanta. When the army passed Ringgold Gap, he ordered Cleburne to hold it to the last ditch so the rest of the army could escape. Although it was considered to be a suicide assignment, Cleburne and his men did it gloriously. On November 27th, 150 years ago today, they held the gap successfully, giving Hooker there the same reception they gave Sherman on Missionary Ridge. Covering the hill with slain, they effectively stopped the pursuit in its tracks. Hooker lost around 509 men, Cleburne 221.

Bragg halted his discouraged men, and as he had after the battle of Murfreesboro, offered to turn over his command. This time this offer was accepted. In his time as commander of the Army of Tennessee, Bragg had fought four battles, and although three could be claimed as victories, in two of those cases he followed his claimed victory with a retreat. Although he had penetrated deep into Kentucky, his mistakes had led him into a disastrous retreat from an almost impregnable position. Jefferson Davis would eventually decide to replace him with Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston had shown on several occasions that he was very hesitant to fight, but the president could find no better man for the job. 

Mine Run Campaign

Since the Battle of Gettysburg the armies in Virginia had not met in a major battle. But both Meade and Lee maneuvered and skirmished, trying to gain an advantage over the other. At the end of November and beginning of December this would result in the Mine Run Campaign. Meade tried to gain a march on Lee and strike his right across the Rapidan river. But the Federals got bogged down while crossing the river, and Lee was alerted to their movement. He sent the Second Corps, under the temporary command of Jubal Early, to meet the Federal advance. Spearheaded by the Stonewall Division under “Allegheny” Johnson, the Yankee movement was blunted.

That night Lee withdrew to a line of prepared fortifications along Mine Run. Meade planned to attack on December 1, but after a heavy bombardment he was convinced that Lee's position was too strong. Lee gave orders to hit to Union left flank, which his cavalry had discovered was in the air. But when the southerners move out the next day, they found the Union position empty. Meade had fallen back during the night. Lee was very frustrated with this, and said, “I am too old to command this army. We never should have permitted those people to get away.” This ended the campaigning in Virginia for 1863. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Battle of Chattanooga

Tunnel Hill
150 years ago today, the Federals executed their attack on the Confederates at Chattanooga. Hooker was to continue to press on the Confederate right, Sherman on the left, and Thomas in the center. Sherman was at a positioned called Tunnel Hill. His 16,600 men were met at first by only 4,000 under Patrick Cleburne, who barely made it back to the battle in time. Cleburne's brave men were entrenched on Tunnel Hill which took its name from the railroad tunnel which cut through it. Sherman had chosen the strongest position on the Confederate line to attack. At dawn he sent two brigades forward under Brigadier General John Corse. They were stopped hard by Cleburne's men. The Confederates could throw stones down from their position and do almost as much damage as the bullets they shot. Corse's men could make no headway and were forced back. Sherman sent more lines forward, dashing them against Cleburne's line. One Federal wrote,
We had been concealed from the enemy all the forenoon by the edge of a wood; yet his constant shelling of this wood showed that he knew we were there. As the column came out upon the open ground, and in sight of the rebel batteries, their renewed and concentrated fire knocked the limbs from the trees about out heads. An awful cannonade had opened on us. ... I had heard the roaring of heavy battle before, but never such a shrieking of cannon-balls and bursting of shells as met us on that run. We could see the rebels working their guns, while in plain view other batteries galloped up, unlimbered and let loose upon us. ... In ten minutes the field was crossed, the foot of the ascent was reached, and now the Confederates poured into our faces the reserved fire of their awful musketry. It helped little that we returned it from our own rifles, hidden as the enemy were in rifle pits, behind logs, and stumps, and trees. ... Then someone cried, 'Look to the tunnel!' There, on the right, pouring through a tunnel in the mountain, and out of the railway cut, came the graycoats by hundreds, flanking us completely. ... They were through by the hundreds, and a fatal enfilading fire was cutting our line to pieces.

