September 18, 1863 — General Rosecrans’s Official Report of Operations in Middle Tennessee.
General: For the information of the General-in-Chief and the War Department I respectfully submit the following report of the preliminaries and operations which resulted in driving the rebels out of Middle Tennessee, from the occupation of Murfreesboro, a point two hundred and twelve miles from the nearest point of supplies.
To enable this army to operate successfully in advance of this position, it was necessary:
- To establish and secure a depot of supplies at this point.
- To organize an adequate cavalry force to combat that of the enemy, protect our own line of communication, and take advantage of the enemy, should he be beaten or retreat.
The depot was established and in a defensible condition by the 1st of May, as has been reported, but the inferior numbers of our cavalry and the scarcity of long forage wore out our cavalry horses faster than we could replace them, and it was not before the 15th of June that we had brought what we had into available condition.
The General-in-Chief has been informed of the reasons why an advance was not deemed advisable until all things were prepared.
The Position of the Rebels
Their main base of supplies was at Chattanooga, but a vastly superior force had enabled them to command all the resources of the Duck River Valley and the country southward. Tullahoma, a large intrenched camp, situated on the “barrens,” at the intersection of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad with the McMinnville branch, was their main depot. Its front was covered by the defiles of Duck river, a deep, narrow stream, with but few words or bridges, and a rough, rocky range of hills, which divides the “barrens” from the lower level of Middle Tennessee.
Bragg’s main army occupied a strong position north of Duck river, the infantry extending from Shelbyville to Wartrace, and their cavalry on their right to McMinnville, and on their left to Columbia and Spring Hill, where Forrest was concentrated, and threatening Franklin.
The position of Bragg’s infantry was covered by a range of high, rough, rocky hills, the principal routes passing southward from Murfreesboro toward Tullahoma and line of the enemy’s communications.
- By McMinnville it is seventy-five miles to Tullahoma. Its length precludes it, while the intermediate by-roads between that and Manchester were so difficult as to be regarded as unsuited for the movement of an army; and
- The Manchester pike passing these hills through Hoover’s Gap, and ascending to the “barrens” through a long, difficult canon called Mott’s Hollow.
- The Wartrace road through Liberty Gap, which passes into the one along the railroad by Bellbuckle Gap.
- The Shelbyville turnpike running through Guy’s Gap.
- The Middleton dirt road.
- The road by Versailles, into the Shelbyville and Triune roads, both of which avoid passes and have few defiles.
Polk’s corps was at Shelbyville. Hardee’s headquarters was at Wartrace, and his troops held Hoover’s, Liberty and Bellbuckle Gaps. Polk’s corps was generally estimated by intelligent rebels and Union men at about 18,000, infantry and artillery; Hardee’s at 12,000, infantry and artillery — making a total of 30,000 of these arms, and probably 8,000 effective cavalry.
Positive information from various sources concurred to show the enemy intended to fight us in his intrenchments at Shelbyville should we advance by that route, and that he would be in good position to retreat if beaten, and so retard our pursuit through the narrow winding roads from that place which lead up to the “barrens,” and thus inflict severe loss without danger to their own line of retreat to the mountains toward their base. I was determined to render useless their intrenchments, and, if possible, to secure their line of retreat by turning their right and moving on the railroad bridge across Elk river. This would compel a battle on our own ground, or drive them on a disadvantageous line of retreat. To accomplish this it was necessary to make Bragg believe we could advance on him by the Shelbyville route, and to keep up the impression until, if possible, we had reached Manchester with the main body of the army, as this point must be reached over a single practicable road passing through Hoover’s Gap, a narrow way two miles long, with scarce room anywhere for wagons to pass each other. These passes were occupied by the enemy, but eight miles from Hardee’s headquarters, and not more than sixteen miles from their left at Shelbyville.
