George Eggleston.

The History of the Confederate War, Its Causes and Its Conduct. Volume 2 of 2



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The other raid which rises into historical importance was that of John Morgan north of the Ohio. Starting in July with a force of 3,00 °Confederate cavalrymen and ten guns Morgan crossed the Ohio river into Indiana, capturing two steamers and using them as ferryboats. He then swept through Indiana towards Cincinnati, burning mills and bridges, tearing up railroads, and spreading terror in his pathway. But resolution accompanied the terror. Every man in all that region who could bear a gun turned out to fight the raiders and to destroy them before they should succeed in recrossing the river. This was accomplished at last with the aid of gunboats and steamboats. Morgan was compelled to surrender a small remnant of his force, and was sent for safe-keeping to the Ohio state prison, from which he later escaped by digging.

All these operations, of course, were subsidiary to the general purposes of the campaign.

Rosecrans was an exceedingly capable strategist and upon this occasion, more conspicuously than on any other during his career, his capacity in that way was demonstrated.

Bragg occupied Chattanooga, the strategic importance of which has been explained in an earlier chapter. The position was practically impregnable by any form of direct assault; for Rosecrans to have hurled his army against it would have been an act of well-nigh suicidal folly. In such an assault he must have lost ten men for every one of his enemy's men whom he could hope to put hors de combat. Yet it was necessary for Rosecrans to get Bragg out of Chattanooga. In order to do so he pushed a part of his army southward, threatening an invasion of Georgia. That state was defenseless except in so far as Bragg's army defended it. Rosecrans's movement, therefore, quickly compelled Bragg to withdraw from his strong and threatening position in order to head off what he supposed to be that southward movement that Sherman afterward made, and that is known in history as "the march to the sea." As soon as he quitted Chattanooga, Rosecrans occupied that place about the middle of September.

It was apparently good policy for Rosecrans instantly and aggressively to follow his foe, and he did so in spite of the fact that his three corps were dangerously separated at a time of heavy rains, when the roads were bad, streams out of their banks, marching difficult, and promptitude of movement impossible. In the meantime Bragg had been heavily reinforced by Longstreet's corps sent out by Lee to save this situation. Thus strengthened Bragg turned about with intent to assail his adversary, and perhaps to destroy him. On the nineteenth of September the two armies met on the banks of Chickamauga creek. There for two days raged one of the great battles of the war.

Rosecrans brought into the action about 55,000 men and Bragg had perhaps 10,000 more. It was Bragg who made the attack. As the lines lay, the Confederate right and the Federal left extended toward Chattanooga.

Bragg's plan of battle was to fall upon the Federal left, crush it, bend back the line, and place himself between the Federal army and its base.

There could have been no better plan of battle formed, but it was not executed in the best fashion possible. Had Bragg fully realized the superiority of Longstreet to his other corps commanders, and still more the superiority of Longstreet's men who had fought at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Gettysburg, he would have placed Longstreet upon his right, in order that the blow might be delivered with all that was possible of crushing force. Instead of that he assigned the force of General Leonidas Polk to that position. Polk was a West Point graduate, but soon after graduation he had become a clergyman of the Episcopal church, and for many years past had been a bishop in that church. A fact that had more importance perhaps, was that Polk's men had not been trained by the experience of Lee's tremendous onslaughts to the best work of the soldier, and unfortunately for Bragg, but fortunately for Rosecrans, that left wing of the Federal army upon which the main assault was made, was under command of General George H. Thomas, one of the most determined fighters on either side during the war.

Under Polk the assault was made loosely, and without that perfect concert of action which Longstreet, had he been in command, would have brought to bear. Thomas met it with obstinate resistance, and when opportunity offered, with counter attacks that greatly interfered with Bragg's plans. Nevertheless, the fighting was obstinate and destructive to both sides. In the end Polk succeeded in forcing Thomas's line backwards for a time, but before nightfall the Federal general had recovered the greater part of his ground, and when the first day's fighting ended the position of the two armies was practically the same that had existed in the morning.

