The Center Gives

FOR GRANT, THE THREE-MONTH PERIOD THAT followed the fall of Vicksburg—more specifically, the ninety days that elapsed between Sherman’s recapture of Jackson in mid-July and Lincoln’s mid-October solution to the western command problem—had been a time of strain not unlike the one that followed Shiloh and the occupation of Corinth the year before, in which his counsel was rejected and he felt himself to be more or less a supernumerary in the conduct of the war. Now as then, he saw his army dismembered and dispersed, its various segments dispatched to critical theaters, while he himself was confined with the mere remnant to the quiet backwater which he had created along his particular stretch of the Mississippi. He did not consider submitting his resignation, as he had done before, but he suffered, as the result of a horseback accident midway of this season of frustration, an injury which for a term seemed likely to produce the same effect by removing him entirely from the scene, flat on his back on a stretcher. It was indeed a period of tension, of strain of the kind he had always borne least well, and it was attended, as all such times had been for him, by rumors of his drinking, which was said to be his only relief from the boredom that invariably descended when there was no fighting to be done and his wife was not around.

Not, of course, that he and the troops who remained with him had been completely idle all this time. While Herron was conducting his foray up the Yazoo, which had cost Porter the De Kalb, and Sherman was closing in on Jackson, the price of which was to run him just over 1100 casualties, Grant sent one of McPherson’s brigades down to Natchez to look into a report that there was heavy rebel traffic there in goods moving to and from the otherwise cut-off Transmississippi. Brigadier General T. E. G. Ransom, who commanded the expedition, found the report to be altogether true. Moreover, by sending mounted pursuers east and west he made the simultaneous capture of a wagon train bound for Alexandria with half a million rounds of rifle and artillery ammunition and a drove of 5000 Texas cattle bound for Alabama, both of which had crossed the river the day before, headed in opposite directions. This was a sizable haul, achieved without the loss of a man, and one month later, at nearly as cheap a price, Grant made a considerably larger one at Grenada, the railroad junction south of the Yalobusha where the Confederates had collected most of the rolling stock of the Mississippi Central, trapped there since May by Johnson’s precipitate burning of the bridge across the Pearl when he evacuated Jackson. The raid was two-pronged, one cavalry column sent south from Memphis by Hurlbut while another was sent north by Sherman. On August 17 they converged upon the junction, which so far had resisted all efforts to take it—including Grant’s, back in December—and after a brief skirmish with the outnumbered garrison, which fled to avoid capture, went to work on the huge conglomeration of engines and cars “so closely packed as to make a small town of themselves.” An elated trooper described them so, and afterwards the official tally listed no fewer than 57 locomotives and more than 400 freight and passenger cars wrecked and burned, together with depot buildings and machine shops containing a wealth of commissary and ordnance supplies. The total bill of destruction was set at $4,000,000, which made the raid one of the most profitable of the war. Presently, however, this figure had to be scaled down a bit. Learning that the Confederates had returned to Grenada in the wake of the departed bluecoats and were frugally carting away the precious locomotive driving wheels, removed from the rubble and ashes, Hurlbut advised in his report that, next time they went out on such a venture, the raiders use sledges to crack off the flanges of the wheels and thus render them unsalvageable.

Both Natchez and Grenada were satisfactory accomplishments, so far as they went, but after all they were only raids. Grant wanted something more: something comparable, in its influence on the outcome of the war, to the recent reduction of Vicksburg and the attendant opening of the Mississippi: something, in short, that would knock the flanges off the whole Confederate machine. Banks had suggested, soon after the fall of Port Hudson, an operation against Mobile, and so had Sherman, who proposed that the coastal city be taken as prelude to an advance up the Alabama River to Selma and beyond, threatening Bragg’s rear while Rosecrans, who had maneuvered his adversary back across the Tennessee, brought pressure against his front. Grant approved and passed the word to Halleck. “It seems to me now that Mobile should be captured,” he wired on July 18, “the expedition starting from some point on Lake Pontchartrain.” Halleck replied that the plan had merit, but added characteristically that it would not do to hurry. “I think it will be best to clean up a little,” he advised. “Johnston should be disposed of; also Price, Marmaduke, &c., so as to hold the line of the Arkansas River … [and] assist General Banks in cleaning out Western Louisiana. When these things are accomplished there will be a large available force to operate either on Mobile or Texas.” Just when this would be he did not say. Banks meanwhile had continued to recommend the same objective, though with no better success, and on the last day of the month he left New Orleans aboard a fast packet to confer with Grant at Vicksburg, which he reached the following morning. After putting their heads together both generals continued to urge Halleck to order the reduction of the Confederacy’s only remaining Gulf port east of the Mississippi. “I can send the necessary force,” Grant offered. Whereupon the general-in-chief suddenly cut the ground from under their feet by flatly rejecting the Mobile proposal in favor of an all-out effort against coastal Texas. “There are important reasons why our flag should be restored to some part of Texas with the least possible delay,” he wired on August 6. He did not say what those reasons were, but three days later Lincoln himself got in touch with Grant on the matter. “I see by a dispatch of yours that you incline strongly toward an expedition against Mobile,” he wrote. “This would appear tempting to me also, were it not that, in view of recent events in Mexico, I am greatly impressed with the importance of re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible.”

Personally considerate though this was, it was not very enlightening; nor was Halleck’s explanation, which he made in a covering letter to Banks, that the decision in favor of a Lone Star expedition had been “of a diplomatic rather than of a military character, and resulted from some European complications, or, more properly speaking, was intended to prevent such complications.” In point of fact, the matter was more complex than anyone outside the State Department knew, including Old Brains himself, who was a student of international affairs. Benito Juárez, elected head of the Mexican government in the spring of 1861, coincident with the crisis over Sumter, had announced at the time of First Bull Run a two-year suspension of payments to foreign creditors for debts contracted by his predecessor; in response to which Spain, France, and England concluded a convention looking toward a forcible joint collection of their claims and sent some 10,000 troops to Mexico by way of proof that they meant business. By May of the following year, in the period between Shiloh and the Seven Days, while Stonewall Jackson was on the rampage in the Shenandoah Valley, England and Spain had obtained satisfaction from Juárez on the debt, and they withdrew their soldiers. France did not; Napoleon III, attracted by Mexico’s wealth and weakness, had plans designed to rival in the New World those of his illustrious uncle in the Old. He stepped up his demands, including insistence on indemnity and payment of certain shady claims advanced by Swiss-French bankers, rapidly increased his occupation force to 35,000 men, and began a march inland from Vera Cruz and Tampico, which was resisted fitfully and ineffectually by guerillas operating much as they had done against Cortez and Winfield Scott, over the same route of conquest. In June of 1863, with Lee on the march for Pennsylvania and Vicksburg under siege, Mexico City fell to the invaders and a pro-French government was set up.

Such was the situation Lincoln faced when Banks and Grant proposed the Mobile expedition the following month. Entirely aside from the violation of the Monroe Doctrine, which he was willing to overlook until the present larger troubles on his hands were cleared away, he knew only too well the pro-Confederate sympathies Napoleon embraced for his own reasons. If foreign intervention came, as the Emperor had been urging for the past two years, Lincoln wanted to be ready to defend the line of the Rio Grande against the imperial forces now in occupation of the capital to the south. That, in brief, was why Mobile had gone by the board; he wanted Union troops in Texas, where none now were, and he did not believe that Banks and Grant were strong enough to accomplish both objectives at the same time. Banks was down to about 12,000 men, the enlistment period of no fewer than twenty-two of his nine-month regiments having expired since the fall of Port Hudson, and the borrowed segments of the army Grant commanded in the taking of Vicksburg were needed now by the generals who had lent them—Burnside in East Tennessee, for instance, Prentiss in Northeast Arkansas, and Schofield in guerilla-torn Missouri—as well as by Rosecrans, who claimed that a farther advance against Bragg was dependent, among other things, on reinforcements being sent him from the army lying idle in Mississippi. “On this matter,” Halleck summed up in a wire to Banks on August 12, “we have no choice, but must carry out the views of the Government.”

Grant was disappointed, having been convinced that the taking of Mobile, followed by a drive northward into the Confederate heartland to dispose of Bragg and put the squeeze on Lee, would have shortened the war by months—or even years, if that was what it came to—but he accepted the rejection of his counsel in good part, aware that the command decision was based on considerations beyond his ken. In any event there was little he could do about it now, even if the decision were reversed. The dismemberment of his army had begun, and it proceeded with such rapidity that within one month, mid-August to mid-September, his strength was reduced from better than five corps to less than two. Parke’s IX Corps left first, dispatched to Burnside, who was marking time in Kentucky. Then Steele’s division of Sherman’s XV Corps was sent to Helena for the offensive against Price, followed by J. E. Smith’s division of McPherson’s XVII Corps. Washburn’s XVI Corps also returned upriver, one division continuing on to strengthen Schofield in Missouri, while the other two debarked at Memphis to rejoin Hurlbut. Meantime, in order to beef up Banks for the top-priority Texas undertaking, Ord’s XIII Corps, with Herron’s division attached, proceeded downriver to New Orleans, the staging area for the drive that was intended to secure the line of the Rio Grande against Napoleon’s new world dream of conquest and expansion. All that remained by then at Vicksburg were the two reduced corps of Sherman and McPherson. They were quite enough, however, in consideration of the fact that there was practically nothing left for them to do. And now there began for Grant, who was otherwise unemployed, what might be called a social interlude, a time of unfamiliar relaxation and apparent gladness, though it ended all too abruptly with the general confined to a bed of pain in a New Orleans hotel room.

He had a good deal to be glad about at the outset, both for his own sake and his friends’. His appointment as a regular army major general had lifted him almost to Halleck’s level as one of the only two men of that rank on active duty. Nor had the government delayed approval of his suggestion that Sherman and McPherson be made regular brigadiers, the reward that had gone to Meade for Gettysburg. Thanks to him, moreover, seven of his colonels now wore stars on their shoulder straps, and so did Rawlins, who was jumped from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general at his chief’s solicitation. “He comes the nearest being indispensible to me of any officer in the service,” Grant had said of his fellow townsman in the letter of recommendation, and he added, though he must have been aware that this was spreading it rather thick: “I can safely say that he would make a good corps commander.” In addition to official recognition, which included the unprecedented You-were-right-I-was-wrong letter from the President, he soon was given cause to know how much his latest victory had raised him in the public’s estimation. On August 26 he attended in Memphis the first of many banquets that would be tendered in his honor over the course of the next twenty years. In front of his place at table in the Gayoso House there was a pyramid inscribed with the names of all his battles, beginning with Belmont, and he was presented to the two hundred guests with the toast, “Your Grant and my Grant,” in which his reopening of the Mississippi to commerce was compared to the exploits of two other heroes much admired along the river that ran past Memphis, Hernando de Soto and Robert Fulton. He responded with an attractively awkward speech of two brief sentences, thanking the citizens for their kindness and promising to do all he could for their prosperity, then sat down amid loud, prolonged applause. Three days later, after stopping off at Vicksburg for a quick inspection of headquarters, he was in Natchez, where he found the wealthy planters entirely co-operative in their concern for the survival of their fine mansions on the bluff. Proceeding downriver to pay Banks a return visit, he reached New Orleans on September 2.

Banks knew how to entertain a guest; moreover he had all the resources of a high-living Creole society at his disposal. Two days later he staged a grand review at nearby Carrollton in honor of his visitor, who, mounted on a spirited charger procured for him on this occasion as a tribute to his horsemanship, watched Ord’s veterans swing past with the names of their and his recent upriver victories on their banners. It was a stirring moment for them and him, a last reunion before they set off for new fields; but the day was grievously marred before it ended. Returning from the suburb to the heart of the city, Grant’s borrowed mount shied at a hissing locomotive and, bolting, collided with a carriage that was coming from the opposite direction. Horse and rider went down hard. The animal rose from the cobblestones unassisted, but not Grant, who had suffered a badly dislocated hip, as well as a possible fracture of the skull, and was unconscious; in which condition he was carried on a litter to the nearby St Charles Hotel. Almost at once the story that he had been drinking began to make the rounds, gathering details as it went. Years later William Franklin, who had been transferred from the East to command a corps on the Texas expedition, testified in private that he “saw Grant tumble from his horse drunk.” It even began to be said that the fall had occurred in the course of the review, which had been brought thereby to an unceremonious end, and that the general had been knocked out not so much by the blow on his head as by the whiskey in his stomach. Grant knew nothing of this at the time, nor indeed of anything else. In fact, the first he knew of having been hurt was when he regained consciousness, somewhat later, to find “several doctors” hovering over him. “My leg was swollen from the knee to the thigh,” he afterwards wrote, “and the swelling, almost to the point of bursting, extended along the body up to the armpit. The pain was almost beyond endurance. I lay at the hotel something over a week without being able to turn myself in bed.”

While Grant was laid up, confined to a world of pain whose limits were described by the four walls of his hotel room, Banks opened the campaign designed to carry out the instructions of his superiors to restore the flag of the Union “to some part of Texas with the least possible delay.” As it turned out, however, he encountered something worse than delay in the execution of his plans, the first results of which were about as abruptly disastrous as his fellow general’s fall on horseback, drunk or sober.

Halleck had advised an amphibious movement “up Red River to Alexandria, Natchitoches, or Shreveport, and the military occupation of northern Texas.… Nevertheless,” he added, “your choice is left unrestricted.” Banks replied with numerous logistical objections, not the least of which was that the Red was nearly dry at this season of the year. He favored a sudden descent on the coast, specifically at Sabine Pass, to be followed by an overland march on Galveston and other points beyond. Accordingly, having been given his choice, he ordered Franklin to load a reinforced division onto transports and proceed to Sabine Pass, where he would rendezvous with a four-gunboat assault force. The rebel defenses were said to be weak, despite the reverse the navy had suffered here in January; once these had been subdued by the warships, Franklin was to put his troops ashore and move inland to the Texas & New Orleans Railroad, linking Houston and Beaumont and Orange, and there await the arrival of the balance of his corps, which by then would have been brought forward by the unloaded transports. It was all worked out in careful detail, and on September 7, three days after Grant’s accident, Franklin arrived before the pass and was joined that evening by the gunboat flotilla under Lieutenant Frederick Crocker, U.S.N. Fort Griffin, the rebel work protecting Sabine City, mounted half a dozen light guns and was garrisoned by less than fifty men; Crocker attacked it the following afternoon, having six times the number of heavier guns in his four warships. The engagement was brief and decisive. Within half an hour one gunboat was hit in the boiler, losing all her steam, and a few minutes later a second ran aground in the shallow bay and was given the same treatment by the marksmen in the fort. Both vessels struck their colors, surrendering with their crews of about 300 men, including 50 killed or wounded and the luckless lieutenant in command, while the third retired out of range with the fourth, which had not engaged. Still aboard the transports with his soldiers, whom the navy was unable to put ashore, Franklin felt there was nothing to do but turn around and go back to New Orleans, and that was what he did, reporting a total loss of six men, who had been aboard the surrendered gunboats as observers, together with 200,000 rations thrown overboard to lighten a grounded transport and 200 mules served likewise when the steamer on which they were loaded lost her stack in a heavy sea on the way home.

So feeble had the attack been that Magruder at first could not believe it was anything more than a feint, designed to distract his attention from the main effort somewhere else along the coast. When no such blow was delivered in the course of the next few days, Prince John contented himself with what had been accomplished; a “brilliant victory,” he called the fight, a “gallant achievement,” and finally, in an excess of pride at what his gunners had done in the face of long odds, “the most extraordinary feat of the war.” Congress eventually passed a resolution of thanks, “eminently due, and hereby cordially given,” to the two officers and the 41 men of the garrison who had stood to their outranged guns and outfought the Yankee warships.

On the other hand, Banks assigned the reason for the failure to the “ignorance” of the naval officers involved; one of his chief regrets, no doubt, was that Farragut was not around to blister them a bit, having returned to New York for badly overdue repairs to his flagship Hartford in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In any case, on Franklin’s return the Massachusetts general decided that the line of advance up the Red to Northeast Texas, suggested previously by Old Brains, was probably the best invasion route after all, and he informed Lincoln that while the army was “preparing itself” for the execution of this larger plan, which would have to be delayed until rain had swelled the river, he would continue his efforts to move in directly from the Gulf against the Lone Star beaches—or, anyhow, some beach; for he left himself plenty of latitude as to just where he would strike next time, merely remarking that he proposed “to attempt a lodgment upon some point on the coast from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Rio Grande.”

By then the year was well into October, and two other Federal commanders in the Transmississippi region, James Blunt and John Schofield, had unexpected problems on their hands in the departments of the Frontier and Missouri. William Steele and Pap Price had been driven from Fort Smith and Little Rock, the former deep into Indian Territory and the latter beyond the line of the Arkansas. Schofield could breathe easier; so he thought—until Jo Shelby came riding northward, all the way to the Missouri River, and Quantrill, while crossing the southeast corner of Kansas on his way to winter in Texas, gave Blunt an opportune demonstration that he had a talent for something more than murdering civilians in or under their beds.

From Arkadelphia, where he ended his retreat in mid-September, Price launched Shelby on a raid into his home state, hoping thus to discourage Schofield from reinforcing Fred Steele for a follow-up push from the Arkansas River to the Ouachita. Three months short of his thirty-third birthday, the Missouri cavalryman was still a colonel despite outstanding service in practically every major engagement fought in the region since Wilson’s Creek; even now he was nursing an unhealed wound he had suffered in his sword arm during the Helena repulse, twelve weeks ago. Though, like Jeb Stuart, he took his nickname from his initials and wore a foot-long plume on his hat, there was a hard, practical core to his daring, a concentration more on results than on effect, which afterwards caused Alfred Pleasonton, who rode for three years against Stuart before transferring to the far western theater—although it perhaps should be noted in passing that he never came up against Forrest—to say flatly, after a year of fighting there as well, that “Shelby was the best cavalry general of the South.” Part of the evidence in support of this contention was put on record during the present raid, which lasted longer and covered a greater distance than any undertaken by any body of horsemen from either army in the whole course of the war, including Morgan’s famous raid into Ohio, which ended in disaster, whereas Shelby returned with a stronger force than he had had at the outset. He set out with 600 troopers on September 22, passing next day through Caddo Gap, forty miles northwest of Arkadelphia, and five days later crossed the Arkansas River a hundred miles above Little Rock, midway between Clarksville and Fort Smith. Riding north through Huntsville and Bentonville, he crossed the state line to reach Neosho on October 4 and promptly forced the surrender of 400 Union cavalry who had holed up in the stout brick courthouse, former capitol of the short-lived Confederate-allied Republic of Missouri, which the bluecoats had converted into a fort and were determined to hold, at any rate until the rebel cannon started knocking it to pieces. Along with the men, the victors took their horses, their fine Sharps rifles and navy revolvers, and their clothes, which were used as an effective disguise, so far at least as they went round, by the former gray-clad raiders. Next day the ride north continued, still with the stockily built and heavily bearded colonel in the lead.

His goal was Jefferson City; he had it in mind to raise the Stars and Bars over the statehouse, not only as a sign that Missouri was by no means “conquered,” but also as a gesture to discourage the Union high command from detaching troops from here to exploit its recent gains in Arkansas or to shore up Rosecrans, who had been whipped two weeks ago at Chickamauga and now was under siege in Chattanooga; in furtherance of which intention Shelby sent out parties, left and right of his line of march, to cut telegraph wires, burn installations and depots of supply, attack outlying strong points, and in general spread confusion as to his strength and destination. On north he rode, through Sarcoxie and Bowers Mill, Greenfield and Stockton, Humansville and Warsaw, to Tipton on the Missouri Pacific, which he struck on October 10. Jefferson City was less than forty miles away, due east on the railroad, but his enemies were thoroughly aroused by now, expecting him to move in that direction. Instead, after tearing up track on both sides of Tipton, burning the depot, and setting fire to a large yard of freight cars, he pressed on north to Booneville, where he was greeted next day by the mayor and a delegation of citizens who came out to assure him of their southern loyalty and ask that he spare their property. This he did, except for the new $400,000 bridge across the nearby Lamine River, which he wrecked. “Now the broad bosom of the grand old Missouri lay unveiled before us in the red beams of the autumn sun,” his adjutant later wrote, “and the men, forgetting all their privations and dangers, broke out in one long, loud, proud hurrah.” The hurrah could indeed have been a loud one, for Shelby’s strength had grown by now to more than a thousand troopers by the addition of recruits who had flocked to join him on the way. Moreover, the column was lengthened by three hundred captured wagons, drawn not by mules or draft horses, but by the hundreds of cavalry mounts he had taken in the series of surrenders that had marked his line of march, surrenders or flights which had netted him no fewer than forty stands of colors and ten “forts” of one kind or another. If the blue-clad graybacks cheered themselves hoarse with pride as they stood on the south bank of the wide Missouri, just under four hundred air-line miles from the nearest Confederate outpost, it was not without reason.

Their problem now was escape from the greatly superior Federal columns rapidly converging on them from the south and east and north. Shelby led them west along the south bank of the Missouri, in the direction of his prewar home at Waverly. Before they got there, however, they had their one full-scale engagement of the raid, October 13 near Arrow Rock, where the enemy columns finally brought them to bay, outnumbered five to one. Splitting his command in two, Shelby dismounted the larger half and fought a savage defensive action in which he lost about one hundred men while the smaller half made a mounted getaway by punching a hole in the line of the attackers; whereupon he remounted the remainder and did the same at another point, taking a different escape route to confuse and split his pursuers. On through Waverly he rode that night, still accompanied by his train, which he had brought out with him. At nearby Hawkins Mill, however, he was later to report, “finding my wagons troublesome, and having no ammunition left except what the men could carry, I sunk them in the Missouri River, where they were safe from all capture.” This done he turned south. Bypassing Lexington, Harrisonville, and Butler to skirt the Burnt District, he reached Carthage on October 17 and turned east next day through Sarcoxie, which he had visited two weeks before, on his way north. Laying ambushes all the while to delay pursuers, he re-entered Arkansas on October 19 and was joined next day on the Little Osage River by the smaller force that had split off at Arrow Rock a week ago. From the Little Osage he moved by what he called “easy stages” to Clarksville, where he recrossed the Arkansas River on October 26 and made his way south through the Ouachita Mountains to Washington. There at last he called a halt, November 3, forty miles southwest of his starting point at Arkadelphia. In the forty-one days he had been gone he had covered a distance of 1500 miles, an average of better than thirty-six miles a day, and though he had suffered a total loss of about 150 killed and wounded, he had also picked up 800 recruits along the way, so that he returned with twice the number of men he had had when he set out. He listed his gains—600 Federals killed or wounded, 500 captured and paroled; 6000 horses and mules taken, together with 300 wagons, 1200 small arms, and 40 stands of colors; $1,000,000 in U. S. Army supplies destroyed, plus $800,000 in public property—then laconically closed his report, which was addressed to Price’s adjutant: “Hoping this may prove satisfactory, I remain, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant, Jo. O. Shelby, Colonel.” Highly pleased—as well it might be; for there was also substance to his claim that the raid had kept 10,000 Missouri bluecoats from being sent to assist in raising the siege at Chattanooga—the government promoted him to brigadier the following month.

Quantrill by now was calling himself a colonel, too, and had even acquired a uniform in which he had his picture taken wearing three stars on the collar, a long-necked young man with hooded eyes, a smooth round jaw, and a smile as faint as Mona Lisa’s. But the government—much to its credit, most historians were to say—declined to sanction his self-promotion, even after he scored a second victory in Kansas, one far more impressive, militarily, than the first, which he had scored six weeks before at Lawrence. While Shelby was preparing to set out from Arkadelphia, Quantrill was reassembling his guerillas on familiar Blackwater Creek, intending to take them to Texas for the winter. In early October the two columns passed each other, east and west of Carthage, Shelby and his 600 going north, Quantrill with about 400 going south, neither aware of the other’s presence, some twenty miles away. On October 6, when the former passed through Warsaw, the latter drew near Fort Baxter, down in the southeast corner of Kansas at Baxter Springs, which was held by two companies of Wisconsin cavalry and one of Kansas infantry. Quantrill decided to take it. While the attack was in progress, however, he learned that a train of ten wagons was approaching from the north, attended by two more companies of Wisconsin and Kansas troops; so he pulled back half his men, and went to take that too. His luck was in. The train and troops were the baggage and escort of James Blunt, lately appointed commander of the District of the Frontier, on his way to establish headquarters at Fort Baxter. When Blunt saw the horsemen in line across the road ahead, he assumed they were an honor guard sent out from the fort to meet him. He halted to have his escort dress its ranks, then proceeded at a dignified pace to receive the salute of the waiting line of horsemen.

He received instead a blast of fire at sixty yards, followed promptly by a screaming charge that threw his hundred-man escort first into milling confusion and then, when they recognized what they were up against—the guerillas, having been warned to expect no quarter, certainly would extend none—into headlong flight. This last availed all but a handful of them nothing; 79 of the hundred were quickly run down and killed, including Major Henry Curtis, Blunt’s adjutant and the son of the former department commander. Blunt himself made his escape, though he was nearly unhorsed in taking a jump across a ravine. Thrown from his saddle and onto his horse’s neck by the rebound, he clung there and rode in that unorthodox position for a mile or more, outdistancing his pursuers, who turned back to attend to the business of dispatching the prisoners and the wounded. Quantrill called off the attack on the fort—its garrison had suffered 19 casualties to bring the Federal total to 98, as compared to 6 for the guerillas—and proceeded to rifle the abandoned wagons. Included in the loot was all of Blunt’s official correspondence, his dress sword, two stands of colors, and several demijohns of whiskey. Quantrill was so pleased with his exploit that he even took a drink or two, something none of his companions had seen him do before. Presently he became talkative, which was also quite unusual. “By God,” he boasted as he staggered about, “Shelby couldn’t whip Blunt; neither could Marmaduke; but I whipped him.” He went on south to Texas, as he had intended when he left Johnson County the week before, and Blunt was removed not long thereafter from the command he had so recently acquired.

But Holmes and Price, reduced by sickness and desertion to a force of 7000, had not been greatly helped by either Shelby or Quantrill; Steele still threatened from Little Rock, and though he had not been reinforced, he outnumbered them two to one. On October 25, the day before Shelby recrossed the Arkansas River on his way back from Missouri, Holmes ordered a withdrawal of the troops left at Pine Bluff, thus loosening his last tenuous grasp on the south bank of that stream in order to prepare for what Kirby Smith believed was threatening, deep in his rear: Banks had begun another ascent of the Teche and the Atchafalaya, which could take him at last to the Red and into Texas. Once this happened, Smith’s command, already cut off from the powder mills and ironworks of the East, would be cut off from the flow of goods coming in through Mexico. “The Fabian policy is now our true policy,” he declared, and he advised that if further retreat became necessary, Holmes could move “by Monticello, along Bayou Bartholomew to Monroe, through a country abundant in supplies.”

Grant by then had left for other fields. In mid-September, after ten days of confinement to the New Orleans hotel room, unable even to sit up in bed, he had himself carried aboard a steamboat bound for Vicksburg, and there, although as he said later he “remained unable to move for some time afterwards,” he was reunited with his wife and their four children, who came down to join him in a pleasant, well-shaded house which his staff had commandeered for him on the bluff overlooking the river. Under these circumstances, satisfying as they were to his uxorious nature, his convalescence was so comparatively rapid that within a month he was hobbling about on crutches.

McPherson kept bachelor quarters in town, boarding with a family in which, according to Sherman, there were “several interesting young ladies.” Not that his fellow Ohioan had neglected his own comfort. Like Grant, Sherman had his family with him—it too included four children—camped in a fine old grove of oaks beside the Big Black River, near the house from whose gallery, several weeks ago, the dozen weeping women had reviled him for the death of one of their husbands at Bull Run. He had been discomfited then, but that was all behind him now, together with his doubts about the war and his share in it. Grant had given his restless spirit a sense of direction and dedication; he could even abide the present idleness, feeling that he and his troops had earned a decent period of rest. “The time passed very agreeably,” he would recall years later, “diversified only by little events of not much significance.” That he was in favor of vigorous efforts at an early date, however, was shown in a letter he wrote Halleck on September 17—the day after Grant’s return from New Orleans—in response to one from the general-in-chief requesting his opinions as to “the question of reconstruction in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.… Write me your views fully,” Halleck urged him, “as I may wish to use them with the President.”