The plan was, therefore, to move General Granger’s command to Triune, and thus create the impression of our intention to advance on them by the Shelbyville and Triune pikes, while cavalry movements and an infantry advance toward Woodbury would seem to be feints designed by us to deceive Bragg and conceal our supposed real designs on the left where the topography of the country and roads presented comparatively slight obstacles and afford great facilities for moving in force.
Events proved that this had the desired effect; and accordingly Bragg called forward Buckner and all the spare troops at his command from East Tennessee and the lines of the railroads, the last of them arriving on the very evening they began their retreat from their position in front of Duck River.
The operations which followed these successful preliminaries were as follows:
On the 23rd day of June, Major General Gordon Granger, under orders, sent General Mitchell with his cavalry division on the Eagleville and Shelbyville pike, to make a furious attack on the enemy’s cavalry and drive in their infantry guards of their main line, while General Granger, with his own troops and Brannan’s division, moved, with ten days’ rations, to Salem, sending his sick and baggage to the camps at Murfreesboro. On the same day Palmer’s division and a brigade of cavalry were ordered to move, via Cripple Creek and Readyville, to the vicinity of Bradyville; his advance to seize the head of the defile leading up to the “barrens” by an obscure road leading them to Manchester by Lumley’s Station. All the other troops were ordered to be in readiness to march with twelve days’ rations of bread, coffee, sugar, and salt; six days’ meat on hoof, and six days’ pork or bacon. General Mitchell accomplished his work after a sharp and gallant fight, for the details of which I must refer you to his own report. General Granger arrived and took position at Salem in pursuance of orders.
The corps commanders met at headquarters in the evening, when the plan of the movement was explained to them, and each received written orders for his part, as follows:
Major-General McCook’s corps was to advance on the Shelbyville road, turn to the left, move two divisions by Millersburg, sand advancing on Wartrace road, seize and hold Liberty Gap. The 3rd division was to advance on Fosterville and cover the crossing of General Granger’s command from the Middletown road, and then move by Christiana to join the rest of the corps.
General Gordon Granger was to advance on Middletown road, threatening that place, and cover the passing of General Brann’s division of the 14th corps, which was to pass by Christiana and bivouac with the rear division of the 20th corps.
The 14th corps, Major-General Thomas, was to advance on the Manchester pike, seize and hold with its advance, if practicable, Hoover’s Gap, and bivouac so as to command and cover that end the Millersburg road, so that McCook and himself could be within supporting distance of each other.
Major-General Crittenden was to leave Van Cleve’s division of the 21st army corps at Murfreesboro, concentrate at Bradyville with the other two, and await orders.
The cavalry, one brigade under General Turchin, was sent with the 21st army corps to look out toward McMinnville. All the remainder, under Major-General Stanley, were to meet General Mitchell coming in from Versailles, and attack the rebel cavalry at Middleton.
The headquarters of the army were to be established at Mrs. McGill’s, at Spring Branch.
All these movements were executed with commendable promptness and success, in the midst of a continuous and drenching rain, which so softened the ground on all the dirt roads as to render them next to impassable.
General McCook’s taking of Liberty Gap was very gallant and creditable to the troops of Johnston’s division — Willich’s brigade leading, supported by Carlin’s brigade of Davis’s division on the right.
General Reynolds had the advance in the 14th corps, Wilder’s mounted brigade leading. He surprised and carried Hoover’s Gap, a defile three miles in length, before the main infantry support of the rebels (two brigades) could come up, and, when the did arrive, fought them and held the position until the remainder of Reynolds’ division arrived. The enemy kept at artillery distance from them, and left us to hold the bridge across the Garrison fork and the debouch of the Fairfield road. For the details of this fight I refer to the reports of the immediate commanders of the troops.
As it was not yet certain whether the enemy would advance to test our strength on McCook’s front or mass on the flank of the 14th corps near Fairfield, the orders for June 25th were as follows:
Major-General Crittenden to advance to Lanmon’s Stand, six miles east of Beech Grove, and open communication with General Thomas.