About eleven o'clock on the next morning the battle was resumed with fury. Polk again assailed Thomas, and Thomas urgently asked for reinforcements with which to repel the assault. On that part of the line the struggle continued for hours with varying and not unequal success, the advantage lying on the whole with the Confederates. But later in the day Longstreet, who commanded the right center of Bragg's line, made a tremendous assault of that kind which had been rendered familiar to the fighters in Virginia by repeated experience. He swept everything before him. He made a gap in Rosecrans's line crushing its center, separating its wings from each other and driving it into confused retreat. Thomas alone held his force together, and fought the matter out to a finish. In spite of the fact clearly apparent to him that Rosecrans was defeated, and three fifths of his army destroyed, Thomas continued the bloody contest with a fury that knew no flinching, and hesitated at nothing of human sacrifice in the achievement of its purposes. But for Thomas's obstinacy, skill and courage the Federal defeat at Chickamauga would have been a repetition of the disaster at Chancellorsville.

During the night Thomas succeeded in withdrawing his command, and the Federal army fell back to Chattanooga, taking refuge behind the fortifications there. Each army had lost in this struggle from 15,000 to 20,000 men. The exact figures are nowhere procurable.

Bragg had won a great victory, but he had not succeeded in regaining possession of Chattanooga. His enemy held that strong, strategic position. It was therefore his next task to besiege the foe there, and either by fighting or by maneuvering to drive him out of the place.

Two mountain heights, the one known as Lookout mountain and the other as Missionary Ridge, overlook the town, and command many of its approaches. When the battle was over Bragg promptly advanced and seized upon these heights. By doing so he succeeded in placing Chattanooga in a state of siege, stopping the navigation of the river, and cutting off all of Rosecrans's communications, with the exception of one highly inadequate mud road.

It is a maxim of military science that the army which can besiege a position can always capture it in the end unless the beleaguered place is relieved from the outside. Chattanooga was relieved from the outside in an exceedingly quiet, but exceedingly effective way. Ulysses S. Grant – at last a major general in the regular army and in full command of the western department – went thither to supersede Rosecrans in command. The coming of this one silent and unostentatious man meant more to the Federal forces in that quarter than the arrival of half a dozen army corps would have signified. Grant got to Chattanooga on the twenty-third of October, 1863, and set to work at once with his practical common sense to meet and solve the problems of the situation.

He found the army half starved for lack of routes of communication with its bases of supply. He instantly set his men at work to open a new road which the facetious soldiers named the "cracker line," and which connected Chattanooga with a point on the river to which steamboats could come with abundant supplies. This relieved the Federal army in Chattanooga of its condition as an army in a state of siege. It made of it instead an army in the field, well fed, properly supplied, and ready for march or battle, as its commander might direct.

Having thus relieved the distresses of the army he had been sent to command, Grant's next thought was to employ that army in some profitable way. The Confederates, strongly fortified, held Lookout mountain and Missionary Ridge, and stretched their line for twelve miles across the Chattanooga valley. Grant decided to dislodge them. He could not do so with the forces assembled at Chattanooga, but at last the authorities at Washington had recognized him as a man worthy to command, and had placed the entire department under his control, and all its armies were at his disposal. Grant believed in Sherman, and mightily trusted him. At every point in his career where Sherman could be called to his aid Grant summoned that commander, and employed his genius as the most effective instrument for the accomplishment of his own purposes. It is not too much to say that Sherman was to Grant quite all that Stonewall Jackson was to Lee – a lieutenant to whom he might assign the most difficult enterprises with full assurance that they would be executed with all the skill, determination, valor and sagacity that it was possible to bring to bear upon them as military operations.

So when Grant determined to dislodge the Confederates from Lookout mountain and Missionary Ridge his first step was to summon Sherman to join him with the corps then under Sherman's command.

Certain military necessities delayed Sherman's march, and he did not reach the position at Chattanooga until the fifteenth of November. His arrival swelled Grant's force to about 80,000 men, while Bragg's army was weakened by the detachment of Longstreet with 20,000 men to operate against Burnside, who was commanding at Knoxville, Tennessee. The Confederate force in possession of Lookout mountain and Missionary Ridge was thus considerably inferior to the army with which Grant prepared to assail it. But the Confederates were strongly posted and on a part of their line, at least, they were well entrenched.

Grant's plan of battle was simple, as his plans of battle usually were. He ordered Sherman to carry Missionary Ridge, which constituted the extreme right of the Confederate position, while Thomas and Hooker should so far engage the remainder of the line as to prevent the reinforcement of that point upon which his chief assault was to be made. If he could accomplish this Bragg must either retreat, abandoning his threat against Chattanooga, or he must seek some point at which to give battle again with a force so far weakened by detachment as to render battle a dangerous alternative for him.

