George Eggleston.

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

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Fall and Winter Campaigns at the West and South

The climatic conditions of the disputed country south and west were excellent for campaigning during the autumn, and tolerable during most of the winter. As neither side was satisfied with the results achieved in that quarter during the spring and summer of 1862, both were disposed to carry on the war with vigor during the autumn of that year and the winter following.

On the third of October, while Buell and Bragg were confronting each other near Louisville, Van Dorn, who had been heavily reinforced from Missouri, undertook to carry out Bragg's orders, for the capture of Corinth and the reconquest of western Tennessee and Kentucky. He advanced upon Corinth in force and assailed Rosecrans, who held the immediate command of that place, upon lines chosen by the Federal commander, three miles in front of the main defenses.

It was a rich prize that the Confederate commander battled for, and right manfully did he strive to gain it. Corinth at that time was a depot of supplies of unusual consequence, and besides that, its conquest would mean the complete breaking of Grant's long and difficult line of defense.

During the first day of terrific fighting, Van Dorn succeeded in driving Rosecrans back to the refuge of the town's fortifications. On the next morning he assailed the works with extraordinary vigor and determination. His men suffered terribly from the cannon and musketry fire of a protected enemy at short range, but they succeeded at last in breaking the defenses and forcing their way into the town where they fought inch by inch through the streets. For a time it seemed certain that they must succeed not only in carrying the town and capturing the stores that had been collected there, but also in compelling the surrender of the defending force, twenty thousand strong, with the multitude of large guns mounted upon the works. But reinforcements came to Rosecrans's aid at the critical moment and turned the tide of battle just in time to prevent a great disaster to the Federals. The Confederates were driven back and after a heavy loss, never accurately reported, they retreated from the place.

Grant had ordered Rosecrans, should this occur, to pursue with all his force and crush the Confederate column completely. Rosecrans delayed even the beginning of pursuit from noon, when the retreat began, until the morning of the next day and then, by a mistake in the road taken, lost even the little chance left to him of effective pursuit.

Grant was sorely displeased with this loss of an opportunity which had been purchased at cost of so severe a battle, and at his request Rosecrans was removed to another field. He was sent in fact, after a brief time, to succeed Buell, whose failure to do greater damage to Bragg met with condemnation at Washington.

The Confederate authorities were equally displeased with their general, Van Dorn, and soon afterwards he was superseded in command by General John C.


Pemberton was a Pennsylvanian by birth, who had married at the South. He was a special, personal favorite of President Davis. He had never commanded an army or conducted a battle in his life, yet Mr. Davis had rapidly promoted him all the way from colonel to lieutenant general, over the heads and to the great discouragement of colonels, brigadiers and major generals who had won high distinction upon hotly contested Confederate battlefields. And now, when the Federal forces were firmly established on the far Southern line of the Memphis and Charleston railroad, and when the very greatest generalship was obviously and peremptorily needed to save the Confederate cause in the South and West, the Richmond authorities selected this favorite, who had done no fighting, commanded no armies and manifested no military ability, to take control of Confederate defense at the most critical point of all.

The result was quite what might have been expected. Pemberton was badly defeated every time he gave battle and it was he who surrendered Vicksburg and the Mississippi river on the fourth of July after a brave but incapable defense. The history of that belongs to a later chapter. And even after this extraordinary demonstration of his unfitness and incapacity, and at a time when very many at the South seriously – though unjustly – suspected him of having deliberately betrayed their cause, Mr. Davis appointed this man to a post which seemed at least to give him authority to control General Lee himself. This latter appointment was so quickly and so hotly resented by an army that well nigh worshiped Lee, that Mr. Davis wisely modified it before it had time to provoke a protest that might have savored of mutiny.

When Rosecrans superseded Buell, on October 30, 1862, the Federal army was in process of concentration at and near Bowling Green. Within a few days the concentration was complete, and Rosecrans was ready for active campaigning with a great army, inspirited by recent successes, strongly reinforced, effectively reorganized and full of hopeful determination.

