Page images
PDF
EPUB

lower Mississippi, began a close investment and siege of Port Hudson, which he pushed with determined tenacity. When the rebel garrison heard the artillery salutes which were fired by order of Banks to celebrate the surrender of Vicksburg, and the rebel commander was informed of Pemberton's disaster, he also gave up the defense, and on July 9 surrendered Port Hudson with six thousand prisoners and fifty-one guns.

Great national rejoicing followed this double success of the Union arms on the Mississippi, which, added to Gettysburg, formed the turning tide in the war of the rebellion; and no one was more elated over these Western victories, which fully restored the free navigation of the Mississippi, than President Lincoln. Like that of the whole country, his patience had been severely tried by the long and ineffectual experiments of Grant. But from first to last Mr. Lincoln had given him firm and undeviating confidence and support. He not only gave the general quick promotion, but crowned the official reward with the following generous letter:

"MY DEAR GENERAL: I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did-march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition and the like could succeed. When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks, and when you turned northward, east of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the

MARCH TO CHATTANOOGA

385

personal acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong."

It has already been mentioned that General Rosecrans, after winning the battle of Murfreesboro at the beginning of 1863, remained inactive at that place nearly six months, though, of course, constantly busy recruiting his army, gathering supplies, and warding off several troublesome Confederate cavalry raids. The defeated General Bragg retreated only to Shelbyville, ten miles south of the battle-field he had been obliged to give up, and the military frontier thus divided Tennessee between the contestants. Against repeated prompting and urging from Washington, Rosecrans continued to find real or imaginary excuses for delay until midsummer, when, as if suddenly awaking from a long lethargy, he made a bold advance and, by a nine days' campaign of skilful strategy, forced Bragg into a retreat that stopped only at Chattanooga, south of the Tennessee River, which, with the surrounding mountains, made it the strategical center and military key to the heart of Georgia and the South. This march of Rosecrans, ending the day before the Vicksburg surrender, again gave the Union forces full possession of middle Tennessee down to its southern boundary.

The march completed, and the enemy thus successfully manœuvered out of the State, Rosecrans once more came to a halt, and made no further movement for six weeks. The President and General Halleck were already out of patience with Rosecrans for his long previous delay. Bragg's retreat to Chattanooga was such a gratifying and encouraging supplement to the victories of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, that they felt the Confederate army should not be allowed to rest, recruit, and fortify the important gateway to the heart

of the Southern Confederacy, and early in August sent Rosecrans peremptory orders to advance. This direction seemed the more opportune and necessary, since Burnside had organized a special Union force in eastern Kentucky, and was about starting on a direct campaign into East Tennessee.

Finally, obeying this explicit injunction, Rosecrans took the initiative in the middle of August by a vigorous southward movement. Threatening Chattanooga from the north, he marched instead around the left flank of Bragg's army, boldly crossing the Cumberland Mountains, the Tennessee River, and two mountain ranges beyond. Bragg, seriously alarmed lest Rosecrans should seize the railroad communications behind him, hastily evacuated Chattanooga, but not with the intention of flight, as Rosecrans erroneously believed and reported. When, on September 9, the left of Rosecrans's army marched into Chattanooga without firing a shot, the Union detachments were so widely scattered in separating mountain valleys, in pursuit of Bragg's imaginary retreat, that Bragg believed he saw his chance to crush them in detail before they could unite.

With this resolve, Bragg turned upon his antagonist, but his effort at quick concentration was delayed by the natural difficulties of the ground. By September 19, both armies were well gathered on opposite sides of Chickamauga Creek, eight miles southeast of Chattanooga; each commander being as yet, however, little informed of the other's position and strength. Bragg had over seventy-one thousand men; Rosecrans, fifty-seven thousand. The conflict was finally begun, rather by accident than design, and on that day and the twentieth was fought the battle of Chickamauga, one of the severest encounters of the whole war. Developing itself without clear knowledge on either side, it became

CHICKAMAUGA

387

a moving conflict, Bragg constantly extending his attack toward his right, and Rosecrans meeting the onset with prompt shifting toward his left.

In this changing contest Rosecrans's army underwent an alarming crisis on the second day of the battle. A mistake or miscarriage of orders opened a gap of two brigades in his line, which the enemy quickly found, and through which the Confederate battalions rushed with an energy that swept away the whole Union right in a disorderly retreat. Rosecrans himself was caught in the panic, and, believing the day irretrievably lost, hastened back to Chattanooga to report the disaster and collect what he might of his flying army. The hopeless prospect, however, soon changed. General Thomas, second in command, and originally in charge of the center, had been sent by Rosecrans to the extreme left, and had, while the right was giving way, successfully repulsed the enemy in his front. He had been so fortunate as to secure a strong position on the head of a ridge, around which he gathered such remnants of the beaten detachments as he could collect, amounting to about half the Union army, and here, from two o'clock in the afternoon until dark, he held his semicircular line against repeated assaults of the enemy, with a heroic valor that earned him the sobriquet of "The Rock of Chickamauga.” At night, Thomas retired, under orders, to Rossville, half way to Chattanooga.

The President was of course greatly disappointed when Rosecrans telegraphed that he had met a serious disaster, but this disappointment was mitigated by the quickly following news of the magnificent defense, and the successful stand made by General Thomas at the close of the battle. Mr. Lincoln immediately wrote in a note to Halleck :

"I think it very important for General Rosecrans to hold his position at or about Chattanooga, because, if held, from that place to Cleveland, both inclusive, it keeps all Tennessee clear of the enemy, and also breaks one of his most important railroad lines.

[ocr errors]

If he can only maintain this position, without more, this rebellion can only eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals.

[ocr errors]

And to Rosecrans he telegraphed directly, bidding him be of good cheer, and adding: "We shall do our utmost to assist you." To this end the administration took instant and energetic measures. On the night of September 23, the President, General Halleck, several members of the cabinet, and leading army and railroad officials met in an improvised council at the War Department, and issued emergency orders under which two army corps from the Army of the Potomac, numbering twenty thousand men in all, with their arms and equipments ready for the field, the whole under command of General Hooker, were transported from their camps on the Rapidan by railway to Nashville and the Tennessee River in the next eight days. Burnside, who had arrived at Knoxville early in September, was urged by repeated messages to join Rosecrans, and other reinforcements were already on the way from Memphis and Vicksburg.

All this help, however, was not instantly available. Before it could arrive Rosecrans felt obliged to draw together within the fortifications of Chattanooga, while Bragg quickly closed about him, and, by practically blockading Rosecrans's river communication, placed him in a state of siege. In a few weeks the limited supplies brought the Union army face to face with famine. It having become evident that Rosecrans was incapable of extricating it from its peril, he was re

« PreviousContinue »