Sherman advanced on the twenty-fourth of November. His assault was repulsed and for the time unsuccessful. Hooker, in the meanwhile, exceeded his orders, and did a good deal more fighting than Grant had intended him to do. It was his assigned duty merely to engage that part of the Confederate lines which lay in front of him, sufficiently to prevent the sending of any force from it to reinforce the Confederate right. But Hooker was by instinct a fighter at all times. And on this occasion he pushed his men boldly into a fight that his commanding officer had not intended. His force climbed to the extreme summit of the mountain, passing a zone of mist and fog as they went. Having reached the summit they routed the Confederates there and made themselves masters of the heights. The fact that they passed through this fog zone on their way up led to the poetic nicknaming of this action as the "Battle above the Clouds." It was not, properly speaking, a battle at all, and it was not above the clouds in the sense in which that phrase impresses the ordinary mind.

On the twenty-fifth Grant pushed Thomas again into the fight, and assailed the position on Missionary Ridge. A very gallant and very vigorous action followed. It resulted in the Federals carrying the Ridge, sweeping everything before them, and driving Bragg's army into full retreat. He retired with what remained of his force to Dalton, Georgia, and almost immediately afterward Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was ordered to take command in that quarter in his stead.

The campaign had been dramatic in many of its features, and peculiarly picturesque in some of them. It had cost the lives of from six to ten thousand men on either side. It left the Federals masters of Chattanooga, placing the Confederates in an uncertain defensive position against which future operations were comparatively easy.

CHAPTER XLIII
Grant's Strategy – The Red River Campaign – Fort Pillow, Etc

The operations of the Confederate war covered a vast area, and included a multitude of actions severe in themselves, and often rising to the dignity of great battles so far, at least, as the extent of the slaughter was concerned. But many of these actions had no particular bearing or effect upon the general conduct and outcome of the war. To tell the story of them all would not only be tedious, but it would make this history a confused mass of only slightly related details rather than a consecutive narrative of what happened. It is necessary, therefore, to summarize many things which in themselves were dramatic in their character and of the highest importance to the men engaged in them.

The detachment of Longstreet to operate against Burnside at Knoxville has already been mentioned in the previous chapter. There was some brilliant fighting there, in which the Federals succeeded in beating off Longstreet's tremendous assault, but only after suffering one conspicuous defeat at the hands of the great Confederate lieutenant. In like manner the expedition of Banks in command of 40,000 Federals into the Red River country, west of the Mississippi, had no important bearing upon the war except in so far as it resulted in depriving Grant for a time of the services of 40,000 veterans whose soldierly vigor he could have used to much better purpose.

This Red River expedition was inspired by cotton speculators for their own purposes of greed. It was intended to enable them to get possession of the great stores of cotton that lay in Louisiana and Texas. The expedition consisted of the army under Banks – a political general of far better military capacity than most political generals had – and a fleet of gunboats under that noted fighter, Commodore David D. Porter. Banks's army was opposed by a much smaller force of Confederates under General Richard Taylor, who nevertheless defeated it in an irregular action and drove it into a confused retreat which must have ended in surrender but for the protection of Porter's gunboats. Banks retreated painfully along the margin of the tortuous stream, nowhere daring to quit the gunboats' support even in order to save weary miles of marching around the bends in the river.

This expedition was ordered before Grant took command of all the armies. It was one of the many foolish blunders with the results of which the great Federal commander had to reckon and wrestle when he came into his own. As the spring of 1864 approached something happened which was of more importance to the Federal cause than any battle could be, or the success of any campaign. Congress and the administration recognized Grant as the great leader that he was, and gave him that authority of command which alone he needed in order to make an end of the struggle. On the twenty-sixth of February a bill passed by Congress revived the grade of lieutenant general in the army. Grant was promptly nominated for that office, and confirmed in it by the Senate on the second day of March. On the third he was ordered to Washington, and on the ninth Mr. Lincoln delivered to him his commission as lieutenant general, with authority to direct the operations of all the Federal armies in whatever part of the country they might be stationed.