Sherman continued attacking for six hours, never breaking through the rebel line. When the Federals gained any foothold, Cleburne shifted his troops and launched a strong counterattack, himself at the head of his men. Charging down the hill they broke the Federal lines. By late in the afternoon, Sherman's attacks had accomplished nothing. He had lost almost 2,000 men, while Cleburne had skillfully held his position, loosing only about 200. One Confederate who visited the battlefield wrote,
They had swept their front clean of Yankies, indeed, when I went up about sundown the side of the ridge in their front was strewn with dead yankies & looked like a lot of boys had been sliding down the hill side, for when a line of the enemy would be repulsed, they would start down hill & soon the whole line would be rolling down like a ball, it was so steep a hill side there.
Grant watching the battle

Missionary Ridge
Not all of the Confederate line had put up such a good fight as Cleburne. The odds in the center of the Confederate line were much better for the Confederates. While Cleburne had only one division to fight six, here Bragg had four to Thomas's five. In the center, Grant ordered Thomas to go forward at 3:30 pm after it was clear Sherman was making no headway. Ten minutes after the order was given, six cannon rang out, the signal for the 25,000 Federals to move forward towards the Confederate gun pits. Bragg had 112 cannon on the 400 foot ridge, and they opened at once on the advancing Northerners. The cannon balls tore into the Federal lines, but they were not halted. They broke into a run towards the ridge, with yells of "Chickamauga! Chickamauga!", remembering their defeat of a few weeks before. They rushed forward and captured the line of rifle pits. The second Confederate line in the middle of the ridge opened a heavy fire upon the intruders. At first the men were pinned down, but instead of fleeing, the men began to move slowly up the slope. They had no orders to advance, they moved of their own accord. They wanted to come to grips with the enemy rather than lay there and be shot. One Yankee wrote:
Above, the summit of the hill was one sheet of flame and smoke, and the awful explosions of artillery and musketry made the earth fairly tremble. Below, the columns of dark blue, with the old banner of beauty and of glory leading them on, were mounting up with leaning forms.... Cannon shot tore through their ranks; musket balls were rapidly and tearfully decimating them; behind them, the dead and wounded lay thick as autumn leaves.... With a wild cheer and a madder rush our men dashed forward, and for a few moments a sharp, desperate, almost hand-to-hand fight with bayonet and ball ensued. Before this resistless assault the rebel line was lifted as by a whirlwind, and borne backward, shattered, bleeding and confused.

The strong position was not taken just because of the bravery of the Federal troops, there were problems with the position itself. Although it was strong naturally, that strength made the defenders careless. The order for the first line to fall back after a few volleys had not been communicated to all the troops, so there was confusion and demoralization. The engineers had also made a bad mistake, placing the top line of rifle pits on the geographical crest rather than the military crest. On Missionary Ridge the defenders had blind spots, since they were on the actual crest. When the Federals came up the hill, not stopped by the Confederate volleys, the men broke and ran for the rear. The officers tried to stem the rout, but it was of no use. Bragg himself tried to rally them, but they ignored him. “Grey clad men rushed wildly down the hill and into the woods,” a Yankee wrote, “tossing away knapsacks, muskets and blankets as they ran. Batteries galloped back along the narrow, winding roads with reckless speed, and officers, frantic with rage, rushed from one panic-stricken group to another, shouting and cursing as they strove to check the headlong flight, but all in vain.”

37 cannon and 3000 men were captured, and Bragg himself barely made his escape. The Confederate center was completely wrecked. the Federals had suffered heavily as well. Sheridan alone, who had delivered the heaviest assault, had lost 1,346 of his 6500 men. Some regiments had over half their men killed or wounded. They halted for a time at the top of the ridge, resting on their gains. The Confederates on the left and right of the line tried to contain the breakthrough as much as possible, fighting the Federals from both directions. Cleburne's men held their ground until after sunset, and they retreated last, the unbroken rear guard of Bragg's army.