General Thomas to attack the rebels on the flank of his advance position at the forks of the road and drive the rebels toward Fairfield.
General McCook to feign an advance as if in force on the Wartrace road b the Liberty Gap passes.
General Stanley with his cavalry to occupy their attention at Fosterville, and General Granger to support him with his infantry at Christiana.
Should Thomas succeed, and finding the enemy retreating toward Wartrace, he was to cover that road with a division and move with the remainder of the troops rapidly on Manchester. McCook to move in and taking his place at Beech Grove, holding Liberty Gap with a division, and finally withdrawing that and following Thomas to Manchester. The incessant rain delayed the arrival of General Brennan to join the 14th corps on the Manchester pike, but everything was finally in position, and General Reynolds’s division had advanced on the heights toward Fairfield, but did not attack the enemy, who appeared to show a disposition to contest our advance by that route. At Liberty Gap the enemy tried to regain possession, but finally retreated, leaving our pickets in position.
On the 26th, most of the movements ordered for the 25th were completed, amid continuous rains. Generals Rousseau, Reynolds, and Brannan’s divisions co-operated in a gallant advance on the enemy, who, after a short resistance, fled toward Fairfield, near to which place our pickets were advanced, while Reynolds’s division and baggage moved forward during the night toward Manchester, Wilder’s brigade having seized Matt’s Hollow early in the afternoon, and thus secured our passage.
June 27th, headquarters reached Manchester, where General Reynolds and part of Negley’s division had already arrived. The remainder of Thomas’s corps came in during the night. It was now manifest that the enemy must leave his intrenched position at Shelbyville, and that we must expect him at Tullahoma, only twelve miles distant. It was therefore necessary to close up our columns on Manchester, distribute our rations, and prepare for the contest.
While this was progressing, I determined to cut, if possible, the railroad in Bragg’s rear. Wilder’s brigade was sent to burn Elk river bridge, and destroy the railroad between Decherd and Cowan, and Brigadier General John Beatty, with a brigade of infantry, to Hillsboro, to cover and support his movements.
General Sheridan’s divison came in June 28, and all McCook’s corps arrived before the night of the 29th, troops and animals much jaded.
The terrible rains and desperate roads so delayed Crittenden, who, on the 26th, got orders to march to Manchester with all speed, that it was not until the 29th that his last division arrived, badly worn. The column being now closed up, and having divisions of the 14th and 20th corps at Crumpton’s Creek, orders were given for the 14th corps to occupy the centre at Concord Church and Bobo Cross Roads, with a division in reserve. The 20th corps to take the right on Crumpton’s Creek, two divisions in echelon retired, and one in reserve. The 21st corps to come up on the left, near Hall’s Chapel, one division front and one division in reserve.
It rained almost incessantly during June 30 but the troops, by dint of labor and perseverance, had dragged their artillery and themselves through the mud into position. It is a singular characteristic of the soil of the ‘barrens’ that it becomes so soft and spongy that wagons cut into it as if it were a swamp, and even horses cannot pass over it without similar results. The terrible effect of the rains on the passage of our troops may be inferred from the single fact that General Crittenden required four days of incessant labor to advance the distance of twenty-one miles.
While the troops were thus moving into position, General Thomas sent Steadman’s brigade of Brannan’s division, two regiments of Reynold’s division, and two regiments of Negley’s division on separate roads to reconnoitre the enemy’s position, while General Sheridan sent Bradley’s brigade of his own division on another for the same purpose. These reconnoissances all returned and reported having found the enemy in force on all the roads except the one leading to Estell Springs. Scouts all confirmed this with the fact that it was the general belief that Bragg would fight us in his intrenchments at Tullahoma.
Wilder returned from his expedition, reporting that he found the enemy at Elk bridge with a brigade of infantry and a battery, which prevented him from destroying that bridge, but that he had damaged the road considerably at Decherd, where his appearance with his mountain howitzers created great consternation, and within three hours brought down some heavy trains of infantry.
