150 Years Ago This Week: Blame for defeat at Chickamauga

September/October 1863

Several days after the Battle of Chickamauga, President Lincoln and members of his Cabinet were dismayed when they learned that the New York Post had revealed the movement of Union troops going to reinforce Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.

In Washington, President Lincoln wrote to Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside near Knoxville of his distaste that Gen. Burnside was not moving faster to reinforce Gen. Rosecrans. “My order to you meant simply that you should save Rosecrans from being crushed out, believing if he lost his position, you could not hold East Tennessee in any event.”

Gen. Burnside denied any delay. The president withheld sending his true feelings to Gen. Burnside: “I have been struggling to get you to assist Gen. Rosecrans in an extremity, and you have repeatedly declared that you would do it, and yet you steadily move in a contrary way.”

In Richmond, President Davis wrote to Gen. Braxton Bragg, south of Chattanooga, of the reinforcements going to Gen. Rosecrans from the west and the east. Gen. Bragg’s Army of Tennessee controlled the Tennessee River to Chattanooga, all roads on the south side of the city and the important road to Bridgeport, north of the city. The only open road was a mountainous trail over Walden’s Ridge and through the Sesquatchie Valley.

In Indianapolis, a court of inquiry was convened to examine the conduct and failure of Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook and Maj. Gen. Thomas Crittenden after their respective removals from corps command following their failures at Chickamauga. Gen. Rosecrans had relieved these two commanders; in the inquiry, both generals were eventually exonerated, and Gen. Rosecrans was revealed to be a hard-working and methodical leader but often excitable and ineffective on the battlefield. Blame for the Union defeat at Chickamauga was beginning to rise.

West of the Mississippi River, in the Trans-Mississippi area of the Confederacy, Lt. Gen. E. Kirby Smith attempted the arouse the citizens there by proclaiming, “Your homes are in peril. Vigorous efforts on your part alone can save portions of your state from invasion. You should contest the advance of the enemy, thicket, gully and stream; harass his rear and cut off his supplies.”

The Confederate government appointed Dudley Mann as a special agent to the Holy See in Rome in an effort to establish relations with the Vatican. Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler and his Confederate cavalry began raids against the communications and supplies of Gen. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland as September of 1863 closed; the raids began with a sharp fight with Union troops at Cotton Port Ford, Tenn. And in Charleston Harbor, S.C., another Union bombardment against Fort Sumter continued.

As October, 1863, opened, the third autumn of the war began. The South was besieged but the populace breathed a bit easier now than during the disastrous midsummer. Confederates had been successful in halting Federal offensives in Texas and in Charleston, and had beaten the Union army at Chickamauga. Conversely, Little Rock and east Tennessee had been taken by Union troops, and Gen. Rosecrans and his army occupied Chattanooga.

In Virginia, both armies largely remained in camp, somewhat depleted after sending troops west to Tennessee. Gen. Bragg in Tennessee was harassed by the constant bickering among his subordinate commanders, which blighted his entire military career. Confederate cavalry under Gen. Wheeler captured a large Union supply train of 300 wagons and 1,800 mules near Chattanooga, raising the specter of starvation among Union troops, and fought a number of running skirmishes in the Sequatchie Valley.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, fighting broke out between the opposing forces at Culpeper Courthouse in Culpeper County. The Augusta, Ga., newspaper Constitutionalist defined a major problem of the Confederate citizens throughout the South: “If he takes refuge further east, he is censured for leaving home; if he remains at home to raise another crop in the Confederate lines, as soon as the Union enemy presses again, his supplies will once more be taken by the Confederate cavalry, and his cotton again committed to the flames!”

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.