Never one to require much encouragement for an exposition of his views, the red-haired general replied with a letter that was to fill eight close-spaced pages in his memoirs. He had done considerable thinking along these lines, based on his experiences in the region before and during the war, and if by “reconstruction” Halleck meant a revival of “any civil government in which the local people have much say,” then Sherman was against it. “I know them well, and the very impulses of their nature,” he declared, “and to deal with the inhabitants of that part of the South which borders on the great river, we must recognize the classes into which they have divided themselves.” First, there were the planters. “They are educated, wealthy, and easily approached.… I know we can manage this class, but only by action,” by “pure military rule.” Second were “the smaller farmers, mechanics, merchants, and laborers.… The southern politicians, who understand this class, use them as the French do their masses—seemingly consult their prejudices, while they make their orders and enforce them. We should do the same.” Third, there were “the Union men of the South. I must confess that I have little respect for this class.… I account them as nothing in this great game of war.” Fourth and last, he narrowed his sights on “the young bloods of the South: sons of planters, lawyers-about-town, good billiard players and sportsmen, men who never did work and never will. War suits them, and the rascals are brave, fine riders, bold to rashness, and dangerous subjects in every sense. They care not a sou for niggers, land, or any thing.” His solution to the problem they posed as “the most dangerous set of men that this war has turned loose upon the world” was easily stated: “These men must all be killed or employed by us before we can hope for peace.” Just how they were to be employed by the government they were fighting Sherman did not say, but having sketched the various classes to be dealt with, he proceeded to give his prescription for victory over them all. “I would banish all minor questions, assert the broad doctrine that as a nation the United States has the right, and also the physical power, to penetrate to every part of our national domain, and that we will do it—that we will do it in our own time and in our own way; that it makes no difference whether it be in one year, or two, or ten, or twenty; that we will remove and destroy every obstacle, if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper; that we will not cease till the end is attained; that all who do not aid us are enemies, and that we will not account to them for our acts.” Lest there be any misunderstanding, he summed up what he meant. “I would not coax them, or even meet them half way, but make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.… The only government needed or deserved by the States of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi now exists in Grant’s army.” He closed by asking Halleck to “excuse so long a letter,” but in sending it to Grant for forwarding to Washington, he appended a note in which he added: “I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptoms of tiring till the South begs for mercy.… The South has done her worst, and now is the time for us to pile on our blows thick and fast.”

Halleck presently wired that Lincoln had read the letter and wanted to see it published, but Sherman declined, preferring “not to be drawn into any newspaper controversy” such as the one two years ago, in which he had been pronounced insane. “If I covet any public reputation,” he replied, “it is as a silent actor. I dislike to see my name in print.” Anyhow, by then he was on the move again; his troops had “slung the knapsack for new fields,” and he himself had experienced a personal tragedy as deep as any he was ever to know in a long life.

Rosecrans had been whipped at Chickamauga while Sherman’s letter was on its way north, and before it got to Washington the wires were humming with calls for reinforcements to relieve Old Rosy’s cooped-up army. On September 23 Grant passed the word for Sherman to leave at once for Memphis with two divisions, picking up en route the division McPherson had recently sent to Helena, and move toward Chattanooga via Corinth on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, which he was to repair as he went, thus providing a new supply line. Drums rolled in the camps on the Big Black; for the next four days the roads to Vicksburg were crowded with columns filing onto transports at the wharf. The steamer Atlantic was the last to leave, and on it rode Sherman and his family. He was showing the two girls and the two boys his old camp as the boat passed Young’s Point, when he noticed that nine-year-old Willy, his first-born son and namesake—“that child on whose future I based all the ambition I ever had”—was pale and feverish. Regimental surgeons, summoned from below deck, diagnosed the trouble as typhoid and warned that it might be fatal. It was. Taken ashore at Memphis, the boy died in the Gayoso House, where Grant’s banquet had been staged five weeks ago. Sherman was disconsolate, though he kept busy attending to details involved in the eastward movement while his wife and the three remaining children went on north to St Louis with the dead boy in a sealed metallic casket. “Sleeping, waking, everywhere I see poor Willy,” he wrote her, and he added: “I will try to make poor Willy’s memory the cure for the defects which have sullied my character—all that is captious, eccentric and wrong.”

His grief seemed rather to deepen than to lift. A week after his son’s death he was asking, “Why was I not killed at Vicksburg and left Willy to grow up and care for you?” By that time, though, his troops were all in motion, some by rail and some on foot, and on October 11 he started for Corinth aboard a train that carried his staff and a battalion of regulars. At Collierville, twenty miles out of Memphis, the train and depot, which had been turned into a blockhouse and surrounded by shallow trenches, were attacked by rebel cavalry under Chalmers, an old Shiloh adversary, whose strength he estimated at 3000. He himself had fewer than 600 and no guns, whereas the raiders had four. To gain time, he received and after some discussion declined a flag-of-truce demand for unconditional surrender, meanwhile disposing his few troops for defense and sending a wire for hurry-up assistance. The fight that followed lasted four hours, at the end of which time the rebels withdrew to avoid contact with a division marching eastward in response to the wire that, after the manner of light fiction, had got through just before the line was cut. Though it had not really been much of a fight, as such things went at this stage of the war—he had lost 14 killed, 42 wounded, and 54 captured, while Chalmers had lost 3 killed and 48 wounded—Sherman was tremendously set up. Five staff horses had been taken, including his favorite mare Dolly, and the graybacks had also confiscated his second-best uniform, but these seemed a small price to pay for the recovery of his accustomed spirits. He had escaped from gloom.

By October 16 he had his entire corps—increased to five divisions by the addition of two from Hurlbut—past Corinth, and three days later the head of the column reached Eastport to find a fleet of transports awaiting its arrival, loaded with provisions and guarded by two of Porter’s gunboats. The establishment of this supply route on the Tennessee enabled Sherman to abandon the railroad west of there, but he still had 161 miles of track to rebuild and maintain, in accordance with Halleck’s orders, from Iuka to Stevenson. This too he took in stride; for he was again in what he liked to call “high feather.” He encouraged his men to live off the country, having decided that the best way to keep raiders out of Kentucky was to cut an arid swath across northern Mississippi and Alabama. The men took to the notion handily, not only because it agreed with their own, but also because their appetites had sharpened with the advent of early fall weather and days of working on the railroad. Sherman could scarcely contain his delight at their performance. “I never saw such greedy rascals after chicken and fresh meat,” he exulted in a letter home. “I don’t believe I will draw anything for them but salt. I don’t know but it would be a good plan to march my army back and forth from Florence and Stevenson to make a belt of devastation between the enemy and our country.”

“My army,” he said, and truly; for by that time Lincoln’s solution of the western command problem had been announced. On October 10, the day before Sherman left Memphis to make his spirit-restoring defense of the Collierville blockhouse, Grant received at Vicksburg a badly delayed order from Halleck directing him to report without delay to Cairo for instructions. The order, dated October 3, had taken a full week to reach him. He left at once, though he was still on crutches, and stopped off at Columbus, Kentucky, six days later—the guerilla-cut telegraph line had been restored to that point by then, only one day short of two weeks after the date on Halleck’s order—to report that he was on his way upriver. Perhaps he wondered if he was to be disciplined for not keeping in touch and going off to New Orleans, as he had been after Donelson for not keeping in touch and going off to Nashville, though he could not see that he deserved any more blame in the present instance than he had deserved then. At any rate he was not much enlightened when he reached Cairo next morning, October 17, and was handed a wire directing him to proceed at once to the Galt House in Louisville, where he would receive further instructions from an officer of the War Department. He boarded a train that would take him there by way of Indianapolis. But that afternoon, as the train was pulling out of the station at the latter place, an attendant came hurrying out and flagged it to a halt. Behind him, bustling up the platform on short legs, came the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton himself, whom Grant had never met. He swung aboard the last car, wheezing asthmatically, and worked his way forward, as the train gathered speed, to the car occupied by the general and his staff. “How are you, General Grant?” he said, grasping the hand of Dr Edward Kittoe, the staff surgeon. “I knew you at sight from your pictures.”

This was quickly straightened out; Kittoe did not look much like his chief anyhow, though he wore a beard and a campaign hat and was also from Galena. After the amenities, exchanged while the train rocked on toward Louisville, Stanton presented Grant with two copies of a War Department order dated October 16, both of which had the same opening paragraph:

By direction of the President of the United States, the Departments of the Ohio, of the Cumberland, and of the Tennessee, will constitute the Military Division of the Mississippi. Major General U. S. Grant, United States Army, is placed in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, with his headquarters in the field.

In brief, this was Lincoln’s unifying solution to the western command problem. With the exception of the troops in East Louisiana under Banks, who outranked him, Grant was put in charge of all the Union forces between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River. That was all there was to one of the copies of the order, but the other had an added paragraph, relieving Rosecrans from duty with the Army of the Cumberland and appointing Thomas in his place. The choice was left to Grant, who had no fondness for Old Rosy; “I chose the latter,” he remarked dryly, some years afterward. Sherman of course would succeed to command of the Army of the Tennessee, and Burnside would continue, at least for the present, as head of the Army of the Ohio.

At Louisville, which they reached that night, Grant and the Secretary spent the following day together at the Galt House discussing the military outlook, mostly from the Washington point of view. That evening—by which time, the general said later, “all matters of discussion seemed exhausted”—Grant and his wife, who had come from Vicksburg with him by boat and train, left the hotel to call on relatives, while Stanton retired to his room with an attack of asthma. It had been decided to defer issuance of the War Department order until the general and his staff had had time to attend to various preparatory details. Presently, however, a messenger arrived with the latest dispatch from Dana, announcing that Rosecrans intended to evacuate Chattanooga and predicting utter disaster as a result. Highly agitated, Stanton sent bellboys and staff officers to all parts of the city in a frantic search for Grant. None of them could find him until about 11 o’clock, when they all found him at once. As he returned to the hotel from his call on relatives, it seemed to him that “every person [I] met was a messenger from the Secretary, apparently partaking of his impatience to see me.” Upstairs, he found Stanton pacing about in his dressing gown and clutching the fatal dispatch, which he insisted called for immediate action to prevent the loss of Chattanooga and the annihilation of the troops besieged there. Grant agreed, and at once sent two dispatches of his own: one informing Rosecrans that he was relieved of command, the other instructing Thomas to hold onto Chattanooga “at all hazards.” Thomas replied promptly with a message that indicated how aptly he had been characterized as the Rock of Chickamauga. “We will hold the town till we starve,” he told Grant.


“ ‘All quiet on the Potomac.’ Nothing to disturb autumnal slumbers,” Stanton had wired the Chattanooga quartermaster on October 4, proud of his management of the transfer west of two corps from the army down in Virginia, which apparently had been accomplished under Lee’s very nose without his knowledge, or at any rate without provoking a reaction on his part. Three days later, however, Meade’s signalmen intercepted wigwag messages indicating that the rebels were preparing for some sort of movement in their camps beyond the Rapidan, and two days after that, on October 9, word came from the cavalry outposts that Lee was on the march, heading west and north around Meade’s flank, much as he had done when he maneuvered bold John Pope out of a similar position, fourteen months ago, and brought him to grief on the plains of Manassas. Presently things were anything but quiet on the Potomac, deep in the Federal rear; for Meade was headed in that direction, too, and the indications were that there was going to be a Third Bull Run.

Lee had been wanting to take the offensive ever since his return from Pennsylvania. “If General Meade does not move, I wish to attack him,” he told Davis in late August. The detachment of Longstreet soon afterward had seemed to rule this out, however, since it reduced Lee’s strength to less than 50,000, whereas the Federals had nearly twice that number in his immediate front. Also there was the problem of his health, a recurrence of the rheumatic malady that had racked him in early spring. Then had come the news of Chickamauga, which was like a tonic to him. “My whole heart and soul have been with you and your brave corps in your late battle,” he wrote Old Peter. “It was natural to hear of Longstreet and Hill charging side by side, and pleasing to find the armies of the East and West vying with each other in valor and devotion to their country. A complete and glorious victory must ensue under such circumstances.… Finish the work before you, my dear general, and return to me. I want you badly and you cannot get back too soon.” Glorious the victory had been, but he presently learned that it was a long way from complete, which meant that the detached third of his army would not be rejoining him anything like as soon as he had hoped. Then came a second tonic-like report. Two of Meade’s corps had been sent west to reinforce Rosecrans, with the result that the odds against Lee were reduced from two-to-one to only a bit worse than eight-to-five. He had taken the offensive against longer odds in the past, and now he prepared to do so again, not only for the same reasons—to relieve the pressure on Richmond, to break up enemy plans in their formative stage, and to provide himself with more room for maneuver—but also by much the same method. What he had in mind, when reports of the Union reduction were confirmed in early October, was a repetition of the tactics he had employed against Pope in a similar confrontation on this same ground; that is, a march around the enemy flank, then a knockout blow delivered as the blue mass drew back to avoid encirclement.

Once he had decided he moved quickly. On October 9 the two corps of the Army of Northern Virginia began their march up the south bank of the Rapidan, westward beyond the Union right, then north across the river. The last time Lee had done this, just over a year ago, he had also had only two corps in his army. Longstreet and Jackson had led them then; now it was Ewell and A. P. Hill, two very different men. Another difference was in Lee himself. He had ridden Traveller then; now he rode in a wagon, so crippled by rheumatism that he could not mount a horse.

Stuart’s cavalry had been organized into two divisions, one under Wade Hampton and the other under Fitzhugh Lee, both of whom were promoted to major general. Hampton was still recuperating from his Gettysburg wounds; Stuart led his division himself, covering the right flank of the infantry on the march, and left Fitz Lee to guard the river crossings while the rest of the army moved upstream. After two days of swinging wide around Cedar Mountain—rich with memories for A. P. Hill, not only because he was a native of the region and had spent his boyhood in these parts, but also because it was here that he had saved Jackson from defeat in early August, a year ago—the gray column entered Culpeper from the southwest on the 11th. Meade had had his headquarters here, and three of his corps had been concentrated in the vicinity, with the other two advanced southward to the north bank of the Rapidan. Now he was gone, and his five corps were gone with him. Like Pope, he was falling back across the Rappahannock to avoid being trapped in the constricting apex of the V described by the confluence of the rivers. Beyond Culpeper, however, Stuart came upon the cavalry rear guard, drawn up at Brandy Station to fight a delaying action on the field where most of the troopers of both armies had fought so savagely four months before. In the resultant skirmish, which he called Second Brandy, Jeb had the satisfaction of driving the enemy horsemen back across the Rappahannock, only failing to bag the lot, he declared, because Fitz Lee did not arrive in time after splashing across the unguarded Rapidan fords. At any rate, he felt that the question of superior abilities, which some claimed had not been decided by the contest here in June, was definitely settled in his favor by the outcome of this second fight on the same ground. Elated though he was, he did not fail to show that he had learned from his mistakes on the recent march into Pennsylvania. Not that he admitted that he had made any; he did not, then or now or later; but he kept in close touch with the commanding general, sending a constant stream of couriers to report both his own and the enemy’s position. “Thank you,” Lee said to the latest in the series, who had ridden back to inform him that the blue cavalry was being driven eastward. “Tell General Stuart to continue to press them back toward the river. But tell him, too,” he added, “to spare his horses—to spare his horses. It is not necessary to send so many messages.” Turning to Ewell, whom he was accompanying today, he said of this staff officer and another who had reported a few minutes earlier: “I think these two young gentlemen make eight messengers sent me by General Stuart.”

He was in excellent spirits, partly because of this evidence that his chief of cavalry had profited from experience; for whatever profited Stuart also profited Lee, who depended heavily on his former cadet for the information by which he shaped his plans. Then too, the pains in his back had let up enough to permit him to enter Culpeper on his horse instead of on the prosaic seat of a wagon, and though he preferred things simple for the most part, he also liked to see them done in style. Moreover, there had been an exchange which he had enjoyed in the course of the welcome extended by the old men and cripples and women and children who turned out to cheer the army that had delivered them from this latest spell of Federal occupation. Not, it seemed, that the occupation had been entirely unpleasant for everyone concerned. At the height of the celebration, one indignant housewife struck a discordant note by informing the general that certain young ladies of the town had accepted invitations to attend band concerts at John Sedgwick’s headquarters, and there, according to reports, they had given every sign of enjoying not only the Yankee music, but also the attentions of the blue-coated staff officers who were their escorts. Lee heard the superpatriot out, then looked sternly around at several girls whose blushes proved their guilt of this near-treason. “I know General Sedgwick very well,” he replied at last, replacing his look of mock severity with a smile. “It is just like him to be so kindly and considerate, and to have his band there to entertain them. So, young ladies, if the music is good, go and hear it as often as you can, and enjoy yourselves. You will find that General Sedgwick will have none but agreeable gentlemen about him.”

Whatever effect these words had on the woman who lodged the complaint—and whose fate, after the general’s departure, can only be guessed at—they served, by their vindication of youth, to heighten the gaiety of the occasion. Nor was Culpeper the only scene of rejoicing for deliverance. Bragg’s great victory in North Georgia, Lee’s northward march, the repulse of the Union flotilla at Sabine Pass, the apparent disinclination of the Federals to follow up their Vicksburg conquest, Beauregard’s continuing staunchness under amphibious assault: all were hailed in the Richmond Whig on this same October 11, under the heading “The Prospect,” as evidence that the South, whose resilience after admittedly heavy setbacks had now been demonstrated to all the world, could never be defeated by her present adversary. “As the campaigning season of the third year of the war approaches its close,” the editor summed up, “the principal army of the enemy, bruised, bleeding, and alarmed, is engaged with all its might [at Chattanooga] digging into the earth for safety. The second largest force, the once Grand Army of the Potomac, is fleeing before the advancing corps of General Lee. The third, under Banks, a portion of which has just been severely chastised by a handful of men, is vaguely and feebly attempting some movement against Texas. The fourth, under Grant, has ceased to be an army of offense. The fifth, under Gillmore, with a number of ironclads to aid him, lays futile siege to Charleston. Nowhere else have they anything more than garrisons or raiding forces. At all points the Confederate forces are able to defy them.”

Lee had it in mind to brighten his share of the prospect still further by intercepting Meade’s withdrawal up the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. He could not divide his army, as he had done against Pope, using half of it to fix the enemy in place while the other half swung wide for a strike at the rear; he lacked both the transport and the strength, and besides, with the bluecoats already in motion, there wasn’t time. But he could attempt a shorter turning movement via Warrenton, along the turnpike paralleling the railroad to the east, in hope of forcing Meade to halt and fight in a position that would afford the pursuers the chance, despite the disparity in numbers, to inflict what the dead Stonewall had called “a terrible wound.” Accordingly, the Culpeper pause was a brief one; Little Powell had time for no more than a quick look at his home town as he passed through in the wake of Ewell, who in turn pushed his men hard to close the gap between them and the cavalry up ahead, beyond Brandy and the Rappahannock crossings. Stuart skirmished with the blue rear guard all the rest of that day and the next, banging away with his guns and gathering stragglers as he went. Lee, still riding with Ewell, reached Warrenton on the 13th to receive a report from Jeb that the Federals were still at Warrenton Junction, due east on the main line, burning stores. There seemed an excellent chance of cutting them off, somewhere up the line: perhaps at Bristoe Station, where Jackson had landed with such explosive effect that other time. Next morning Hill’s lean marchers took the lead. Remembering the rewards of that other strike, they put their best foot forward, if for no other reason than the hope of getting it shod. Shoes, warm clothes, food, and victory: all these lay before them, fifteen miles away at Bristoe, if they could only arrive in time to forestall a Yankee getaway.

As they marched their hopes were heightened by the evidence that Meade, though clearly on the run, had no great head start in the race. “We found the campfires of the enemy still burning,” one of Hill’s men would recall. “Guns, knapsacks, blankets, etc. strewn along the road showed that the enemy was moving in rapid retreat, and prisoners sent in every few minutes confirmed our opinion that they were fleeing in haste.” Another of the marchers, cheered at the outset because he had eaten a whole pot of boiled cabbage for breakfast—perhaps by way of distending his stomach for the feast he hoped to enjoy before nightfall—recorded the satisfaction he and his comrades felt at reliving the glad August days of 1862, when they had tramped these roads with the same goal ahead. “We all entered now fully into the spirit of the movement,” he declared. “We were convinced that Meade was unwilling to face us, and we therefore anticipated a pleasant affair, if we should succeed in catching him.” Little Powell, it was observed, had put on his red wool hunting shirt, as he generally did at the prospect of a fight, and that seemed highly appropriate today, on a march which the first soldier said “was almost like boys chasing a hare.”

Meade had been prodded, these past three months since his recrossing of the Potomac, more by the superiors in his rear than by the rebels in his front. Lincoln was giving Halleck strategy lectures, and Old Brains was passing them along with interlinear comments which, to Meade at least, were about as exasperating as they were banal. As a result he had become more snappish than ever. Staff officers quailed nowadays at his glance. If Lee had caught him somewhat off balance in his reaction to the sudden advance across the Rapidan, it was small wonder.

Back in September, for instance, when he asked what the government wanted him to do—he could drive Lee back on Richmond, he said, but he failed to see the advantage in this, since he lacked the strength to mount a siege—Halleck referred the question to the President, who replied that Meade “should move upon Lee at once in the manner of general attack, leaving to developments whether he will make it a real attack.” The general-in-chief rephrased and expanded this. “The main objects,” he told Meade, “are to threaten Lee’s position, to ascertain more certainly the condition of affairs in his army, and, if possible, to cut off some portion of it by a sudden raid.” Then he, like Lincoln, stressed that these were suggestions, not orders. Meade replied that this last was precisely the trouble, so far as he was concerned. He saw no profit to be gained from the proposed endeavor, whereas he discerned in it the possibility of a good deal of profitless bloodshed, and he was therefore “reluctant to run the risks involved without the positive sanction of the government.” Lincoln remained unwilling to accept the responsibility it seemed to him the general was trying to unload; “I am not prepared to order or even advise an advance in this case,” he told Halleck. But he added that he saw in the present impasse “matter for very serious consideration in another aspect.” If Lee’s 60,000 could neutralize Meade’s 90,000, he went on, why could not Meade, at that same two-three ratio, detach 50,000 men to be used elsewhere to advantage while he neutralized Lee’s 60,000 with his remaining 40,000? “Having practically come to the mere defensive,” Lincoln wrote, “it seems to be no economy at all to employ twice as many men for that object as are needed.” And having come so far in the way of observation, he went further: “To avoid misunderstanding, let me say that to attempt to fight the enemy slowly back into his intrenchments at Richmond, and there to capture him, is an idea I have been trying to repudiate for quite a year. My judgment is so clear against it that I would scarcely allow the attempt to be made if the general in command should desire to make it. My last attempt upon Richmond was to get McClellan, when he was nearer there than the enemy was, to run in ahead of him. Since then I have constantly desired the Army of the Potomac to make Lee’s army, and not Richmond, its objective point. If our army cannot fall upon the enemy and hurt him where he is, it is plain to me it can gain nothing by attempting to follow him over a succession of intrenched lines into a fortified city.”

Meade perceived that he had fallen among lawyers, men who could do with logic and figures what they liked. Moreover the President, in his conclusion with regard to the unwisdom of driving Lee back into the Richmond defenses, had merely returned to the point Meade himself had made at the outset, except that now the latter found it somehow used against him. The technique was fairly familiar, even to a man who had never served on a jury, but it was no less exasperating for that, and Meade was determined that if he was to go the way of McDowell and McClellan, of Pope and McClellan again, of Burnside and Hooker, he would at least make the trip to the scrap heap under his own power. In the absence of orders or “sanction” from above, he would accept the consequences of his own decisions and no others, least of all those of which he disapproved; he would fall, if fall he must, by following his own conscience. Thus, by a reaction like that of a man alone in dangerous country—which Virginia certainly was—his natural caution was enlarged. In point of fact, he believed he had reasons to doubt not only the intentions of those above him, but also the present temper of the weapon they had placed in his hands three months ago and had recently diminished by two-sevenths. Of the five corps still with him, only two were led by the generals who had taken them to Gettysburg, and these were Sykes and Sedgwick, neither of whom had been seriously engaged in that grim struggle. Of the other three, the badly shot-up commands of Reynolds and Sickles were now under Newton and French, who had shown little in the way of ability during or since the return from Pennsylvania, and Warren, who had replaced the irreplaceable Hancock, was essentially a staff man, untested in the exercise of his new, larger duties. This too was part of what lay behind Meade’s remarks, both to his wife in home letters and to trusted members of his staff in private conversations, that he disliked the burden of command so much he wished the government would relieve him.

So when Lee came probing around his right, October 9 and 10, though he knew that Lincoln and Halleck would not approve, he did as Pope had done: pulled out of the constricting V to get his army onto open ground that would permit maneuver. Unlike Pope, however, he did not stop behind the Rappahannock to wait for an explosion deep in his rear. Instead, he kept moving up the Orange & Alexandria Railroad—bringing his rear with him, so to speak. His aim was basically the same as Lee’s: the infliction of some “terrible wound,” if Lee and Providence afforded him the opportunity. Meanwhile he took care to see that he afforded none to an adversary whose considerable fame had been earned at the expense of men who either had been negligent in that respect or else had been overeager in the other. He kept his five corps well closed up, within easy supporting distance of one another as they withdrew northeast along the railroad.

Not all who were with him approved of his cautious tactics; a volunteer aide, for example, considered them about as effective as trying “to catch a sea gull with a pinch of salt”; but Meade was watching and waiting, from Rappahannock Station through Warrenton Junction, for the chance he had in mind. Then suddenly on October 14, just up the line at Bristoe Station, he got it. The opportunity was brief, scarcely more indeed than half an hour from start to finish, but he made the most of it while it lasted. Or anyhow the untried Warren did.

Approaching Bristoe from the west at high noon, after a rapid march of fifteen miles, Hill saw northeastward, beyond Broad Run and out of reach, heavy columns of the enemy slogging toward Manassas Junction, a scant four miles away. He had not won the race. But neither had he lost it, he saw next; not entirely. What appeared to be the last corps in the Federal army was only about half over the run, crossing at a ford just north of the little town on the railroad, which came in arrow-straight from the southwest, diagonal to the Confederate line of march. The uncrossed half of the blue corps, jammed in a mass on the near bank of the stream while its various components awaited their turn at the ford, seemed to Little Powell to be his for the taking, provided he moved promptly. This he did. Ordering Heth, whose division was in the lead, to go immediately from march to attack formation, he put two of his batteries into action and sent word for Anderson, whose division was in column behind Heth’s, to come forward on the double and reinforce the attack. Fire from the guns did more to hasten than to impede the crossing, however, and Hill told Heth, though he had only two of his four brigades in line by now, to attack at once lest the bluecoats get away. Heth obeyed, but as his men started forward he caught a glint of bayonets to their right front, behind the railroad embankment. When he reported this to Hill, asking whether he would not do better to halt for a reconnaissance, Hill told him to keep going: Anderson would be arriving soon to cover his flank. So the two brigades went on. It presently developed, however, that what they were going on to was by no means the quick victory their commander had intended, but rather a sudden and bloody repulse at the hands of veterans who had stood fast on Cemetery Ridge, fifteen weeks ago tomorrow, to serve Pickett in much the same fashion, except that here the defenders had the added and rare advantage of surprise.

They made the most of it. Behind the embankment, diagonal to the advancing line, was the II Corps under Warren, the former chief of engineers, who, demonstrating here at Bristoe as sharp an eye for terrain as he had shown in saving Little Round Top, had set for the unsuspecting rebels what a later observer called “as fine a trap as could have been devised by a month’s engineering.” His—not Sykes’s, as Hill had supposed from a hurried look at the crowded ford and the heavy blue columns already beyond Broad Run—was the last of the five Federal corps, and when he saw the situation up ahead he improvised the trap that now was sprung. As the two gray brigades came abreast of the three cached divisions, the bluecoats opened fire with devastating effect. Back up the slope, Little Powell watched in dismay as his troops, reacting with soldierly but misguided instinct, wheeled right to charge the embankment wreathed in smoke from the enfilading blasts of musketry. This new attempt, by two stunned brigades against three confident divisions, could have but one outcome. The survivors who came stumbling back were pitifully few, for many of the startled graybacks chose surrender, preferring to remain with their fallen comrades rather than try to make the return journey up the bullet-torn slope they had just descended. Elated, the Federals made a quick sortie that netted them five pieces of artillery and two stands of colors, which they took with them when they drew off, unmolested, across the run. The worst loss to the Confederates, though, was men. Both brigade commanders were shot down, along with nearly 1400 killed or wounded and another 450 captured. The total thus was close to 1900 casualties, as compared to a Union total of about 300, only fifty of whom were killed. In the particular, the results were even sadder from the southern point of view. A North Carolina regiment on the exposed flank lost 290 of its 416 enlisted men, or just under seventy percent, plus all but three of its 36 officers. Here too fell Carnot Posey, who was struck in the thigh by a fragment of shell when he brought up his Mississippi brigade near the close of the action. The wound, though ugly, was not thought to be grave, but infection set in and he died one month later.