Meanwhile we had information from Stanley’s cavalry; supported by Major General Gordon Granger’s infantry, and acting under his general’s directions, it had attracted the enemy’s cavalry and artillery at Guy’s Gap, on the Murfreesboro and Shelbyvillepike, and driven them from stand to stand, killing, wounding, and capturing as they went, until the enemy reached their intrenchments, from which they were soon driven by flanking and a direct charge, wherein the cavalry captured three pieces of artillery, some with loads in but not rammed down.
From their intrenchments the rebels fled to town, when they made another stand, but in vain. Our cavalry came down with resistless sweep and drove them in confusion into the river. Many were killed and drowned, and Shelbyville, with a large number of prisoners, a quantity of arms and commissary stores, were the crowning the crowning results of the cavalry operations that day. It was worthy of note that the waving flags and cheers of welcome from the inhabitants of this unconquerable stronghold of loyalty doubtless gave added vigor and energy to the advance of our troops. The reports from this cavalry battle showed also the enemy’s withdrawal on Tullahoma, and the general expectation that he would fight there.
June 30. Orders having been given, General Morgan to ascertain the practicality of moving by column in mass in line of battle from our position to gain the rear of the rebel position at Tullahoma, and who reported favorably thereon, preparations were completed, and Crittenden’s second division was moved into position.
July 1. I received a dispatch from General Thomas that the enemy had retreated from Tullahoma during the night.
Brannan’s, Negley’s, and Sheridan’s divisions entered Tullahoma, where the infantry arrived about noon. Negley’s and Rousseau’s divisions pushed on by Spring Creek and overtook the rear guard of the enemy late in the afternoon at Bethpage Bridge, two miles above the railroad crossing, where they had a sharp skirmish with the rebels occupying the heights south side of the river, and commanding the bridge by artillery, which they had placed behind epaulments.
July 2, having brought forward the ammunition, McCook, with two divisions, pursued on the roads west of the railroad. Arriving at Rock Creek ford, General Sheridan found Elk so swollen as to be barely fordable for cavalry, and the rebel cavalry on the south bank to resist a crossing; but he soon drove them away and occupied the ford. General Thomas found equal difficulty in crossing, for the enemy during the night burned the bridge and retired before morning. General Turchin, with a small brigade of cavalry, had pushed forward from Hillsboro, on the Decherd road, and found the enemy’s cavalry at the fords of Elk, near Morris Ferry: engaged them coming up, and reinforced by the arrival of General Mitchel, they forced the passage of the river after a sharp conflict. Night closed the pursuit.
July 3. General Sheridan succeeded in crossing Elk river, and supported by General J. C. Davis’s pursued the enemy to Cowan, where he learned the enemy had crossed the mountains with his artillery and infantry by University and Swedine’s cove, and that the cavalry only would be found covering the rear. General Thomas got over his troops the same day, Negley’s division moving on the Brakefield point road toward the University. Sheridan sent some cavalry from his position and Stanley some from the main column, now in pursuit, but they only developed the fact that the enemy was gone, as our troops were out of provisions and the roads were well nigh impracticable from rain and travel, they were obliged to halt till their supplies should be brought forward from Murfreesboro, to which point the wagons had been sent for that purpose.
Thus ended a nine days’ campaign, which drove the enemy from two fortified positions and gave us possession of Middle Tennessee, conducted in one of the most extraordinary rains ever known in Tennessee at that period of the year, over a soil that becomes almost a quicksand. Our operations were retarded thirty-six hours at Hoover’s Gap, and sixty hours at and in front of Manchester, which alone prevented us from getting possession of his communications and forcing the enemy to a very disastrous battle. These results were far more successful than was anticipated, and could only have been obtained by a surprise as to the direction and force of our movement.
For the details of the actions at Liberty Gap, Hoover’s Gap, Shelbyville, and Rover, I beg to refer to the reports of Major-Generals Thomas, McCook, and Stanley, and the accompanying sub-reports.