Missionary Ridge
During the course of this several day battle for Chattanooga, Bragg had lost 361 killed, 2160 wounded and 4146 captured, while Grant had 753 killed, 4722 wounded and 349 captured. But more importantly, Confederate control of Chattanooga, the gateway to the South, had been lost. Many mistakes had been made which caused Bragg to lose his very strong position. He had bad relations with many of his subordinates, causing some very talented men to have to be removed from his command so that the army could continue to function. Longstreet had been sent to East Tennessee, weakening the force. The entrenchments on Missionary Ridge had been badly positioned, and orders to the men had been confused. By this time, most of the Confederates were veterans. They knew when to stand and fight and when to run. When they thought they had no chance of success, they ran, with the exception of Cleburne's men on the right.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Battle of Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain
According to the Union plan for the Battle of Chattanooga, Joseph E. Hooker attacked the Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain 150 years ago today. Lookout Mountain is a 1,800 foot height rising above Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. The overall commander of the mountain was Brigadier General Carter Stevenson, a West Pointer and career military officer from Virginia. He placed his own brigade on the very summit, with three others on a bench below. Altogether, he had about 8,700 men. Although the mountain looks easy to defend, it actually was more difficult than it appeared. The bench was commanded by Union artillery, and the Federals outnumbered the Southern defenders with their force of 12,000 men. On September 24th, the mountain was wreathed in mist, causing the battle that day to be called romantically, though technically incorrectly, the Battle Above the Clouds.

Hooker's men were supposed to march at dawn, but they were delayed until 8:30 am. As they marched forward, they were covered by 13 Union batteries firing on the Confederate positions. The Federal forces encountered Confederate skirmishers at 9:30 and pushed them back with their superior forces. The Confederates had been told to fall back fighting, as they did not have the strength for a full defense. Stevenson's artillery on the summit of the mountain opened fire, and as the Union advanced close the gunners had to depress their weapons more and more. Finally, the Yankees reached a point where the guns could not be pointed downward any further, making the artillery on the summit useless. Lookout Mountain was too steep for an easy defense, since the cannon could not sweep the entire approach. But the rough ground made the advance hard for the Federal troops. A Union officer wrote of the battle:
[S]lowly yet steadily the assailing lines of battle swept up the rugged mountain, driving before them the enemy's heavy line of skirmishers, which gradually fell back upon the main line of battle.... At this moment the prospect, which to the spectator upon the fortified ridge directly opposite, and where the batteries were stationed, had been one of the most grand and imposing that can be conceived, was suddenly obscured. A dense cloud enveloped the side of the mountain, and though the summit was in full view above the cloud, the furiously contending forces upon the Northern slope were entirely hidden. The incessant clatter and rattle of musketry still continued, but on one, save those in the very midst of the deadly conflict, could declare how it was going, or who would prove triumphant.

Around the Cravens House, a Confederate regiment beat off one attack, but with the next, they were swamped and routed. Stevenson ordered two more brigades to join the original one in attempting to resist the Union drive, but it was of no use. They tried to form a line, but the Federals got around their flank in the mist and the rebels had to retreat. Finally, near sunset, Hooker ordered his men to halt. Although at points he thought he was about to be defeated, his men had captured half of the mountain after a hard fight through the woods, boulders and mist. He intended to continue the fight the next day. But the next day there would be no battle here. Bragg had ordered Stevenson to abandon the mountain which he did through the afternoon and night. Bragg pulled back the left of his army to focus on the defense of Missionary Ridge. This battle had cost Hooker 629 men, the Confederate defenders 1,251, over 1000 of which were captured.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Battle of Orchard Knob

Tennessee River
After the battle of Chickamauga, the Confederate army under Braxton Bragg pursued the Federals to Chattanooga, where a siege began. Ulysses Grant and reinforcements arrived in the town, and the Federals were able to reopen their supply line. Bragg divided his army, sending Longstreet to fight Bragg in east Tennessee. In the mean time, the Federal forces increased. Sherman's forces began arriving on November 20th.

Grant planned to use Sherman's and Hooker's men to attack Bragg, positioned on the heights around the town. Grant thought that Thomas's troops, who had been defeated at Chickamauga, would not be able to fight. On November 23rd, 150 years ago today, Grant got word that Bragg was abandoning his position. This was not true, he was just sending more men to East Tennessee. By this time, because of the Union reinforcement and the division of the Confederate army, Grant had 76,000 men available to fight, while Bragg had only 43,000.

Grant did not want the Confederates to escape, so he ordered Thomas to attack Orchard Knob, a small rise in front of the main Confederate position on Missionary Ridge. This movement was intended to be a reconnaissance in force to determine the strength of the enemy. At 1:30 pm almost 15,000 Federals moved out in long lines across the fields. They were moving on only 600 Confederates, who fired only one volley before making a hasty retreat.