But in what direction to advance was an unsettled problem. Rosecrans was strongly urged from Washington to move at once into East Tennessee, threatening Chattanooga and giving encouragement to the Unionists in that quarter. But Nashville was in serious danger. It had been held by a comparatively meager garrison during the Perryville campaign, against a strong Confederate force under Breckinridge, and there was more than a chance that Breckinridge might now capture the position unless Negley, with the two divisions under his command there, could be promptly supported. The importance of Nashville to the Federal armies as a secondary base of supplies was very great. Whether Rosecrans should campaign to the east, west or south, his need of depots at Nashville must be imperative.

While he was pondering the question of an objective, Bragg settled it for him. The Confederate general had retired from Kentucky rather of his own choice than under compulsion. He had suffered no disaster. At Perryville indeed he had had the best of the fighting for a large part of the day, and he had retired in the night rather with the purpose of giving battle again at some more favorable point than with intent to avoid battle with an enemy in strongly superior force. That enemy had not seen fit to follow and press him, and so there had been no further trial of conclusions. The Confederates had indeed failed to capture Louisville and establish themselves on the Ohio, but they had met with so much success not only in the various actions fought but also in demonstrating their ability to advance or retreat at will, that they came out of the campaign feeling themselves, in effect, victors. They were full of spirit and eagerly ready for further campaigning.

With his army in this mood and with a secure base behind him at Chattanooga, Bragg promptly moved upon Murfreesboro, with manifest intent to join Breckinridge and carry Nashville with a rush, if Rosecrans should fail to succor that strategic key to the situation.

Murfreesboro lies on the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, a scant forty miles southeast of Nashville. The country between is open and so completely unobstructed by physical features of difficulty, that the railroad shows scarcely a curve in its course between the two points.

In view of Bragg's advance there was but one course open to Rosecrans. He must strengthen the defenses of Nashville and concentrate there for defensive and offensive operations.

He promptly threw a strong force into Nashville and soon his entire army was concentrated there, except such detachments – and these were large – as were employed in rebuilding the railroad between Louisville and Nashville, which the Confederates had destroyed, and those other and still larger detachments which were necessary to defend that vitally important line of communication against the ceaseless activity of Forrest and Morgan, who were making themselves destructively ubiquitous.

Rosecrans's activity was such that he succeeded in rendering Nashville secure before Bragg could carry out his purpose of assailing that stronghold. Still Bragg did not despair of his purpose. He sent peremptory orders to the forces around Corinth, either to send him strong reinforcements or to carry on such a campaign in their own districts as should compel Rosecrans to weaken himself at Nashville by sending heavy reinforcements to the west.

Meanwhile Bragg fortified himself at Murfreesboro, establishing his lines along and across Stone river – a little, easily fordable stream – about two miles in front of the town.

Rosecrans decided to assail him there, and to that end advanced with 47,000 men. His march began on the twenty-sixth of December, and by the thirtieth he was in position to assail his enemy with an effective force of 43,700 men. His plan of battle was to throw forward his left wing in force, envelope his enemy's right and crumple up his lines by pushing into action a ceaseless stream of fresh troops, wheeling his divisions to the right as they should be successively brought into action.

But Bragg was also an officer of great energy and activity, and he had under his command a force nearly if not quite equal to that of his foe. He was at disadvantage during Rosecrans's sudden and unexpected advance from Nashville, from the fact that he had sent away his cavalry under Wheeler, Forrest, and Morgan to assail Rosecrans's communications at a time when that general was not expected to take the initiative in a winter campaign in the field. But now that Rosecrans was in his front, and obviously intending immediate battle, Bragg in his turn determined to assume the aggressive and himself bring on the action. His plan was absolutely identical with that of Rosecrans, namely to push forward his left wing, envelope and crush his enemy's right and by successive right wheels to destroy his foe or drive him into retreat. Thus Rosecrans intended to begin the battle at one end of the line while Bragg meant to begin it at the other.

Each of course massed his forces at the point where he purposed to make his first assault, and each thus weakened his line at the point which his enemy was planning to assail.

As a consequence the initiatory advantage must of necessity lie with the force that should succeed in making itself the first aggressor, bringing on the battle before the other was ready and striking the other's weakest wing with his own strongest divisions.