Bearing testimony to the spirit and gallantry of all, both officers and men, I must refer to the reports of the several commanders for the details thereof. I am especially proud of and gratified for the loyal support and soldierly devotion of the corps and division commanders, all the more touching to me as the movement was one which they regarded with some doubt, if not distrust. It affords me pleasure to return my thanks to Major-General Gordon Granger and Major-General Stanley, commanding the cavalry, for their operations on our right, resulting in the capture of Shelbyville; and to General Granger for subsequently despatching our supplies when they were so pressingly needed.
Colonel Wilder and his brigade deserve a special mention for long-continued exertions, enterprise, and efficiency in these operations. Colonel Wilder ought to be made a Brigadier-General. Colonel Minty, who commanded the advances on Shelbyville, for gallntry on that and many other occasions, merits the like promotion.
The management of the Medical Department was worthy of all praise. I cannot forbear to make special mention of the energy, ability, foresight, and devotion to duty of Dr. Perrin. His superior in these qualities has not fallen under my observation.
All my staff merited my warm approbation for ability, zeal, and devotion to duty, but I am sure the will not consider it invidious, if I especially mention Brigadier-General Garfield, ever active, prudent, and sagacious. I feel much indebted to him for both counsel and assistance in the administration of this army.
The report of the corps commanders herewith shows that our total loss during these operations was:
Officers: Killed 14, Wounded 25, Missing N/A
Non-commissioned officers and privates: Killed 71, Wounded 435, Missing 13
Total: Killed 85, Wounded 452, Missing 13
We captured and pursed — stand small arms, three field pieces, six caissons, three limbers, three rifled siege pieces, without carriages, besides arms destroyed by the cavalry; quartermasters’ stores, 89 tents, 89 flies, 3,500 sacks corn and cornmeal.
The total number of officers taken, as will be seen by the accompanying report of the Provost-Marshal-General, Major Wiles, is 59 commissioned officers and 1,575 non-commissioned officers and privates.
Before closing this report, I call the attention of the General-in-Chief and the War Department to the merits and ability of Captain W. E. Merrill, Engineer, whose successful collection and embodiment of topographical information, rapidly printed by Captain Morgadanti’s quick process, and distributed to corps and division commanders, has already contributed very greatly to the ease and success of our movements over a country of difficult and hitherto unknown topography. I sincerely trust the War Department will show its appreciation of the merits and services of this promising young officer, who fortified the frontiers of Western Virginia, lingered in a rebel prison for six months; was wounded at Yorktown, and who put in order and state of defence the Kentucky Railroad, injured by Bragg and Kirby Smith.
W. S. ROSECRANS, Major-General.
Brig. Gen. L. Thomas, Adjutant-General,
Washington, D. C.
-Article is courtesy of Newspapers.com.
June 24, 2013 — A Model Campaign, by Peter Cozzens
Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans ran his army on his own schedule. In the middle of the country in the middle of a war, he would not be rushed. For nearly five months after defeating Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862-Jan. 2, 1863, he remained encamped at Murfreesboro, Tenn., refitting and training the victorious Army of the Cumberland, importuning the War Department repeatedly for more horses and improved arms for his cavalry, and waiting for the spring crops in Middle Tennessee to mature so that his animals would have a ready source of subsistence when he advanced.
Rosecrans’s delay exasperated authorities in Washington. By the end of May 1863, it appeared that Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s long and tortuous campaign against Vicksburg, Miss., at last would bear fruit. That month, he succeeded in turning the southern flank of the Mississippi River citadel and reaching the east bank of the river below the city. The Confederate high command responded by diverting to Mississippi troops intended for Bragg and ordering the commander of the Department of the West, Gen. Joseph Johnston, to take personal charge of operations around Vicksburg. Bragg himself contributed a division to its defense. Now more than ever, Union hopes for victory in Mississippi depended upon Rosecrans doing something to prevent any further contribution by Bragg to the defense of Vicksburg.