Orchard Knob
This movement showed Bragg the Federal's intentions, and he recalled the troops he had just sent to Longstreet. Cleburne's division returned in time to participate in the battle, and they would do very good service. The Confederates had neglected to fortify Missionary Ridge during all the weeks of the siege, but the orders were finally given and that work began. But these new entrenchments were constructed with a fatal flaw. They were built on the very top of the ridge, rather than a little below it, on what is called the military crest. This meant that they would not be able see the Yankees for much of their climb up the hill.

Orchard Knob
The Union decided to continue their attack on Bragg, and the generals reworked their plans. The right would attack the Confederate positions on Lookout Mountain, Thomas would continue to press the center at Missionary Ridge, and Sherman would cross the Tennessee River to attack the top of Missionary Ridge on the left.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address

Lincoln at Gettysburg
When the Battle of Gettysburg was fought and the armies marched away, the small town was left with thousands of dead and wounded to deal with. At first all that could be done was to bury the men in crude and shallow graves. But the Northerners wanted to do for the soldiers that had fallen on their homeland, in one of the greatest Union victories thus far in the war. A committee was formed of men from all the states who had soldiers fight there. A hilltop cemetery had been an important Union position during the battle, so it was natural that a portion of this hill would be turned into a cemetery and memorial for the Union dead. The committee moved fast. 17 acres were purchased, and less than five months later they were ready to commemorate the Soldier's Cemetery.

Lincoln's handwritten draft of the speech
The main speaker for the event was Edward Everett, an important Massachusetts figure who had served as governor, ambassador to Great Britain, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and President of Harvard. For nearly a decade he had toured the country as an orator. When the ceremony was held, 150 years ago today, Everett gave a two hour speech, but today very few remember what he said. For after him rose President Abraham Lincoln, whose two minute speech is one of the most famous in American history. Lincoln said:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The next day Everett wrote to Lincoln, saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Reactions to the speech different, based primarily upon the politics of the commentators. The Republican Chicago Tribune wrote “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man,” while the Democratic Chicago Times said, “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.”1 The southerners, of course, thought very little of it. The Lynchburg Virginian said, “Really, the ignorance and coarseness of this man would repel and disgust any other people than the Yankees . . . What a commentary is this on the character of our enemies.”2

New York Times article on the address
Those who agreed with Lincoln would come to see it as one of the greatest statements of why the war was fought. A few years later newspaper editor Horace Greeley wrote, “I doubt that our national literature contains a finer gem than that little speech at the Gettysburg celebration....” 3 Republican senator Charles Sumner said, “The battle itself was less important than the speech. Ideas are more than battles."4

Today the Gettysburg Address is regarded by many as one of the foundational statements of American government, ranking in importance with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Some have called it the founding document of a second American revolution. In many ways these analysis are true. The Address is a concise statement that declares that American changed during the Civil War. It experienced a “new birth,” and the debate over what that birth entailed continue in the country to the present day.

1.Contemporary Reactions, Cornell University: The Gettysburg Address http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/gettysburg/ideas_more/reactions_p1.htm.
2.Virginians' Responses fo the Gettysburg Address, 1863-1963 by Jared Elliott Peatman, 2006. http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-04162006-004530/unrestricted/peatman.pdf. p. 39.
3.The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine: May 1891, to October 1891. (New York: The Century Co., 1891) p. 380.
4.The Life of Charles Sumner by Jeremiah Chaplin and J. D. Chaplin (Boston: D. Lothrop Company, 1874) p. 421.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Knoxville Campaign - Battle of Campbell Station

While the Confederates were concentrating on Rosecrans' army around Chickamauga and Chattanooga, on the Tennessee-Georgia line, Ambrose Burnside took advantage of transfers of Confederate troops away from East Tennessee. He was successful, and in September Cumberland Gap and Knoxville fell to the Federals. The siege of Chattanooga freed up some of the other Confederate troops, and Braxton Bragg sent James Longstreet with his corps to deal with Burnside. Longstreet disagreed with the order, as both parts of the Confederate army would be outnumbered by the Federals they were facing, but he had to go nonetheless.