That advantage fell to Bragg as a reward for his alertness in striking as soon as possible after dawn on the last day of the year. He had so extended his left as completely to overlap Rosecrans's right and he fell upon it in flank with resistless impetuosity. The force defending it was quickly crushed and the Confederates, advancing with enthusiasm, bent back the next division encountered, and after some strenuous fighting, forced it to retire upon a new line which Rosecrans had hastily established at right angles to that of the morning.

The fighting continued with desperate determination and great slaughter on both sides until nightfall. The advantage was conspicuously with the Confederates, though there was no decisive victory won. Rosecrans had held his position indeed, upon a part of his line, and had not been either destroyed or forced into retreat. But the Confederates had driven him from one half or more of the ground that he had held at the beginning of the battle, had captured twenty-eight of his guns and large numbers of prisoners, while their cavalry had marched entirely around him and fallen upon his communications in a way that very seriously threatened him with an isolation that must have involved his destruction.

Rosecrans had been badly worsted in battle, but he was not yet beaten. His army was not demoralized, and his own determination was not impaired. He took account of his ammunition, sent detachments to protect his communications, and resolved to hold his position and renew the battle on the following day, either as the assailant of his enemy or as the assaulted, as circumstances might determine.

But the next day was passed in inaction on both sides, and it was not until the second of January, 1863, that the battle was renewed. Even then it was renewed only in part and obviously with no disposition on either side to bring on a general engagement. Nevertheless there was very bloody fighting on the part of the detachments engaged, in which the Confederate general, Breckinridge, becoming involved and being subjected to a concentrated artillery fire at short range, lost nearly two thousand men.

Two days later and after desultory fighting, General Bragg abandoned his position at Murfreesboro and retired to Duck river, where he fortified. He reported his losses in this battle – which is variously known as Murfreesboro, and Stone river – at 10,000 men, and declared that he had taken 6,000 prisoners. He had also captured thirty guns and lost three. On the other hand, General Rosecrans reported a loss of 8,778 in killed and wounded, and about 2,800 in prisoners lost to the enemy – a total of somewhat less than 11,000. The two reports are hopelessly at variance and irreconcilable, as to the number of prisoners taken, as was usually the case with the reports of battle losses at that period of the war. They were usually inaccurate and never trustworthy, as every historian who has honestly tried to find out the truth has learned to his annoyance.

But whatever the exact losses were on either side, they were far greater than were those of many more famous battles, and about as great as those of the battles commonly accounted as of superior proportions. Thus the loss admitted by the Confederates at Murfreesboro out of a force of about 35,000 or 40,000 men, was nearly twice that which Lee, with a force of 68,000, suffered at Fredericksburg; while the admitted Federal loss at Murfreesboro, where the army numbered 43,700 men, was very nearly as great as that sustained by Burnside's army of 120,000 at Fredericksburg, including the fearful slaughter in the six terrible assaults upon Marye's Heights.

Obviously the battle of Murfreesboro must be accounted one of the bloodiest struggles of the war, as well as one of the most heroically contested on both sides. Its indecisiveness has been very interestingly summed up by General Van Horne in his "History of the Army of the Cumberland" as follows:

Neither army commander had fully executed his plan of battle, although General Bragg had approached very nearly the completion of his. He had turned a flank of the National army, bent back the right to the rear of the center, but had failed to turn its left or reach its rear, and hence had not gained the extreme advantages which he had anticipated in assuming the offensive and [which he] had seemingly attained at the grand crisis of the battle. He had assaulted boldly and persistently from first to last, but had completely exhausted his army without gaining a decisive victory. General Rosecrans had fought a battle radically different from the one he had proposed for himself. Instead of turning the right of the Confederate army and taking its center in reverse, according to his plan, he had been forced into the most emphatic straits in maintaining the defensive from flank to flank. Both commanders had lost heavily; General Bragg by continuous assaults with massed forces, and General Rosecrans by resistance at each point to superior numbers, and by frequent recessions under the guns of the enemy… A battle whose emergencies of offense and defense involves the use of all reserves, must necessarily be a bloody one.

It is seldom that an engagement of such dimensions has left two commanding generals so much in doubt as to the course that either would adopt, and hence each determined to await developments, and each was ignorant of the purpose of the other. Of the two General Bragg was the more hopeful.