On May 28, President Abraham Lincoln tried to nudge Rosecrans forward, writing him gently but firmly, “I would not push you to any rashness, but I am very anxious that you do your utmost, short of rashness, to keep Bragg from getting off to help Johnston against Grant.” Rosecrans all but ignored him, replying tersely, “Dispatch received. I will attend to it.” When he did not, general in chief Henry Halleck gave Rosecrans an ultimatum: move against Bragg or lose part of his army to Grant.
Still Rosecrans resisted. He once wrote: “The most fatal errors of this war have begun in an impatient desire for action. The next fatal mistake [was] to be afraid to move when all the means were provided.” By June 23, Rosecrans was at last satisfied that he had the necessary means at hand. The Army of the Cumberland numbered nearly 60,000 men; Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, about 45,000.
Bragg had accommodated Rosecrans nicely by keeping his Confederate troops dormant. Preoccupied by incessant quarrels with his fractious corps commanders and weakened by detachments sent to relieve Johnston, Bragg had neither the means nor the inclination to move against the Union general. Instead, he arrayed the Army of Tennessee so as to block Rosecrans’s inevitable advance toward Chattanooga, Tenn., the gateway city to the Deep South.
Bragg had confidence in his troop dispositions. Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk’s corps stood behind strong entrenchments at Shelbyville, 25 miles due south of Murfreesboro. Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee’s corps was in a similarly strong position nine miles east of Polk at Wartrace, astride the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. Twenty miles south of Polk, Bragg had his headquarters and forward supply depot at Tullahoma, also heavily fortified. Nearly a third of the Army of Tennessee consisted of cavalry, which Bragg deployed forward across a 70-mile front on the Highland Rim, a long range of foothills rising sharply from the Middle Tennessee countryside south of Murfreesboro. Through these hills the main roads between Murfreesboro and Tullahoma narrowed at four points – from west to east: Hoover’s, Guy’s and Liberty Gaps. Because the roads were better and the country more fertile west of the railroad, Bragg believed Rosecrans would advance directly against Shelbyville.
He was wrong. Rosecrans had no intention of flailing away at Polk’s fortifications. Instead, he devised a turning movement to maneuver Bragg out of Tullahoma. Maj. Gen. David S. Stanley’s cavalry corps and a newly created Reserve Corps of infantry under Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger would feint toward Shelbyville to hold Polk in check, while the remaining three corps of the army circled around Hardee’s right flank. By turning Hardee’s position at Wartrace and seizing the railroad bridge across the Elk River, astride Bragg’s line of retreat southeast of Tullahoma, Rosecrans hoped to prevent Polk and Hardee from merely falling back to the strong entrenchments at Tullahoma.
Rosecrans’s offensive completely deceived Bragg and his generals. At daylight on June 23, Stanley’s troopers rode forward in an ostentatious display against Shelbyville, collapsing Bragg’s cavalry screen and conveying the impression that a major infantry advance was to follow. Stanley’s feint immobilized Polk for two critical days. In the meantime, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas’s corps advanced along the Manchester Pike toward Hoover’s Gap. Possession of the gap was crucial to Rosecrans’s plan, as the Manchester Pike was the only viable route around Hardee. Speed was of the essence. Hoover’s Gap was barely wide enough for two wagons to pass through side by side; should the Confederates have time to mount a determined defense, the gap might well prove impossible to breach.