Oddly enough in thus bringing to the front and giving command to the only general who had shown adequate capacity to direct the war to a successful conclusion, the administration still retained as its adjutant general that conspicuously incapable person, General Halleck, who had done more than all other men and all other influences combined to interfere with Grant's work in the war, to prevent him from accomplishing the ends he sought in behalf of his country, and to fritter away the fruits of his victories after he had won them. The shade of Winfield Scott still held in mortmain its strange influence over the Washington authorities. And General Grant's personal memoirs – though they make no complaint of this absurdity – very clearly show, that in the gigantic combinations which he was now called upon to make, he was often seriously embarrassed by this continuance of an authority to interfere in many ways with his plans.

The advent of Grant to the command of all the armies in the field wrought a revolution instantly and conspicuously in the conduct of the war. He had no sympathy whatever with the "pepper box policy." From the very beginning he had clearly seen that the strength of the Southern Confederacy lay in the fighting capacity of its armies. He had clearly seen that the problems of this war were not mainly geographical – that the occupation of this, that or the other position was of small consequence, except in so far as it tended to weaken the tremendous fighting force of that "best infantry on earth" which was defending Richmond on the one hand, and threatening Washington on the other.

Now that he had come into supreme command it was his first thought so to organize and co?rdinate all the operations of all the armies as to make them tend to the accomplishment of one supreme purpose – namely, the breaking and crushing of the Confederate power of resistance. As that power of resistance was centered chiefly in the Army of Northern Virginia, and in the genius of Robert E. Lee, Grant's grand combinations were all directed toward the destruction of that army, and the baffling of that genius.

As has been said already Grant was pre?minently a man of practical common sense, and to his mind military problems were like any others that present themselves to the human mind – that is to say, they were problems, to be solved by the use of the means at command in the most effective way that could be thought of. War was to him like any other business. He knew that the administration had at its command, in men, money and materials, resources immeasurably superior to those which the South could control. It was his purpose to avail himself of that superiority in every way possible. In all that involved considerations of humanity or courtesy he had the delicate sentiments of a tender-hearted and generous man. But in the conduct of war he did not permit sentiment for one moment to interfere with common sense.

The strategy with which he undertook to fight the war out to a finish was simple. His "objective" was always the army opposed to him, and not merely a geographical position. In all his orders to all his lieutenants he emphasized this incessantly. In order to end the war he must crush the Confederate armies, and to that effect he instructed Sherman and every other commander under his orders.

Grant established his headquarters in Virginia in order that he might give personal direction to the operations of the Army of the Potomac. He did this with a most delicate consideration for Meade, who had direct command of the Army of the Potomac, and whose devotion and capacity he trusted implicitly, as he has himself testified in his memoirs.

It was his simple plan of campaign first to prevent Lee's reinforcement from any quarter, and secondly to hurl all the force he could concentrate against the Army of Northern Virginia for the purpose of destroying the resisting power of that army. In his judgment it was more important to cripple Lee than to capture Richmond. And in his judgment, also, to cripple Lee was to make the capture of Richmond easy and certain.

In order that Lee might not be reinforced, Grant began by issuing orders for vigorous operations in every other part of the Confederacy. He ordered Banks to withdraw from his wasteful cotton-seeking expedition up the Red river, to return to New Orleans, and to move thence against Mobile. He ordered Sherman to press back the Confederates in northern Georgia toward Atlanta, directing him to seize that town, and push on to the Gulf, thus again cutting in twain what remained of the Confederacy.

The military situation at this time could not be more clearly set forth than it was by General Grant himself, in his memoirs written long afterwards. In aid of a clear understanding his exact words are quoted here:

The Mississippi river was guarded from St. Louis to its mouth; the line of the Arkansas was held, thus giving us all of the northwest north of that river. A few points in Louisiana, not remote from the river, were held by the Federal troops, as was also the mouth of the Rio Grande. East of the Mississippi we held substantially all north of the Memphis and Charleston railroad, as far east as Chattanooga, thence along the line of the Tennessee and Holston rivers, taking in nearly all of the State of Tennessee. West Virginia was in our hands; and that part of old Virginia, north of the Rapidan and east of the Blue Ridge we also held. On the sea coast we had Fortress Monroe and Norfolk in Virginia, Plymouth, Washington and New Berne in North Carolina, Beaufort and Folly and Morris Islands, Hilton Head, Port Royal and Fort Pulaski in South Carolina and Georgia, Fernandina, St. Augustine, Key West and Pensacola in Florida. The balance of the southern territory, an empire in extent, was still in the hands of the enemy. Sherman, who had succeeded me in the command of the military division of the Mississippi, commanded all the troops in the territory west of the Alleghanies and north of Natchez, with a large movable force about Chattanooga.