Indignation swept through the gray army when the rest of it arrived in the course of the afternoon and learned of what had happened at midday, down in the shallow valley of Broad Run. No segment of the Army of Northern Virginia had suffered such a one-sided defeat since Mechanicsville, which had also been the result of Little Powell’s impetuosity. “There was no earthly excuse for it,” a member of Lee’s staff declared, “as all our troops were well in hand, and much stronger than the enemy.” One North Carolinian, still angered years later by the sudden and useless loss of so many of his friends, said flatly: “A worse managed affair than this … did not take place during the war.” Hill’s only reply to such critics was included in the report he submitted within two weeks. “I am convinced that I made the attack too hastily,” he wrote, “and at the same time that a delay of half an hour, and there would have been no enemy to attack. In that event I believe I should equally have blamed myself for not attacking at once.” Seddon and Davis both endorsed the report. “The disaster at Bristoe Station seems due to a gallant but over-hasty pressing on of the enemy,” the former observed, while the latter added: “There was a want of vigilance.” These comments stung the thin-skinned Virginian, but worse by far had been Lee’s rebuke next morning when Hill conducted him over the field, where the dead still lay in attitudes of pained surprise, and explained what had occurred. Lee said little, knowing as he did that his auburn-haired lieutenant’s high-strung impetuosity, demonstrated in battle after battle—but most profitably at Sharpsburg, of which he himself had written: “And then A. P. Hill came up”—had gained the army far more than it cost.

“Well, well, General,” he remarked at last, “bury these poor men and let us say no more about it.”

He was distracted by the possibility of much heavier bloodshed, four miles up the line, where so much blood had been shed twice already. It seemed to him that Meade, encouraged by Warren’s coup the day before, would call a halt and prepare to fight a Third Manassas. That was very much what Lee himself wanted, despite the disparity in numbers, and when someone expressed regret that so historic a field should be widely known by the unromantic name “Bull Run,” he replied that with the blessings of God they would “make it another Cowpens.” Others had a different reason for wanting to push on at once to the famed junction. According to one of Stuart’s men, “We were looking forward to Manassas with vivid recollections of the rich haul we had made there just prior to the second battle of Manassas, and everybody was saying, ‘We’ll get plenty when we get to Manassas.’ ” As it turned out, though, Meade wanted no part of a third fight on that unlucky ground. He marched rapidly beyond it, without even a rest halt for his army. There was no battle, and there was no “rich haul” either. “We were there before we knew it,” the hungry trooper wrote. “Everything was changed. There was not a building anywhere. The soil, enriched by debris from former camps, had grown a rich crop of weeds that came halfway up the sides of our horses, and the only way we recognized the place was by our horses stumbling over the railroad tracks.”

This dreary vista was repeated all around. “Never have I witnessed as sad a picture as Prince William County now presents,” a young staff colonel noted in a letter home. “ ’Tis desolation made desolate indeed. As far as the eye can reach on every side, there is one vast, barren wilderness; not a fence, not an acre cultivated, not a living object visible, and but for here and there a standing chimney, on the ruins of what was once a handsome and happy home, one would imagine that man was never here and that the country was an entirely new one, without any virtue except its vast extent.” Under such circumstances, with an inadequate wagon train and the railroad inoperable because the Federals had blown the larger bridges as they slogged northward, for Lee to remain where he was meant starvation for his men and horses. Nor could he attack, except at a prohibitive disadvantage; Meade had taken a position of great natural strength, which he promptly improved with intrenchments, along the Centerville-Chantilly ridge. Lee was confident he could turn him out of this, but that would be to drive him back on Washington with its 50,000-man garrison and its 589 guns (Richmond, by contrast, had just over 5000 men in its defenses and 42 guns); which plainly would not do, even if the poorly shod and thinly clad Confederates had been in any condition for pursuit, now that the weather was turning colder, along the rocky pikes of Fairfax County. Next day, October 16, a heavy rain seemed more or less to settle the question of any movement, in any direction whatever, by drenching the roads and fields, swelling the unbridged streams, and confining the southern commander to his tent with an attack of what was diagnosed as lumbago. His decision, reached before the downpour stopped that night, was to withdraw as he had come, back down the railroad, completing the destruction his opponent had begun. The march south got under way next morning, despite the mud. Stuart, assigned the task of covering the rear, did so with such zest and skill that he won another of those handy and sometimes laugh-provoking victories by which he justified his plume and his fox-hunt manner.

Meade did not pursue, except with his cavalry, and he soon had cause to regret that he had done even that much. Stuart withdrew by way of Gainesville, down the Warrenton pike, Fitz Lee by way of Bristoe, down the railroad; the arrangement was that the two would combine if either was faced with more than he could handle. Pressed by superior numbers of blue troopers—Pleasonton had three divisions, under Buford, Gregg, and Kilpatrick—Jeb fell back across Broad Run on the night of the 18th and, sending word for Fitz to reinforce him, took up a position on the south bank to contest a crossing at Buckland Mills. He was having little trouble doing this next morning, banging away with his guns at the bridge he had purposely left intact as a challenge, when a courier arrived with a suggestion from Fitz Lee, who had heard the firing and ridden ahead to assess the situation. If Stuart would fall back down the turnpike, pretending flight in order to draw the Yankees pellmell after him, the courier explained, Fitz would be able to surprise them when they came abreast of a hiding place he would select for that purpose, some distance south, behind one of the low ridges adjoining the pike; whereupon Jeb could turn and charge them, converting the blue confusion into a rout. Stuart liked the notion and proceeded at once to put it into effect. The bluecoats—Judson Kilpatrick’s division, with Custer’s brigade in the lead—snapped eagerly at the bait, pounding across the run in close pursuit of the fleeing graybacks, who led them on a five-mile chase to Chestnut Hill. At that point, only two miles short of Warrenton, the “chase” ended. Hearing Fitz Lee’s guns bark suddenly from ambush, Jeb’s horsemen whirled their mounts and charged the head of the now halted and badly rattled column in their rear. There followed another five-mile pursuit—much like the first, except that it was in the opposite direction and was not a mock chase, as the other had been, but a true flight for life—all the way back to Buckland Mills, where Stuart finally called a halt, laughing as he watched the Federals scamper across to the north bank of Broad Run. He had captured something over two hundred of them, along with several ambulances, Custer’s headquarters wagon, and a good deal of dropped equipment. One regret he had, however, and this was that Kilpatrick had not kept his artillery near the front, as prescribed by the tactics manual; in which case, Jeb was convinced, “it would undoubtedly have fallen into our hands.”

Lee congratulated his chief of cavalry, along with his nephew Fitz, for achieving “this handsome success”—an action known thereafter to Confederates as the “Buckland Races”—though he was also prompt to deny the permission sought by Stuart, in his elation at the outcome of the ruse, to undertake a raid behind Meade’s lines while the blue troopers were trying to pull themselves together. In truth, Jeb and his men had done quite enough in the past ten days. Not only did the Buckland farce help to restore the army’s morale, damaged five days ago by the Bristoe fiasco, but at a cost of 408 casualties, most of them only slightly injured, he had inflicted 1251 on the enemy cavalry, all but about three hundred of them killed or captured, and had assisted in the taking of some 600 infantry prisoners, mostly stragglers encountered during the movement north. Meade’s losses totaled 2292, which was only a bit lower than Lee’s for the same period, including those suffered at Bristoe. Except for that unfortunate engagement, the gray army could congratulate itself on another highly successful, if necessarily brief, campaign. With no more than 48,402 effectives, as compared to Meade’s 80,789, Lee had maneuvered his adversary into a sixty-mile withdrawal, from the Rapidan to beyond Bull Run. And now, though he himself was obliged to withdraw in turn for lack of subsistence, he did what he could to insure that the inevitable Union follow-up would be a slow one. Meade had burned only the bridges on the Orange & Alexandria; now Lee burned the crossties, too, and warped the rails beyond salvation by piling them atop the burning ties. The Federals, unable to feed themselves without the use of the railroad now that the autumnal rains were turning the roads to quagmires, would advance no faster than their work gangs could lay track. Recrossing the Rappahannock, Lee called a halt and gave his men some badly needed rest while waiting for the blue army to arrive.

This took even longer than he had supposed it would do: not only because of the thorough job the blue and butternut wreckers had done on the Orange & Alexandria, but also because the Federal commander was involved again in a distractive telegraphic skirmish with the authorities in his rear. The President had been distressed by what seemed to him the supine attitude of Meade in falling back under pressure from Lee’s inferior force, and this distress was increased on October 15, when the general, announcing Warren’s repulse of the rebels at Bristoe Station, passed along information gleaned from prisoners “that Hill’s and Ewell’s corps, reinforced to a reported strength of 80,000, are advancing on me, their plan being to secure the Bull Run field in advance of me.” He supposed, he said, that Lee would “turn me again, probably by the right … in which case I shall either fall on him or retire nearer Washington.” Lincoln presumed from past performances that Meade would certainly choose the latter course, and when it did not come to that, since Lee advanced no farther than Bull Run, he took this as evidence that the Confederates were by no means as strong as the prisoners had claimed. Irked by what seemed to him a superfluity of caution, he risked a near commitment. “If Gen. Meade can now attack [Lee] on a field no worse than equal for us,” he wrote Halleck next day, “and will do so with all the skill and courage which he, his officers, and men possess, the honor will be his if he succeeds, and the blame may be mine if he fails.” Perhaps Meade noted the “may” in the copy Halleck sent him that same day, or perhaps he recalled that other such letters had preceded other downfalls. In any event, since neither of his superiors was willing to put the suggestion in the form of a direct order, he chose rather to continue the policy he had been following all along. Besides, he protested, this policy was no different from the one being urged on him. “It has been my intention to attack the enemy, if I can find him on a field no more than equal for us,” he replied. “I have only delayed doing so from the difficulty of ascertaining his exact position, and the fear that in endeavoring to do so my communications might be jeopardized.”

It seemed to Halleck that what Meade was in fear of jeopardizing was his reputation. Accordingly, with the encouragement of their Commander in Chief, he decided to crack down harder, apparently in the belief that more pressure from above might stiffen the reluctant general’s backbone. Two days later, on October 18, Meade reported that Lee was again in motion, and though he did not know what the Virginian had in mind, he thought he might be headed for the Shenandoah Valley, as he had done after Chancellorsville. Halleck replied that this might be so, but he added tauntingly: “If Lee has turned his back on you to cross the mountains, he certainly has seriously exposed himself to your blows, unless his army can move two miles to your one.” By evening, moreover, the general-in-chief had decided there was nothing to the report. “Lee is unquestionably bullying you,” he wired. “If you cannot ascertain his movements, I certainly cannot. If you pursue and fight him, I think you will find out where he is. I know of no other way.” Sooner or later, all subordinates—even the placid Grant—bridled under this kind of treatment from Old Brains, and the short-tempered Meade was by no means an exception. “If you have any orders to give me, I am prepared to receive and obey them,” he shot back, “but I must insist on being spared the infliction of such truisms in the guise of opinions as you have recently honored me with, particularly as they were not asked for.” By way of emphasis he added: “I take this occasion to repeat what I have before stated, that if my course, based on my own judgment, does not meet with approval, I ought to be, and I desire to be, relieved from command.” This was his trump card, never played without overriding effect; for who was there in the Army of the Potomac to replace him? (“What can I do, with such generals as we have?” Lincoln had asked, some weeks ago, in response to urgings that the Pennsylvanian be relieved. “Who among them is any better than Meade?”) Snail-like, Halleck pulled his horns in—as, in fact, it was his custom to do whenever they encountered resistance. “If I have repeated truisms,” he wired the general next morning, “it has not been to give offense, but to give you the wishes of the government. If, in conveying these wishes, I have used words which were unpleasing, I sincerely regret it.” Now it was Meade’s turn to be high-handed. “Your explanation of your intentions is accepted,” he replied, “and I thank you for it.”

Privately, however—when he found out, as he presently did, that the Confederates were not headed for the Valley but were withdrawing as they had come, back down the railroad—he admitted that Lee had indeed bullied him, though he did not use that word. He perceived now that it had never been his adversary’s real intention to come between him and Washington at all, as he had supposed, but simply to maneuver him rearward, sixty miles or more, and thus forestall a continued Union advance during the brief period of good weather that remained. Lee’s had been “a deep game,” Meade wrote his wife on October 21, “and I am free to admit that in the playing of it he has got the advantage of me.” Accordingly, after his cavalry failed to intercept or indeed scarcely even trouble the retiring enemy, he put his repair gangs to work on the wrecked supply line and followed with his infantry. The advance was necessarily slow, being regulated to the speed with which the rails were laid and the bridges reconstructed. There was even time for a quick visit to the capital, at Halleck’s urging, for a conference with the President. This was held on October 23, and Meade reported to his wife that he found Lincoln kind and considerate, though obviously disappointed that he had not got a battle out of Lee. At one point, though, the talk shifted to Gettysburg and the touchy subject of the pursuit of the rebels to the Potomac. “Do you know, General, what your attitude toward Lee for a week after the battle reminded me of?” Lincoln asked, and when Meade replied, “No, Mr President, what is it?” Lincoln said: “I’ll be hanged if I could think of anything else than an old woman trying to shoo her geese across a creek.”

For once, Meade kept his temper under control, but he was glad to return next day to his army, away from the Washington atmosphere. Though the advance was proceeding about as fast as could be expected with the railroad as thoroughly smashed as it was, he dispensed with none of his previous caution, wanting no part of a battle on such terms as he believed Lee (not Lincoln) would be willing to offer him. Finally, by the end of the month, he was back on the Rappahannock, whose crossings he found defended. He had been reinforced to a strength of 84,321 effectives, whereas Lee was down to 45,614 as a result of sickness brought on by exposing his thin-clad veterans to cold and rainy weather on the march. Unaware that the odds had lengthened again to almost two-to-one, Meade took a long look at the rebel defenses and, finding them formidable—Lee’s soldiers had apparently been as hard at work as his own, but with shovels rather than sledges—proposed on November 2 a change of base downstream to Fredericksburg, which he said would not only put him back on the direct route to Richmond, but would also avoid the need for crossing a second river immediately after the first.

Lincoln was prompt to disapprove. He had been willing to have the army fight a Third Bull Run, but it seemed to him only a little short of madness to invite a Second Fredericksburg. So Meade looked harder than ever at what faced him here on the upper Rappahannock, where, if anywhere, he would have to do his fighting.

Despite the nearly two-to-one odds his army faced in its risky position within the constricting V of the rivers, Lee awaited Meade’s advance with confidence and as much patience as his ingrained preference for the offensive would permit. “If I could only get some shoes and clothes for the men,” he said, “I would save him the trouble.” In electing to stand on the line of the Rappahannock—shown in the past to be highly vulnerable at Kelly’s Ford, where the south bank was lower than the north—he had evolved a novel system of defense. Massing his troops in depth near the danger point, he prepared to contest a crossing there only after the blue infantry had moved beyond the effective range of its artillery on the dominant north bank, and in furtherance of this plan (patterned, so far, after the one he had used with such success at Fredericksburg, just short of eleven months ago) he maintained at Rappahannock Station, five miles upstream, a bridgehead on the far side of the river, fortified against assault by the labor-saving expedient of turning the old Federal works so that they faced north instead of south. A pontoon bridge near the site of the wrecked railroad span, safely beyond the reach of enemy batteries, made possible a quick withdrawal or reinforcement of the troops who, by their presence, were in a position to divide Meade’s forces or attack him flank and rear in case he massed them for a downstream crossing. Ewell’s corps guarded all these points, with Early in occupation of the tête-de-pont, Rodes in rear of Kelly’s Ford, and Johnson in reserve; Hill’s was upstream, beyond Rappahannock Station. For more than two weeks, October 20 to November 5, Lee waited in his Brandy headquarters for Meade’s arrival. On the latter date his outpost scouts sent word that blue reconnaissance patrols were probing at various points along the river, and two days later the whole Union army was reported to be approaching in two main columns, one headed for the north-bank bridgehead, the other for Kelly’s Ford.

This report, which was just what he had expected and planned for, reached him about noon. After notifying Hill to be on the alert for orders to reinforce Ewell, he rode from Brandy to Early’s headquarters near the south end of the pontoon bridge affording access to the works on the north bank. When Early explained that he was sending another of his brigades to join the one already across the river, Lee approved but he also took the precaution of ordering Hill to shift his right division over to the railroad so that it would be available as an additional reserve. Similarly, when he learned a bit later that the bluecoats had crossed in force at Kelly’s Ford, he instructed Edward Johnson to move in closer support of Rodes. Old Jubal went over to the north bank late in the afternoon and returned to report that the Yankees had made so little impression there that one of his brigade commanders had assured him that, if need be, he could hold the position against the whole Federal army. Dusk came down, and presently, in the gathering darkness beyond the river, Lee and Early saw muzzle flashes winking close to the works on the north bank. A south wind carried the noise away, and anyhow the pinkish yellow flashes soon went out. Convinced that this brief twilight action had been no more than a demonstration, probably to cover the advance on Kelly’s Ford—in any event, no enemy had ever made a night attack on his infantry in a fortified position—Lee rode back to Brandy under the growing light of the stars, well satisfied with the results so far of the reception he had planned for Meade along the Rappahannock.

Unwelcome news awaited him at headquarters, in the form of a dispatch from Ewell. The greater part of two regiments assigned by Rodes to picket duty at Kelly’s Ford had been gobbled up by the Federals, who then had laid a pontoon bridge and were sending substantial reinforcements across to the south bank. A loss of 349 veterans was not to be taken lightly, but aside from this the situation was about what Lee had expected. The thing to do now was make threatening gestures from within the bridgehead, which should serve to hold a major portion of Meade’s force on the north bank, and shift two divisions of Hill’s corps eastward to strengthen Rodes and Johnson for an all-out fight in rear of Kelly’s Ford. That was the preconceived plan, whereby Lee intended to fall on a segment of the blue army, as he had done so often in the past, with the greater part of his own. Before this could be ordered, however, still worse news—indeed, almost incredible news—arrived from Early. Massing heavily at close range in the darkness before moonrise, the Federals had stormed and overrun the north-bank intrenchments, killing or capturing all of the troops in the two Confederate brigades except about six hundred who had swum the river or run the gauntlet over the pontoon bridge. The loss would come to 1674 men: and with them, of course, went the bridgehead itself, upon which the plan for Meade’s discomfiture depended. Nor was it only the offensive that had been wrecked. Obviously the army could not remain in its present position after daylight, exposed on a shallow extended front with the Rapidan in its rear. Lee was upset but he kept his poise, thankful at any rate that Early had set the floating bridge afire to prevent a crossing by the bluecoats now in occupation of Rappahannock Station. Orders went out for Hill to retire by crossing the railroad between Culpeper and Brandy, while Ewell fell back toward Germanna Ford, contesting if necessary the advance of the blue force from Kelly’s. For two days the movement continued. On November 9, when the bluecoats drew near, both corps halted and formed for battle, still within the V, but when Meade did not press the issue Lee resumed his withdrawal and crossed the Rapidan next morning. The army was back in the position it had left, marching west and north around the enemy right, a month ago yesterday.

The blue-clad veterans were elated; their 461 casualties amounted to less than a fourth of the number they had inflicted. French had moved with speed and precision on the left, seizing Kelly’s Ford before the rebel pickets even had time to scamper rearward out of reach, and Uncle John Sedgwick, on the right with his own and Sykes’s corps, had performed brilliantly, improvising tactics which resulted in the capture not only of the fortified tête-de-pont, supposed impregnable by its defenders, but also of the largest haul of prisoners ever secured by the army in one fell, offensive swoop. Meade’s stock rose accordingly with the men in the ranks, who began to say that Bobby Lee had better look to his laurels, though there was presently some grumbling that the coup had not been followed by another, equally vigorous and even more profitable, while the rebs were on the run. Conversely, there was chagrin in the Confederate ranks. The double blow had cost a total of 2033 men: more, even, than Bristoe Station and in some ways even worse than that fiasco, which at least had not been followed by an ignominious retreat. Now it was Ewell’s turn to be excoriated, as Hill had been three weeks before. “It is absolutely sickening,” one of his young staff officers, a holdover from Stonewall’s day, lamented. “I feel personally disgraced … as does everyone in the command. Oh, how each day is proving the inestimable value of General Jackson to us!” Early and Rodes were both intensely humiliated, and though Lee did not berate them or their corps commander, any more than he had berated Little Powell in a similar situation, neither did he attempt to reduce their burden of guilt by assigning any share of the blame to the men who had been captured and were now on their way to prison camps in the North. Quite the contrary, in fact; for he observed in his report to Richmond that “the courage and good conduct of the troops engaged have been too often tried to admit of question.”

Both the elation on the one hand and the chagrin on the other were soon replaced by a sort of mutual boredom on both sides of the familiar Rapidan, where the two armies returned to their old occupation of staring at one another from the now leafless woods on its opposite banks—what time, that is, they were not engaged in the informal and illegal exchange of coffee, tobacco, and laugh-provoking insults. If there was less food on the south bank, there was perhaps more homesickness on the north, the majority of the soldiers there having come a longer way to save the Union than their adversaries had come to save the Confederacy. Presently there was rain and more rain, chill and dripping, which served to increase the discomfort, as well as the boredom, despite the snug huts put up as a sign that the armies had gone into winter quarters. A northern colonel, a staff volunteer, spoke for both sides in giving his reaction to his surroundings. “The life here is miserably lazy,” he wrote home; “hardly an order to carry, and the horses all eating their heads off.… If one could only be at home, till one was wanted, and then be on the spot. But this is everywhere the way of war; lie still and lie still; then up and maneuver and march hard; then a big battle; and then a lot more lie still.”


Rosecrans was relieved on the day of the Buckland Races, exactly one month after the opening day of Chickamauga, whose loss had resulted first in his retreat, then in his besiegement, and finally in his removal from command. Grant left Louisville by rail next morning, October 20, spent the night in Nashville, and went on the following day to Stevenson, Alabama, for an early evening conference with Rosecrans, who had left Chattanooga the day before, promptly on receipt of Grant’s wire, because he had not wanted to encourage by his presence any demonstrations of regret at his departure from the army he would have commanded for a full year if he had lasted one week longer. It was untrue that he had intended to evacuate the beleaguered town, as Dana had told Stanton he had it in mind to do; in point of fact, he had been hard at work for the past ten days with his chief of engineers on plans for solving the acute supply problem as a prelude to resuming the offensive. Moreover, though he disliked Grant and knew quite well that Grant returned the feeling, his devotion to their common cause enabled him not only to share with the incoming general, who had just ordered his removal, his recently worked-out plans for lifting the siege, but even to do so cordially. “He came into my car,” Grant subsequently wrote, “and we held a brief interview, in which he described very clearly the situation at Chattanooga, and made some excellent suggestions as to what should be done. My only wonder was that he had not carried them out.”

After the conference, Old Rosy took up his journey north and Grant proceeded to Bridgeport, where he spent the night. Next morning, with his crutches strapped to the saddle like a brace of carbines—for he still could not manage afoot without them—he began the sixty-mile horseback trek up the Sequatchie Valley and over Walden’s Ridge, made necessary by the long-range rebel guns on Raccoon Mountain commanding the direct approach to Chattanooga, which was less than half the roundabout distance the army trains were obliged to travel if they were to maintain a trickle of supplies for the hungry bluecoats cooped up in the town. At Jasper, ten miles out, the party stopped for a visit with Oliver Howard, who had established his corps headquarters there soon after his arrival from Virginia two weeks before. In the course of their talk Howard saw Grant looking intently at an empty whiskey bottle on a nearby table. “I never drink,” the one-armed general said hastily, anxious lest his reputation for sobriety be doubted by his new commander, whatever shortcomings the latter himself might have in that regard. “Neither do I,” Grant replied, straight-faced, as he rose and hobbled out on his crutches to be lifted back onto his horse. Beyond Jasper—particularly around Anderson’s Crossroads, the halfway point, where Wheeler had wrought such havoc twenty days ago—he began, like Browning’s Childe Roland, to get an oppressive firsthand notion of the difficulties in store for him ahead. Rain had turned low-lying stretches of the road into knee-deep bogs, and other stretches along hillsides had been made almost impassable by washouts; the crippled general had to be carried over the worst of these, which were too unsafe to cross on horseback. Ten thousand mules and horses had died by now, either by rebel bayonets or from starvation, and a great many of their carcasses were strewn along the roadway, offensive alike to eye and nose and conscience, especially for a man who loved animals as much as Grant did. Perhaps not even the field of Shiloh, with its grisly two-day harvest still upon it, offended him more than what he encountered in the course of the present two-day ride up that quiet valley and over that barren ridge, which he descended late on October 23 to regain the north bank of the Tennessee, immediately opposite the town that was his goal.

In some ways Chattanooga itself was worse; for there, in addition to more dead and dying horses, you saw the faces of the soldiers, which showed the effects not only of their hunger—“One of the regiments of our brigade,” a Kansas infantryman was to testify, “caught, killed, and ate a dog that wandered into camp”—but also the dejection proceeding from their month-old defeat at Chickamauga and the apparent hopelessness of their present tactical situation, ringed as they were by the rebel victors on all the surrounding heights. Grant crossed the river just before dark, riding carefully over the pontoon bridge, and went at once to see Thomas, who had promised four days ago to “hold the town till we starve.” This was something quite different, Grant now discerned, from saying that the army would be able to live there, let alone come out of the place victorious. “I appreciated the force of this dispatch … when I witnessed the condition of affairs which prompted it,” he afterwards declared. The night was cold and rainy. He could see the campfires of the Confederates, gleaming like stars against the outer darkness, above and on three sides of him, as if he stood in the pit of a darkened amphitheater, peering up and out, east and west and south.

Chattanooga was said to be an Indian word meaning “mountains looking at each other,” and next morning Grant perceived the aptness of the name. He saw on the left the long reach of Missionary Ridge, a solid wall that threw its shadow over the town until the sun broke clear of its rim, and on the right the cumulous bulge of Raccoon Mountain. Dead ahead, though, was the dominant feature of this forbidding panorama. Its summit 1200 feet above the surface of the river at its base, Lookout Mountain rose, a Union correspondent had remarked, “like an everlasting thunder storm that will never pass over.” Seen as Grant saw it now, wreathed in mist, the journalist continued, “it looms up … and recedes, but when the sun shines strongly out it draws so near as to startle you.” Grant was to see it that way too, in time, but for the present what impressed him most were the guns posted high on the slopes and peaks and ridges, all trained on the blue army here below. With the help of glasses he could even see the cannoneers lounging about in careless attitudes, as if to emphasize by their idleness the advantage they enjoyed. “I suppose,” he said years later, “they looked upon the garrison of Chattanooga as prisoners of war, feeding or starving themselves, and thought it would be inhuman to kill any of them except in self-defense.”

With two thirds of his practically useless cavalry sent away, Thomas had about 45,000 effectives in his Army of the Cumberland, and though nothing had yet been done to relieve the most pressing of their problems—the hunger that came from trying to live on quarter-rations—Dana at least had been quick to inform Stanton, on the day of Grant’s arrival “wet, dirty, and well,” that “the change at headquarters here [under Thomas] is already strikingly perceptible. Order prevails instead of universal chaos.” For one thing, there had been a complete reorganization, a top-to-bottom shake-up, in the course of which regiments were consolidated, brigades re-formed, and divisions redistributed. Formerly there had been eleven of these last; now there were six, assigned three each to two instead of the previous four corps. Palmer had succeeded Thomas, and Granger had been placed at the head of a new corps formed by combining his own with those of the departed Crittenden and McCook. Sheridan, Wood, and Brigadier General Charles Cruft, Palmer’s successor, commanded the three divisions under Palmer; Johnson, Davis, and Baird the three under Granger. The other five division commanders had been disposed of or employed in various ways; Negley was sent North, ostensibly for his health, while Steedman and Van Cleve were made post commanders of Chattanooga and Murfreesboro, and Reynolds and Brannan were respectively appointed to be chiefs of staff and artillery, directly under Thomas. Grant approved of all these arrangements, some of which had been effected by Rosecrans, but as he examined the tactical situation confronting the reorganized army—including the alarming discovery that there was not enough ammunition for one hard day of fighting—he found it altogether bleak. “It looked, indeed, as if but two courses were open,” he afterwards remarked: “one to starve, the other to surrender or be captured.”

Not only did the Confederates have the tactical advantage of gazing down on their opponents with something of the complacency of marksmen contemplating fish in a rain barrel; they also had a numerical advantage. Bragg had close to 70,000 veterans on those heights and in the intervening valleys. This would be considerably overmatched, of course, when and if the Federal reinforcements arrived. Hooker was already standing by, near Bridgeport, with some 16,000 effectives—exclusive, that is, of service personnel—in the four divisions he had brought from the Army of the Potomac, while Sherman was working his way east along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad with another 20,000 in the five divisions of his Army of the Tennessee, and Burnside had about 25,000 around Knoxville in the four divisions of his Army of the Ohio. This gave a total of well over 100,000 men in the four commands. Even without Burnside, who now definitely was not coming—though he was strategically useful where he was, as a bait or a menace, hovering eastward off Bragg’s flank—the combination of Thomas, Hooker, and Sherman would give Grant nearly half again as many troops as stood in the ranks of his gray besiegers. First, though, he must get them into Chattanooga, and before he could do that he would have to find a way to feed them when they got there, since otherwise they would only increase the number of hungry mouths and speed the garrison’s already rapid progress toward starvation. That was what it came to every time, no matter how many angles the problem was seen from: the question of how to open a new supply line, supplementing or replacing the inadequate, carcass-littered one that led back over Walden’s Ridge and down the Sequatchie Valley to the railhead depots bulging with food and ammunition at Stevenson and Bridgeport.