The task of clearing Hoover’s Gap fell to Col. John T. Wilder’s brigade of mounted infantry. It was a colorful outfit with a daring commander. Armed with Spencer seven-shot repeating rifles, as well as hatchets for close combat, Wilder’s men were mounted on horses and mules they had scrounged in the countryside before the campaign. Having paid for the Spencers out of his own pocket, Wilder was anxious to prove his unit’s worth. In the pre-dawn hours of June 24, under a sudden downpour, Wilder swept down on the handful of Confederate cavalry pickets manning the gap. “They scattered through the woods and over the hills in every direction, every fellow for himself, and all making the best time they could bareback, on foot, and every other way,” recalled an Illinois lieutenant. Although the lead elements of Thomas’s corps were six miles behind, Wilder pressed on. He charged to the summit of the gap, where Brig. Gen. William Bate’s Confederate infantry brigade was believed to be lying in wait. Instead, the Federals found the high ground undefended and Bate’s camp, which lay in the valley beyond the gap, oddly silent. At that crucial moment, Bate and his officers were enjoying picnicking at a nearby spring. By the time Bate organized a counterattack, Wilder’s men had dismounted and were firmly in control of the gap, which Wilder was determined to hold despite orders to fall back on Thomas’s infantry, still well in the rear. The Spencer rifles tore Bate’s brigade apart, and Wilder held out handily until the infantry came up.
Arriving on the field later that day, a delighted Rosecrans pumped Wilder’s hand, laughing, “You took the responsibility to disobey the order, did you? Thank God for your decision. It would have cost us two thousand lives to have taken this position if you had given it up.” Rosecrans promoted him on the spot.
Rosecrans could afford to be generous. He had completely out-generaled Bragg, who was not even aware of the overwhelming Federal force mustered against his right until June 27. By then Thomas was 12 miles in Hardee’s rear. But at that moment of extreme peril, nature favored the Confederates. The rain continued unabated, pounding the roads to paste and bringing Rosecrans’s advance to a halt. Union soldiers joked that the name Tullahoma was a combination of the Greek words “tulla” (mud) and “homa” (more mud).
Yet the rain did not deter Wilder, who tore up the railroad south of Tullahoma. Bragg shrugged off Wilder’s raid and concentrated his army behind the fortifications at Tullahoma, awaiting an attack from Rosecrans. With more confidence in the mud than in Bragg, the carping and uncooperative Generals Hardee and Polk counseled retreat. His health broken and his will sapped, Bragg obliged them – on June 30 he abandoned Tullahoma and took up position behind the Elk River. Three days later he ordered a retreat to Chattanooga. As the army trudged southward from Tullahoma, the bishop Charles Quintard, chaplain of the Army of Tennessee and confidant to its high command, said to Bragg, “My Dear General, you are thoroughly outdone.” Bragg offered no argument. “Yes,” he replied wearily, “I am utterly broken down. This is a great disaster.”
Indeed it was. At a cost of just 569 men, Rosecrans had swept Middle Tennessee clean of Confederates, opening the way to an advance on Chattanooga. Bragg never revealed his losses in the Tullahoma Campaign, but the Union army captured 1,634 prisoners. Only the incessant rainstorms prevented Rosecrans from mauling – or perhaps annihilating – the Army of Tennessee. “If any student of the military art desires to make a study of a model campaign, let him take his maps and General Rosecrans’ orders for the daily movements in this campaign,” General Stanley later wrote. “No better example of successful strategy was carried out during the war.”
Rosecrans’s strategy was indeed superb, but so far as public notice went, his timing was terrible. The Tullahoma Campaign coincided with the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, relegating it to Page 2 news. Washington reacted coolly to the campaign. Instead of praising Rosecrans, the War Department only badgered him to keep moving – that he might, as Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton put it, “give the finishing blow to the rebellion.” Deeply offended at Stanton’s slight, Rosecrans fired back, “I beg in behalf of this army that the War Department may not overlook so great an event because it is not written in letters of blood.”
Lt. Henry Cist of the general’s staff understood this truth even if his commander did not. “Brilliant campaigns without battles do not accomplish the destruction of an army,” observed Cist. “A campaign like that of Tullahoma always means a battle at some other point.” That point was Chattanooga. With Middle Tennessee securely in Federal hands, Rosecrans began planning to capture the city and give Washington the decisive battle it demanded.