Burnside had ignored requests to reinforce the Federals in Chattanooga, but as Longstreet advanced toward him he determined to go out and engage him, and fall back slowly to Knoxville, thereby ensuring that Longstreet did not return quickly to aid Bragg. Longstreet's movements were hampered by problems with the railroad, but finally his men were dropped off at Sweetwater, halfway to Knoxville, on November 12. Then commenced a race between the Confederates and Burnside, who had advanced as planned.

The two armies first seriously engaged each other on November 16th, 150 years ago today. The armies marched on parallel roads towards Campbell's Station. Whoever arrived first would control the route to Knoxville. The Yankees arrived there first, but just fifteen minutes later the Confederates showed up. Longstreet tried to hit the Federals on both flanks, and although the Union right was driven back, the attack on the left did not materialize. Burnside ordered his men to fall back, but they had won the first section of the race, and were able to continue on the road to Knoxville. In this fight the Federals lost about 400, the Confederates, 570. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Meade Crosses the Rappohannock

There was no major battle between the armies of Meade and Lee after the fight at Gettysburg in July, 1863. The time had been spent in preparations and maneuvers, most recently in October's Bristoe Campaign, which ended with the armies right back where they started. In late October the Confederate retreated behind the Rappohannock River. Intended to make their winter quarters there. Meade wanted to cross the river at Fredericksburg, moving around Lee's eastern flank, but the government in Washington insisted on an attack on the front.

He believed the found a weakness in Lee's line, where several units remained north of the river, connected to the rest only by a pontoon bridge. Lee hoped that by holding this bridgehead he could threaten any movements that Meade might make. But Meade decided to strike it with the troops of John Sedgwick, while at the same time William French's men crossed the river several miles downstream.

The Battle of the Rappohannock began 150 years ago today on November 7, 1863. When Lee got word of the Federal movements he decided to have the force at Rappohannock Station try to hold out under Sedgwick's attacks, while the rest of the army focused on crushing French. There were 2,000 men in the division of Jubal Early which held the bridgehead, and they came under artillery fire around 3 pm. As the afternoon wore on with no sign of a further attack, the Confederate believed they were safe. But at dusk a blue line appeared heading towards them at the double quick. Before the Confederates could beat them back, the Yankees were over the entrenchments, fighting them hand-to-hand. Within minutes the Confederates had their lines overrun and their retreat cut off with the capture of the pontoon bridge. Some rebels tried to swim the cold river, but most lay down their arms, realizing further resistance was futile.

The Confederates lost nearly 17,000 men, 80% of those engaged. The Federals lost only 419. The Northerners were able to gain this quick and glorious victory because the Confederates had allowed themselves to be surprised in a position where their retreat could easily be cut off. That evening Walter Taylor, on Lee's staff, wrote that it was “the saddest chapter in the history of this army. …  Miserable, miserable, miserable management.” With this defeat overturning his plans, Lee fell back, south of the Rapidan.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Siege of Chattanooga - Battle of Wauhatchie Station

When Grant arrived in Chattanooga to take command of the army under siege by Bragg's Confederates, he was told of a plan that had been devised by the army's chief engineer William “Baldy” Smith, to get supplies into the town. He liked it, and ordered that it be put into execution. It was called the Cracker Line. The plan was for supplies to be brought to Kelley's Ferry on the Tennessee, then overland through Cummings Gap in Raccoon Mountain, cross the river again at Brown's Ferry, then brought across the river directly into the city.

To use this line however Bragg's men would have to be driven across Raccoon Mountain. Grant planned to have Hooker move under cover of darkness to meet up with two columns of troops from Thomas, one of which would silently float pass Lookout Mountain while the other would march overland as reinforcements. He ordered that it be put into execution early on the morning of October 27th. The men from Thomas were successful in passing Lookout Mountain without being sighted. They set up a Pontoon bridge and captured Brown's Ferry with little resistance, as few Confederate units had been stationed in the area. The next day Hooker arrived, and the Cracker line was secured right under Bragg's noose. It was put into operation, and know there was no trouble getting men or supplies into Chattanooga.