The answer came out of a conference with Thomas and his chief engineer, W. F. Smith, who had served in the same capacity under Rosecrans. This was that same “Baldy” Smith who had led a corps at Fredericksburg but had been transferred out of the Virginia army—as a result, it was said, of his inability to get along with Hooker any better than he had with Burnside—and had commanded the Pennsylvania militia that stood off Jeb Stuart at Carlisle during the Gettysburg campaign, after which he had been given his present assignment with the army down in Tennessee. A Vermont-born West Pointer, short and portly, thirty-nine years old and described by a fellow staffer as having “a light-brown imperial and shaggy mustache, a round, military head, and the look of a German officer, altogether,” Smith was still a brigadier, despite the lofty posts he had filled, because Congress refused to confirm his promotion on grounds that he had been deeply involved in the machinations against Burnside: as indeed he had, for he was by nature contentious, ever quick to spot and carp at the shortcomings of his superiors. Grant had not seen him since their Academy days, twenty years before, but he was greatly taken with him on brief reacquaintance, mainly because Smith had arrived, on his own and in conferences with Rosecrans, at what he believed was the answer to the question of how to open a new and better supply line back to Bridgeport. It was based of course on geography, but it was also based on daring. The Tennessee River, which flowed due west past Chattanooga, turned abruptly south just beyond the town, then swung back north as if by rebound from the foot of Lookout Mountain. Two miles upstream, on the western side of the point of land inclosed by this narrow bend—Moccasin Point, it was called, from its resemblance, when seen from above, to an Indian shoe—was Brown’s Ferry, an excellent site for a crossing because it was beyond the reach of all but the longest-range guns on Lookout and only a mile from the pontoon bridge already in use north of the town. From Brown’s Ferry the river flowed on north, then turned south again, around the long northwestern spur of Raccoon Mountain, to describe a second and longer bend, along whose base a road led westward through Cummings Gap to another Tennessee crossing known as Kelley’s Ferry, and from there along the right bank of the river down to Bridgeport.

Here then was the ideal route: save for one drawback. The rebels held it. They had guns emplaced on Raccoon Mountain and pickets advanced to the river itself, squarely athwart the coveted approaches to the gap through which the road connecting the two ferries ran. But Smith had the answer to this as well, a tactical solution employing the principles of speed and stealth to achieve surprise and, with surprise, success. Crossing at Bridgeport, a force from Hooker would follow the railroad east around the south flank of the mountain, then move north under cover of darkness, still following the railroad through Wauhatchie, to close upon Brown’s Ferry from the rear. Meanwhile, and also under cover of darkness, a force from Thomas would advance on the same point in two columns, one marching overland, first across the pontoon bridge at Chattanooga, then west across the narrow base of Moccasin Point, and the other floating noiselessly downriver in pontoon boats, past the sheer north face of Lookout, to spearhead the crossing at Brown’s Ferry, capture the gray outpost there, and hold on while the boats were being anchored and floored over by an engineer detachment so that the column approaching by land could cross as reinforcements; whereupon the two forces, one from Hooker and one from Thomas, would combine for mop-up operations, opening Cummings Gap to clear the road leading west to Kelley’s Ferry and dislodging the enemy guns on Raccoon Mountain. Once this was done, the new supply route—half the length of the old one over Walden’s Ridge, and a good deal less than half as tortuous—would be securely in Federal hands; the troops in Chattanooga could go back on full rations, refill their cartridge boxes and limber chests, and prepare to deal with the graybacks still on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

Grant liked the sound of this—particularly the notion of the silent run past Lookout, reminiscent as it was of the maneuver that opened the final phase of the Vicksburg campaign—afterwards saying of Smith: “He explained the situation of the two armies and the topography of the country so plainly that I could see it without an inspection.” All the same, on the day after his arrival he rode out with Thomas and his chief engineer, back to the north bank of the Tennessee and across the base of Moccasin Point for a look at the lay of the land around Brown’s Ferry. In the course of this reconnaissance Smith also showed him the work going on at a sawmill he had established for getting out the lumber needed for building the pontoons and flooring the bridge they would support after serving as transports and assault boats. Fifty of these had already been knocked together and caulked, and the workmen were also busy on an improvised steamboat, powered, as the sawmill itself was, by an engine commandeered from a nearby cotton gin. This last, Smith said, would be used for hauling supplies, once the river had been opened to traffic below the ferry. He seemed to have thought of everything. Grant was so impressed by the thoroughness and ingenuity of these preparations that as soon as he got back to Chattanooga that evening he not only issued orders for the plan to be adopted; he also directed that it was to begin within two days. Hooker was instructed to leave one division behind to guard the railroad back toward Nashville and to cross with the other three at Bridgeport on October 26, marching fast through Wauhatchie to approach Brown’s Ferry from the south. Thomas was told to move the following morning, before daylight, thus allowing Hooker time to come within reach of their common objective. Grant further stipulated that Smith was to be in direct charge of the two-pronged approach from Chattanooga, later explaining that the staff engineer “had been so instrumental in preparing for the move, and so clear in his judgment about the manner of making it, that I deemed it but just to him that he should have command of the troops detailed to execute the design.”

His trust was not misplaced; there was no better example, in the whole course of the war, of what the combination of careful planning, ingenuity, and great daring could accomplish under intelligent leadership. Hooker crossed on schedule at Bridgeport, leaving Slocum and one of his divisions behind to guard the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad against saboteurs and raiders, and proceeded eastward along the Memphis & Charleston with Slocum’s other division and Howard’s two, a force of about 11,000 effectives. That night Smith set out across Moccasin Point with two brigades of infantry and a battalion of engineers, numbering in all about 3500 men, and at 3 o’clock the following morning, October 27, a selected group of 1500 others, who had been loaded aboard the improvised fleet of sixty pontoon-transports, cast off and started downstream from the Chattanooga wharves, two dozen men and one officer in each boat. The current was strong; there was no need for oars, except to steer with, during the nearly circuitous six-mile run. Screened by a light mist, they hugged the right bank and made the trip in just two hours, undetected by rebel lookouts despite the frantic cries of one unfortunate soldier who fell overboard and was left to drown, as he had been warned beforehand would be done if he got careless. Reaching Brown’s Ferry at 5 o’clock, half an hour before dawn, the troops in the first boats swarmed ashore and captured the drowsy pickets, while oarsmen in the unloaded transports began their task of ferrying Smith’s overland marchers across from the right bank, where they had waited all this time under cover of the brush and darkness.

One dispersed brigade of Confederates—for, as it turned out, this was all the force the enemy had west of Lookout Mountain—attempted to assault the beachhead in the gray dawn, but was quickly thrown into retreat by the superior blue force, which then proceeded to fortify and intrench a defensive perimeter while the engineers went hard to work on the bridge. By midmorning the pontoons had been moored and floored; reinforcements from Thomas could march across in almost any numbers Smith or Grant decided might be needed. Few would be, apparently, for those graybacks who had not been captured at the time of the landing, or knocked out during the quick repulse that followed, had withdrawn eastward across Lookout Valley, leaving Raccoon Mountain and Cummings Gap in Federal hands. Moreover, dispatches sent forward that afternoon by Hooker announced that he was approaching Wauhatchie and would arrive in person the next day. This he did, together with two of his divisions, the third having been posted as a rear guard at Wauhatchie. And now for the first time, here on the south bank of the Tennessee River, near Brown’s Ferry, Union soldiers of the East and West shook hands and congratulated each other on the success of their combined operation, by which a new supply route into besieged Chattanooga was about to be opened; “The Cracker Line,” they dubbed it.

Hooker had had no share in anything so obviously exciting as a six-mile run downriver through misty darkness. But the fact was, he and his troops had had perhaps the most nerve-racking time of all, if only because of the duration of the strain; and in the end they did the only real fighting involved in the operation. As he marched eastward by daylight on his first and second days away from Bridgeport, Lookout Mountain loomed nearer and taller with every mile. Rebels up there in untold numbers were watching him, alone so to speak in their own back yard, and he knew it. He counted himself fortunate when he reached Wauhatchie without being attacked, and he took the precaution of dropping John Geary’s division off at that point, as a safeguard for his rear, while he continued his march north with Howard’s two divisions under von Steinwehr and Carl Schurz. Presently, though, on the night of the day he made contact with Smith at Brown’s Ferry—October 28—Fighting Joe had cause to believe that what he had thought was a precautious act had in fact been an extremely rash one that might cost him no less than one third of the force he had brought across the Tennessee, and possibly much more. A sudden midnight booming of guns, loud not only at the ferry but also in the town across the way, informed him that Geary was under assault in his isolated position, three miles off. What was worse, if the attack was in sufficient force it might be launched for the purpose of overwhelming the bridgehead, in which case there would be nothing for Howard’s men to do but retreat with Smith’s across the river and into Chattanooga, where they would have to share the hungry garrison’s meager rations and thus hasten its progress toward starvation or surrender. Determined to do what he could to avert such a fate, along with further damage to the reputation he had been given a chance to retrieve in a new theater, Hooker put Schurz on the march to reinforce the embattled Geary, the flashes of whose guns were playing fitfully on the southern horizon despite the brightness of a moon only two nights past the full, and alerted Steinwehr to stand ready to come, too, if he was needed.

The trouble, as it turned out, was by no means as serious as he had feared: not only because Geary’s men gave an excellent account of themselves in defending the position at Wauhatchie, but also because the Confederates—four brigades from the absent Hood’s division—became confused in their first attempt at a night attack and were unable to co-ordinate their efforts. Though the soldiers on both sides had traveled a thousand miles or more from Virginia to come to grips here in the darkness near the Tennessee-Georgia line, neither could distinguish the presence of the other except by the flashes of the shots they fired. In this sort of situation the advantage lay with the defenders, who remained in one place and at least knew where they themselves were, whereas the attackers did not even know that much for a good part of the time. Moreover, the element of surprise was by no means altogether with the latter. Geary’s teamsters, for example, became frightened by the uproar and deserted their picketed mules; whereupon the mules, left to their own devices in the flame-stabbed pandemonium, broke loose from their tethers and stampeded toward the rebels, who in turn became frightened, thinking a cavalry charge had been launched at them, and stampeded too. (Just as Southerners liked to celebrate such affairs as the Buckland Races with rollicking verses, generally in parody of something at once hackneyed and heroic, so did an anonymous Ohio infantryman immortalize this “Charge of the Mule Brigade”:

Half a mile, half a mile,
   Half a mile onward,
Right toward the Georgia troops
   Broke the two hundred.
“Forward, the Mule Brigade;
   Charge for the rebs!” they neighed.
Straight for the Georgia troops
   Broke the two hundred.

Five stanzas later came the envoy:

When can their glory jade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made;
Honor the Mule Brigade,
   Long-eared two hundred.)

In any event—aside, that is, from the disconcerting, not to say unnerving effect on the graybacks of having some two hundred fear-crazed mules come bearing down on them out of the clattering darkness—Schurz came up soon to even the odds, and the confused engagement broke off about as suddenly as it had begun. By 4 o’clock, two hours before sunrise, the Confederates had withdrawn across Lookout Creek, leaving the field to the men who had held it in the first place, and Bragg made no further attempt to interfere with the opening of the new Federal supply line. At a cost of well under five hundred casualties—420 for Hooker, 37 for Smith—Grant had inflicted perhaps twice as many, including the prisoners taken at Brown’s Ferry and picked up later on Raccoon Mountain, and had delivered the Chattanooga garrison from the grim threat of starvation, the most urgent of the several problems he had found waiting for him on his arrival, five days back. On October 30, exactly one week after he rode into town, “wet, dirty, and well,” the little steamboat Smith had built tied up at Kelley’s Ferry, completing a run from Bridgeport with a cargo of 40,000 rations for the troops at the opposite end of Cummings Gap. According to an officer aboard her, an orderly sent on horseback to announce the steamer’s arrival returned to report “that the news went through the camps faster than his horse, and the soldiers were jubilant and cheering, ‘The Cracker Line’s open. Full rations, boys! Three cheers for the Cracker Line,’ as if we had won another victory; and we had.”

So far as Grant himself was concerned, the issue had been decided as soon as the pontoon bridge was thrown and the bridgehead secured at Brown’s Ferry. His mind had moved on to other matters, even before the night action at Wauhatchie seemed for a moment to threaten the loss of what had been won. “The question of supplies may now be regarded as settled,” he wired Halleck that evening, four hours before Geary came under attack. “If the rebels give us one week more time I think all danger of losing territory now held by us will have passed away, and preparations may commence for offensive operations.”


Pleased though he was by the prospect, as he saw it from his Chattanooga headquarters now that the Cracker Line was open, Grant would have felt even more encouraged if he somehow had been able to sit in on the councils across the way, on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and thus acquire firsthand knowledge of the bitterness that had prevailed for the past month in the camps of his adversaries. Bragg’s dissatisfaction with several of his ranking lieutenants for their shortcomings during the weeks that preceded Chickamauga—willful ineptitudes, as he saw it, which had cost him the opportunity to destroy the Federal army piecemeal, in McLemore’s Cove and elsewhere—was matched, if not exceeded, by their dissatisfaction with his failure, as they saw it, to gather the fruits of their great victory during the weeks that followed. Resentment bred dissension; dissension provoked criminations; recriminations led to open breaks. Polk and Hindman had departed and Harvey Hill was about to follow, relieved of duty by the army commander; while still another top subordinate—more nearly indispensable, some would say, than all the rest combined—had left under his own power. This was Forrest.

His contention that “we ought to press forward as rapidly as possible” having been ignored on the morning after the battle, the Tennessee cavalryman was sent northwest with his division, four days later, to head off or delay a supposed Union advance from Knoxville. No such threat existed, but Forrest did encounter enemy cavalry hovering in that direction and drove them helter-skelter across the Hiwassee, then through Athens and Sweetwater, slashing at their flanks and rear, to Loudon, where the survivors managed to get beyond his reach by crossing the Tennessee, eighty miles above Chattanooga and less than half that far from Knoxville. Having determined that no bluecoats were advancing from the latter place, he was on his way back across the Hiwassee, September 28, when he received a dispatch signed by an assistant adjutant on Bragg’s staff. “The general commanding desires that you will without delay turn over the troops of your command previously ordered to Major General Wheeler.” There was no explanation, no mention of the raid that Wheeler was about to make on the Federal supply line: just the peremptory order to “turn over the troops of your command.” Forrest complied, of course, but then, having done so, dictated and sent through channels a fiery protest. “Bragg never got such a letter as that before from a brigadier,” he told the staffer who took it down. A couple of days later, during an interview with the army commander, he was assured that he would get his men back as soon as they returned from over the river, and he was granted, in the interim, a ten-day leave to go to La Grange, Georgia, to see his wife for the first time since his visit to Memphis to recuperate from his Shiloh wound, a year and a half ago. While he was at La Grange, sixty miles southwest of Atlanta, he received an army order issued just after his interview with Bragg, assigning Wheeler “to the command of all the cavalry in the Army of Tennessee.” Since his oath—taken in early February, after the Donelson repulse and their near duel—that he would never again serve under Wheeler was well known at headquarters, this amounted to a permanent separation of Forrest and the troopers he had raised on his own and seasoned, shortly afterward, on his December strike at Grant’s supply lines in West Tennessee. Moreover, he took the order as a personal affront and he reacted in a characteristically direct manner. Interrupting his leave, he went at once to see the commanding general, accompanied by his staff surgeon as a witness.

Bragg received him in his tent on Missionary Ridge, rising and offering his hand as the Tennessean entered. Forrest declined it. “I am not here to pass civilities or compliments with you, but on other business,” he said, and he launched without further preamble into a heated denunciation, which he punctuated by stabbing in Bragg’s direction with a rigid index finger: “I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to. You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any more orders to me, for I will not obey them … and I say to you that if you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life.” And having thus attended to what he had called his “other business,” he turned abruptly and stalked out of the tent. “Well, you are in for it now,” his doctor companion said as they rode away. Forrest disagreed. “He’ll never say a word about it; he’ll be the last man to mention it. Mark my words, he’ll take no action in the matter. I will ask to be relieved and transferred to a different field, and he will not oppose it.”

Forrest was right in his prediction; Bragg neither took official notice of the incident nor disapproved the cavalryman’s request for transfer, which was submitted within the week. He was wrong, though, in his interpretation of his superior’s motives. Braxton Bragg was no coward; he was afraid of no man alive, not even Bedford Forrest. Rather, he was willing to overlook the personal affront—as the hot-tempered Tennessean, with far less provocation, had not been—for the good of their common cause. He knew and valued Forrest’s abilities, up to a point, and by not pressing charges for insubordination—which would certainly have stuck—he saved his services for the country. Partly, no doubt, this was because he saw him as primarily a raider, not only a nonprofessional but an “irregular,” and as such less subject to discipline for irregularities, even ones so violent as this. Others of higher rank in his army were less direct in their denunciations, but he exercised no such forbearance where they were concerned. Polk and Hindman and Hill, for instance; these he saw as regulars, and he treated them as such, writing directly to the Commander in Chief of their “want of prompt conformity to orders,” as well as of their “having taken steps to procure my removal in a manner both unmilitary and un-officerlike.”

He had particular reference to Hill in this, and he was right. In fact, there existed in the upper echelon of his army a cabal whose purpose was just that, to “procure [his] removal,” and to do so by much the same method he himself had been employing; that is, by complaining individually and collectively to the President and the Secretary of War. Davis had received by now Polk’s letter stigmatizing Bragg for “palpable weakness and mismanagement,” and had also read Longstreet’s note to Seddon, protesting “that nothing but the hand of God can save us or help us as long as we have our present commander.” These he sought to deal with indirectly, on October 3, by explaining at some length to Bragg why he had recommended that the charges against the departed Polk not be pressed. “It was with the view of avoiding a controversy, which could not heal the injury sustained and which I feared would entail further evil,” he wrote, adding that to persist would involve a full-scale investigation, “with all the crimination and recrimination there to be produced.… I fervently pray that you may judge correctly,” he said in closing, “as I am well assured you will act purely for the public welfare.” He hoped that this appeal to Bragg for a reduction of the pressure from above would serve to lessen the tension elsewhere along the chain of command; but he received a document, two days later, which showed that tension to be even greater than he had supposed. It came in the form of a round robin, a petition addressed to the President and signed by a number of general officers, including Hill and Buckner. While admitting “that the proceeding is unusual among military men,” the petitioners contended that “the extraordinary condition of affairs in this army, the magnitude of the interests at stake, and a sense of the responsibilities under which they rest to Your Excellency and to the Republic, render this proceeding, in their judgment, a matter of solemn duty, from which, as patriots, they cannot shrink.”

Their grounds for concern were stated at some length. “Two weeks ago this army, elated by a great victory which promised to be the most fruitful of the war, was in readiness to pursue the defeated enemy. That enemy, driven in confusion from the field, was fleeing in disorder and panic-stricken.… Today, after having been twelve days in line of battle in that enemy’s front, within cannon range of his position, the Army of Tennessee has seen a new Sebastopol rise steadily before its view. The beaten enemy, recovering behind its formidable works from the effects of his defeat, is understood to be already receiving reinforcements, while heavy additions to his strength are rapidly approaching him. Whatever may have been accomplished heretofore, it is certain that the fruits of the victory of the Chickamauga have now escaped our grasp. The Army of Tennessee, stricken with a complete paralysis, will in a few days’ time be thrown strictly on the defensive, and may deem itself fortunate if it escapes from its present position without disaster.” Having thus stated the problem, the generals then went on to propose a solution that was at once tactful and explicit. “In addition to reinforcements, your petitioners would deem it a dereliction of the sacred duty they owe the country if they did not further ask that Your Excellency assign to the command of this army an officer who will inspire the army and the country with undivided confidence. Without entering into a criticism of the merits of our present commander, your petitioners regard it as a sufficient reason, without assigning others, to urge his being relieved, because, in their opinion, the condition of his health totally unfits him for the command of an army in the field.”

Authorship of the document was afterwards disputed. Some said Buckner wrote it, others Hill. Bragg, for one, believed he recognized the hand of the latter in the phrasing, but Hill denied this; “Polk got it up,” he said. Whoever wrote it, Davis decided that what it called for—particularly in a closing sentence: “Your petitioners cannot withhold from Your Excellency the expression of the fact that, as it now exists, they can render you no assurance of the success which Your Excellency may reasonably expect”—was another presidential journey west. “I leave in the morning for General Bragg’s headquarters,” he wired Lee, who was preparing to cross the Rapidan that week, “and hope to be serviceable in harmonizing some of the difficulties existing there.”

He left Richmond aboard a special train, October 6, accompanied by two military aides, Colonels William P. Johnston and Custis Lee—sons of Albert Sidney Johnston and R. E. Lee—his young secretary, Burton Harrison, and the still-disconsolate John Pemberton, for whom no commensurate employment had been found in the nearly three months since his formal release from parole. Personally this saddened Davis almost as much as it did the unhappy Pennsylvanian, whom he admired for his firmness under adversity. But the truth was, there was much of sadness all around them as they traveled through the heartland of the South, in the faces of the people in their shabby towns and on their neglected farms, in the condition of the roadbeds and the cars, and even in the itinerary the presidential party was obliged to follow. The Confederacy’s shrinking fortunes were reflected all too plainly in the fact that this second western journey was necessarily far more roundabout than the first had been in December, when Davis had gone directly to Chattanooga by way of Knoxville. Now the compass-boxing route led south through Charlotte and Columbia, then westward to Atlanta, and finally north, through Marietta and Dalton, to Chickamauga Station. That other time, moreover, he had extended his trip to include what he called “the further West,” but this would not be possible now, the area thus referred to having fallen, like Knoxville and Chattanooga itself, under Federal occupation. Reaching Bragg’s headquarters on Missionary Ridge, October 9, he conferred in private with the general, who unburdened himself of a great many woes by placing the blame for them on his subordinates; regretfully declined the proffered services of Pemberton as a replacement for Polk, though he was still unwilling to restore the latter to duty; and, in conclusion, submitted his resignation as commander of the Army of Tennessee. This Davis refused, not wanting to disparage the abilities of the only man under whom a Confederate army had won a substantial victory since the death of Stonewall Jackson, back in May. That evening he presided over a council of war attended by Bragg and his corps commanders, Longstreet, Hill, Buckner, and Cheatham, who had taken over from Polk, pending the outcome of the bishop’s current set- to with his chief. After what Davis later described as “a discussion of various programmes, mingled with retrospective remarks on the events attending and succeeding the battle of Chickamauga”—in the course of which he continued his efforts “to be serviceable in harmonizing some of the difficulties”—he inquired whether anyone had any further suggestions. Whereupon Longstreet spoke up. Bragg, he said, “could be of greater service elsewhere than at the head of the Army of Tennessee.”

An embarrassing silence followed: embarrassing at any rate to Bragg, who looked neither left nor right, as well as to Davis, who after all had come here to compose differences, not to create scenes that would enlarge them. After a time, however, he asked the other generals how they felt about the matter, and all replied that they agreed with what had just been said—particularly Hill, who seemed to relish the opportunity this afforded for an airing of his views. Bragg sat immobile through the painful scene, his dark-browed face expressionless. Without giving any opinion of his own, Davis at last adjourned the council. But next day, when he sounded Longstreet on his willingness to accept the command in place of Bragg, the Georgian declined. “In my judgment,” he explained later, “our last opportunity was gone when we failed to follow the success at Chickamauga, and capture or disperse the Union army, and it could not be just to the service or myself to call me to a position of such responsibility.” He had, however, a suggestion: Joseph E. Johnston. Davis bridled at the name, which Longstreet said “only served to increase his displeasure, and his severe rebuke.” This in turn caused Old Peter to tender his resignation, but Davis, as he said, “was not minded to accept that solution to the premise.” At the close of the interview, Longstreet afterwards wrote, “the President walked as far as the gate, gave me his hand in his usual warm grasp, and dismissed me with his gracious smile; but a bitter look lurking about its margin, and the ground-swell, admonished me that the clouds were gathering about headquarters of the First Corps even faster than those that told the doom of the Southern cause.”

If Davis was pained, if a bitter look did lurk in fact about the margin of his smile, it was small wonder; for he was being required to deal with a problem which came more and more to seem insoluble. Though Bragg’s subordinates, or former subordinates, all agreed that he should be removed, none of those who were qualified was willing to take his place. First Longstreet, then Hardee, on being questioned, replied that they did not want the larger responsibility, while Polk and Hill, Buckner and Cheatham, either through demonstrated shortcomings in the case of the former pair or lack of experience in the latter, were plainly unqualified. Lee had been suggested, but had made it clear that he preferred to remain in Virginia, where there could be no doubt he was needed. Joe Johnston, on the other hand, had once been offered the command and once been ordered to it, and both times had refused, protesting that Bragg was the best man for the post. Besides, if past performance was any indication of what could be expected from a general, to appoint Johnston would be to abandon all hope of an aggressive campaign against the cooped-up Federals.… Davis thought the matter over for three days, and then on October 13 announced his decision in the form of a note to Bragg: “Regretting that the expectations which induced the assignment of that gallant officer to this army have not been realized, you are authorized to relieve Lieutenant General D. H. Hill from further duty with your command.” It had been obvious from the outset that one of the two North Carolinians would have to go. Now Davis had made his choice. Bragg would remain as commander of the army, and Hill—an accomplished hater, with a sharp tongue he was never slow to use on all who crossed him, including now the President—would return to his home state.

In addition to concerning himself with this command decision, in which Bragg emerged the winner more by default than by virtue of his claim, Davis also inspected the defenses, reviewed the troops, and held strategy conferences for the purpose of learning what course of action the generals thought the army now should take. Basically, Bragg was in favor of doing nothing more than holding what he had; that is, of keeping the Federals penned up in the town until starvation obliged them to surrender. He felt sure that this would be the outcome, and he said so, not only now but later, in his report. “Possessed of the shortest road to the depot of the enemy, and the one by which reinforcements must reach him,” he would still maintain in late December, “we held him at our mercy, and his destruction was only a question of time.” When Davis expressed dissatisfaction with his apparent lack of aggressiveness, Bragg came up with an alternate plan, suggested to him earlier that week in a letter from Beauregard, who, as was often the case when he had time on his hands—Gillmore and Dahlgren were lying idle just then, licking the wounds they had suffered in the course of their recent and nearly fruitless exertions, outside and just inside Charleston harbor—had turned his mind to grand-scale operations. In Virginia and elsewhere the Confederates should hold strictly to the defensive, he said, so that Bragg could be reinforced by 35,000 troops, mainly from Lee, in order to cross the Tennessee, flank the bluecoats out of Chattanooga, and crush them in an all-out showdown battle; after which, he went on, Bragg could assist Lee in administering the same treatment to Meade, just outside Washington. He suggested, though, that the source of the plan be kept secret, lest the President be prejudiced against it in advance by his known dislike of its originator. “What I desire is our success,” Old Bory wrote. “I care not who gets the credit.” So Bragg at this point, being pressed for aggressive notions, offered the program as his own, expanding it slightly by proposing that a crossing be made well upstream for a descent on the Federal rear by way of Walden’s Ridge. Davis listened with interest, Bragg informed Beauregard, finding merit in the suggestion; he “admitted its worth and was inclined to adopt it, only”—here was the catch; here the Creole’s spirits took a drop—“he could not reduce General Lee’s army.” That disposed of the scheme Bragg advanced as his own, and the true author’s hopes went glimmering.

Longstreet too had an alternate plan, however, which was not greatly different except that it involved no reinforcements and called for a move in the opposite direction. He proposed a change of base to Rome, for added security, and a crossing in force at Bridgeport; a move, he said, “that would cut the enemy’s rearward line, interrupt his supply train, put us between his army at Chattanooga and the reinforcements moving to join him, and force him to precipitate battle or retreat.” Davis liked the sound of this much better, largely because it had the virtue of economy in attempting the same purpose. Besides, he knew only too well the danger inherent in waiting idly outside the town while Yankee ingenuity went to work on the very problems for which it was best suited. Bragg concurring, albeit with hesitation, the President hopefully ordered the adoption of Old Peter’s proposal and adjourned the conference.

So far, he had not addressed the troops. In fact he had declined to do so on his arrival five days ago, when he was welcomed at Chickamauga Station by a crowd of soldiers who called for a speech as he mounted his horse for the ride to army headquarters. “Man never spoke as you did on the field of Chickamauga,” Davis told them, lifting his hat in return salute, “and in your presence I dare not speak. Yours is the voice that will win the independence of your country and strike terror to the heart of a ruthless foe.” Now that he had toured their camps, however, and had seen for himself how rife the discontent was, he changed his mind and did what he had said he dared not do. Referring to the men before him as “defenders of the heart of our territory,” he assured them that “your movements have been the object of intensest anxiety. The hopes of our cause greatly depend upon you, and happy it is that all can securely rely upon your achieving whatever, under the blessing of Providence, human power can effect.” This said, he returned to his primary task of pouring oil on troubled waters, speaking not only to the troops themselves, but also to their officers, particularly those of lofty rank. “When the war shall have ended,” he declared, “the highest meed of praise will be due, and probably given, to him who has claimed least for himself in proportion to the service he has rendered, and the bitterest self-reproach which may hereafter haunt the memory of anyone will be to him who has allowed selfish aspiration to prevail over the desire for the public good.… He who sows the seeds of discontent and distrust prepares for the harvest of slaughter and defeat. To zeal you have added gallantry, to gallantry, energy; to energy, fortitude. Crown these with harmony, due subordination, and cheerful support of lawful authority, that the measure of your duty may be full.” He ended with a prayer “that our Heavenly Father may cover you with the shield of his protection in the hours of battle, and endow you with the virtues which will close your trials in victory complete.”