In the end, as we have seen, both armies fell back and fortified, and campaigning ended in the southwest for that season.

Other events of that winter may be briefly summarized.

Mr. Lincoln's emancipation proclamation became effective on the first of January.

The Confederate Congress passed a second conscription bill in February extending age limits both ways and putting practically every able-bodied white man in the South into the army.

The Federal Congress, on the third of March, authorized the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, thus virtually establishing martial law throughout the North.

A Confederate loan of $3,000,000 was promptly subscribed for in Europe.

On the seventh of April the fleet off Charleston assailed the defenses of that city, but was beaten off with the loss of one ironclad, the monitor, Keokuk, sunk.

The Chancellorsville Campaign

However important the operations at the West and South might be, the vital seat of the war was always in Virginia.

There the contending armies ceaselessly threatened the two capitals, the conquest of either of which would have been decisive. There both sides concentrated their best armies. There was present the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Lee, of which General Hooker, after being overthrown and beaten by it, testified: "That army has, by discipline alone, acquired a character for steadiness and efficiency, unsurpassed, in my judgment, in ancient or modern times. We have not been able to rival it nor has there been any near approximation to it in the other rebel armies."

And there on the other side was present for duty that Army of the Potomac which had so distinguished itself for heroic devotion and unfaltering courage upon a score of desperately contested battlefields.

After Burnside's bloody defeat at Fredericksburg the authorities at Washington proceeded to swell the Army of the Potomac to vast proportions until as the spring of 1863 approached, its total was no less than 180,000 men and 400 guns.22
  These are the figures given by Col. Theodore A. Dodge, U. S. A. , in his singularly able monograph on "The Campaign of Chancellorsville," pages 2 and 19.


Meanwhile operations below Richmond had compelled Lee to detach about one fourth of his force, thus reducing his strength to a total of 58,100 men and 170 pieces of artillery.

There was one important difference, however. In Lee the Southerners had found their very ablest commander, a master of all the arts of war, and an absolute master of the hearts of all the men who served under his command.

The Army of the Potomac had been commanded in succession by McDowell, McClellan, Pope, McClellan again, and Burnside, no one of whom had manifested an ability to contend successfully with Lee, even with the unstinted resources given into the hands of each. The Army of the Potomac still lacked a capable commander and the lack was for long a determining factor of the problem.

Colonel Dodge, an officer of the United States army, and a historian of exquisite conscientiousness and high repute, puts the matter in these words:

Great as was the importance of success in Virginia, the Confederates had appreciated the fact as had not the political soldiers at the head of the Federal Department of War. Our resources always enabled us to keep more men, and more and better material, on this battle ground than the Confederates could do; but this strength was constantly offset by the ability of the Southern generals33
  Italics ours. Author.

and their independence of action as opposed to the frequent unskilfulness of ours, who were not only never long in command, but were then tied hand and foot to some ideal plan for insuring the safety of Washington.

No impartial student of the history of the war can doubt that Colonel Dodge here touches the very marrow of the matter. In the operations in Virginia the North had more men, often by two or three to one, more guns and incalculably better supply departments. Their men were as good as the Southerners. Their guns were better, and their materials immeasurably superior both in quantity and quality. But until Grant was summoned from the West in 1864 to take command, the Army of the Potomac was commanded by no general who had capacity enough to make effective use of these superior advantages in a contest of strategic wits with Lee.

The real problem which the Washington authorities were set to solve was to find a general equal to this task, and so long as Halleck remained commander in chief of the Federal forces, there was no hope of success in that search. Commander after commander had been set up only to be promptly and disastrously bowled down again by Lee, in spite of the enormous disparity of numbers, guns and equipment.

But neither Grant nor Sherman was among those who had been appointed to try conclusions with Lee.

Halleck was still supreme as the military counselor of Mr. Lincoln. Grant, in spite of his victories, was a peculiarly objectionable person to him, and Sherman labored under the serious disability of enjoying Grant's favor and esteem in a very high degree.

But after Burnside's failure it was necessary to find a new commander for the Army of the Potomac, and Mr. Lincoln selected General Joseph Hooker to make the next attempt.

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