The Confederates were upset that the siege had been lifted, and immediately began trying to cut the Cracker Line. Longstreet decided to strike at Wauhatchie Station, where John Greary's division was in a weaker position than the rest of Hocker's men. Longstreet ordered a night attack to be made, and it went into effect early on the morning of October 29, 150 years ago today. The strike was scheduled for 10 pm, but the darkness delayed the march for two hours. Greary's men were surprised, and were driven back into a V shaped position anchored on the river. Two Union corps were sent to his aid, and the Confederates fell back in co fusion. The battle had been badly planned on both sides, and the confusion of a night attack destroyed the Confederate chances for victory.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Buckland Races

After an uninspiring showing in the first few years of the war, in 1863 the Federal Army of the Potomac's cavalry did a better job in resisting J.E.B. Stuart's famed troopers. But 150 years ago today they would meet another embarrassing disaster. As part of the Bristoe Campaign, Robert Lee had advanced to Manassas Junction, but was falling back, shielded by Stuart's cavalry. The Union cavalry division of Judson Kilpatrick (or “Kilcavalry” as he was known by disaffected troopers) advanced towards Buckland.

The lead brigade of Feerals encountered gray troopers at Buckland Mills. Deploying for battle, they pushed the Confederates about a mile back down the road. But unbeknownst to them, they were doing exactly what Stuart wanted. He had ordered the column of Fitzhugh Lee to come up and strike the Federals on the flank. The Union units became separated in their rapid advanced.

Fitzhugh Lee
The trap was sprung, and Lee surprised the Federal cavalry, attacking them from the flank. But some firm fighting by the Federal troopers prevented Lee from capturing a sizable portion of the Northerners. But panic spread through the Yankee column, and they were soon retreating at a gallop towards the main Union body, with Stuart's men hot on their heals. One Federal described it as a “deplorable spectacle of 7,000 cavalry dashing riderless, hatless, and panic stricken.” The flight was finally stopped when they reached the Union infantry. About 250 Union soldiers were captured, and the legend of the Buckland Races was born.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Battle of Bristoe Station

Bristoe Station Campaign
150 years ago today, the Federals in Virginia were retreating north, avoiding battle with Lee's Confederates who had moved around their right flank. Both armies were racing towards Centreville. As A. P. Hill's Third Confederate corps moved into Bristoe Station they saw the Union troops retreating in some haste before them. They were men of the III and V Union corps. Hill saw an opportunity, and didn't hesitate to take it. He ordered Harry Heth to throw his division in line against the enemy, so two North Carolina brigades advanced toward the enemy.

Harry Heth
As the rebels pushed forward to try to catch Union troops in the act of crossing a stream, they were oblivious to the grave danger into which they were advancing. Men of Warren's II corps had taken refuge in a railroad embankment, where they were hidden from the Confederates' view. As these North Carolinians came within about 100 yards of their position, the bluecoats opened fire. The Confederates began to fall quickly. They tried to charge, but were unable to push through the Union musketry. Some of the men were not even able to retreat, about 600 of the rebels were pinned down and captured by the Union forces.

Bristoe Station Battlefield. Source.
The day was a fiasco for the Confederates. Almost 1,400 of them had fallen, while the Federals lost only 500. Several Confederate cannon were captured, and three generals wounded. Hill had rashly advanced without scouting ahead to look for hidden Union positions, and he had payed in southern blood. Robert E. Lee gave Hill a characteristically mild mannered rebuke he would not have quickly forgotten. Riding the battlefield, it is said he told his subordinate, “Well, well, General, bury these poor men, and let us say no more about it.”

Bristoe Campaign

No great battles had been fought in the eastern theater of the Civil War after Lee's defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade had failed to aggressively pursue the Confederates, and he received much criticism for this from Washington. Back in Virginia, both army commanders began trying to maneuver the other into a position where they could fight to advance. Lee was down to two corps after the detachment of Longstreet to fight with Bragg at Chicakamuga, Meade pushed his troops forward, preparing to cross the Rapidan and strike the Confederate positions, but he lost two corps, sent to aid in defending Chattanooga.