These words were spoken on October 14, the date of A. P. Hill’s sudden and bloody repulse at Bristoe Station. Davis stayed on for three more days, continuing his efforts to promote “harmony, due subordination, and cheerful support of lawful authority” at all levels in the strife-torn Army of Tennessee; then on October 17—the date Stanton overtook Grant at Indianapolis—ended his eight-day visit by reboarding the train to continue his journey south for an inspection of the Mobile defenses. As he left he was assured by Bragg that Longstreet’s plan for a crossing of the Tennessee on the Federal right at Bridgeport would be undertaken as soon as the troops could be gotten ready to advance.

Two days later, after inspecting a cannon foundry and other manufacturing installations at Selma, Alabama, he addressed a large crowd from his hotel balcony, asserting that if the “non-conscripts” would volunteer for garrison duty, and thus release more regular troops for service in the field, “we can crush Rosecrans and be ready with the return of spring to drive the enemy from our borders. The defeat of Rosecrans,” he added, swept along by the enthusiasm his words had aroused—and unaware, of course, that Rosecrans would be relieved that day by a wire from Grant in Louisville—“will practically end the war.” From Selma he proceeded to Demopolis, where he crossed the Tombigbee River and continued west across the Mississippi line to Meridian for a visit with his septuagenarian brother at nearby Lauderdale Springs. The war had been hard on Joseph Davis. Formerly one of the state’s wealthiest planters, he had had to move twice already to escape the advancing Federals, not counting refugee stops along the way, and now his wife lay dying in a dilapidated house, having conserved her ebbing strength for one last glimpse of “Brother Jeff.” The weary President was distressed by what he saw here, for to him it represented what was likely to happen to all his people, kin and un-kin, if the South failed in its bid for independence. Nevertheless he managed, in the course of his stay in Meridian, to work out a solution to another thorny problem of command. On October 23—while Grant rode south down Walden’s Ridge to enter Chattanooga before nightfall—he wired instructions for Bragg and Johnston, in their now separate departments, to have Polk and Hardee swap jobs and commanders, the latter to take charge of the former’s corps in the Army of Tennessee, while the bishop took over the Georgian’s duties at the camp for recruitment and instruction near Demopolis. This done, Davis left next morning for Mobile. After a tour of inspection with Major General Dabney H. Maury, commander of the city’s defenses, he returned to the Battle House and spoke as he had done at Selma the week before, emphasizing that “those who remain at home, not less than those in arms, have their duties to perform. Each of all can encourage the spirit which can bring success,” he told his listeners, adding that “men using the opportunities given by war to make fortunes will be detested by their posterity.” A local reporter, impressed by the Chief Executive’s “remarkably clear enunciation,” observed that, though he spoke “without the slightest apparent effort, his words penetrated far down the street and were heard distinctly by most of the vast crowd gathered on the occasion.”

Davis remained in Mobile over Sunday, October 25—cheered by news of the Buckland Races, which Stuart had staged on Monday, but disappointed by Bragg’s report that rain had delayed his preparations for a crossing at Bridgeport, as well as by the returns from Ohio’s second-Tuesday elections, held just under two weeks ago, which showed that Lincoln’s hard-war candidates had defeated Vallandigham and his Golden Circle friends—then left the following day for Montgomery, where he had arranged to have Forrest board the train for a conference en route to Atlanta. Valuing the Tennessean’s abilities, the Commander in Chief not only approved his transfer to North Mississippi, where he would have authority “to raise and organize as many troops for the Confederate service as he finds practicable,” but also directed that Bragg send the cavalryman a two-battalion cadre of his veteran troopers, plus Morton’s battery, and recommended to Congress his promotion to major general. Forrest left the train at Atlanta, pleased to be taking up new duties as an independent commander in a region he knew well; but for his erstwhile traveling companion there was disturbing news from the Chattanooga theater. While Bragg had been waiting for the weather to clear before he moved against the enemy right, the Federals, with no apparent concern for mud and rain, had anticipated him in that direction by crossing the river themselves. Aggressive as always, Davis saw in this a chance for offensive action. “It is reported here that the enemy are crossing at Bridgeport,” he wired Bragg on the 29th. “If so it may give you the opportunity to beat the detachment moving up to reinforce Rosecrans as was contemplated.… You will be able to anticipate him, and strike with the advantage of fighting him in detail.” It had become increasinglyevident, though, that weather was a pretense; that Bragg was favoring his preference for the defensive, despite a presidential warning, repeated today, that “the period most favorable for actual operations is rapidly passing away, and the consideration of supplies presses upon you the necessity to recover as much as you can of the country before you.” Anxious that something be done at once, in Middle or East Tennessee, to justify Longstreet’s prolonged absence from Virginia—where Lee was facing grievous odds, having fallen back to the line of the Rappahannock, and might need him at any moment—Davis added: “In this connection it has occurred to me that if the operations on your left should be delayed, or not be of prime importance, that you might advantageously assign General Longstreet with his two divisions to the task of expelling Burnside and thus place him in position, according to circumstances, to hasten or delay his return to the army of General Lee.”

Much might come of either of these suggestions: the destruction of the blue column that had ventured across the river, within easy reach of the Confederate left, or the expulsion of Burnside from Knoxville and East Tennessee, far upstream on the right, “to recover that country and re-establish communications with Virginia.” But for the present, with whatever patience he could muster while waiting for Bragg to make up his mind and move in one direction or the other, Davis resumed his journey back to the capital by way of Savannah and Charleston, neither of which he had visited since the outbreak of the war. He was welcomed to the former place on Halloween with an exuberant torchlight procession, followed by a reception at the Masonic Hall. A young matron who stood in line for a handshake wrote her soldier brother that she and her friends “were much pleased with the affability of the President. He has a good, mild, pleasant face,” she added, “and, altogether, looks like a President of our struggling country should look—careworn and thoughtful, and firm, and quiet.”

His affability came under a strain next morning, however, when Bragg announced the failure of the attempted counterstroke on his left, three nights ago at Wauhatchie, and placed the blame on Old Peter for having used an inadequate force ineptly. “The result related is a bitter disappointment,” Davis replied, “as my expectations were sanguine that the enemy, by throwing across the Tennessee his force at Bridgeport, had ensured the success of the operation suggested by General Longstreet, and confided to his execution.” In any case, the way was still open for an advance around the Federal right, and he hoped it would be taken, though he was obliged as always to leave the final decision to the commander on the scene. As for himself, he faced an ordeal of his own the following day in Charleston, where Beauregard was in command and the Rhetts had been attacking him, almost without remission, for the past two years in their Mercury. As his train drew near the station, November 2, he heard the booming of guns being fired in his honor, and when the presidential car lurched to a stop beside the platform a welcoming committee came aboard. In the lead were Beauregard, his aide and amanuensis Colonel Thomas Jordan, and Robert Barnwell Rhett, a colonel too. As a later observer put it, Davis must have “wondered how the visit would turn out when the first three hands raised in salute to him belonged to three enemies.” Perhaps it was this that threw him off his stride for the first time in the course of the autumn journey he had undertaken in the hope of harmonizing discord. At any rate, inadvertently or on purpose, here today in South Carolina he did his office, his country, and his cause the worst disservice he had done since he sent the curt, slashing note in reply to Joe Johnston’s six-page letter of protest at being ranked behind Lee and the other Johnston, more than two years ago in Virginia. What made it worse in this case was that he not only passed up an easy chance to heal, he actually widened a dangerous rift, and he did so with nearly as curt a slash as he had used before, except that this time the technique involved omission.

Not that the citizens themselves were cold or unfriendly. “The streets along the line of procession were thronged with people anxious to get a look at the President,” a Courier reporter wrote. “The men cheered and the ladies waved their handkerchiefs in token of recognition.” Proud of their resistance to Du Pont’s and Dahlgren’s iron fleet, as well as of their standing up to Gillmore’s long-range shelling—which had recently begun anew, after a respite of about a month—they were pleased that the Chief Executive had come to praise their valor and share their danger. Flags were draped across the fronts of homes and buildings, and garlands of laurel stretched from the city hall to the courthouse, supporting a large banner that bid him welcome. This was Davis’s first Charleston visit since the spring of 1850, when he had accompanied the body of John C. Calhoun from Washington to its grave in St Philip’s churchyard, and he recalled that sad occasion when he spoke today from the portico of the city hall. In saluting the defenders of Sumter, he had special praise for the fort’s commander, Major Stephen Elliott, and predicted that if the Federals ever took the city they would find no more than a “mass of rubbish,” so determined were its people in their choice of whether to “leave it a heap of ruins or a prey for Yankee spoils.” (“Ruins! Ruins!” the crowd shouted.) “Let us trust to our commanding general, to those having the charge and responsibilities of our affairs,” Davis said, with a sidelong glance at Beauregard, and he added a note of caution, as he had done in all his speeches this past month: “It is by united effort, by fraternal feeling, by harmonious co-operation, by casting away all personal considerations … that our success is to be achieved. He who would now seek to drag down him who is struggling, if not a traitor, is first cousin to one; for he is striking the most deadly blows that can be [struck]. He who would attempt to promote his own personal ends … is not worthy of the Confederate liberty for which we are fighting.” In closing, he thanked the people and assured them of his prayers “for each and all, and above all for the sacred soil of Charleston.”

At the reception held afterwards in the council chamber, people inquired of one another whether they had noticed that the President, after singling out Major Elliott for praise, not only had failed to congratulate Beauregard for his skillful defense of the city by land and water, but also had not mentioned him by name. Indeed, except for that one sidelong reference to “our commanding general,” when the crowd was advised to put its trust in those in charge, Old Bory might as well not have been in Charleston at all, so far as Davis was concerned. Most of those present had noted this omission, which could scarcely have been anything but intentional, it seemed to them, on the part of a man as attentive to the amenities as the President normally was. Certainly Beauregard himself had felt the slight, and it was observed that he did not attend a dinner given that evening in Davis’s honor by former governor William Aiken in his house on Wragg’s Square. In point of fact, the general had already declined an invitation two days earlier. “It would afford me much pleasure to dine with you,” he had told Aiken, “but candor requires me to inform you that my relations with the President being strictly official, I cannot participate in any act of politeness which might make him suppose otherwise.” However, even if he had accepted earlier, he most likely would not have attended a dinner honoring a man who had just given him what amounted to a cut direct. Hard on the heels of the brief reference to him in the speech, moreover, had come the allusion to complainers as cousins to traitors, and this perhaps infuriated the Creole worst of all, touching him as it did where he was tender. Unburdening his feelings to a friend, he protested that Davis had “done more than if he had thrust a fratricidal dagger into my heart! he has killed my enthusiasmfor our holy cause! … May God forgive him,” he added; “I fear I shall not have charity enough to pardon him.”

Although Davis saw little or nothing of the general out of hours, according to a friendly diarist he spent a pleasant week as the former governor’s house guest, “Beauregard, Rhetts, Jordan to the contrary notwithstanding.… Mr Aiken’s perfect old Carolina style of living delighted him,” the diarist noted, not only because of “those old grey-haired darkies and their automatic, noiseless perfection of training,” but also because it afforded him the leisure, while resting from the rigors of his journey, to hear firsthand accounts of the unsuccessful but persistent siege-in-progress. Gillmore had resumed his bombardment from Cummings Point a week ago, on October 26, and while at first it had been as furious as before, it presently slacked off to an intermittent shelling. An occasional big incendiary projectile was flung at Charleston, but mostly he concentrated his attention on Sumter, chipping away at the upper casemates until it began to seem to observers that the fort, daily reduced in height as debris from the ramparts slid down the outer walls, was sinking slowly beneath the choppy surface of the harbor. The defenders were on the alert for another small-boat assault, but none was attempted; Gillmore and Dahlgren, it was said, were unwilling to risk a recurrence of the previous fiasco, though each kept insisting that the other should try his hand at reducing the ugly thing. To the Confederates, however, the squat, battered pentagon was a symbol of their long-odds resistance, and as such it took on a strange beauty. An engineer captain wrote home of the feelings aroused by the sight of its rugged outline against the night sky, lanterns gleaming in unseen hands as work crews piled sandbags on the rubble, sentinels huddled for warmth over small fires in the casemates. “That ruin is beautiful,” he declared, and added: “But it is more than this, it is emblematic also.… Is it not in some respects an image of the human soul, once ruined by the fall, yet with gleams of beauty and energetic striving after strength, surrounded by dangers and watching, against its foes?”

Nor, as might have been expected with the resourceful Beauregard in charge, had the garrison’s efforts been limited entirely to the defensive. Using money donated for the purpose by Charlestonians, the general had had designed and built a cigar-shaped torpedo boat, twenty feet long and five feet wide, powered by a small engine and equipped with a ten-foot spar that had at its bulbous tip a 75-pound charge of powder, primed to explode when one of its four percussion nipples came in contact with anything solid, such as the iron side of a ship. Manned by a crew of four—captain and pilot, engineer and fireman—she was christened David and sent forth after sunset, October 5, to try her luck on the blockading squadron just across the bar. Her chosen Goliath was the outsizedNew Ironsides, the Yankee flagship that had escaped destruction back in April when the boiler-torpedo, over which Du Pont unwittingly stopped her during his attack, failed to detonate. Undetected by enemy lookouts, the David made contact with her spar-tip charge six feet below the Ironsides’ waterline, but the resultant explosion threw up a great column of water that doused the little vessel’s fires when it came down and nearly swamped her. As she drifted powerless out to sea, the jolted bluejackets on the ironclad’s deck opened on her with a heavy fire of musketry and grape, prompting all four of her crew to go over the side. Two of these were picked up by the Federals, the captain as he paddled about in the darkness and the fireman when he was found clinging next morning to theIronsides’ rudder; they were clapped in irons and later sent North by Dahlgren to be tried for employing a weapon not sanctioned by civilized nations. Nothing came of that, however; they presently were exchanged, for the captain and a seaman from a captured Union gunboat, and sent back to Charleston. The other two had been there all along. Returning to the half-swamped David after the firing stopped, the pilot found that the engineer had been clinging to her all this time because he could not swim. They relighted her fires with a bull’s-eye lantern and, eluding searchers on all sides, steamed back into the harbor before dawn. As for the New Ironsides, she had not been seriously damaged, the main force of the underwater explosion having fortunately been absorbed by one of her inner bulkheads. After a trip down to Port Royal for repairs to a few leaky seams, she soon returned to duty with the squadron—though from this time on, it was observed, her crew was quick to sound the alarm and open fire whenever a drifting log or a floating patch of seaweed, or less comically an incautious friendly longboat, happened near her in the dark.

Firsthand knowledge of such events as this brief sortie by the David, even though it failed in its purpose, and of such reactions to destruction as those of the engineer captain to the ruins of Sumter, even though no response could be made to the diurnal pounding, served to strengthen Davis’s conviction that the South could never be subdued, no matter how much of its apparently limitless wealth and strength the North expended and exerted in its attempt to bring her to her knees; Charleston, for him, was proof enough that the unconquerable spirit of his people could never be humbled, despite the odds and the malignity, as it seemed to him, with which they were brought to bear. He stayed through November 8—his fifth Sunday away from the national capital and his wife and children—then returned the following day to the Old Dominion. Lee, he learned on arrival, was falling back across the Rapidan, having suffered a double reversal two nights ago at Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Bridge. Davis did not doubt that the Virginian would be able to hold this new river line, whatever had happened along the old one; his confidence in Lee was complete. His concern was more for what might happen around Chattanooga, for he now was informed that Bragg, while continuing to maintain that the weather prevented a strike at the newly opened Federal supply line on his immediate left, had been quick to adopt the suggestion that Longstreet be sent against Burnside, far off on his right, thereby reducing his army by one fourth.

On the face of it, that did not seem too risky, considering the great natural strength of his position, but others as well as Davis saw the danger in that direction, not only to Bragg but also to the authority that had backed him in the recent intramural crisis. Davis had everywhere been “received with cheers” on his journey, a War Department diarist observed. “His austerity and inflexibility have been relaxed, and he has made popular speeches wherever he has gone.… The press, a portion rather, praises the President for his carefulness in making a tour of the armies and forts south of us; but as he retained Bragg in command, how soon the tune would change if Bragg should meet with a disaster!” No one understood this better than Davis, who still believed that the best defense against a Federal assault, even upon so impregnable a position as the one held by the Army of Tennessee, would be for Bragg to knock the enemy in his immediate front off balance with an offensive of his own, and this seemed all the more the proper course now that it was known that the man in command at Chattanooga was Grant, who had made the worst sort of trouble for the Confederacy almost everywhere he had been sent, so far in the war. Accordingly, two days after his return to Richmond, being still immersed in a mass of paperwork collected in his absence, Davis had Custis Lee send Bragg a reminder of this point of view. “His Excellency regrets that the weather and condition of the roads have suspended the movement [on your left],” Lee wired, “but hopes that such obstacles to your plans will not long obstruct them. He feels assured that you will not allow the enemy to get up all his reinforcements before striking him, if it can be avoided.” The President, Lee added, stressing by repetition the danger in delay, “does not deem it necessary to call your attention to the importance of doing whatever is to be done before the enemy can collect his forces, as the longer the time given him for this purpose, the greater will be the disparity in numbers.”

Unlike Davis, who twice in the past eleven months had visited every Confederate state east of the Mississippi except Florida and Louisiana, addressing crowds along the way and calling for national unity in them all, Lincoln in two and one half years—aside, that is, from four quick trips on army business: once to confer with Winfield Scott at West Point, twice to see McClellan, on the James and the Antietam, and once to visit with Joe Hooker on the Rappahannock line—had been no farther than a carriage ride from the White House. He had made no speeches on any of the exceptional occasions, being strictly concerned with military affairs, and for the most part even the citizens of Washington had not known he was gone until after he returned. This was not to say that he had not concerned himself with national unity or that he had made no appeals to the people in his efforts to achieve it; he had indeed, and repeatedly, in messages to Congress, in proclamations, and in public and private letters to individuals and institutions. One of the most successful of these had been his late-August letter to James Conkling, ostensibly an expression of regret that he was unable to attend a rally of “unconditional Union men” in his home town of Springfield, but actually a stump speech to be delivered by proxy at the meeting. John Murray Forbes, a prominent Boston businessman, had been so impressed with the arguments therein advanced in support of the government’s views on the Negro question—“a plain letter to plain people,” he called it—that he wrote directly to Lincoln in mid-September, suggesting that he also set the public mind aright on what Forbes considered the true issue of the war. “Our friends abroad see it,” he declared; “John Bright and his glorious band of European republicans see that we are fighting for Democracy, or (to get rid of the technical name) for liberal institutions.… My suggestion then is that you should seize an early opportunity, and any subsequent chance, to teach your great audience of plain people that the war is not North against South, but the People against theAristocrats. If you can place this in the same strong light that you have the Negro question, you will settle it in men’s minds as you have that.”

Lincoln filed the letter in his desk and in his mind, and seven weeks later, on November 2, acting on the suggestion that he “seize an early opportunity,” accepted an invitation to attend the dedication of a new cemetery at Gettysburg for the men who had fallen there in the July battle. The date, November 19, was less than three weeks off, and the reason for this lateness on the part of the committee was that he had been an afterthought, its original intention having been to emphasize the states, which were sharing the expenses of the project, not the nation. Besides, even after the thought occurred that it might be a good idea to invite the President, some doubt had been expressed “as to his ability to speak upon such a grave and solemn occasion.” However, since the principal speaker, the distinguished orator Edward Everett of Massachusetts, had been chosen six weeks earlier, it was decided—as Lincoln was told in a covering letter, stressing that the ceremonies would “doubtless be very imposing and solemnly impressive”—to ask him to attend in a rather minor capacity: “It is the desire that after the oration, you, as Chief Executive of the nation, formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.” Duly admonished to be on his good behavior, to avoid both length and levity, Lincoln accepted the invitation, along with these implied conditions, on the day it was received.

He had not intended to crack any jokes in the first place, at least not at the ceremony itself, though in point of fact he was in higher spirits nowadays than he had been for months. For one thing, the military outlook—badly blurred by the effects of the heavy body blow Bragg landed at Chickamauga in mid-September—had improved greatly in the past ten days: specifically since October 23, when Grant rode into Chattanooga and set to work in his characteristic fashion, opening the Cracker Line and sustaining it with a victory in the night action at Wauhatchie, all within a week of his arrival, then wound up by notifying Halleck that “preparations may commence for offensive operations.” If Banks had been thwarted so far in his designs on coastal Texas, that might be taken as a temporary setback, amply balanced in the far-western theater by Steele’s success, on the heels of his Little Rock triumph, in driving the rebels out of Pine Bluff on October 25. Similarly, in the eastern theater, though Gillmore and Dahlgren had made but a small impression down in Charleston harbor, the news from close at hand in Virginia was considerably improved. Lee was on the backtrack from Manassas, presumably chastened by his repulse at Bristoe Station, and Meade was moving south again, rebuilding the wrecked railroad as he went. Lincoln now felt a good deal kindlier toward the Pennsylvanian than he had done in the weeks immediately following Gettysburg. If Meade had much of the exasperating caution that had characterized McClellan in the presence of the enemy, at least he was no blusterer like Pope or blunderer like Burnside, and despite his unfortunate snapping-turtle disposition he did not seem to come unglued under pressure, as McDowell and Hooker had tended to do and done. All in all, though it was evident that he was not the killer-arithmetician his Commander in Chief was seeking, the impression was that he would do till the real thing came along, and this estimate was heightened within another week, when he overtook Lee on the line of the Rappahannock, administered a double dose of what he had given him earlier at Bristoe, and drove him back across the Rapidan. “The signs look better,” Lincoln had said in closing his letter to Conkling in late August. Now in November, reviewing the over-all military situation that had been disrupted by Chickamauga and readjusted since, he might have amended this to: “The signs look even better.”

But it was on the political front that the news was best of all. Last year’s congressional elections had been a bitter pill to swallow, but in choking it down, the Administration had learned much that could be applied in the future. For one thing, there was the matter of names. “Republican” having come to be something of an epithet in certain sections of the country, the decision was made to run this year’s pro-Lincoln candidates under the banner of the National Union Party, thus to attract the votes of “loyal” Democrats. For another, with the enthusiastic co-operation of Stanton in the War Department, there were uses to which the army could be put: especially in doubtful states, where whole regiments could be furloughed home to cast their ballots, while individual squads and platoons could be assigned to maintain order at the polls and assist the local authorities in administering oaths of loyalty, past as well as present, required in several border states before a citizen could enter a voting booth. New England had gone solidly Republican in the spring. Then in August, with the help of considerable maneuvering along the lines described above, the President was pleased to note that his native Kentucky had “gone very strongly right.” Tennessee followed suit, and so, presently, did all but one of the rest of the states that held elections in the fall. Only in New Jersey, where the organization was weak, did the “unconditional Unionists” lose ground. Everywhere else the outcome exceeded party expectations, particularly in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland, in all of which the situation had been judged to be no better than touch-and-go. Ohio, where Vallandigham was opposed by John Brough in the race for governor, balloted on October 13; Lincoln said that he felt more anxious than he had done three years ago, when he himself had run. He need not have worried. With the help of 41,000 soldier votes, as compared to 2000 for Vallandigham, Brough won by a majority of 100,000. “Glory to God in the highest,” Lincoln wired; “Ohio has saved the Nation.” Four days later, having got this worry out of the way, he celebrated substantially by issuing another call for “300,000 more.” The states were to raise whatever number of troops they could by volunteering, then complete their quotas by drafting men “to reinforce our victorious armies in the field,” as the proclamation put it, “and bring our needful military operations to a prosperous end, thus closing forever the fountains of sedition and civil war.”

News that the President would appear at Gettysburg reached the papers soon after his acceptance of the tardy invitation, and their reactions varied from bland to indignant, hostile editors protesting that a ceremony intended to honor fallen heroes was no proper occasion for what could only be a partisan appeal. Certain prominent Republicans, on the other hand, professed to believe it was no great matter, one way or the other, since Lincoln was by now a political cipher anyhow, a “dead card” in the party deck. “Let the dead bury the dead,” Thaddeus Stevens quipped when asked for an opinion on what was about to happen just outside the little college town where he once had practiced law and still owned property. Lincoln held to his intention to attend the ceremonies, despite the quips and adverse comments in and out of print. He was, he remarked in another connection this week, not much upset by anything said about him, especially in the papers. “These comments constitute a fair specimen of what has occurred to me through life. I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice, and have received a great deal of kindness not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.” Meanwhile, in the scant period between the tendering of the invitation and the date for his departure, there was not much time for composing his thoughts, let alone for setting them down on paper. In addition to the usual encroachments by job- and favor-seekers, there was the wedding of Chase’s sprightly daughter Kate to wealthy young Senator William Sprague of Rhode Island, the most brilliant social affair to be held in Washington in the nearly three years since the Southerners left the District; there was an urgent visit by the high-powered New York politician Thurlow Weed, who came with a plan for ending the war by means of a ninety-day armistice, a scheme that had to be heard in full and then rejected tactfully, lest Weed be offended into an enmity the cause could not afford; there was the necessity for day-to-day work on the annual year-end message to Congress, which it would not do to put off till the last minute, though the last minute was in fact about at hand already. All this there was, and more, much more: with the result that by the time the departure date came round, November 18, Lincoln had done little more than jot down a few notes on what he intended to say next day in Pennsylvania. Worst of all, in the way of distraction, Tad was sick with some feverish ailment the doctors could not identify, and Mrs Lincoln was near hysterics, remembering Willie’s death, under similar circumstances, twenty months ago in this same house. But Lincoln did not let even this interfere with his plans and promise. The four-car special, carrying the President and three of his cabinet members—Seward, Blair, and Usher; the others had declined, pleading the press of business—his two secretaries, officers of the army and navy, his friend Ward Lamon, and the French and Italian ministers, left the capital around noon. Lincoln sat for a time with the others in a drawing room at the back of the rear coach, swapping stories for an hour or so, and then, as the train approached Hanover Junction, excused himself to retire to the privacy of his compartment at the other end of the car. “Gentlemen, this is all very pleasant,” he said, “but the people will expect me to say something to them tomorrow, and I must give the matter some thought.”

Arriving at sundown, he went to the home of Judge David Wills, on the town square, where he and Everett and Governor Curtin would spend the night. The streets and all the available beds were crowded, visitors having come pouring in for tomorrow’s ceremonies, notables and nondescripts alike, many of them with no place to sleep and most of them apparently past caring. Accompanied by a band, a large group roamed about in the early dark to serenade the visiting dignitaries, including the President. He came out at last and gave them one of those brief speeches, the burden of which was that he had nothing to say. “In my position it is somewhat important that I should not say foolish things,” he began. “—If you can help it!” a voice called up, and Lincoln took his cue from that: “It very often happens that the only way to help it is to say nothing at all. Believing that is my present condition this evening, I must beg you to excuse me from addressing you further.” Unsatisfied, the crowd proceeded next door and called for Seward, who did better by them, though this still was evidently far from enough, since they serenaded five more speakers before calling it a night. Lincoln by then had completed the working draft of tomorrow’s address and gone to bed, greatly relieved by a wire from Stanton passing along a message from Mrs Lincoln that Tad was much improved.

By morning the crowd had swelled to 15,000, most of whom were on the prowl about the town in search of breakfast or about the surrounding fields in search of relics, an oyster-colored minnie ball, a tarnished button, a fragment of shell that might or might not have killed a man. In any event, whatever disappointments there were for the hungry, the pickings were good for the souvenir hunters, for it was later calculated that 569 tons of ammunition had been expended in the course of the three-day battle. Coffins were much in evidence, too, though the work of reinterring the dead—at $1.59 a body—had been suspended for the solemn occasion now at hand. At 10 o’clock the procession began to form on the square, marshaled by Lamon and led by the President on horseback. An hour later it began to move, in what one witness referred to as “an orphanly sort of way,” toward Cemetery Hill, where the ceremonies would be held. Lincoln sat erect at first, wearing a black suit, a high silk hat, and white gloves, but presently he slumped in the saddle, arms limp and head bent forward in deep thought, while behind him rode or walked the governors of six of the eighteen participating states, several generals, including Doubleday and Gibbon, and a number of congressmen, as well as the officials who had come up with him on the train. Within fifteen or twenty minutes these various dignitaries had taken their places on the crowded platform, and after a wait for Everett, who was late, the proceedings opened at noon with a prayer by the House chaplain, following which the principal speaker was introduced. “Mr President,” he said with a bow, tall and white-haired, just under seventy years of age, a former governor of Massachusetts, minister to England for John Tyler, president of Harvard, successor to Daniel Webster as Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore, and in 1860 John Bell’s running mate on the Constitutional Union ticket, which had carried Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. “Mr Everett,” Lincoln replied, and the orator launched forthwith into his address.