* * * * *

In the east the opposing forces stood in substantially the same relations towards each other as three years before or when the war began. They were both between the Federal and Confederate capitals. It is true footholds had been secured by us in Virginia and North Carolina, but beyond that no substantial advantage had been gained on either side.

* * * * *

That portion of the Army of the Potomac not engaged in guarding lines of communication was on the northern bank of the Rapidan. The Army of Northern Virginia, confronting it on the opposite bank of the same river was strongly entrenched, and commanded by the acknowledged ablest general in the Confederate army.

* * * * *

The Union armies were now divided into nineteen departments, though four of them in the west had been concentrated into a single military division. The Army of the Potomac was a separate command, and had no territorial limits. There were thus seventeen distinct commanders. Before this time these various armies had acted separately and independently of each other, giving the enemy an opportunity often of depleting one command, not pressed to reinforce another more actively engaged. I determined to stop this. To this end I regarded the Army of the Potomac as the center, and all west to Memphis, along the line described as our position at the time, and the north of it, the right wing; the Army of the James, under General Butler (with headquarters at Fortress Monroe), as the left wing, and all the troops south as a force in rear of the enemy. Some of these latter were occupying positions from which they could not render service proportionate to their numerical strength. All such were depleted to the minimum necessary to hold their positions as a guard against blockade runners; where they could not do this their positions were abandoned altogether. In this way 10,000 men were added to the Army of the James from South Carolina alone, with General Gillmore in command. Officers and soldiers on furlough, of whom there were many thousands, were ordered to their proper commands; concentration was the order of the day.

* * * * *

As a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or to act in support of it, the Ninth army corps, over 20,000 strong, under General Burnside, had been rendezvoused at Annapolis, Maryland. This was an admirable position for such a reinforcement. The corps could be brought at the last moment as a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or it could be thrown on the sea coast south of Norfolk, in Virginia or North Carolina, to operate against Richmond from that direction.

* * * * *

My general plan now was to concentrate all the force possible against the Confederate armies in the field. There were but two such, as we have seen, east of the Mississippi river, and facing north. The Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee commanding, was on the south bank of the Rapidan, confronting the Army of the Potomac. The second, under Joseph E. Johnston, was at Dalton, Ga., opposed to Sherman, who was still at Chattanooga. Beside these main armies the Confederates had to guard the Shenandoah valley, a great storehouse to feed their armies from, and their line of communications from Richmond to Tennessee. Forrest, a brave and intrepid cavalry general, was in the West with a large force, making a larger command necessary to hold what we had gained in middle and west Tennessee. We could not abandon any territory north of the line held by the enemy, because it would lay the Northern states open to invasion. But as the Army of the Potomac was the principal garrison for the protection of Washington, even while it was moving on Lee, so all the forces to the west and the Army of the James guarded their special trusts when advancing from them, as well as when remaining at them.

* * * * *

Accordingly I arranged for a simultaneous movement all along the line. Sherman was to move from Chattanooga, Johnston and Atlanta being his objective points. Crooke, commanding in West Virginia, was to move from the mouth of the Gauley river, with a cavalry force and some artillery, the Virginia and Tennessee railroad to be his objective. Sigel was in command in the Valley of Virginia. He was to advance up the Valley, covering the North from an invasion through that channel, as well by advancing as by remaining near Harper's Ferry. Every mile he advanced also, gave us possession of stores on which Lee relied. Butler was to advance by the James River, having Richmond and Petersburg as his objective.

* * * * *

Banks, in the department of the Gulf, was ordered to assemble all the troops he had at New Orleans in time to join in the general move, Mobile to be his objective.

Now for the first time in the entire history of the war a single masterful mind was in control of all the operations of all the vast armies of the United States, and was trying to direct all those operations with singleness of purpose to a foreordained end. The coming of Grant into command thus marks an epoch in the history of the war.



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