When Lee heard of this movement, he saw it as a great opportunity to strike. He began moving around Meade's right flank with his troops. Meade saw that the position was disadvantageous to the Federals, so he decided to fall back, even though he had the superior numbers. He began moving north 150 years ago today. The maneuvering and fighting in Virginia would continue into November, both sides looking for an opportunity to strike.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Siege of Chattanooga

After defeating Rosecrans's Union army at the Battle of Chickamauga, Bragg's Confederates received intelligence that their foes were in full retreat, but they did not mount an aggressive pursuit. Bragg did not want to leave the railroad, which was serving as his supply line. The cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forest moved to within three miles of Chattanooga, where the Federals had positioned themselves. The placed could have been easily captured, but Bragg would not move. The fruits of victory were lost by the Confederate failure to advance. Their victory was rendered almost useless.

By the time they arrived on the hills surrounding Chattanooga, the Federals were prepared for a long defense. By September 23rd the Confederates occupied Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and a siege of Chattanooga began. James Longstreet, commanding a corps from Lee temporarily detached to help Bragg, wished to attempt a flanking movement, but Bragg refused. He preferred just to wait and starve out Rosecrans, as he had received word that the Yankees only had six days provisions. He extended the Confederate lines to Raccoon Mountain, and placed artillery to cover the roads that ran along the edge of the Tennessee River. Thus blocking the easiest access to the town, he forced the Federals to carry what supplies they could bring across sixty miles of muddy roads.

When Lincoln got news of Rosecrans's disaster, he decided to reinforce him without delay. Hooker's Corps from Virginia was rushed west by railroad, and Ulysees S. Grant, who had been given command of all the forces from the Allegheny Mountains to the Mississippi, was ordered to march to Chattanooga with 20,000 men. Although when the siege began Bragg had more men, his decision not to assault meant that after a few days Hooker arrived. With these new men the Union garrison outnumbered the Confederate besiegers.

Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain
The Union high command was not impressed with Rosecrans's performance after his defeat at Chickamauga. Charles Dana, assistant secretary of war reported on Rosecrans
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. ... Under the present circumstances I consider this army to be very unsafe in his hands.
Grant eventually decided to replace Rosecrans with George Thomas, the new Federal hero who had held the field at Chickamauga after Rosecrans and most of the army had fled.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

CSS David vs USS New Ironsides

Friday, September 20, 2013

Battle of Chickamauga – Day 2

As the day dawned over the bloody field of Chickamauga on, Sunday, September 20th, William Rosecrans, commander of the Union army, was riding along his lines, encouraging the troops. They had been sorely tested the day before with several Confederate attacks nearly breaking their line, but Rosecrans urged them to fight on, saying, “Fight today as well as you did yesterday, and we shall whip them!”

Across the field, Confederate commander Braxton Bragg had planned to attack at daylight, but the orders he had sent to D. H. Hill had been lost. When morning came Hill was unprepared, still getting his troops into position. They would attack on their right, where the Federal right had formed into a semicircle around the Kelly House. The Yankees had spent their night profitably, building breastworks to better defend themselves. Finally, at about 9:45 am, the Confederate attack began.

On the Confederate far right was Breckinridge's division. It was in such a position that his two rightmost brigades extended beyond the left of George Thomas's breastworks. Thomas, seeing that he was flanked, requested reinforcements. He withdrew two brigades from his line and threw them in front of Breckinridge. They fought hard, and although they were driven back, they bought enough time for Van Cleve to bring his division up from the right. Thomas was able to hold back the Confederate attack with these troops, but he did not feel his line was secure. As the battle raged, he requested Rosecrans to send him more troops from the center and right. Breckinridge and Cleburne continued to press forward, meeting heavy resistance. Liddell's and Gist's men were brought up and the attack was renewed, but fresh Union troops were moved to that portion of the line and no progress could be made. Stewart's division gained some success, but they were driven back by a Federal counter attack. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry were dismounted and fighting on foot. When Hill saw them, he asked what infantry they were. When he was told they were Forrest's cavalry, he said:
General Forrest, I wish to congratulate you and those brave men moving across that field like veteran infantry upon their magnificent behavior. In Virginia I made myself extremely unpopular with the cavalry because I said I had not seen a dead man with spurs on. No one could speak disparagingly of such troops as yours.
By noon, the attacks slowed down. Polk and Bragg had failed to break Thomas's line, protected as it was by breastworks. As on the previous day, Bragg had not concentrated enough strength on one point to crush the line, and instead dispersed the blow. But Rosecrans had a problem. Because of the heavy pressure on the left, he had sent Thomas many reinforcements, leaving only four divisions on the right.