“Standing beneath this serene sky,” with “the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering” before him, Everett raised his “poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature.” He did so for two hours by the clock, having informed the committee beforehand that the occasion was “not to be dismissed with a few sentimental or patriotic commonplaces.” Nor was it. He outlined the beginning of the war, reviewed the furious three-day action here, discussed and denounced the doctrine of state sovereignty, lacing his eloquence with historical and classical allusions, and came at last to a quotation from Pericles: “The whole earth is the sepulchre of illustrious men.” Recognizing the advent of the peroration because he had been given advance proofs of the address, Lincoln took from his coat pocket a fair copy he had made of his own speech that morning, put on his steel-bowed spectacles, and read it through while Everett drew to a close, head back-flung, and pronounced the final sentence in a voice that had not faltered once in the whole two hours: “Down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg.” Amid prolonged applause he took his seat, and after the Baltimore Glee Club had sung an ode composed for the occasion, Lamon pronounced the words: “The President of the United States.” Lincoln rose, and as a photographer began setting up his tripod and camera in front of the rostrum, delivered—in what a reporter called “a sharp, unmusical treble voice,” but with what John Hay considered “more grace than is his wont”—the “few appropriate remarks” which the committee had said it desired of him “after the oration.”

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon 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 are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” A polite scattering of applause was overridden at this point as Lincoln continued. “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 that they have thus far so nobly carried on. 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 here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

He finished before the crowd, a good part of whose attention had been fixed on the photographer anyhow, realized that he was fairly launched on what he had to say. In reaction to what a later observer described as the “almost shocking brevity” of the speech, especially by contrast with the one that went before, the applause was delayed, then scattered and barely polite. Moreover, the photographer missed his picture. Before he had time to adjust his tripod and uncap the lens, Lincoln had said “of the people, by the people, for the people” and sat down, leaving the artist with a feeling that he had been robbed. Apparently many of those present felt the same, agreeing in advance with what the Chicago Times would say tomorrow about the President’s performance here today: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” In fact, as he resumed his seat alongside his friend Lamon and heard the perfunctory spatter of applause whose brevity matched his own, the speaker himself was taken with a feeling of regret that he had not measured up to what had been expected of him. Recalling a word used on the prairie in reference to a plow that would not clean itself while shearing through wet soil, he said gloomily: “Lamon, that speech won’t scour. It is a flat failure and the people are disappointed.”

In time—for not all editors were as scathing as the one in his home state; a Massachusetts paper, for example, printed the address in full and remarked that it was “deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma”—Lincoln revised not only his opinion of what he called “my little speech,” but also the text itself, improving on what a Cincinnati editor had already described as “the right thing in the right place, and a perfect thing in every respect.” When Everett remarked in a letter next day, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes,” he replied: “In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one. I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure.” Subsequently, when the orator asked for a copy of the speech, Lincoln gladly sent him one incorporating certain workshop changes. The second “We are met” became “We have come”; “a portion of it” became “a portion of that field”; “resting place of” became “resting place for”; “the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on” became “the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced”; “the nation shall, under God,” became “this nation, under God, shall.” Two later drafts he also made as presentation copies, with only two additional changes, one in the first sentence, where “upon” was shortened to “on,” and one in the last, where “here” was dropped from the phrase “they here gave.” The final draft—only two words longer than the one he had part-read, part-improvised at the Gettysburg ceremony, though he had altered, to one degree or another, half of its ten sentences—would be memorized in the future by millions of American school children, including those of the South, despite his claim that a victory by their forebears, in their war for independence, would have meant the end of government by and for the people. That speech did indeed scour, even in dark and bloody ground.

After the ceremonies on Cemetery Hill, Lincoln returned to the Wills house for lunch, after which he held an unscheduled reception, shaking hands for about an hour, then went to a patriotic rally at the Presbyterian church, where he listened to an address by the new lieutenant governor of Ohio. Finally at 6.30 he boarded the train for Washington. Much of the time that afternoon he had seemed gloomy and listless, and now on the train he gave way to weariness and malaise, lying stretched out on one of the side seats in the drawing room, a wet towel folded across his eyes and forehead. Back in the capital by midnight, he found good news awaiting him at the White House: Tad had been up and about today, apparently as well as if he had never been sick at all. Presently it developed however that the first family still had an invalid on its hands, only this time the member who fell ill was the President himself and the doctors had no trouble identifying the ailment. It was varioloid, a mild form of smallpox. Placed in isolation by order of his physician, Lincoln for once was free of the importunities of the office-seekers who normally hemmed him in.

“There is one thing good about this,” he said with a somewhat rueful smile. “I now have something I can give everybody.”


When Grant learned on November 5 that Bragg had detached Longstreet’s two divisions the day before to send them and Wheeler’s cavalry against Burnside, thus reducing the strength of the besiegers of Chattanooga by one fourth, he fairly ached to attack him, then and there, despite the semicircular frown of all those guns on all those heights. Indeed, there seemed to be sore need for haste: not only because the Confederates had rail transportation as far as Loudon, two thirds of the way to Knoxville—which meant that Old Peter might be able to return within a week or ten days, including the time it would take him to defeat and capture the bluecoats there or drive them from the region they had held for two months now, thereby reopening the Tennessee & Virginia Railroad for the use of such reinforcements as the Richmond government might take the notion to send him or Bragg on an overnight ride from Lynchburg—but also because Lincoln, who was known to be touchy about East Tennessee and the protection of its Union-loyal residents, might be tempted for political reasons to disrupt the plans of the commander of the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi. Sure enough, as Grant said later, the Washington authorities no sooner heard of Longstreet’s departure from his immediate front than they became “more than ever anxious for the safety of Burnside’s army, and plied me with dispatches faster than ever, urging that something should be done for his relief.”

He was altogether willing, but he could not see that sending part of his army to Knoxville, at this stage of the campaign, would do anything more than add to Burnside’s supply problem, which was nearly as grievous as his own had been on his arrival, two weeks back. What he had in mind, instead, was to attack Bragg’s right. If successful, this would break his grip on Chattanooga by dislodging him from Missionary Ridge, and even if it failed it would be likely, if it was pressed with vigor, to alarm him into recalling Longstreet. In either case, as Grant saw it, Burnside would be relieved far more effectively than by the addition of several thousand hungry mouths to his command. On November 7, however, when he suggested the attack to Thomas, whose troops would have to make it, he was told that the thing could not be done. The Cracker Line had been open barely a week, and though the men were already back on full rations, no replacements for the starved artillery horses had yet come through. The few survivors, wobbly as they were, were not enough to move the guns out of the parks, according to Thomas, much less to pull them forward in support of the advancing infantry, and without them the attack was bound to fail. Unwilling to let it go at that, Grant proposed that mules or officers’ mounts be used to haul the pieces, but the Virginian explained that the former, though superb in draft, were undependable under fire, while the latter would not work in traces and lacked the heft required of gun teams anyhow. Regretfully, in the light of this, the general whose arm was infantry felt obliged to defer to the old-line artilleryman. “Nothing was left to be done,” he afterwards observed, “but to answer Washington dispatches as best I could; urge Sherman forward, although he was making every effort to get forward, and encourage Burnside to hold on, assuring him that in a short time he should be relieved.”

His red-haired successor in command of the Army of the Tennessee was indeed making every effort to get forward, for he had received at Iuka ten days ago an order delivered by “a dirty, black-haired individual with mixed dress and strange demeanor”—thus Sherman later described the messenger—who had left Chattanooga on the day after Grant’s arrival and paddled a canoe down the Tennessee, over treacherous Muscle Shoals, to find him. The instructions were for him to leave the railroad work to one division and press on at once with the other four to Bridgeport, where he would be in position to block an attempt by Bragg to turn the Federal right, disrupt the new supply line, and flank the defenders out of Chattanooga. (Though it might have been inferred from this that Grant had been reading his opponent’s mail, he did not actually know that Bragg—or, more properly speaking, Longstreet—had any such plan in mind. It just had seemed to him wise to forestall so logical a move on the part of an adversary reputed to be as bold as he was tricky.) Furthermore, as an added logistical precaution, Grant directed Sherman to abandon work on the Memphis & Charleston, west of Decatur, so that the division left behind could concentrate on repairing the Tennessee & Alabama, which ran north of there, through Columbia, to Nashville, and thus provide him with two lines connecting his railhead supply base at Stevenson with his main depot back at the capital. That way, he would not only have a spare all-weather line in case raiders broke through to the Nashville & Chattanooga; he would also be able to keep up his stocks of ammunition and food when the opportunity came for him to forward supplies to Burnside, who at present had no rail connection with the outside world.… This was a large order, for the line north of Decatur had been thoroughly wrecked by cavalry and saboteurs, but the commander of the division assigned to the task was Brigadier General Grenville M. Dodge. A capable soldier, with a wound and a promotion dating from Pea Ridge to prove it, the thirty-two-year-old New Englander was also an experienced railroad builder, civil engineer, and surveyor; “Level Eye,” the Indians had dubbed him, watching him at work out on the plains before the war. Grant figured that if anyone could do the job it was Dodge, and his confidence was not misplaced. Working without a base of supplies from which to draw either rations or equipment, without skilled labor of any kind, except such as he could find in the ranks of his 8000-man division, and with nothing but axes, picks, and spades for tools, he completed the job within forty days, although it required the rebuilding of no fewer than 182 bridges and about as many culverts while re-laying 102 miles of track northward across the lowlands and uplands of North Alabama and Middle Tennessee. His troops would get none of the glory in the campaign that now was about to open in earnest, but no division in any of the three blue armies involved worked harder or deserved more credit for the outcome.

But that was still in the future. For the present, Sherman pushed on eastward, crossing the Tennessee at Eastport to reach Florence by November 1, at which point, after three weeks on the go, he was about midway between Memphis and Chattanooga. To avoid the delay that would be involved in ferrying four divisions across Elk River, wide and bridgeless this far down, he marched up its north bank for a crossing by the bridge near Decherd, then followed the railroad down to Stevenson. He reached Bridgeport in advance of his troops on the night of November 13 to find a dispatch awaiting him from Grant, urging him to hurry ahead to Chattanooga for a conference. This he did the following day, proceeding via the Cracker Line, and rode into town that evening to be greeted by the superior he had not seen since he left him on crutches at Vicksburg in September. He was pleased to see that by now the crutches had been discarded; but when they rode out together next morning on a tour of inspection, finding himself confronted by the awesome loom of Lookout Mountain on the south, while to the east, against the long, shadowy backdrop of Missionary Ridge, “rebel sentinels, in a continuous chain, were walking their posts in plain view, not a thousand yards off,” Sherman was amazed. He had been told what to expect, but what he saw came as such a shock to him that he involuntarily exclaimed: “Why, General Grant, you are besieged!” Grant nodded. “It’s too true,” he said. And then he told him what he had in mind to do about it.

Thomas’s troops, he said—according to Sherman’s recollection of the briefing—“had been so demoralized by the Battle of Chickamauga that he feared they could not be got out of their trenches to assume the offensive.” That was where Sherman came into the picture; “he wanted my troops to hurry up, to take the offensive first; after which, he had no doubt the Cumberland army would fight well.” The attack was to be launched against Bragg’s extreme right, Grant explained: specifically against the northern end of Missionary Ridge, which he had reconnoitered and found unfortified. After crossing at Brown’s Ferry, Sherman would press on under cover of darkness and throw a pontoon bridge across the Tennessee four miles above Chattanooga, just below the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, for a surprise assault designed to strike the enemy ridge end-on and then sweep down it from the north, dislodging rebels as he went; Thomas meanwhile would fix them in position by threatening from the west, and Hooker would stand ready with his Easterners to lend a hand in whatever direction he was needed. Sherman liked the sound of this, particularly his assignment to the leading role, but said that he would prefer to take a look at the terrain by daylight. So he and Grant, accompanied by Baldy Smith, crossed over to the north bank of the river, then up it to a hill overlooking the scene of the proposed attack on the opposite bank. He studied it as carefully as distance allowed, then returned before dark, well pleased by what he had seen. There was, however, a need for haste; Longstreet had been gone for better than ten days now and might get back before Sherman’s men were in position, in which case they would encounter that much more resistance. Accordingly, the Ohioan did not spend another night in Chattanooga, but returned instead to Bridgeport, again by way of the Cracker Line, to brief his four division commanders on the plan of attack and see that they got their troops on the march without delay.

He had hoped to have them in jump-off position within five days; that is, by November 20 for a dawn attack next morning; but, as he explained later, “the condition of the roads was such, and the bridge at Brown’s so frail, that it was not until the 23d that we got three of my divisions behind the hills near the point indicated above Chattanooga for crossing the river.”

He need not have fretted about those three lost days. They gained him much, as the thing turned out, and Grant as well. In fact, if he had been delayed one day longer, he not only would have profited still more; he would have been spared the considerable mortification he was to suffer two days later at the hands of Pat Cleburne, who in that case would not have been there. For Bragg had decided, only the day before Sherman got into his jump-off position unobserved, to double the strength of Longstreet’s 11,000-man infantry column by detaching another two divisions from the lines around Chattanooga to join him for the suppression of Burnside, under siege by then at Knoxville, and one of the two was Cleburne’s.

Old Peter had protested his own detachment in the first place, on the double grounds that he would not be strong enough to deal quickly with Burnside and that his departure would leave the main body, strung out along six miles of line, dangerously exposed to an assault by Grant, who already had been reinforced by Hooker and presumably would soon be joined as well by the even larger force marching eastward under Sherman. But Bragg, with what Longstreet described as a “sardonic smile,” declined either to cancel or strengthen the movement against Knoxville, and “intimated that further talk was out of order.” He had his reasons: largely personal ones, apparently, dating from the conference three weeks ago, at which the Georgian had volunteered the opinion that the Army of Tennessee would benefit from a change of commanders. Informing Davis, who had suggested the detachment in his letter two days earlier from Atlanta, that “the Virginia troops will move in the direction indicated as soon as practicable,” Bragg had added: “This will be a great relief to me.” That was on the last day of October, and four days later, despite his protest, Longstreet was detached. He took with him the divisions of McLaws and Hood—the latter now under Brigadier General Micah Jenkins, who was senior to Law and had superseded him on his arrival after Chickamauga—Alexander’s artillery, and Wheeler’s three brigades of cavalry. This gave him a total of about 15,000 effectives of all arms. His assignment was “to destroy or capture Burnside’s army,” which in turn had just over 25,000 troops in occupation of East Tennessee.

It was Longstreet’s belief that his best chance for success, under the circumstances, lay in striking before his adversary had time to concentrate his forces. But that turned out to be impossible, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these was that he lacked the means of moving his pontoons except on flatcars, which meant that he had to cross the Holston River at Loudon, where the railroad ended because the bridge was out, rather than at some point closer than thirty air-line miles from his objective. To add to his woes, not only did the trains run badly off schedule, but he found no rations on hand when he reached Sweetwater, as he had been assured they would be, and had to mark time there while they were being brought in from the country roundabout. “The delay that occurs is one that might have been prevented,” he wired Bragg on November 11, “but not by myself.… As soon as I find a probability of moving without almost certain starvation, I shall move, provided the troops are up.” Bragg retaliated in kind. “Transportation in abundance was on the road and subject to your orders,” he shot back next day. “I regret it has not been energetically used. The means being furnished, you were expected to handle your own troops, and I cannot understand your constant applications for me to furnish them.” Old Peter pushed forward on his own, crossing at Loudon on the 13th, but reviewing the situation years later he remarked: “It began to look more like a campaign against Longstreet than against Burnside.”

In point of fact, although their methods differed sharply, the blue commander to his front was no less skillful an opponent than the gray one in his rear. Warned by Grant that a heavy detachment was headed in his direction, Burnside was not only on the alert for an attack; he was also mindful of his instructions to keep the enemy from returning to Chattanooga as long as possible. “Sherman’s advance has reached Bridgeport,” Grant wired on the day after the rebels crossed the Holston. “If you can hold Longstreet in check until he gets up, or by skirmishing and falling back can avoid serious loss to yourself and gain time, I will be able to force the enemy back from here and place a force between Longstreet and Bragg that must inevitably make the former take to the mountain passes by every available road.” Accordingly, Burnside did not seriously contest the Confederate advance. Abandoning Kingston, he called his scattered forces in from all points except Cumberland Gap, thus keeping that escape hatch open in the event of a disaster, and aside from a brief delaying action at Campbell Station on the 14th, about midway between Loudon and Knoxville, did not risk a sudden termination of the contest, either by a victory or a defeat. He had some 20,000 soldiers with him; more, he knew, than were in the column advancing on him. But it was not a battle he was after. It was time.

He got it, too. Arriving before Knoxville on November 17, Longstreet found the bluecoats skillfully disposed and well dug in. “We went to work, therefore,” he afterwards reported, “to make our way forward by gradual and less hazardous measures, at the same time making examinations of the enemy’s entire position.” For the better part of a week this continued, his caution enlarged by the knowledge that Burnside had more men inside the place than he himself had outside. Then on November 23 he received a message Bragg had written the day before, informing him that “nearly 11,000 reinforcements are now moving to your assistance.” Old Peter was to go ahead and defeat Burnside now, “if practicable”; otherwise he could wait for the additional strength already on the way. Having looked the situation over carefully for the past six days, without finding a single chink in the Federal armor, Longstreet decided that the “practicable” thing to do was wait a couple more.

Bragg’s decision to add weight to the blow aimed at Knoxville, seeking thereby to hasten the return of the detachment by giving it the strength to settle the issue there without additional delay, was based in part on a growing suspicion that Old Peter had been right, after all, when he warned of the danger involved in any prolonged weakening of the force in occupation of the six-mile line of intrenchments drawn around two sides of Chattanooga. Longstreet had been gone for nearly three weeks now, and all sorts of things had been happening down in the town, indicative of the fact that the blue commander had something violent in mind. Moreover, Sherman had reached Bridgeport the week before, then suddenly, after crossing at Brown’s Ferry, had disappeared as mysteriously as if the earth had swallowed up all four of his divisions. Bragg inferred that the Ohioan must have marched over Walden’s Ridge: in which case he was probably headed for Knoxville, with the intention not only of raising the siege but also of swamping the already outnumbered Longstreet. If this was so, the thing to do was beat him to the punch, using the speed made possible by the railroad, and settle the issue before he got there. Accordingly, having reorganized what was left of his army into two large corps of four divisions apiece—one under Hardee, who had replaced Polk, and one under Breckinridge, who had replaced Hill—Bragg decided to dispatch one division from each, Cleburne from Hardee, Buckner from Breckinridge, and send them to Knoxville at once. He no sooner reached this decision than he acted on it. Buckner being absent sick, and Preston having been called to Richmond, his troops were placed under Bushrod Johnson, who pulled them out of line on November 22 and shifted them rearward to Chickamauga Station, where they boarded the cars for a fast ride to Loudon and a march beyond the Holston. Cleburne followed next day to wait for the return of the cars that had carried Johnson up the line.

Consolidation of Walker’s two small divisions had reduced the army’s total from eleven to ten divisions, and of these, with Johnson and Cleburne gone, Bragg now had a scant half dozen, containing fewer than 40,000 effectives of all arms. Hardee held the left of the semicircular line, with Stevenson posted on the crest of Lookout and eastward across the valley as far as Chattanooga Creek, Walker across the rest of the valley, and Cheatham on his right, occupying the south end of the line on Missionary Ridge, the rest of which was held by Breckinridge, with Stewart adjoining Cheatham and the other two divisions—Breckinridge’s own and Hindman’s, respectively under William Bate and Patton Anderson, the senior brigadiers—disposed along the northern extension of the ridge, but not all the way to the end overlooking the confluence of Chickamauga Creek and the Tennessee River, where the ground was so rough that Bragg had decided a few outpost pickets would suffice to hold it. The fact was, he had need to conserve his forces, especially since the latest of his two considerable detachments. Sidling left and right to fill the gaps created by the departure of Johnson and Cleburne, the troops disposed in three lines down the western face of the ridge were a good two lateral yards apart, not even within touching distance of each other. Admittedly this was a dangerous situation, but their chief depended on the natural strength of the position to compensate for what he lacked in numbers.

However, on the afternoon of the day Cleburne pulled back to follow Johnson up to Knoxville, Bragg was given cause to believe that his judgment was about to be challenged in the stiffest kind of way. Grant advanced a large body of troops—apparently Thomas’s whole army—due east from Chattanooga, as if he intended to have an all-out try at breaking the thin-spread center of the rebel line. Though the mass of bluecoats called a halt about midway across the plain and began to intrench a new line just beyond range of the batteries on Missionary Ridge, Bragg was alarmed into recalling Cleburne, whose men were loading onto the cars when the summons reached him. Early next morning, November 24, the southern commander received a still greater shock in the form of a dispatch from an outpost on the right. Four blue divisions were crossing the Tennessee River immediately below the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, apparently for an assault on the practically undefended north end of the ridge. It was Sherman, the dispatch added, and Bragg knew at last that the Ohioan had not gone off to Knoxville, as he had supposed, but rather had gone into hiding behind the hills above Chattanooga, massing for the attack now being launched. Hastily, he passed the word for Cleburne, whose troops had returned overnight from Chickamauga Station, to double-time his division northward and repulse if he could the four-division assault which, if successful, would flank the Confederates off the ridge their commander had believed to be impregnable: until now.

As was his custom when confronted with delays, long or short—including the four-month delay above Vicksburg, early this year—Grant used the three days, spent waiting for Sherman to get into position, to polish up the plan he had designed for Bragg’s discomfort, improvising variations which he believed would make it at once more certain and complete. Such strain as there was, and admittedly there was much, was not so much on his own account as on Burnside’s, and perhaps less on Burnside’s account than on the reaction of the Washington authorities to the news that Knoxville was besieged, cut off from telegraphic communication with the outside world. “The President, the Secretary of War, and General Halleck were in an agony of suspense,” Grant afterward recalled. “My own suspense was also great, but more endurable,” he added, “because I was where I could do something to relieve the situation.”

What he specifically had in mind to do, as he had told Burnside the week before, was to “place a force between Longstreet and Bragg” by throwing the latter into retreat and cutting the rail supply line in his rear, thus obliging Old Peter to raise his siege and “take to the mountain passes by every road” in search of food. At that time he had intended to leave the real work to Sherman and his Army of the Tennessee, with the Cumberland and Potomac troops more or less standing by to lend such help as might be needed. Thomas, for instance, was to menace but not attack the enemy center, while Hooker—reduced to a single division by the subtraction of Howard’s two, which crossed at Brown’s Ferry to be available as a reserve for the forces north and east of Chattanooga—stood guard at the foot of Lookout Valley, below Wauhatchie, to prevent a rebel counterstroke from there. But now, as he waited for Sherman to come up, Grant perceived that if Fighting Joe were strengthened a bit he might take the offensive on the right, against Lookout itself, and thus discourage Bragg from reinforcing his assailed right from his otherwise unmolested left. Accordingly, Thomas was ordered to send Cruft’s division from Granger’s corps to Hooker, and when Sherman’s rear division, under Osterhaus, was kept from crossing by a breakdown of the pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry, it too was sent to Hooker and replaced by another from Thomas, under Davis, who was detached from Palmer’s corps. Thomas thus was reduced from six to four divisions, while Sherman still had four, Hooker three, and Howard two. Such a distribution seemed ideal, considering the assignments of the three commanders and the fact that the last was available as a reinforcement for the first.

These thirteen blue divisions, containing in all about 75,000 effectives, were to be employed by Grant in the following manner against the 43,000 effectives in Bragg’s seven divisions. Sherman’s effort on the left was still to be the main one, his orders being “to secure the heights on the northern extremity [of Missionary Ridge] to about the railroad tunnel before the enemy can concentrate against him,” then drive southward down the crest, dislodging graybacks as he went. To assist in this, Thomas would menace the rebel center, fixing the defenders in position, and Howard would hold his corps “in readiness to act either with [Thomas] or with Sherman.” Hooker meanwhile would deliver a secondary attack on the far right, and if successful—although this seemed unlikely, considering the difficulties of terrain on that quarter of the field—was to cross Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga Valley for a descent on Rossville, where he would turn sharp left and, matching Sherman’s effort from the opposite direction, sweep northward up Missionary Ridge; at which point in the proceedings, with the rebel army clamped firmly between the two attackers north and south, Thomas’s feint against the center might be converted into a true assault that would mean the end of Bragg.

One possible source of difficulty was a growing bitterness between the Federal armies, especially those of the East and West. “The Potomac men and ours never meet without some very hard talk,” one of Sherman’s veterans wrote home. Westerners jeered at Easterners as paper-collar soldiers. “Bull Run!” they hooted, as if they themselves had never been whipped in battle. Resentful of the fact that the “Virginians,” as they sometimes referred to these transfers from the eastern theater, had always had first call on new equipment and such luxuries as the quartermaster afforded, they would remark as they slogged past Hooker’s bivouacs: “Fall back on your straw and fresh butter,” and they would add, looking rearward over their shoulders: “What elegant corpses they’ll make in those fine clothes!” After this would come the ultimate insult, delivered sotto voce from the roadside as the Easterners minced by: “All quiet on the Potomac.” The latter in turn were disdainful, looking down their noses at the western soldiers, who preferred Confederate-style blanket rolls to knapsacks, walked with the long, loose-jointed stride of plowmen, and paid their officers little deference. “Except for the color of their uniforms, they looked exactly like the rebels,” a New Yorker observed with unconcealed distaste. Individual confrontations were likely to produce at least a verbal skirmish. One of Blair’s men, for example, wandering over for a look at Slocum’s camps, was surprised to see the corps insignia—a five-pointed star—sewn or glued or stenciled onto practically everything in sight, from the flat crowns of forage caps to the tailgates of wagons. “Are you all brigadier generals?” he inquired, in real or feigned amazement. An Easterner explained that this was their corps badge, and asked: “What’s yours?” The Westerner bristled. No such device had been known out here before, but he was unwilling to be outdone. “Badge, is it?” he snorted. For emphasis, he slapped the leather ammunition pouch he wore on his belt, just over his liver. “There, by Jesus! Forty rounds in the cartridge box and twenty in the pocket.” In time, that would become his own XV Corps insignia—a cartridge box inscribed “Forty Rounds”—but tempers were not sweetened by such exchanges, in which neither antagonist took any care to disguise his low opinion of the other as a dude or a backwoodsman.

Nor were matters improved when the men of the three armies learned of their respective assignments in Grant’s plan for lifting the siege of Chattanooga. This applied in particular to members of the Army of the Cumberland, whose role it was to stand on the defensive, merely bristling, while the other two armies “rescued” them by attacking on the left and right. Perhaps, too, they had heard by now of Grant’s expressed concern that “they could not be got out of their trenches to assume the offensive.” On top of all this, Thomas himself was hopping mad: not at Grant, though doubtless he masked some resentment he must have felt in that direction, but at Bragg, whose headquarters were plainly visible on the crest of the ridge across the way. A letter had arrived from the North for a Confederate officer, and Thomas, having determined that it was harmless from the security point of view, sent it through the lines with a note attached, requesting his one-time battery commander to pass it along. The letter came back promptly, with a curt indorsement on the note: “Respectfully returned to General Thomas. General Bragg declines to have any intercourse with a man who has betrayed his State.” Thomas was incensed. “Damn him,” he fumed; “I’ll be even with him yet.” Sherman, who was present, observed that the Virginian’s poise, reputed to be impervious to shock, was shakable after all, at least when he was touched where he was tender. “He was not so imperturbable as the world supposes,” the Ohioan testified years later, recalling Old Pap’s reaction to the snub from his former superior and friend.

Hooker felt considerably better after Grant’s revision of the attack plan, which changed his role from defensive to offensive, but the only change for Thomas was the loss of one third of his command, detached left and right to where the battle would be fought while he and his remaining four divisions stood by as spectators. Presently there was a further change, however, whereby they were given at least the chance for a ringside seat, a closer view of the action they were more or less barred from. On November 22 a rebel deserter reported that Bragg was about to evacuate his present lines. Though Grant mistrusted evidence so obtained, knowing how often those who imparted it were “loaded,” this was altogether too serious to be ignored; Bragg might have plans for an all-out move against Burnside, availing himself of the railroad for a sudden descent on Knoxville, in which case Grant would be left holding the bag at Chattanooga. Moreover, the report gained credence when Buckner’s division pulled out that afternoon, followed next morning by Cleburne’s. Accordingly, Grant instructed Thomas to make a pretense of attacking Missionary Ridge by advancing his army, or what was left of it, about half the distance across the intervening plain. If he could do this, he would not only test the extent of the Confederate withdrawal, which might be greater than had been observed, and perhaps frighten Bragg into recalling the troops already detached; he would also secure a better location from which to demonstrate against the enemy center next day, November 24, when Sherman and Hooker—the former at last was moving into his jump-off position opposite the mouth of Chickamauga Creek—were scheduled to open their attacks against the flanks.

Thomas received his orders at 11 o’clock in the morning, and by 12.30—so anxious were he and they for a share in the work—he had begun to maneuver his 25,000 veterans into positions from which to advance. In full view of their rivals from the Virginia and Mississippi theaters, as well as of the rebels out on the plain ahead and the tall ridge beyond, these soldiers of the Cumberland army made the most of this opportunity to refute the taunts that they had been permanently cowed by their defeat nine weeks ago. Granger’s corps, with Wood in the lead and Sheridan in support, was the first to move out into the open. “It was an inspiring sight,” a staff observer would recall. “Flags were flying; the quick, earnest steps of thousands beat equal time. The sharp commands of hundreds of company officers, the sound of drums, the ringing notes of the bugles, companies wheeling and countermarching and regiments getting into line, the bright sun lighting up ten thousand polished bayonets till they glistened and flashed like a flying shower of electric sparks, all looked like preparations for a peacetime pageant, rather than for the bloody work of death.” Across the way, the Confederates thought so, too. They emerged from their trenches and stood on the parapets, calling to one another to come watch the Yankees pass in review. Palmer’s corps followed Granger’s; Johnson and Baird went through similar convolutions to get into line on the right. For the better part of an hour this continued. Then at about 1.30 the drums and bugles stepped up their tempo and changed their tone, beating and blaring the charge. That was the first the butternut watchers knew of the attack that was in midcareer before they got back into their trenches to resist it. Orchard Knob and Bushy Knob, fortified rebel outposts about in the center of the plain, were taken in a rush as the blue wave—flecked with shellbursts now, as if with foam—swept over them, engulfing those defenders who had not broken rearward in time for a getaway to the safety of the main line, back on Missionary Ridge. Promptly, or at any rate as soon as their officers could persuade them to leave off cheering and tossing their caps, the victors got to work with picks and shovels, turning the just-won intrenchments to face the other way, and there they settled down for the night, having taken their ringside seats for the fight which, now that the preliminaries were over and Sherman had his four divisions cached in their jump-off position on the left, was scheduled to begin soon after first light next morning.

A mile or more in advance of the line they had taken off from shortly after midday, Thomas and his Cumberlanders had drawn and shed the first blood after all, despite Grant’s original intention to exclude them from any leading part in the accomplishment of their own deliverance. Their losses amounted to about 1100 killed and wounded, but they had inflicted nearly as many casualties as they suffered, including the prisoners they took. Perhaps by now, moreover, Grant had been disabused of his notion as to their reluctance to leave their trenches without the example of Sherman’s men to inspire them. At any rate he seemed pleased: as well he might. Afterwards he told why. “The advantage was greatly on our side now,” he wrote, “and if I could only have been assured that Burnside could hold out ten days longer”—this being the length of time he figured it would take him to finish whipping Bragg and then, if necessary, get reinforcements up to Knoxville—“I should have rested more easily. But we were doing the best we could for him and the cause.”

Gathered about their campfires on the ridge, where they were disposed in three separate lines—one along its base, another about halfway up its steep western slope, and a third along its crest, four hundred feet above the plain—the Confederates admitted they had been surprised by the sudden conversion this afternoon of a two-corps “review” into an irresistible assault, but they still were not alarmed. Orchard Knob and Bushy Knob were merely outposts, no more integral to the defense of the main line of resistance than was the sheer bastion of Lookout Mountain, off on the distant left. What counted was Missionary Ridge itself. That was where the strength was, and the bluecoats, still beyond reach of all but the heaviest guns emplaced along the crest, would find a quite different reception awaiting them, when and if—although that seemed unlikely—they moved against it from their newly taken positions on the hilly plain below. “We feel we can kill all they send after us, notwithstanding our line is so thin that we are two yards apart,” one of Breckinridge’s Orphans wrote in his journal that night, looking down at the fires the Federals had kindled on the floor of the valley, as myriad as the stars they seemed to reflect. In this he was expressing the opinion of his army commander, who was convinced, as he said later, that Missionary Ridge could be “held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column.”

A message wigwagged from Lookout after sundown, warning that a blue force seemed to be massing in the valley beyond for an uphill attack, gave Bragg no evident concern. Though the mountain was defended by only one brigade on its western flank and another on its summit, detached from Cheatham, he made no attempt to strengthen or adjust his dispositions there, apparently because he did not want to discourage the Federals, if they were indeed reckless enough to make the attempt, from breaking their heads against its rocky sheerness. Neither this new threat to his left, nor Thomas’s advance that afternoon against his center, seemed to him sufficient cause for recalling either Johnson or Cleburne, who had pulled out yesterday and today. However, a message that reached him early next morning from the far right, warning that a sizable body of the enemy was crossing the Tennessee near the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, was quite another matter. He rode north at once to see for himself what this amounted to, and when he learned that what it amounted to was Sherman, whose troops he had thought were on their way to Knoxville, he reacted fast with a dispatch calling Cleburne back from Chickamauga Station. “We are heavily engaged,” he told him, stressing the need for haste. “Move up rapidly to these headquarters.”

There was in fact less need for haste than the southern commander knew. Sherman would not constitute an actual threat for some time now, though even he did not yet know that it would not be the rebels who would delay still further the opening of his carefully planned attack on the scantly defended northern end of Missionary Ridge, but geography, an unsuspected trick of the terrain. For the better part of the past week the red-haired Ohioan had been made nervously ill by the knowledge that he was falling behind the schedule Grant had set. “I feel as if I had a 30-pound shot in my stomach,” he told a friend in the course of his muddy approach march. Today, though, all that was changed. Everything went smooth as clockwork. He had a thousand-man assault force over the river in boats by daylight, and behind them a pontoon bridge was thrown for a crossing by the main body before noon. Unopposed, except by a handful of butternut pickets who fled at their first sight of no less than four blue divisions coming at them, Sherman pushed forward onto the high ground he had examined nine days ago from the far side of the river. By late afternoon he had the position completely occupied: only to learn, to his acute dismay, that what he had taken was a detached hill, not actually even a part of Missionary Ridge, which lay beyond it, across a rocky valley. Red-faced, though he blamed the error on the inadequate map he had been given, he notified Grant of what had happened and instructed his troops to dig in for the night. They would continue—or, more properly speaking, begin—their assault on the enemy ridge at first light tomorrow, even though they had lost the element of surprise, which he and they had taken such precautions to achieve.

Seven miles away on the far right, southwest across the plain where the Cumberlanders occupied the ringside seats they had taken yesterday—“Thomas having done on the 23d what was expected of him on the 24th,” Grant explained, “there was nothing for him to do this day except to strengthen his position”—a quite different kind of action was in progress, one in which the so-called “fog of war” prevailed in fact, not merely in the mind of the blue commander. Lookout had been wreathed in mist all morning and afternoon, except for tantalizing moments when the curtain would lift or part, only to descend or close again, affording the watchers little more than fleeting reassurance that the sheer bulk of the mountain was still there. Hooker’s progress, if any, could not be determined by the eye, although, as Grant remarked from the command post shifted forward to Orchard Knob, “the sound of his artillery and musketry was heard incessantly.” What was in progress, there beyond the gauzy screen, was what later would be called the “Battle Above the Clouds,” despite objections by a correspondent that “there were no clouds to fight above, only heavy mist,” and by Grant himself, who scoffed long afterwards: “The Battle of Lookout Mountain is one of the romances of the war. There was no such battle and no action even worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain. It is all poetry.”

Poetry it may have been, but if there were no clouds and no battle fought above them, there was at least some bleeding done, along with a great deal of hard work, in the course of this day-long skirmish in the mist. Hooker had about 12,000 troops, one division from each of the three armies on the field, with which to oppose the 1200-man brigade that stood between him and the crest of the mountain, where a second gray brigade was posted. Spread out along the east bank of Lookout Creek, with instructions to “fall back fighting over the rocks” if attacked, the Confederates did just that when the greatly superior Union mass forced a crossing near Wauhatchie and moved forward on a wide front, overlapping them on both flanks. Gun crews on the rearward heights were active at this stage of the attack, firing with precision into the blue ranks toiling upward, but this became increasingly difficult as the range decreased and it became necessary to raise the trails of the pieces higher and higher, until finally the tubes could not be depressed enough to keep them from overshooting; at which point the guns became only so much useless metal, so far as the defense of Lookout was concerned, and had to be removed to save them from being overrun. As they withdrew, the second gray brigade came down the rugged western slope to reinforce the first, and presently Stevenson sent a third brigade from the far side of the mountain. The three attempted to form a line among the rocks, but they soon found it was no use; the three blue divisions had caught the spirit of the chase and would not be denied. Supported by fire from batteries massed on Moccasin Point, just across the river, Geary’s “paper collar” Easterners rounded the gray right flank and threatened to cut the defenders’ line of retreat. There was a brief, hard fight near a farmhouse on a craggy bench about midway up the otherwise almost sheer north face of the mountain, and then once more the weight of numbers told. Again the Confederates fell back hastily, and this time Fighting Joe called a halt to consolidate his gains. Though he continued to probe upward, on through what was left of daylight into dusk—“I could see the whole thing,” a rebel peering down from the crest was to say of the final stage of the contest; “It looked like lightning bugs on a dark night”—Hooker thought it best, except for a few patrols sent out to keep the enemy off balance, to rest his leg-weary men for tomorrow, which he expected to be as strenuous as today. He had suffered, or would suffer in the course of the three-day action, a total of 629 casualties, including 81 dead and 8 missing, but this seemed rather a bargain price for nearly half a mountain that practically everyone, blue or gray, had judged to be impregnable.

In point of fact he had won the whole mountain, though he would not know this until morning. Shortly after midnight, the Federal patrols having long since bedded down, Stevenson received instructions from Bragg to fall back across the eastern valley, in concert with Walker’s division, and join in the defense of Missionary Ridge, where it was evident by now that the main Union effort would be centered. This he did, burning the single bridge over Chattanooga Creek as soon as his battered soldiers had crossed it in a darkness made profound by a total eclipse of the moon. Fighting Joe remained in full but isolated control of the “ever-lasting thunder storm” for which he had fought so hard today and was preparing to fight tomorrow, not knowing that it was entirely his already. Grant, of course, did not know this either, though in a wire he got off to Halleck, shortly after sundown, he sounded as if he did: “The fighting today progressed favorably. Sherman carried the end of Missionary Ridge, and his right is now at the tunnel, and his left at Chickamauga Creek. Troops from Lookout Valley carried the point of the mountain, and now hold the eastern slope and a point high up. Hooker reports two thousand prisoners taken, besides which a small number have fallen into our hands from Missionary Ridge.”

Assuming from this, as well he might, that little remained to be accomplished around Chattanooga, Lincoln himself replied next morning with congratulations, gratitude, and a reminder: “Well done. Many thanks to all. Remember Burnside.”

Little if any of the information Grant reported in his telegram to Halleck after sundown of November 24 had been true at the time he put it on the wire. Sherman not only had not “carried the end of Missionary Ridge,” he had not even reached it; nor had Hooker, whose troops were still on the western, not the eastern slope of Lookout, “carried the point of the mountain.” As for prisoners, Fighting Joe had inflicted fewer casualties than he suffered; the figure 2000 was a good deal closer to the total number of Confederates he encountered than it was to the number he had captured, which in fact was less than a tenth of the figure Grant passed on to Washington. However, before Lincoln’s “Well done. Many thanks” arrived next morning, a part at least of what had been distorted was confirmed. The sun came up in a cloudless sky about 6.40; Lookout loomed with startling clarity, its curtain of mist dispelled. Watching from Orchard Knob, the Federal commander saw the rippling glitter of the Stars and Stripes break out on the 1200-foot peak, raised there by a patrol in proof that Geary’s kid-glove Easterners had indeed “carried the point of the mountain” after all. Down on the plain, the Cumberland watchers broke into cheers at the sight, and Grant settled back, albeit impatiently, to wait for Hooker to complete his assignment, which was to proceed southeast across the intervening valley for a strike at Rossville and a drive northward up Missionary Ridge to meet Sherman driving south.

The wait, as it turned out, was a long one. Though the eastern slope of Lookout was less difficult than the western, and even afforded a winding road for the descent, the three divisions entered the valley below to find the bridge over fordless Chattanooga Creek destroyed and few materials at hand for constructing another; with the result that they were delayed some four hours in their advance on Rossville. Neither Grant nor the Cumberlanders, who knew that he did not intend to unleash them until the rebs intrenched to their front were firmly clamped between the two blue forces driving north and south along the ridge, took kindly to this evidence of Fighting Joe’s ineptness, even though they had more or less anticipated it because of the blow-hard reputation he had brought with him from the East. This delay was mild in its effect, however, compared to the one on the far left, where no such failure had been expected of Grant’s star general in command of his star army, whose reputation lately had become one of unfailing success and whose complaint had been that they could no longer get the Johnnies to fight them in the open.

Sherman went forward at dawn, as ordered, but found Cleburne in his path and was stopped cold. Rocked back—quite literally; for the defenders heaved boulders down on the heads of the attackers when their guns could no longer be brought to bear—he charged again and again, and again and again he was repulsed. “You may go up the hill if you like,” he had rather casually instructed his brother-in-law Brigadier General Hugh Ewing, who commanded his lead division, adding: “Don’t call for help until you actually need it.” Ewing actually needed it about as soon as he got started, and Sherman not only supplied it, in the form of his three remaining divisions; he also threw in Howard’s two, which were ordered to join him before midday. Yet nothing he could do would serve to move these six divisions over or around the one gray division in their path. About 3 o’clock, after eight hot hours of fighting, no appreciable gain, and more than 1500 casualties, including 261 captured when the Confederates made an unexpected sortie, Sherman admitted he had done all he could on this line. “Go signal Grant,” he told a staff major. “The orders were that I should get as many as possible in front of me, and God knows there are enough. They’ve been reinforcing all day.”

Those had not been his orders at the outset; nor were they now. “Attack again,” Grant promptly replied, and Sherman did so, though with no better success. He was wrong, too, about enemy reinforcements. All he had had in his immediate front all day was Cleburne, whose five brigades had moved into position late the day before and organized it for defense by working most of the night, their task rendered more difficult by the eclipse of the moon, which for a time had made it necessary to work by sense of touch, including the spotting of the fourteen guns they employed today against the forty emplaced on the hill the Federals had occupied yesterday, off the nose of Missionary Ridge. Cleburne suffered a total of 222 casualties, less than one sixth the number he inflicted, and captured eight stands of colors, six of which were picked up from the ground where they had fallen in front of his line. Shortly before 4 o’clock Bragg sent him the first and only reinforcements of the day, the Orphan Brigade, detached from Bate to extend the right. The Kentuckians saw little action, since Sherman had desisted by then from his attempt to drive southward down the ridge, but one of them went up on his own for a look at what Cleburne’s men had been doing all this time. “They had swept their front clean of Yankies,” he wrote in his journal; “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.”

While Cleburne and his troops were enjoying the respite they had earned, a message arrived from Hardee, directing him, as he afterwards reported, “to send to the center all the troops I could spare, as the enemy were pressing us in that quarter.” Detaching two of his brigades, he accompanied them part of the way southward down the ridge to see that they made good time. “Before I had gone far, however,” he added, still shocked by this development though his report was written some weeks later, “a dispatch from General Hardee reached me, with the appalling news that the enemy had pierced our center.”

It was true; the Confederate center had been pierced. Bluecoats were clustered thick by now on Missionary Ridge, whooping and yelling in raucous celebration of a sudden, incredible victory scored less than three miles south of Sherman’s all-day no-gain fight for Tunnel Hill, and hundreds of butternut prisoners were already on their way across the westward plain, taunted by their captors as they went: “You’ve been wanting to get there long enough. Now charge on Chattanooga!” Appalling as the news was, at least to gray-clad hearers, it became far more so when they learned of the manner in which it had come to pass. What one division had done against six, all morning and most of the afternoon on the far right, five divisions had not managed to do against four in resisting an attack that had lasted barely an hour from start to finish. Rephrasing the news only made it rankle more. Confronted by no worse than equal numbers in the vicinity of his own army headquarters, where he enjoyed positional advantages superior to those that enabled Cleburne’s greatly inferior force to stand fast at the north end of the line, the vaunted southern fighting man had lost a soldiers’ battle.

Joyous though the outcome was from the Union point of view, the slow hours leading up to it had been anything but pleasant for the overall Federal commander, who had stood by all this time on Orchard Knob and watched his carefully worked-out plans go by the board, or at any rate awry. After sending Howard’s two divisions to Sherman, in futile hope that they would provide the added weight that would enable his old Army of the Tennessee to achieve the breakthrough on which those plans depended, Grant had Thomas detach Baird’s division from his right and send it northward too. Thomas did so, but word came from the unhappy Sherman that he already had more troops than he could find room for on his present narrow front. So Baird was halted and put back into line where he then was, on Thomas’s left. That was about 2 o’clock, and except for this minor rearrangement—Granger’s two divisions now were flanked by Palmer’s—the Army of the Cumberland had done nothing all day long; or all day yesterday either, for that matter. An hour later, two dispatches arrived from opposite directions. One was from Hooker, reporting that he had finally reached Rossville, where he had captured a quantity of supplies after driving the rebel outpost guards from the gap, and was sending Craft’s division north along the crest of Missionary Ridge, supported on the left and right by Geary and Osterhaus, who were deployed respectively on the western and eastern slopes. The other dispatch was from Sherman and was far less welcome, since what it said, in effect, was that he had shot his wad. Disgruntled, Grant clamped down tighter on his unlit cigar. With Fighting Joe at last where he wanted him, he had no intention of relaxing the pressure on either end of the enemy line. “Attack again,” he signaled his red-haired lieutenant in reply, though with no different results, as we have seen.

All this time he had been getting increasingly restless, and when he saw what he took to be reinforcements moving northward along the ridge, he began to worry in earnest that Bragg—whose headquarters he could see plainly on the 400-foot crest, a mile and a half away, with couriers arriving and departing—was about to go over to the offensive against the stalled attackers off the north end of his line. Since Hooker was still a good three miles off and could scarcely be expected to get there before sunset, Grant figured that the quickest way to counteract the danger would be for Thomas to menace the rebel center. He did not like to order this, however, not only because it was an extremely hazardous undertaking, but also because the conditions he had insisted were necessary before the movement could be attempted had not been achieved; Bragg, unclamped, could give his full attention to any threat against his center. At last, although reluctantly, he inquired of the Virginian standing beside him: “Don’t you think it’s about time to advance against the rifle pits?” Instead of replying, Thomas continued to examine the enemy ridge through his binoculars, as if to show that he was not here to agree or disagree with opinions, but to execute orders. If Grant wanted him to move forward against that bristling triple line of intrenchments, in the face of all those guns frowning down from the crest, let him say so. Finally, at about 3.30, Grant did say so; whereupon Thomas at once passed the word to his corps commanders. Wood and Sheridan had their divisions in the center, with Baird supporting the former on the left and Johnson supporting the latter on the right. The signal for the attack would be the firing of six guns in quick succession, at which time the Cumberlanders, kept idle all day yesterday and up to now today, would advance and seize the rifle pits at the base of the ridge on the far side of the plain. At 3.40, ten minutes after Grant told Thomas to move out, the first of the six signal guns was fired under the personal direction of the ebullient and high-strung Gordon Granger, who stood on the Orchard Knob parapet, lifting and lowering his right arm in rapid sequence as he shouted: “Number One, fire! Number Two, fire! Number Three, fire! Number Four, fire! Number Five, fire!”

Before the sixth gun roared the leading elements were off. “Forward, guide center, march!” sixty regimental commanders shouted, and the 25,000 infantry in the four blue divisions began their plunge of nearly a mile across the wooded, hilly plain. “Number Six,fire!” Granger cried.

At first the only reaction on the part of the defenders was a scattering of shots from the gray pickets, who fell back hastily to gain the cover of the earthworks in their rear. Presently, though, as if recovering from the shock of unbelief that what they saw spread out below was real, the Confederate artillerists came alive. Bragg had 112 guns, and most of these were trained on the mile-wide formation of bluecoats moving toward them. “A crash like a thousand thunderclaps greeted us,” one Federal was to remember, while a second observed that “the whole ridge to our front had broken out like another Ætna.” The effect of this rain of projectiles, bursting over and among the close-packed ranks of the attackers, was like that of a sudden shower on a crowd of pedestrians; they quickened the pace, and those in the lead broke into a run. Well rested from their last previous advance, just over fifty hours ago, the men of the two center divisions caught something of the excitement of a race, each wanting to be first to reach the objective. Then too there was the knowledge that they were advancing in full view of their rivals on the left and right, who had been brought here from Mississippi and Virginia to extract them from the trap that had been devised to complete their defeat and destruction, but whose failure to carry out the required preliminaries had resulted in the unleashing of what had plainly been regarded, up to then, as the second team. Now the roles were more or less reversed; the second team had become the first, and those who had been intended to be saved were being called upon to do the saving. That was a pleasant thing to contemplate. Moreover there was the motive of revenge, a private matter strictly between them and the butternut soldiers just ahead. “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” the Cumberlanders were yelling as they charged.

As they drew near the works at the base of the ridge they saw there could be no doubt they were going to take them. Already the defenders had begun to waver, flinching from the threat of contact, and presently, when the attackers closed to within pistol range, they broke. “A few rushed to the rear, and with frantic eagerness began to climb the slope,” a Kansas infantryman would recall, “but nearly all, throwing down their muskets and holding up their hands in token of surrender, leaped to our side of the intrenchments and cowered behind them, for the hail of bullets raining down from the hill was as deadly to them as to us. The first line was won.”

Winning it and holding it were different things, however: as the victors soon found out. Almost at once, though they were in full control of the lower works and though the ridge was so steep that few of the guns on its crest could be brought to bear on them, the position took on the aspect of a trap. Graybacks in the second line, midway up the slope, were pouring in a murderous, plunging fire, and cannoneers were rolling shells with sputtering fuzes down the hillside to explode in the lost rifle pits below. Amid all this confusion, company officers were brandishing their sabers and shouting for the new occupants to get to work with shovels, bayonets, anything that would help to reverse the parapets and throw some dirt between themselves and the marksmen overhead; but the principal reaction was a sort of aimless milling about, combined with a good deal of ducking and dodging, and a rapidly growing realization that the only practical solution was for them to get out of this untenable position as quickly as possible, either by retreating or continuing the charge. They chose the latter course, wanting more than anything to come to grips with their tormentors. By twos and threes, then by squads and platoons as the conviction took hold, blue-clad figures began to push forward, crouching low for traction on the slope.

At first their officers called after them to stop, but they paid no attention to this, and the lieutenants and captains, affected by the spirit of the men, rushed to join them, still gesturing with their swords and yelling, superfluously and illogically, out of habit: “Follow me!” Soon even the colonels and brigadiers had caught the spirit of the advance, and presently whole regiments were surging up the ridge, aligning as best they could on the colors while calling for the bearers to climb faster.

Down at the command post on Orchard Knob, this unexpected development—plainly visible, though reduced to miniature by distance—provoked the same reaction of stunned disbelief the rebel gunners had evinced when the blue mass first began its advance across the plain. Grant, for one, saw that he might have a first-class disaster on his hands if the Confederates repulsed the Cumberlanders, then followed through with a counterattack as the demoralized bluecoats tumbled down the slope and into the valley, where no reserves had been withheld to form a straggler line on which to rally. “Thomas, who ordered those men up the ridge?” he said angrily. Thomas replied in his usual quiet way: “I don’t know. I did not.” Grant turned to Granger, whom he had just reproached sharply for spending time with the guns instead of tending to his larger duties as a corps commander. “Did you order them up, Granger?” The New Yorker denied it, emphatically but enthusiastically, for he too had caught the spirit of the charge by now. “No; they started up without orders,” he said, and he added happily: “When those fellows get started all hell can’t stop them.” Grant turned his attention back to the action in front, remarking as he did so that somebody was going to suffer professionally if the men who had taken the bit in their teeth were repulsed.

At first that seemed altogether likely, considering the difficulties of terrain and Bragg’s reputation as a counterpuncher; but not for long. Watching the upward progress of the sixty regiments as they engaged in a gallant rivalry to see which would be first to reach the crest, a staff colonel observed that “at times their movements were in shape like the flight of migratory birds, sometimes in line, sometimes in mass, mostly in V-shaped groups, with the points toward the enemy. At these points regimental flags were flying, sometimes drooping as the bearers were shot, but never reaching the ground, for other brave hands were there to seize them.” That was how it looked in small from Orchard Knob. Up close, there was the gritty sense of participation, the rasp of heavy breathing, the drum and clatter of boots on rocky ground, and always the sickening thwack of bullets entering flesh and striking bone. Phil Sheridan saw and heard it so as he stood at the base of the ridge, watching his troops in their attempt to outstrip the rivals on their left in Wood’s division, and accepted a drink from a silver flask held out by a staff captain. Before he drank he lifted the flask in salute to a group of gray-clad officers he saw in front of Bragg’s headquarters, directly up the slope. “Here’s to you!” he called. This may have failed to attract the attention of those for whom it was intended, but it certainly did not fail in the case of a pair of gunners in a nearby rebel battery. Swinging their pieces in his direction, they returned the salute with two well-placed rounds that kicked dirt over Sheridan and the captain standing beside him. “Ah, that is ungenerous!” he replied as he brushed off his uniform; “I shall take those guns for that.” First, though, he took the drink, and then he started forward, necessarily on foot because his horse had been shot from under him during the advance across the plain.

There seemed an excellent chance that he would carry out his threat, for by now the second line had been overrun, midway up the slope, and his men were driving hard for the crest beyond. They had been helped considerably in advance by the Confederate dispositions, which were faulty in several respects, probably because the natural strength of the terrain had made the defenders overconfident to the point of not believing that their preparations would be tested. For example, standing orders that the troops in the lower rifle pits were to fire no more than a couple of massed volleys when the attackers came within effective range, then fall back to the intermediate position just uphill, had not been made clear to the troops involved; with the demoralizing result that while some had attempted to hold their ground, others had seemed to flee, infecting uninformed comrades with their apparent panic. Worst of all, perhaps, the officers who laid out the upper line had erred in placing it on the geographic, rather than on the “military” crest—literally along the topmost line, that is, rather than along the highest line from which the enemy could be seen and fired on—so that many of the Federal climbers found themselves protected by defilade practically all the way to the top, and once they were there they were able to take rebel strongpoints under fire from the flank, distracting the attention of the defenders from the attackers coming straight at them up the ridge. Threatened thus, the graybacks here did what those below had done already; they broke and they broke badly, despite the pleas and curses of their officers, including Bragg himself, who rode among them in a desperate, last-minute effort to persuade them to rally and drive the winded enemy troops back down the slope. “Here is your commander!” he called to them. But they either ignored him, intent as they were on getting beyond the reach of the rapid-firing bluecoats, or else they taunted him with the army catch phrase: “Here’s your mule!”

When the Federals crested the ridge they saw spread out below them on the reverse slope what one of them called “the sight of our lives—men tumbling over each other in reckless confusion, hats off, some without guns, running wildly.” Too blown to cheer, the victors swung their caps and gestured for the laggards to hurry forward and share the view. “My God, come see them run!” a Hoosier private shouted over his shoulder. A Kansan, writing years later, relived the excitement provoked by the tableau. This beat Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, and the opening phases of Perryville and Stones River. This beat Chickamauga. “Gray clad men rushed wildly down the hill and into the woods, 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. Our men pursued the fugitives with an eagerness only equaled by their own to escape; the horses of the artillery were shot as they ran; squads of rebels were headed off and brought back as prisoners, and in ten minutes all that remained of the defiant rebel army that had so long besieged Chattanooga was captured guns, disarmed prisoners, moaning wounded, ghastly dead, and scattered, demoralized fugitives. Mission Ridge was ours.”

Bragg himself had barely escaped capture, as had Breckinridge, but not their two adjutants or some 3000 other prisoners, who were taken along with 7000 abandoned small arms and 37 cannon, one third of all Bragg had. One of these last was claimed by Sheridan in person, who came running up and leaped astride one of the two guns that had fired at him a few minutes ago. Wrapping his bandy legs around the tube, he swung his hat and cheered. Harker, who commanded his third brigade, followed suit by mounting a nearby gun in a similar fashion, but scorched his seat on the hot metal and could not sit a horse for the next two weeks. In this he was less fortunate than his division commander, who either was made of sterner stuff or else had chosen a cooler piece; at any rate Sheridan stayed astride the gun and continued to cheer and swing his hat, exultant over the reversal of what had happened two months ago at Chickamauga, where he had been among those in headlong flight from fury. All round him now the men were cheering, too, having caught their breath, and Granger rode up from Orchard Knob at the height of the celebration to engage in a sort of victory dance on horseback. “I’m going to have you all court-martialed!” he shouted, laughing. “You were ordered to take the works at the foot of the hill and you’ve taken those on top! You have disobeyed orders, all of you, and you know that you ought to be court-martialed!”

Not that the position had been taken without cost. In fact, the cost had been about as steep as the grade up which the attack was launched: particularly to the two divisions in the center. Wood suffered 1035 casualties, as compared to a combined total of 789 for Baird and Johnson, in support on the left and right; whereas Sheridan lost 1346, a bit over twenty percent of the 6500 infantry he had had when he started forward. Moreover, there was a good deal of variation in the losses by smaller units within the larger ones, depending on the luck of the draw in their assault on different portions of the ridge. Some had cover most of the way up and therefore contributed little to the amount of blood that was shed on the slope, while others had to pass through a continuous hail of bullets and were grievously battered in the process. An Indiana regiment, for instance, started its climb with 337 effectives and lost 202 of them, or nearly sixty percent, killed and wounded in the forty-five minutes required to reach the crest. After such bleeding and exertion by the infantry, and in the absence of cavalry, which was still beyond the river because of a continuing lack of forage on the south bank, it was small wonder no true pursuit was undertaken within the brief remaining span of daylight that followed the collapse of the rebel center. Sheridan, once he had come down off his perch astride the cannon, was eager to take up the chase, but the other division commanders were not, even though they had suffered fewer casualties, and Granger declined to unleash him.

Meanwhile the Confederates made good use of the respite thus allowed them. Continuing to hold off Sherman with one hand—no difficult task, since he attempted no renewal of his attack—Cleburne prevented a widening of the breakthrough with the other, and Stewart served Hooker in much the same fashion north of Rossville. Sunset was at 4.50; Hardee rallied his and Breckinridge’s fugitives on the near side of Chickamauga Creek and began a withdrawal across it under cover of darkness, one hour later. The moon rose full, drenching the fields and the lost ridge with a glistening yellow light almost bright enough to read by, if anyone had been of a mind to read. “By 9 p.m. everything was across,” according to Cleburne, “except the dead and a few stragglers lingering here and there under the shadows of the trees for the purpose of being captured, faint-hearted patriots succumbing to the hardships of the war and the imagined hopelessness of the hour.”

Next morning Bragg continued the withdrawal southeast into Georgia, attempting to gain the cover of Taylor’s Ridge, just beyond Ringgold, and leaving a trail of charred supply dumps and broken-down wagons, as well as four more cannon, to mark the line of his retreat. He had lost, in the course of the three-day action, November 23-25, fewer than half as many killed and wounded as his adversary—361 and 2160, as compared to 753 and 4722 in those two doleful categories—but his 4146 captured and missing, in contrast to Grant’s 349, raised the Confederate total of 6667 above the Federal 5824. But that was by no means all there was to the outcome of the fighting, nor was it fitting as a yardstick by which to measure the extent of the disaster. Bragg had lost a great deal more than the scant fifteen percent of his army which these figures indicated, and a great deal more than the 41 guns his cannoneers had abandoned, even though they amounted to more than a third of all he had. Guns and men could be replaced; Chattanooga, on the other hand, was now what a northern journalist called “a gateway wrenched asunder.” The road lay open into the heartland of the South, and all that stood between the bluecoats and a rapid penetration was the battered and dispirited remnant of the force they had just driven from a position its commander had deemed impregnable. And in fact he was still of that opinion, believing that all it had lacked was men determined to defend it. Unlike Lee, who at Gettysburg had said, “It’s all my fault,” Bragg at this stage was not inclined to shoulder even a fraction of the blame for the outcome of the contest. The burden of his official report, submitted later, was that the flaw had been in his soldiers. “No satisfactory excuse can possibly be given for the shameful conduct of the troops … in allowing their line to be penetrated. The position was one which ought to have been held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column.” So he said, making no reference to the faulty dispositions or the unclear orders, both of which were his responsibility.

Not many agreed with him, however, either in his own army or in the one now in control of what he had lost. An Ohio infantryman, for example, coming forward on the morning after the battle for a walk along the northern end of Missionary Ridge, encountered the body of one of the men who had fought here under Cleburne. In the course of the recent siege he himself had learned something of privation, of the effects of hunger and exposure on the human spirit in its will to persevere against the odds, and this had given him a better understanding of the problems that had been so much a part of daily living for this dead soldier and others like him, whose own commander even now was blaming him and them, along with the bolters, for the loss of a position he and they had died in an attempt to save. Bending down for a closer look at the dead Confederate, the Ohioan afterwards told of what he saw. “He was not over fifteen years of age, and very slender in size. He was clothed in a cotton suit, and was barefooted; barefooted, [in] that cold and wet … November. I examined his haversack. For a day’s ration there was a handful of black beans, a few pieces of sorghum, and a half dozen roasted acorns. That was an infinitely poor outfit for marching and fighting, but that Tennessee Confederate had made it answer his purpose.”

Ultimately, if only in wry comment, at least one man on the Federal side agreed with Bragg as to the strength of the position, and that was Grant. Miffed by fortune’s upset of his plans for Sherman’s glorification, if not his own—on the first day, Thomas had played the leading role because Sherman was late in getting into position; on the second, Hooker had stolen the thunder from “above the clouds” while Sherman was attacking an undefended hill, just short of his true objective; on the third, Thomas once more occupied the limelight after Sherman was fought to a standstill by an opponent greatly his inferior in numbers—the over-all Union commander had sought to disassociate himself from a contest decided in outright violation not only of his wishes but also of his orders. “Damn the battle!” he was quoted as saying in that first fit of pique; “I had nothing to do with it.” He recovered from this within a couple of hours, however, and got off a wire to Washington in which he had no reservations “in announcing a complete victory over Bragg.” In time, he was even able to joke about it. Asked some years later whether he did not agree that his adversary had made a serious mistake in detaching Longstreet, he said he did, and when it was further suggested that Bragg must have considered his position impregnable, Grant agreed with that also, though his comment was accompanied by a smile and a shrewd look. “Well, it was impregnable,” he said.

At any rate the Chattanooga gateway had been wrenched asunder, and what would come of this no man could say for certain, although some believed they knew, including members of the army now on the muddy and disconsolate retreat for Ringgold.

“Captain, this is the death knell of the Confederacy,” a junior officer had remarked to his company commander as the withdrawal got under way from Missionary Ridge. “If we cannot cope with those fellows with the advantages we had on this line, there is not a line between here and the Atlantic Ocean where we can stop them.”

“Hush, Lieutenant,” the captain told him, slogging rearward through the darkness. “That is treason you are talking.”

Depressed by the necessity for withdrawal and retreat, following hard upon the collapse of the Confederate center, the lieutenant overlooked the effectiveness with which Cleburne, outnumbered four or five to one, had “coped” with Sherman all day on the right. Two days later at Taylor’s Ridge, as if by way of a reminder, the Arkansan repeated his performance, this time with even greater success, against Hooker and odds no worse than three to one. Moreover, this repetition of his exploit was the outcome of what had been thought to be a suicide assignment. Bragg made it to Ringgold by nightfall of November 26, fifteen miles down the railroad linking Chattanooga and Atlanta, and though so far he was more or less intact, he knew the Federals were closing on him rapidly. Encumbered as he was, and they were not, by a slow-moving wagon train hub-deep in mud, they would be certain to overtake him tomorrow unless he could do something to halt or anyhow delay them long enough to give him a new head start in the race for Dalton, another fifteen miles down the track. Accordingly, as he pressed on beyond the town and through the gap in Taylor’s Ridge, he sent peremptory orders for a last-ditch stand at that point by the division guarding his rear. This was Cleburne’s. It seemed hard to sacrifice good soldiers for no other purpose than to gain a little time, but Bragg believed he had no choice if he was to avoid the total destruction that would be likely to ensue if he was overtaken in his present condition, strung out on the muddy roads. “Tell General Cleburne to hold this position at all hazards,” he instructed the staff officer who delivered the message, “and keep back the enemy until the artillery and transportation of the army are secure.”

Though he had been told to cross in the darkness and thus avoid being overtaken by the superior blue force closing on his rear, Cleburne had stopped for the night on the west side of bridgeless East Chickamauga Creek, two miles short of the town, so his men could sleep in dry clothes before resuming the march next morning. Such concern for their welfare was characteristic of him, but it was practical as well, since he was convinced that a rear-guard action, even with a deep-running stream at their backs, would cost them fewer casualties than would lengthen the sick lists after a crossing of the waist-deep ford and a chilly halt on the east bank with no sun or exercise to warm them. Bragg’s orders for a stand beyond Ringgold “at all hazards” reached him shortly before midnight, and he rode ahead to reconnoiter the position by moonlight, leaving instructions for the troops to be roused and started forward three hours later. At daybreak, having crossed the creek and filed through the streets of the Georgia hamlet, they found him waiting for them at the mouth of the narrow gorge through which the railroad plunged on its way to Atlanta. After about an hour, which he spent posting them and his two guns in accordance with a plan he had worked out while they were asleep, an enemy column emerged from the nearby eastern limits of the town, the bluecoats marching four abreast, preceded by a line of skirmishers, textbook style. Cleburne had his 4100 brush-masked graybacks hold their fire until the unsuspecting skirmishers were practically upon them, then open up with everything they had, including pistols. The head of the blasted column drew back snakelike on the writhing body, which coiled itself into attack formation and then came on again, 12,000 strong. This time there was no surprise, but the repulse was as complete. Hooker—for that was who it was, and he still had the three divisions with which he had seized Lookout Mountain three days ago—paused to take stock, then probed on the right, attacking uphill, well south of the gap, in an attempt to outflank the defenders; only to find that they had shifted a portion of their force to meet him. Repulsed, he feinted again at the center and launched another uphill assault, this time on the left of the gap; but with the same result. Fighting Joe once more took stock, and decided to wait for his guns, which were toiling slowly eastward through the churned-up mud of the road from Chattanooga Valley, where they had been stalled until late yesterday for lack of a bridge strong enough to support them over Chattanooga Creek. By the time they arrived, the morning was gone and Cleburne had carried out his mission; Bragg’s leading elements were in Dalton by then, safely beyond the craggy loom of Rocky Face Ridge, and the rest were not far behind, having been given the head start they needed. At a cost of 221 casualties—one less than he had suffered at Tunnel Hill—Cleburne had inflicted 442 by Hooker’s admission. This was exactly double the number of his own, including more than a hundred prisoners he had taken along with three stands of colors, but Confederates were convinced the Federal losses were much larger than Fighting Joe admitted. A straggler from Walker’s division, for example, watching the lop-sided contest from a grandstand seat on the ridge, pronounced it “the doggondest fight of the war.” Down there below, he would recall years later, “the ground was piled with dead Yankees; they were piled in heaps. The scene looked unlike any battlefield I ever saw,” he added. “From the foot to the top of the hill was covered with the slain, all lying on their faces. It had the appearance of the roof of a house shingled with dead Yankees.”

Cleburne and his division, which he kept in position till well past noon and then withdrew unmolested, later received a joint resolution of thanks from Congress “for the victory obtained by them over superior forces of the enemy at Ringgold Gap, in the State of Georgia,” but all that Hooker got from the engagement was a snub from his commander and an unceremonious return to inaction. When Grant came to write his report of the campaign, Ringgold Gap was referred to briefly as “a severe fight, in which we lost heavily in valuable officers and men,” and he added an indorsement to Fighting Joe’s own report that must have stung the glory-hungry general deeply: “Attention is called to that part of the report giving … the number of prisoners and small arms captured, which is greater than the number really captured by the whole army.” Grant was an accomplished undercutter when he chose to be, and in Hooker’s case he did so choose, both now and down the years. For the present, he directed him to hold his ground, “but to go no farther south at the expense of a fight.” Cast once more in a supporting role, the unhappy Easterner was told next day: “The object in remaining where you are is to protect Sherman’s flank while he is moving toward Cleveland and Loudon.”

Once more the volatile redhead was the star, this time in a production entitled “The Relief of Knoxville,” where Longstreet was still hanging on and keeping Burnside under siege, despite Grant’s prediction that he would “take to the mountain passes” once the Chattanooga Federals came between him and Bragg and stood astride the rail supply line in his rear. Sherman was altogether willing to try another turn at playing the role of savior, but he took care to have it understood that he did not want to be left stranded in the backwater region once he had wound up what he was being sent there to accomplish. He was utterly opposed to tying up masses of troops, least of all his own, for the purpose of protecting a handful of civilians, many of whom he considered of doubtful loyalty anyhow, while the main stream of the war ran on to slaughter elsewhere. “Recollect that East Tennessee is my horror,” he wrote Grant on December 1 from the near bank of the Hiwassee, while preparing to set out next day for Loudon and Knoxville. “That any military man should send a force into East Tennessee puzzles me. Burnside is there and must be relieved, but when relieved I want to get out, and he should come out too.”

Burnside’s men were in complete agreement; in fact, they had been so all along. “If this is the kind of country we are fighting for,” one of them had declared on completing the southward march across the barrens, “I am in favor of letting the rebs take their land and their niggers and go to hell, for I wouldn’t give a bit an acre for all the land I have seen in the last four days.” The trouble was that Lincoln very much wanted them there, for precisely the reason Sherman derided: to protect the Union-loyal citizens and relieve them of their long-borne yoke of Confederate oppression. Moreover, cooped up as they now were in Knoxville, under siege by Longstreet’s two divisions plus a third that had arrived under Bushrod Johnson, the problem was not so much how to get out as it was how to survive on meager rations. They were no longer fighting for East Tennessee—which in point of fact they had abandoned, except for Knoxville itself and Cumberland Gap, the now inaccessible escape hatch fifty air-line miles due north—but for their lives.

Old Peter and his soldiers were about as unhappy outside the town—and incidentally, what with the wretched supply conditions, about as hungry—as the Federals hemmed inside it. He had probed for chinks in the blue defenses and, finding none, had waited for the reinforcements Bragg had said were on the way. Fewer than half of the promised 11,000 arrived, but at least they brought him up to a strength nearly equal to that of the force besieged. He continued to search for weak spots, though with no better success. By November 27—the date of Cleburne’s fight at Ringgold—coincident with the issuance of orders for accomplishing a breakthrough at a point he had selected, a rumor had begun to spread that Bragg had been whipped at Chattanooga. How much truth there was in this, Longstreet did not know, but in reply next day to a suggestion from McLaws that the thing to do was abandon the siege without further delay and return at once to Virginia, lest they be caught between two superior Union forces, he persisted in his belief that the best solution, if the rumor of Bragg’s defeat was true, was a quick settlement of the issue here at Knoxville. His reasons were twofold: first because it would not do to leave a fellow commander in the lurch, no matter how little regard he had for him personally, and second because a victory over Burnside would dispose of at least one of the two menaces to a successful withdrawal if such a course became unavoidable. That is, if he stayed where he was, at least for a time, he might draw off a portion of the blue horde rumored to be in pursuit of Bragg, and he might also simplify his own problems, when and if the time came for him to retire eastward over the primitive mountain roads. “It is a great mistake to suppose that there is any safety for us in going to Virginia if General Bragg has been defeated,” he told his fellow Georgian, “for we leave him at the mercy of his victors, and with his army destroyed our own had better be also, for we will be not only destroyed, but disgraced. There is neither safety nor honor in any other course than the one I have chosen and ordered.… The assault must be made at the time appointed, and must be made with a determination which will insure success.”

The time appointed was dawn next morning, November 29, and the point selected for assault was Fort Loudon, a bastioned earthwork previously established by the Confederates at the tip of a long salient extended westward from the main line of intrenchments to include a hill 1000 yards beyond the limits of the town; Fort Sanders, the Federals had renamed it, in memory of the young cavalry brigadier who had made a successful bridge-burning raid through the region, back in June, but had been mortally wounded two weeks ago at Campbell Station, supposedly by a civilian sniper, while resisting the gray advance on Knoxville. Originally Longstreet had intended to use Alexander’s artillery to soften up the objective before the infantry moved in; then later he decided to stake everything on surprise, which would be sacrificed if he employed a preliminary bombardment, and on the sheer weight of numbers massed on a narrow front. Assigning two brigades from McLaws to the assault, with a third in support from Jenkins—a total of about 3000 effectives, as compared to fewer than 500 within the fort, including the crews of its twelve guns—he posted the first wave of attackers within 150 yards of the northwest corner of the works in the cold predawn darkness of the night whose end would be the signal for the jump-off. The advance was to be conducted in columns of regiments, the theory being that such a deployment in depth would give added power to the thrust and insure that there would be no wait for reinforcements in case unexpected resistance developed in the course of the attack. It was stressed that there was to be no pause for anything whatever, front or rear, and that the main thing was to keep moving. Once the position had been overrun, the surviving remnant of the garrison, if any, was to be driven eastward through the town, so that other strongpoints along the line could be taken in reverse, thus effecting a quick reduction of the whole.

Longstreet had planned carefully, with close attention to such details as had occurred to him and the specialists on his staff. But so had Burnside: as the butternut attackers discovered when they rushed forward through the dusk of that frosty Sunday morning. The first thing they struck was wire—not barbed wire; that refinement was achieved by a later generation; but telegraph wire—looped and stretched close to the ground between stakes and stumps, which not only tripped the men at the heads of the columns and sent them sprawling and cursing, but also served as an unmistakable warning to the garrison that an assault was being launched. Nor was this innovation by any means the worst of what the Confederates encountered in the course of the next hour. Continuing through and over the wire, laced in a network knee- and ankle-high, they gained the ditch to find that it was nine feet deep—not five, as they had been informed by the staffers who had done their reconnoitering with binoculars at long range—while the parapet just beyond it, slippery with half-frozen mud and a powdering of sleet, was crowded along its crest with blue defenders, ranked shoulder to shoulder and thoroughly alert, who delivered steady blasts of musketry into the packed gray mass a dozen feet below. Without scaling ladders, which no one had thought would be needed, some men tried to get up and over the wall by standing on the shoulders of their comrades, but were either hurled back or captured. One color bearer, hoisted in this fashion, was grabbed by the neck and snatched from sight, flopping like a hooked fish being landed, and though three others managed to plant their standards on the rim of the parapet, a succession of replacements was required to keep them there. All this time, two triple-shotted guns on the flank were raking the trench with a fire that dropped the dead and injured of the two assault brigades beneath the feet of the men of the third, who came sliding down the counterscarp to add to the wedged confusion. By now, with the Federals heaving lighted shells into the ditch, where they exploded with fearful effect at such close quarters, it had become apparent, at least to the troops immediately concerned, that the only result of continuing the attack—if, indeed, it could still be called that at this stage—would be to lengthen the already considerable list of casualties. When Longstreet, coming forward with two more brigades which he intended to throw into the uproar, learned from McLaws of the woeful state of affairs up ahead, he rejected pleas by Jenkins and Johnson that they be allowed to try their hand, and ordered the recall sounded. Dazed and panicky, the survivors of the three committed brigades, or anyhow so many of them as did not prefer surrender to the further risk of catching a bullet in the back, returned through the wire they had encountered at the outset.

Generous as ever in such matters, Burnside promptly sent out a flag of truce and offered his old friend permission to remove his dead and injured from the ditch. Longstreet gratefully accepted, then requested and received an extension of the truce when this turned out to be a heavier task than he had supposed without a close-up view of the carnage. He had suffered 813 casualties—129 killed, 458 wounded, and 226 captured—in contrast to his adversary, who lost, out of 440 effectives in Fort Sanders at the time of the attack, a total of 8 killed and 5 wounded. Thirteen was a decidedly lucky number in this instance; moreover, the high proportion of dead among the scant handful of Union casualties resulted from the fact that the defenders had exposed no more than their heads to the rattled fire of the attackers, and even then for only so long as it took them to take aim, which was scarcely necessary at that range and with a target of that size. Up to now, the Federal losses for the whole campaign had been higher than those of the besiegers, but today’s losses brought the over-all totals, North and South, respectively to 693 and 1142. What was more, these figures were approximately final; for while the work of removing Old Peter’s unfortunates was in progress he received a message informing him that Bragg had fallen back from Chattanooga, thirty miles down the railroad toward Atlanta, and advising him to do the same from Knoxville, either toward Georgia or Virginia, but in any case to have Wheeler report to Dalton as soon as possible with his three brigades. Having complied with the instructions for the cavalry to move out, Longstreet decided to hold his ground until he could discover whether the road to Dalton was open. He remained in front of Knoxville until he learned from a captured dispatch, two days later, that Sherman was on the way from Loudon with six divisions, which would give the Federals ten in all, as compared to the Confederate three. Accordingly, on the night of December 3 he put his trains in motion, not toward Dalton but northeast, in the direction of Virginia, and followed shortly after dark next evening with his infantry, unobserved. “Detached from General Lee, what a horrible failure is Longstreet!” an eastern diarist exclaimed, forgetful of his great day at Chickamauga and unaware that he had been sent to East Tennessee not only against his wishes but also over his protest that the expedition was tactically unwise, both from Bragg’s point of view and his own.

Sherman arrived next day, riding in ahead of the relief column, which he had stopped at Maryville, eighteen miles to the south, when he learned that the Confederates had pulled back from Knoxville. Notified that the siege had been lifted, Grant proposed that Longstreet be pursued and driven across the Blue Ridge, thus to assure his removal as a hovering threat; but the redhead wanted no part of such an assignment. “A stern chase is a long one,” he protested, determined to resist all efforts to shift him farther eastward from the Mississippi Valley, which he still saw as the cockpit of the war. Now that the big river had been cleared and reclaimed from source to mouth, he preferred to deal with the rebels down in Georgia, intending to complete their destruction by driving them back on the rail transportation hub eighty air-line miles across the mountains in their rear. “My troops are in excellent heart,” he declared, “ready for Atlanta or anywhere.” Instructed to detach two divisions to strengthen the Knoxville garrison—in case Longstreet attempted a comeback from Rogersville, where he had ended his unpursued retreat, sixty-odd miles up the Holston—Sherman had Granger proceed north from Maryville with Sheridan and Wood, while he himself returned by easy stages to Chattanooga with his own four divisions. There he found Thomas and Hooker taking a well-earned rest from their recent exertions. Now that blustery weather had arrived, the Cumberland and ex-Potomac troops were already settling down in winter camps. Similarly, Grant had transferred his headquarters back to Nashville, and presently Sherman joined him there, enjoying such relaxations as the Tennessee capital afforded outside work hours, which the two friends spent designing further troubles for the Confederacy, to be undertaken in various directions as soon as the weather cleared.

That would not be for some time, however. Meanwhile Thomas was occupying himself with the establishment of a military cemetery on Orchard Knob. The thought had occurred to him, on the day he took it, that this would make a lovely burying ground for the Union soldiers who had fallen or were still to fall in the battles hereabout, and almost before the smoke of his involuntary assault on Missionary Ridge had cleared he had a detail at work on the project. When the chaplain who was to be in charge inquired if the dead should be buried in plots assigned to the states they represented—as was being done at Gettysburg, where Lincoln had spoken a couple of weeks ago—the Virginian lowered his head in thought, then shook it decisively and made a tumbling gesture with both hands. “No, no; mix ’em up, mix ’em up,” he said; “I’m tired of states rights.” Increased responsibility, accompanied by a growing and reciprocal fondness for the men in the army he now led, had brought a new geniality to the stolid Rock of Chickamauga. He had even begun to tell stories on himself: as, for example, of the soldier who had come to him recently asking for a furlough. “I aint seen my old woman, General, for four months,” the man explained. If he thought this could not fail in its persuasiveness he was wrong. “And I have not seen mine for two years,” Thomas replied. “If a general can submit to such privation, surely a private can.” Evidently the soldier had not previously considered this connection between privates and privation. At any rate he looked doubtful. “I don’t know about that, General,” he said. “Me and my wife aint made that way.”

No doubt the Virginian’s jovial mood was also due in part to the fulfillment of his vow to be “even” with his former battery commander for the insult he had received in the course of the siege that had been lifted when his Cumberlanders took the bit in their teeth and charged, “against orders,” up Missionary Ridge. What was more, his satisfaction was enlarged by the knowledge that he had obtained it despite the department commander’s attempt to limit his participation in the action that had finally put revenge within his reach. In that double sense, as the outcome applied to both commanders, past and present, his gratification was doubly sweet.

As for Bragg, the reconsolidation of his army behind Rocky Face Ridge—completed on November 28 with the arrival of Cleburne, who was greeted with cheers for his rebuff of Hooker at Ringgold Gap the day before—brought with it not only a sense of relief at having been delivered from destruction, but also a certain added ruefulness, a letdown following hard upon the relaxation of tension. He knew now just how narrow his escape had been and, what was worse, how unlikely he was to be so fortunate in another contest with the foe who had just flung him out of a position he had judged impregnable. Worst of all, perhaps, was the attitude of the troops, then and since. “Here’s your mule!” they had hooted in response to his attempt to rally them with “Here is your commander,” and he took it as a bad sign that, far from being despondent over their disgrace, many of them were grinning at the memory of their headlong break for safety. “Flicker, flicker!” they called to one another in their camps, that being their accustomed cry when they saw a man whose legs would not behave in combat. “Yaller-hammer, Alabama! Flicker, flicker, yaller-hammer!” they would shout, adding by way of reprise: “Bully for Bragg! He’s hell on retreat!” Though this might be no more than their way of shrugging off embarrassment, it did not seem to him to augur well for the outcome of the next blue-gray confrontation, wherever that might be. “We hope to maintain this position,” he wired Richmond the following day, “[but] should the enemy press on promptly we may have to cross the Oostenaula,” another fifteen miles to the south, beyond Resaca. “My first estimate of our disaster was not too large,” he continued, “and time only can restore order and morale. All possible aid should be pushed on to Resaca.” And having gone so far in the way of admission, he went one step further. “I deem it due to the cause and to myself,” he added, “to ask for relief from command and an investigation into the causes of the defeat.”

Perhaps this last was no more than a closing flourish, such as he had employed at the end of the letter sent out after Murfreesboro, wherein he invited his lieutenants to assess his military worth. In any event, just as they had taken him at his word then, whether he meant it or not, so did Davis now. “Your dispatches of yesterday received,” the adjutant general replied on the last day of November. “Your request to be relieved has been submitted to the President, who, upon your representation, directs me to notify you that you are relieved from command, which you will transfer to Lieutenant General Hardee, the officer next in rank and now present for duty.”

There he had it. Or perhaps not quite; perhaps the flourish—if that was what it was—could be recalled. At any rate, if he was thus to be brought down, he would do what he could to assure that his was not a solitary departure. In sending next day, by special messenger, “a plain, unvarnished report of the operations at Chattanooga, resulting in my shameful discomfiture,” he included a letter addressed to his friend the Commander in Chief, who had sustained him invariably in the past. “The disaster admits of no palliation,” he wrote, “and is justly disparaging to me as a commander. I trust, however, you may find upon full investigation that the fault is not entirely mine.… I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me. The warfare has been carried on successfully, and the fruits are bitter. You must make other changes here, or our success is hopeless.… I can bear to be sacrificed myself, but not to see my country and my friends ruined by the vices of a few profligate men.” Specifically he charged that Breckinridge had been drunk throughout the three-day battle and “totally unfit for any duty” on the retreat, while Cheatham was “equally dangerous” in that regard. As for himself, he said in closing, “I shall ever be ready to do all in my power for our common cause, but feel that some little rest will render me more efficient than I am now. Most respectfully and truly, yours, Braxton Bragg, General, &c.”

Still in Dalton the following day, December 2, he tried a different tack in a second letter—still headed “Headquarters Army of Tennessee” and still signed “General, Commanding”—in which he assessed the tactical situation and made an additional suggestion: “The enemy has concentrated all his available means in front of this army, and by sheer force of numbers has triumphed over our gallant little band. No one estimates the disaster more seriously than I do, and the whole responsibility and disgrace rest on my humble head. But we can redeem the past. Let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little army, still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige, and with our greatest and best leader at its head—yourself, if practicable —march the whole upon the enemy and crush him in his power and his glory. I believe it practicable, and I trust that I may be allowed to participate in the struggle which may restore to us the character, the prestige, and the country which we have just lost.”

Whatever might come of this in the future, and he knew how susceptible to flattery Davis was in that respect, there was nothing for him to do now, after waiting two whole days for them to be rescinded, but carry out the instructions he had received. Painful though the parting was, at least for him—“The associations of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion,” he remarked in the farewell address he issued that same day—he turned his duties over to Hardee, as ordered, and took his leave. In the seventeen months he had been at its head the Army of Tennessee had fought four great battles, three of which had ended in retreat though all save the last had been claimed as victories. Similarly, in the equal span of time ahead, it would fight a great many more battles that would likewise be claimed as victories although they too—once more with a single exception, comparatively as bloody as Chickamauga—would end in retreat; but not under Bragg. His tenure had ended. “I shall proceed to La Grange, Georgia, with my personal staff,” he notified Richmond, “and there await further orders.”

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