It was Longstreet's turn to attack. Because of all the troops rushed to Thomas, a hole had developed in the center of the Union line. Rosecrans had received false information about a gap in his line, and in giving orders to correct it, actually created a gap. Longstreet got permission from Bragg to attack with his wing. Instead of the piecemeal attacks used in the battle so far, throwing in only one a division at a time, Longstreet marshaled four divisions with which to crush the Federals. He ordered his men forward at 11:15 am. Confederate Bushrod Johnson wrote:
The scene now presented was unspeakably grand. The resolute and impetuous charge, the rush of our heavy columns sweeping out from the shadow and gloom of the forest into the open fields flooded with sunlight, the glitter of arms, the onward dash of artillery and mounted men, the retreat of the foe, the shouts of the hosts of our army, the dust, the smoke, the noise of fire-arms—of whistling balls and grape-shot and of bursting shell—made up a battle scene of unsurpassed grandeur.

Longstreet's men went right through the hole in the Federal line, past the Brotherton Farm, crushing any resistance they encountered. By noon he was a mile deep in the Federal center, having capturing 17 cannon and over 1000 prisoners along the way. Soon the entire left and center of the Yankee line was one race to get away from Longstreet's advancing men. But the Texas Brigade was struck with a counterattack from a Union unit, and driven into retreat. Hood, seeing his old brigade in full retreat, rode to rally them. He was shot through the leg, and carried off the field. Although such woods were frequently fatal during, he had his leg amputated and survived. This left him with only two limbs, as he had lost the use of his arm in another battle.

Having crushed through the Union center, Longstreet ordered his men to execute a right wheel and turn on Thomas. This complicated maneuver took time to preform, and during the lull he ordered that his men be fed to prepare them for further fighting. Bragg was annoyed that his battle plan had was unsuccessful, and that Longstreet had developed his own plan, and it was winning the day. So he rode off the field and left the management of the battle to his subordinates.

Bragg was not the only commander leaving the field. Rosecrans himself, joined by two of his corps commanders and thousands of men, was making off as fast as possible, believing further defense useless. Most officers completely lost their heads and tried to get away just like the common soldiers. But not all of the Federals were retreating. George Thomas remained on the field to organize the Union defense, and his firmness in stemming the Union rout would earn him the title the “Rock of Chickamauga.” He established a line of defense on Horseshoe Ridge, at right angles to the original position. Many Federals rallied there, still determined to resist the victorious southerners. They declared with resolution, “We will hold this ground or go to heaven from it.”

Through the afternoon waves of Confederates attacked Thomas's troops on Horseshoe Ridge. At 4:30 pm Longstreet's troops advanced. The fighting centered around Snodgrass Hill, upon which Longstreet made 25 attacks. The Federals were holding firm with hard fighting, but Thomas knew that this could not last forever. He was attacked on two sides by forces twice his number. He realized that at some point the position had to fold, and so he determined to conduct an orderly retreat. The gradual retreat began at 5:30 pm and continued over the next two hours. A rearguard of three regiments was left to defend the hill to the last. When they ran out of ammunition, they stood firm with bayonets. Refusing to abandon the position, they were finally surrounded and forced to surrender.

Horseshoe Ridge
The Federals retreated during the evening, routed but not destroyed. Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga had been able to put up a last ditch defense so that the Union army was saved from complete destruction. This good defense would have important implications in the campaign, and it prevented a Union army from being nearly wiped off the map.

The Confederates were elated at their victory, the first real victory won by Bragg's army. They let out cheers the like of which would be never heard again. They had captured 8000 prisoners, 51 cannon, over 23,000 rifles and much ammunition and other supplies. It was the largest quantity of supplies captured in one battle in the war. But it had been a costly battle. Rosecrans had lost 16,170 men, Bragg, 18,454. The total of almost 35,000 was a huge number. It was the second bloodiest battle of the war, only exceeded by Gettysburg. D. H. Hill wrote after the war,
There was no more splendid fighting in '61, when the flower of the Southern youth was in the field, than was displayed in those bloody days of September, '63. But it seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Cickamauga .... He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Cickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope.