For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. James 3:16
"In politics it is not the way things really are that counts, but the way they appear to be." Theodore H. White - In Search of History
Thomas to Halleck (Van Horne, "Life", p. 88): "I have made my last protest while the war lasts. You may hereafter put a stick over me if you choose to do so. I will take care, however, to so manage my command, whatever it may be, as not to be involved in the mistakes of the stick."
Summary: Grant comes to Chattanooga with the express purpose of creating the conditions for promoting Sherman and relegating Thomas and Hooker to secondary roles. Sherman's political allies will then promote Grant's career. As events unfold and Sherman can't bring off even a semblance of a victory on his wing, Grant gets desperate and orders Thomas to sacrifice part of his army in order to relieve the pressure on Sherman. Thomas hinders the execution of the order until Hooker has begun to undermine Bragg's left flank. The most highly trained army of the day then does its job and takes the ridge, whereupon Grant rewrites history so that it conforms to a modfied version of his original plan. Article based upon McKinney and Cozzens, but goes one logical step further. Mcfeely wrote on page 380 of his "Grant" biography that Grant "had outmaneuvered all the generals who might have stepped in front of him during the war". Fortunately for the nation this was true only politically. As the following article will demonstrate, Thomas outmaneuvered him militarily.
For Christmas in 1990 I received as a gift the Burns compendium on the Civil War drawn from the Public Television series of the same name. It fascinated me, but I don't believe I read anything else about the Civil War until the next year when I made a business trip to Chattanooga. On that occasion in Feb. 1991 a person from the company I was visiting took me to the Chickamauga battlefield. That same afternoon, armed with no more than what I had learned from Burns, I drove alone along Missionary Ridge, looked at some markers (including one from a Hooker unit which announced that it had arrived at that point at 5PM on 25 Nov. 1863), and stopped in Bragg Reservation. There is a panel there, and on it is a button. I pressed it, and a recording of the final part of Bragg's official battle report came over a speaker. I listened to that distinctly regional voice say those astounding things about the “shameful conduct" of the “hardened veterans" (footnote, henceforth fn1), and I said to myself: “Something is wrong here. Couldn't Bragg and his hardened veterans see Hooker coming across the valley toward their left flank against no opposition?" This question on that day has set me off on a quest to understand this battle which continues to this day. Below you see the current state of my investigation. I have found out that they could indeed see Hooker coming. Bragg also knew, or at least quickly found out where they were headed (fn2), and his soldiers must have known also. I started reading and accepted at first the commonly held opinion that Bragg was some kind of fool who couldn't keep his strife-ridden Army of Tennessee in hand. The more I read, however, the more I began to realize that he was not a fool. I also began to find more and more indications that he wasn't given the authority by Richmond to deal with a rebellion among his officers which began well before the troubled breathing space after the battle of Chickamauga. At the same time I came across indications that all was not halcyon harmony within the Union army either. The following article deals mostly with the internal politics of the Union army at Chattanooga in Oct. and Nov. 1863. My conclusions will perhaps surprise you and even upset you, because up to now such things were generally reported to happen with certain unsuccessful generals and with certain unsuccessful armies, surely not with the victorious Grand Army of the Republic, and most assuredly not with Ulysses S. Grant, savior of the nation. Certain more specialized works hint at the internal conflict, without carrying the argument to its logical conclusion, however. The truth as I begin to see it is, as usual, even more complicated and more entertaining than in the most critical accounts of this battle I have read until now.
There are two reasons for devoting special attention to the battle of Chattanooga:
1) As Lincoln wrote to Halleck after Rosecrans had retired to Chattanooga after the battle of Chickamauga: "If he can only maintain this position without gaining more, the rebellion can only eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals." Lincoln was right again, although off on the time-scale. Chattanooga was the decisive battle of the war because it was the only one the South absolutely had to not just win, but win then in order to prolong the struggle so that some sort of political settlement could be achieved. Thanks to Thomas's inspired management of the battle, in spite of Grant's continued interference (See Stephen Z. Starr's article on the battle of Nashville (fn3) to see a similar circumstance if you think my judgment too harsh), Sherman was later able to capture Atlanta in time to influence and perhaps determine the outcome of the congressional and presidential elections in the North in the fall of 1864.
2) It is a laboratory example of a politicized battle. Indeed, the battle for Chattanooga was perhaps the most politicized battle of the entire war. All of the battles were also internal political battles, but what made Chattanooga outdo the other ones in this respect was the one-time presence of massive reinforcements at this time to the core armies of the Cumberland and Tennessee. The Army of the Cumberland was reinforced by Hooker from the East and Sherman from further west, and the Army of Tennessee had been reinforced by Longstreet from the East.
To cap it all was the arrival of Grant who had already been sounded out by politicians from Missouri to New York trying to get him to run for president in 1864. He was even being touted for the job on the front pages of the New York Tribune (fn4). Grant obviously was not going to immediately accept these offers, but very few men are immune to such temptation. I will attempt here to show that Grant, in the light of his conduct of the battle of Chattanooga, was not immune and was then, at the latest, more interested in furthering his own career, be it military or political, than he was in achieving a simply military objective. When politics enter into a battle in a big way, purely military considerations are bound to suffer. Grant knew, because hundreds of people including Lincoln had told him in one way or another, what his short and long-term prospects were if he played his cards right, maintained his facade of modesty, didn't get too impatient, and held on to his luck. He planned his strategy accordingly.
Thomas offered an alternative method of conducting war to that of Grant.
Thomas's method can be summed up as follows: Take care of your men and
train them well, plan thoroughly so as to put yourself in the position
to improvise with minimal risk, force or trick your opponent to attack
you on ground of your choosing, know the terrain better than your opponent
does, have a reserve ready for flanking movements, be open to technological
innovation, NEVER throw massed forces against a single point of your opponents
line (because it almost never really works and is always expensive), and
strike hard when it counts. Thomas always tried to coordinate attacks at
2 or 3 or more different points of the enemy's position so that the enemy
commander could never know which was the main thrust. This method requires
a lot of very dull homework on the part of the practitioner, which doesn't
recommend it to the hasty or the distracted.
In this Thomas was in agreement with Rosecrans who did well enough by
this method until he disregarded Thomas's advice to first consolidate in
Chattanooga before going after Bragg in Georgia. Instead Rosecrans got
overconfident (also bowing to intense pressure from Washington), dispersed
his forces, and stumbled into a battle before he had got set (fn5).
Following the above named precepts, Thomas had been phenomenally successful
until then in every battle or segment thereof where he had commanded. On
the other hand, Grant's method was a study in contrasts to that of Thomas.
Grant sums it up himself in his Chattanooga battle report in this way:
“…the great object being to mass all the force possible against one given
point." This was in accordance with the Napoleonic doctrine taught at West
Point before the war, but already outdated in 1849 with the introduction
of the minié bullet and rifling. Grant's method would still work
given a preponderance of force, but the human cost would be very high.
However, Grant had an advantage over Thomas: Grant was from Ohio. Thomas
was from Virginia and had therefore renounced his political base when he
returned south "at the head of my men" (fn6). It is difficult
for us today to conceive the importance of regional politics and its effect
on the military of those times, because our political parameters have changed.
Today corporations dominate politics, but back then the dominant forces
were the state political machines. Thomas had no potential usefulness to
these machines and their would-be president makers and exploiters. Indeed,
there were many politicians who professed to distrust Thomas, suspecting
him of doubtful loyalty and perhaps, in the long run, of not being amenable
to a policy of looting a defeated adversary.
Before I begin discussing this confrontation I want to outline the possible
background of a personality conflict between Grant and Thomas. Consider
what it was like to be a career officer in the pre Civil War army. If you
were from the South, and especially from Virginia, you had the better chance
of promotion because of Virginia’s decades long domination of the war department.
Northern born officers therefore had years to conceive and then nurture
a grudge against southern born officers. For whatever reason, Grant’s career
had stagnated before the Civil War, and Thomas, the quintessential Virginian,
had made steady progress. Of course, this disadvantage was completely reversed
with the start of the war, but that does not mean that old resentments
were forgotten. After the unprecedented carnage of Shiloh, Halleck arrived
on the scene and took charge. He apparently disapproved of the way Grant
had handled the battle, so he made Grant a supernumerary second in command,
placed Grant’s troops under Thomas, and spent most of his time at Thomas’s
headquarters (the right wing) during the slow approach to Corinth. Grant
was decidedly unhappy about this, although he probably needn't have been
(fn7). Shortly thereafter, Thomas requested that Grant’s
troops be restored to him, perhaps thereby only adding fuel to the fire.
Finally, every one of Grant’s victories up until his arrival at Chattanooga
had drawn much criticism. Knowing this as well as anyone, Grant faced Thomas
whose record of command success to that point had been an unimpeachable
100 % (fn7.5).
On the other hand, Thomas must have resented Grant’s very presence there
as an affront and a suggestion that Thomas couldn’t do the job alone (fn8).
Thomas also surely did not approve of Grant’s improvised approach to doing
battle which led to avoidable suffering and death among the troops in his
own commands (fn9). At some point he perhaps began to
suspect that Grant had even deeper motives for being there. So, when Grant
arrived at Chattanooga on 23 Oct. 1863, the stage was set for a behind
the scenes confrontation. They both knew each other very well, and both
had reasons for mistrusting the other. According to adjutant James H. Wilson's
often and variously retold anecdote about Grant’s first arrival at Chattanooga,
Thomas let him know from the beginning he wasn’t particularly welcome (fn10).
However, according to Horace Porter in his "Campaigning with Grant"
the scene was quite different: Porter recounts that a member of Thomas's
staff first pointed out the situation. Apparently Grant had first ordered
a staff meeting before worrying about his creature comforts, and summoning
the staff officers seemed to be Thomas's first priority after the hasty
meal. But Wilson's anecdote, harmless as he tells it but villainous as
the apologists retell it, is the version most commonly cited (fn11).
Another factor influencing Grant's behavior was the freshness of his
promotion to commander of the Division of the Mississippi. If successful
in Chattanooga, Grant could expect to be called east in order to deal with
the Lee problem on which many a good man before him had bitten out his
teeth. However, if Grant were to stumble in his new assignment, the only
possible choice to succeed him would have been Thomas. To buttress his
position for the moment and against the possibility of future setbacks
in the East, Grant needed a certain kind of victory in Chattanooga, one
which would propel his fairly pliant lieutenant Sherman forward and not
unduly enhance the reputation of Thomas. Sherman’s limited grasp of battlefield
dynamics didn’t matter. His political connections (his brother a U.S. senator,
father-in-law a former senator) and his willingness to apply himself to
Grant’s larger design did matter. In other words, Grant came to Chattanooga
in order to head Thomas off at the pass, already planning to promote Sherman
over Thomas at the end of this battle. Politically at least it was "nolo
contendere" because Thomas was one of those rare top commanders who focused
more on the military objective than his personal advancement. However,
as far as the strictly military objective of securing Chattanooga and doing
as much damage to Bragg’s army as possible was concerned, Thomas would
not back down, not even to Grant.
Grant’s plan consisted of giving Sherman the major role and the credit
for the victory, and as little as possible of both to Thomas. Sherman was
to have the bulk of the troops, and Thomas and Hooker were to do no more
than demonstrate and then cooperate with Sherman once Sherman had crushed
Bragg's northern flank. This plan is outlined in Grant's order of 18 Nov.
63 to Thomas and Sherman which I quote here from Grant's battle report
of 23 Dec.63:
Maj. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS: All preparations should
be made for attacking the enemy's position on Missionary Ridge by Saturday
at daylight. Not being provided with a map giving names of roads, spurs
of the mountains, and other places [but he did have a scientific contour
map], such definite instructions cannot be given as might be desirable.
However, the general plan, you understand, is for Sherman, with the force
brought with him, strengthened by a division from your command, to effect
a crossing of the Tennessee River just below the mouth of Chickamauga,
his crossing to be protected by artillery from the heights on the north
bank of the river (to be located by your chief of artillery); and to secure
the heights from the northern extremity to about the railroad tunnel before
the enemy can concentrate against him. You will co-operate with Sherman.
The troops in Chattanooga Valley should be well concentrated on your left
flank, leaving only the necessary force to defend fortifications on the
right and center, and a movable column of one division in readiness to
move whenever ordered. This division should show itself as threateningly
[only a “demonstration"] as possible on the most practicable
line for making an attack up the valley. Your effort then will be to form
a junction with Sherman, making your advance well toward the northern end
of Missionary Ridge, and moving as near simultaneously with him as possible.
The juncture once formed, and the ridge carried, communications will be
at once established between the two armies by roads on the south bank of
the river. Farther movements will then depend on those of the enemy.
Strangely enough, neither the original of this order quoted here, nor
the copy of it to Sherman which Grant mentions, is present in the Official
Records of the Civil War. We have only Grant's report, and there is no
other corroboration of a written version of this order. But more about
In order to carry out this plan Sherman had on 25 Nov., according to
Baldy Smith (fn12), "six perfectly appointed divisions"
(3 of his own plus 3 borrowed from Thomas and Hooker), whereas Thomas had
4 and Hooker almost 3. On his own left flank (next to S. Chickamauga Creek),
Sherman had the 2 divisions under Howard (borrowed from Hooker) which were
not even deployed on the 25th, although they would have been opposed only
by Wright’s brigade from taking Chickamauga Station 8 miles away (fn13).
The division of J.C. Davis (borrowed from Thomas) remained in the rear
to guard the river crossing (against what, against whom?). In addition,
in the early afternoon of 25 Nov. Grant detached yet another division from
Thomas (Baird’s) and sent it toward Sherman (which would have brought his
total to seven divisions!) who sent it back because he had no place
to put it. However, with the belated exception of Bushbeck’s brigade, Sherman
made no use of the reinforcements. He relied on his own troops from the
army of the Tennessee, and even those he used badly, throwing them in a
brigade at a time. He obviously was in the manic phase of his repeated
manic-depressive cycles and expected an easy triumph, but he had yet to
meet in battle an all-rounder like Cleburne who, unlike Johnston and Pemberton,
would also attack. In addition Cleburne, by using an approach to troop
management similar to that of Thomas, had developed his division into the
most effective shock troops of the entire Confederate army. On the 25th
Sherman was not just halted by Cleburne with less than a quarter of his
forces, he was thrown back. More than 200 of his men were even captured
in a counter-attack and spent the rest of the war in Andersonville. Sherman's
attack was, as Cozzens writes, "one of the sorriest episodes in this or
any other battle of the war" (fn14).
The situation was critical at 2:30 PM on 25 Nov. for both Grant and
Thomas, but for different reasons. The day was almost over, and if something
wasn't done shortly, Bragg was going to get away with no more than a bloody
nose. But if something were done too soon (under the mounting pressure
from Sherman and Grant), then Thomas's troops might be repulsed, would
in any case suffer excessive casualties, and Bragg might be able to claim
not just a draw, but a victory. Grant was not worried about excessive casualties,
but rather about his derailed plan and Sherman’s stalled attack, so Grant
started ordering Thomas to move his 4 divisions (just after Baird returned)
forward to the base of the ridge and then stop (fn15),
ostensibly to induce Bragg to cease reinforcing Cleburne (fn16),
in any case no more than a demonstration. This order has been called “foolish",
“not thought out" and “quixotic" by sundry authors because the Union soldiers
would thus have been exposed to galling fire from above and unable to defend
In his battle report of 23 Dec. 1863 Grant writes this about the “order":
“Thomas was accordingly directed to move forward his troops,
constituting our center, Baird's division (Fourteenth Corps), Wood's and
Sheridan's divisions (Fourth Corps), and Johnson's division (Fourteenth
Corps), with a double line of skirmishers thrown out, followed in easy
supporting distance by the whole force, and carry the rifle-pits at the
foot of Missionary Ridge, and when carried to reform his lines on the
rifle-pits with a view to carrying the top of the ridge [italics mine].
I call attention again to the fact that the entire weight of eye-witness
testimony lends credence to the issuance of quite a different verbal order,
namely to only take the rifle pits and stop (fn15).
There is yet another order in the Official Records dated 24 Nov. which
almost supports Grant’s version of events, but not quite. Grant does not
mention this order in his battle report, although he cites verbatim four
other orders (2 to Burnside, 1 to Thomas, and 1 to Sherman, plus 1 reply
from Burnside and 1 communication from Bragg). Instead Grant quotes this
order twenty years later in his Memoirs on p. 340. I cite here the version
present in the Official Records (fn17):
"HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Chattanooga,
Tenn., November 24, 1863.
Maj. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS, Commanding Army of the Cumberland:
GENERAL: General Sherman carried Missionary Ridge as
far as the tunnel, with only slight skirmishing. His right now rests at
the tunnel and on top of the hill; his left at Chickamauga Creek.
I have instructed General Sherman to advance as soon
as it is light in the morning, and your attack, which will be simultaneous,
will be in co-operation.
Your command will either carry the rifle-pits and
ridge directly in front of them [italics mine] or move to the left,
as the presence of the enemy may require. If Hooker's present position
on the mountain can be maintained with a small force, and it is found impracticable
to carry the top from where he is, it would be advisable for him to move
up the valley with all the force he can spare and ascend by the first practicable
This order for a dawn assault toward the center of Missionary Ridge
was never carried out. Some authors, citing only Fullerton's report on
Chattanooga in Battles & Leaders III 723, write that Grant, upon seeing
in the morning that Sherman hadn't yet reached the tunnel, "suspended his
orders". Others write that Thomas ignored or even "flouted" it. In any,
case the Official Records contain no document which explains why this order
was not carried out. Note that no time of day is given for the issuance
of this order, note also the vagueness of the words “and ridge directly
in front of them". Such imprecision is unusual from a man famous for his
concise, clear orders. I repeat, in his battle report of 23 Dec.63 Grant
does not mention this order. It seems to this author that Grant would surely
have cited this order in his battle report if he could have. This leads
this author to propose two explanations:
1) The order existed but did not sufficiently bolster Grant’s case that
the battle had been conducted according to his plan;
2) This order as written was inserted into the Official Records sometime
after 23 Dec. 1863 (the date of Grant’s report) as part of a cover-up.
This is a hypothesis which could be conclusively proven if the actual document
of this order (kept in the National Archives in Washington DC) were clean
and neatly written as opposed to being stained or even dirty as written
orders issued under battle conditions usually are. Was there a cover-up?
I will deal with this question below.
Before I try to fathom what Grant may have meant with “carry the rifle-pits
and ridge directly in front of them", permit me to confront this with a
quote from another order of 24 Nov. present in the Official Records, written
by Rawlins, “by order of Major-General Grant" to Sherman. This order also
has no time, although information contained in it indicates that it was
issued after 3:00 PM:
"Maj. Gen. WILLIAM T. SHERMAN, Near Chattanooga: “You
will attack the enemy at the point most advantageous from your position
at early dawn to-morrow morning (25th instant). General Thomas has been
instructed to commence the attack early to-morrow morning. He will carry
the enemy's rifle-pits in his immediate front [italics mine], or
move to the left to your support, as circumstances may determine best."
A comparison of the two orders leads this author to the conclusion that
with “the rifle-pits and the ridge directly in front of them" Grant meant
only that part of the ridge immediately beyond the rifle pits, not the
crest itself. We can also conclude that some sort of early morning action
for Thomas had been contemplated (but never carried out), but it is impossible
to decide with certainty whether the actual order was verbal or written,
and what kept it from being carried out, aside from its utter impracticality.
To put some clarity in this matter I cite yet another order from Grant
to Thomas in the Official Records, now with indication of time. This order
is from the day before and is nothing more than a vague confirmation of
the standing order to Thomas of 18 Nov. which defined Thomas’s strictly
supportive role in the plan as envisioned by Grant:
CHATTANOOGA, November 24, 1863--1 p.m
"Maj. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS, Chattanooga: Sherman's bridge
was completed at 12 m., at which time all his force was over, except one
division. That division was to cross immediately when his attack would
commence. Your forces should attack at the same time, and either detain
a force equal to their own [italics mine] or move to the left to the
support of Sherman , if he should require it. U.S. GRANT, Major-General."
Against this welter of orders (and there are more!) I cite here Thomas’s
own conception of the orders applying to him, as expressed in his battle
report of 1 Dec., 1863:
"Orders were then given (Baird)…to move forward on Granger's
left, and within supporting distance, against the enemy's rifle-pits on
the slope and at the foot of Missionary Ridge."
For these reasons I feel it is fair to proceed from the assumption that,
in Grant’s mind, his plan as expressed in the orders of 18 Nov. (as cited
in his after battle report of 23 Dec. 63) to Thomas was still valid, and
that the verbal order as reported by the other observers on Orchard Knob
is representative of Grant’s true intentions that afternoon.
Peter Cozzens has this to say about Grant’s verbal version of the order:
“[Grant] never satisfactorily explained his foolish order to Thomas to
seize only the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. Instead Grant
chose to lie" (fn18). In addition, there are numerous
eye-witness accounts of Grant’s anger and even rage when it became obvious
that Thomas’s troops were indeed proceeding up the ridge (fn19).
From all of this confusion at least two certainties can be drawn:
1) Grant was out of control of the situation on 24 and 25 Nov. 63 because
Sherman hadn't done his part of the plan, and he issued various contradictory,
confused, and confusing orders in an attempt to regain control.
2) Through it all Thomas held to a simple plan, namely attack in the
center as soon as one wing or the other of Bragg's line was broken, and
this plan succeeded.
Most of the general treatments of the Civil War gloss over all of this
and say merely that Thomas's men, at the last possible minute and to the
mild surprise of Grant, then saved the day by taking matters into their
own hands in a miraculously successful charge up the center of impregnable
Missionary Ridge. If Hooker is mentioned at all, he was only belatedly
and usually ineptly threatening Bragg's southern flank, not having “met
the expectations" placed in him (see Grant’s battle report).
Aside from common sense, two considerations speak against this neat
1) Newly available source material (Stewarts' Divisions' reports, Broadfoot's
Supplements) shows that the situation may have even more contrary to Grant's
plan than is commonly supposed. Hooker was not just threatening Stewart's
flank, he may even have been the catalyst for Bragg's collapse in the center.
The retreat began first in Stewart's sector of the line under Hooker's
simultaneous attack from the west, south, and the rear. This, in
turn, threw demoralized troops toward the center which facilitated the
miraculous breakthrough there. Particularly devastating was the attack
of Osterhaus against Stewart’s rear as reported on all levels of command
in Stewart’s Division (fn20).
This is supported by Hebert (fn21) who writes: “[Hooker’s]
threat on the enemy flank contributed to the demoralization which Thomas
soon found in his attack on the center." By any measure Hooker did good
work on the 25th, especially considering that, of all of the major commanders,
he had the least opportunity to familiarize himself with Chattanooga Valley
and Missionary Ridge before 24 Nov. It's time, at last, to give Hooker
his due for this day.
2) Many authors report uncertainty on the part of senior Union officers
concerning the order they actually received. Some believed they had received
an order to take the crest. In fact, according to McKinney: “Of the eleven
brigade commanders engaged in the assault only one stated positively that
he was to halt at the foot of the Ridge and await orders." The others were
either uncertain or convinced that they had been ordered to take the crest
(fn22). To this effect I can also quote the Prussian
born division commander Gen. August Willich (fn23) and
Maj. James Connelly, topographical engineer under Hazen. I include here
a lengthy quote from Connelly's "Letters" (fn24):
"I rode down along the line of our division, and there
I found Woods Division formed on our right and facing the ridge just as
we were; I rode on and came to Sheridan’s Division formed on Woods right
and facing the same. Here was a line of veteran troops nearly two miles
long, all facing Mission Ridge, and out of sight of the enemy. The purpose
at once became plain to me, and I hurried back to my own Division, and
on asking Gen. [Baird] he replied: “When 6 guns are fired in quick succession
from Fort Wood, the line advances to storm the heights and carry the Ridge
if possible. Take that order to Col. [Phelps]…and tell him to move forward
rapidly when he hears the signal." I communicated the order at once and
that was the last I saw of the brigade commander, for he was killed just
as he reached the summit of the ridge" [where Phelp’s monument is located
Did Thomas intervene here to make sure that someone would take the initiative
and move out of the rifle pits? There were opportunities to do so that
afternoon through another officer such as Granger (fn25).
Or did he trust to fate and his insistent training of the troops? Or had
he prepared the movement long in advance? To this effect I cite here Francis
“Twice between the time of Sherman’s arrival and the time
scheduled for the attack Thomas convened meetings of his subordinate commanders
to be sure that they were letter perfect in their parts. He pointed out
that their role was confined to demonstrations on Bragg’s front…The main
attack was to made by Sherman. He talked, too, about a frontal assault
on Missionary Ridge, warned them about the heavy casualties it would demand…if
it were made before the Rebel flanks were shattered. The officers seemed
to understand their commander, for their battle reports express the conviction
that the Army of the Cumberland eventually was to storm Missionary Ridge."
Catton throws up his figurative hands and writes that it “is impossible
to harmonize all of the tales of what happened that afternoon on Orchard
Knob" (fn27). However, concerning the basic question
Catton hasn’t the slightest doubt: “The storming of Missionary Ridge came
under orders" (fn28). In support of this with, at least
as far as a portion of Sheridan’s division is concerned, I cite here the
25 Nov. report of Col. Jason Marsh (fn29):
"After a very brief rest [in the rifle pits], an effort
was made to move the men forward, which it was found a very difficult thing
to do. The long, steep ascent in front covered with the enemy, the top
lined with numerous batteries and breastworks, was well calculated to appall
the stoutest hearts. It was, therefore, not strange that men required
much urging to induce them to brave the danger [italics mine]. My efforts
were directed entirely to the officers and men of my command to move them
forward, irrespective of the previous order of the lines or of the movement
of other regiments, and in this effort I was zealously and efficiently
assisted by many of the officers of my command."
So much for the spontaneous urge of the Union troops to be better generals
than their commanders. Whatever theory one chooses, it is apparent that,
on the afternoon of 25 Nov. 1863, Grant is gradually losing his grasp of
the overall situation while Thomas is gradually taking over.
Note the times in my timetable below, and note
again that Grant, at every step of the campaign, had explicitly relegated
Thomas and Hooker to supporting and demonstrative roles. Thomas had proposed
a concentration against Bragg's southern flank, but was turned down. Thomas
then had to nudge Grant into authorizing Hooker's attack on Lookout Mountain,
and then his movement against Rossville Gap. Then, as things went wrong
on the afternoon of 25 Nov., Thomas came under increasing pressure to throw
in his troops (first 4, then 3, then 4 divisions) against Bragg’s 5 divisions
in the center into the attack. The pressure came first from Sherman, as
we can see from the following exchange of messages (fn30):
"MISSION RIDGE STATION, November 25, 1863--12.45 p.m.
Major-General GRANT: Where is Thomas? SHERMAN, Major-General."
The reply came directly from Thomas:
"ORCHARD KNOB, November 25, 1863--1 p.m.
Major-General SHERMAN: I am here; my right is closing
in from Lookout Mountain toward Missionary Ridge. GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General."
Then Grant started to add pressure, as will be explained in detail below.
First he ordered to Sherman yet another division from Thomas (Baird’s),
then he began to first suggest and then order Thomas to intervene. However,
Thomas repeatedly stalled the carrying out of Grant's murderous
limited demonstration order until he was sure that Hooker had engaged Stewart,
thus reducing the risk of uselessly sacrificing his precious Army of the
Cumberland in favor of Grant’s failed and politically motivated plan.
Grant had reason to be nervous about Sherman well
before 2:30 PM on 25 Nov. Sherman's troops had started crossing the to
the south bank of the Tennessee at around 2 AM on 24. Nov. By dawn about
8000 troops were already landed. Instead of moving forward immediately,
Sherman waited until his entire force was across before getting underway.
Nine hours later Sherman, after having covered all of 3 miles and encountered
no more than skirmishers, entrenched on the first rise (named "Billy the
Goat Hill" after the battle according to local Chattanooga historian
Bob Graham). He then reported to Grant that he had reached the tunnel,
the objective stated in his orders (fn31). Grant took
the message at face value and telegraphed Washington that Sherman had taken
the ridge up to the tunnel. However, Sherman had stopped and entrenched
too soon. He was not yet at the object of his orders as he reported that
evening. Thanks to this error, Cleburne was allowed to move in that same
afternoon to fill the void on Tunnel Hill. He then spent the night preparing
his defenses. The next morning when Sherman started his attack, he was
than a mile to the north of the tunnel. When the fog lifted at about
9:00 AM this must have been apparent to all observers on Orchard Knob.
Grant thus had several hours to formulate a contingency plan. However,
if we are to lend credence to Sherman's battle report of 19 Dec. 63 (see
appendix 7), Grant had even more time than that. I quote:
"Thus we passed the night [of 24 Nov.], heavy details
being kept busy at work on the intrenchments on the hill [Billy the
Goat]. During the night the sky cleared away bright and a cold frost
filled the air, and our camp fires revealed to the enemy and to our friends
in Chattanooga our position on Missionary Ridge [Is this a concealed
rebuke to Grant and/or Thomas for not having warned him?]."
How had Sherman made such an error? In the middle of Nov. he briefly
came to Chattanooga to confer with Grant. He writes in his Memoirs that
he (together with Grant), on the morning of 15 Nov., walked to Ft. Wood
to inspect the northern end of the ridge (fn32). From
that point the tunnel entrance is about 3 1/2 miles away and masked by
a spur of the ridge. However, the dip in the ridge under which the tunnel
is located - the second notch from the north - is perfectly visible
with the naked eye from today’s Ft. Wood Historical District. The next
afternoon he rode along the north bank of the Tennessee to again inspect
the northern end of the ridge. He writes (fn33):
“In company with Generals Thomas, W.F. Smith, Brannan,
and others, we [i.e. Sherman and Grant] crossed by the flying bridge, rode
back of the hills some four miles, left our horses and got on a hill overlooking
the whole ground about the mouth of the Chickamauga River, and across to
the Missionary Hills near the tunnel."
This is the same hill which Thomas and Baldy Smith had visited on 7
Nov. and from which they could see the Confederate campfires on the ridge.
This point is about 4 miles from the tunnel mouth and is probably today’s
River Hills or "Continental" Hill, from either of which you can also see
the two notches (or depressions if you will) mentioned above.
In Sherman’s defense it must be noted that from both vantage points
the two notches could be considered mere undulations in the ridge contour,
and that the tunnel mouth itself is rendered invisible from the one direction
by a spur from the ridge, and from the other direction by the least amount
of vegetation surrounding the tunnel. It is very difficult to ascertain
today how much vegetation had been left standing by the Confederates. Much
(but by no means all of it) had been removed for creating fields of fire,
for firewood, and for creating primitive housing erected on the flats just
to the west of the ridge.
It has been objected that today’s observer is already informed about
the depth of the cuts delineating what today is called Tunnel Hill or Sherman
Reservation, and is therefore at an advantage over Sherman. Against this
I oppose the observation that looking at passes through a telescope and
judging the actual terrain was part of Sherman’s business, because passes,
even small ones, were supremely important in those times, given the almost
entire dependence on horses to draw heavier equipment such as cannon. In
mountainous terrain passes were the surest ways to either outflank the
enemy or to be outflanked by the enemy.
Regardless of whatever Sherman actually saw or thought he saw on these
two occasions, either nobody pointed out to him the actual distance from
the first rise of the ridge (Billygoat Hill) to the tunnel (under the 2nd
notch), or Sherman was told and wasn’t listening. I conclude that Sherman
was told, but blinded by the foretaste of certain victory, was too exalted
to worry about such details, but the reader is free to draw another conclusion
if he or she finds one to suit.
There is another possibility: In the bustle of working all night and
much of the following day while moving 30,000 or so soldiers across a
river and then 3 miles inland, Sherman simply became confused during the
day on 24 Nov. and perhaps became totally flustered on the evening of
24 Nov. when he discovered he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. So he
perhaps lied in his report to Grant that evening and really put his mentor
and protector in an embarrassing position. I leave it up to the reader
to imagine how Grant felt about being put in a spot like that (fn34).
In his battle report Sherman afterward stated that the northern end
of the ridge appeared to be “continuous" and vaguely cited “wrongly laid
down maps". Thomas was, however, famous for his maps which his secret service
topography engineers produced. I cite here Baldy Smith, Thomas’s chief
engineer, concerning the map-work carried out before the
“I forward with this a map large enough to show the strategic
movements made before the battle, and also a map giving the battlefield.
These maps are mainly due to the exertions of Captain West, U.S. Coast
Survey, of my staff, and to the labors of Captains Dorr and Donn, of the
same Department, who have been ordered to report to me by Professor Bache,
Superintendent U.S. Coast Survey…By them the distances were determined
the battle [italics mine] for the use of artillery, and also the
heights of artillery positions occupied by us and the enemy."
In other words, the map Grant submitted along with his battle report
had been made before the battle. The referral here is to a contour map
prepared by C.S. Mergell which is now part of the Atlas to Accompany the
Official Records (fn36). This is thus also the map which
Grant apparently had before the battle which indeed lacks “names of roads,
spurs of the mountains, and other places", and upon which the principal
troop dispositions were superimposed after the battle (with the interesting
omission of Hooker at Rossville Gap). The lower left hand corner of this
map is devoted to naming the manifold map studies (plane table surveys,
compass surveys, and reconnaissance surveys) undertaken by scores of scouts
under the supervision of at least 10 officers between major and lieutenant)
which were used to prepare this map now in the Atlas. I refer here to a
footnote which illustrates how one such scout and topographical engineer,
Ambrose Bierce, in Hazen’s command (under Thomas) worked (fn37).
In short, in Thomas’s headquarters before the battle of Chattanooga there
was a mass of map materials which prove conclusively that the entire area
was perfectly known to the topographical engineers in Thomas’s command.
In another of Grant's enigmatic orders (the one of 7 Nov. instructing
Thomas to attack the northern end of the ridge the next day, before
either Sherman or Hooker had arrived), Grant himself reveals that he knew
that Thomas was very well informed about the area in question when he writes:
"You having been over this country and having had a better opportunity
of studying it than myself, the details are left to you." What kept Grant
so busy that he didn't have time for such "details"?
In any case, the map Grant had in his possession before the battle is
in all probability also Sherman’s “wrongly laid-down" one. If the reader
will consult the Atlas to the Official Records, he or she will see that
it clearly and scientifically indicates the contours of the ridge, the
principle elevations thereof, and the course of the two railroads along
with the position of the railroad tunnel named as the objective in Sherman’s
orders. Two more maps, one from 1863 and another
from 1896 (but based on the maps made before the battle) indicate the extent
of the mapping of the area. They both clearly show the major elevations
which confronted Sherman. In addition, the second 1896 map shows the unit
dispositions of both armies, and it can be acquired by contacting the NPS
bookstore at Chickamauga. These maps prove that this area was anything
but virgin territory to the topographical engineers of the day.
The map Grant submitted with his battle report of 23 Dec. indeed lacks
the “names of roads, spurs of the mountains, and other places", but it
does have the names and locations of the houses of 8 private citizens clustered
around the northern end of the ridge, indicating intensive scouting efforts
in that area preparatory to Sherman's effort there. The mapmakers' scouts
had probably been there to talk to these people.
In addition, there is anecdotal information (from Henry Boyd, native
and lifelong resident of Chattanooga and student of its history), according
to which the area benefited from some unusual scouting operations. Namely
the house owned by Mrs. Magill located on Shallow Ford Road east of
the ridge and indicated on all period maps of this area, was a brothel
frequented by both Confederate and Union officers during the siege
of Chattanooga. Apparently the informal truce established between the two
sides shortly after the Union army dug in at Chattanooga extended further
than is commonly supposed.
If Grant’s map was indeed Sherman’s “wrongly laid-down map", then Sherman
had the means to be sufficiently informed in order be able to orient himself
among the elevations and cuts of the northern end of the ridge. If he had
a different map, then all he had to do was include it in his battle report,
but he didn’t. I quote from Sherman's report of 19 Dec. 63 in order to
name the only map he did include, i.e. a map his staff officer prepared
"Inclosed you will please find a map of that part of the
battle-field of Chattanooga fought on by the troops under my command, surveyed
and drawn by Captain Jenney, of my staff."
As I have proposed above, the best explanation for Sherman's disorientation
is that he was distracted, overconfident, and then simply confused under
the pressure of a battle situation, and his mention of defective maps fits
in with his behavior in other embarrassing situations during his military
career. In other words, he lied.
Could Thomas and/or his staff have done even more to make sure that
Sherman was completely informed about the terrain between the river bank
and his stated objective? Or did Thomas and his staff simply shrug their
shoulders in the face of such massive (and previously demonstrated) incompetence,
knowing that they would be able to salvage the situation anyway? Perhaps.
The following quote illustrates Thomas’s basic estimation of his situation
before the battle of Chattanooga: “We greatly outnumber Bragg’s army and,
if in our attack we can bring the crushing weight of our full force to
bear, we are sure to win" (fn38). As McKinney writes:
“From this point on [23 Nov.], by luck and foresight, Thomas saturated
the Battles for Chattanooga with his military talent" (fn39).
In short, Thomas was able to compensate for whatever shortcomings the Grant
and Sherman team brought to Chattanooga, and he knew it.
Should Thomas and/or his staff have done more? That is debatable, especially
in light of the subsequent falsification of the course of the battle which
we find in Grant’s and Sherman’s battle reports. Cozzens writes: "Only
minutes after Thomas’s troops crowned Missionary Ridge, [Grant] began rewriting
In my opinion, the most likely explanation of Grant’s oblique remark
in his battle report of 23 Dec. 63 about “not being provided with a map
giving names of roads, spurs of the mountains, and other places" is that
he was trying to lend cautious support in his inimitable way to Sherman’s
canard about the “wrongly laid-down" maps, hoping that subsequent historians
and readers would not take the trouble to follow this paper trail and discover
the probable identity of the two maps. Note again that this order of 18
Nov., which Grant quotes in his battle report, is not otherwise
present in the Official Records of the Civil War. It is only present
in the OR's only as part of Grant's report of 23 Dec. (OR 31/2,55, p 31).
This author therefore suspects that the actual order of 18 Nov., as Grant
quotes it, was either verbal, or if it was issued in writing on or about
18th, the wording was different from that of the one in the report. In
order to hide this discrepancy, the actual order (if it existed) could
have been removed from the Official Records as were others, such as several
of the communications between Grant and Sherman on 24 and 25 Nov. 63 (fn31).
The reader, again, remains free to propose his or her own explanation for
these goings on.
By the way, the 1896 Map of the Battlefields of Chattanooga and Wauhatchie
prepared under the direction of the then secretary of war Daniel Lamont
(during the presidency of the democrat Grover Cleveland) gives a much clearer
and more accurate disposition of the troops than the Atlas map and
In order to see what this map looks like, click here.
In the light of such easily available information, the statements of
some authors such as Brooks Simpson “Ulysses S. Grant, 1822-1865" can only
surprise the discerning reader. I quote from p. 239: “Before long there
was bad news, Sherman sent word that in fact he had not taken Tunnel Hill
- a deep ravine just north of that location, which had escaped Union
observation [italics mine], served to give the Confederates an ideal
defensive position." As the preceding exposition makes clear, the entire
area was completely mapped by Union topographers. The statement that the
ravine served to give an “ideal defensive position" can only be the result
of lack of careful reading about Cleburne’s conduct of the defense and
ignorance about the terrain in question. Cleburne in fact set up his defensive
line at least 500 yards south of the ravine and near the top of a gentle
slope almost at the far end of Tunnel Hill. In general, Simpson’s treatment
of the battle of Chattanooga betrays serious defects in interpretation
of available sources.
Regardless of the availability of adequate maps to Sherman and Grant,
the bulk of the evidence indicates some sort or breakdown in the cooperation
between the staffs of Grant, Sherman, and Thomas which goes beyond Grant’s
and Sherman’s notorious carelessness in such matters. At the very least
we must conclude that the tensions between Grant and Thomas must have been
higher than any historian I have read has been willing to postulate. At
any time the most detailed information Grant could desire was there in
abundance in Thomas’s headquarters. All Grant and Sherman had to do was
ask, if they dared or cared to. Were they too proud or too intimidated
It is important to grasp this question of maps because it concretely
documents one way that Grant and Sherman manipulated the record in order
to obscure the record of what went wrong for them on 24 and 25 Nov. 63.
Once this is understood, then it is possible to then understand the often
and variously described drama between the two generals Thomas and Grant
which took place on Orchard Knob the afternoon of 25 Nov. 63.
Every author I have read who deals with the events on Orchard Knob on
the afternoon of 25 Nov. tells the story differently with considerable
variation. Some authors quote from the Grant order of the evening of 24
Nov. for Thomas to take the rifle pits and the ridge “directly in front
of them". I repeat, this order is not quoted in his battle report, although
four other orders (plus one response and a communication from Bragg) are
quoted verbatim. Of the two authors who have most recently written books
devoted to this battle, Sword mentions the order of the 24th with no reference
to the words “and ridge directly in front of them". The other, Cozzens,
states that Thomas "flouted" this order, and doesn't go into further discussion
of the matter. Cozzens allows no connection between this order and that
of the afternoon of 25 Nov. Cozzens roundly states that the version referred
to in Grant’s battle report did not exist (fn18).
Thomas in his report only summarizes Grant’s order of 18 Nov. (without
mention of date), and I quote here directly from Thomas’s battle report
of 1 Dec. 1863:
“I was to co-operate with Sherman by concentrating my
troops in Chattanooga Valley, on my left flank, leaving only the necessary
force to defend the fortifications on the right and center, with a movable
column of one division in readiness to move wherever ordered. This division
was to show itself as threateningly as possible on the most practicable
line for making an attack up the valley. I was then to effect a junction
with Sherman, making my advance from the left, well toward the north end
of Mission Ridge, and moving as near simultaneously with Sherman as possible."
If Grant felt that it served his purpose to "quote" his order of 24
Nov. in his subsequent battle report, he would have. That he didn’t means
that he couldn’t at the time, or that it, in his opinion, did not sufficiently
support his argument. Therefore, Grant’s unsupported reference to such
an order in his battle report can be discounted as irrelevant and/or mendacious.
For these reasons I will, in the following, accept Thomas’s, Buell’s,
Cozzens’s and Sword’s (and others’), version of the limited advance order
and proceed from the assumption that the basic plan outlined in Grant’s
"formal" order of 18 Nov. was still standing the afternoon of 25 Nov. As
far as the outline of the events that afternoon and the timetable of Grant’s
enunciation of the order as it is most often reported is concerned, I have
decided to follow Cozzens while referring to one of the most reliable contemporaries
(Baldy Smith), and try to deduce the rest as much as possible from the
battle reports of the major commanders at Chattanooga.
For the next part of this paper the reader should refer to appendix
1: “Comparative timetable of events on 25 Nov.
When Grant started giving his order to Thomas at about 2:30 PM on 25
Nov., at first as a suggestion (fn41), he did not yet
know that Sherman was not just repulsed. He could not have dreamed that
Sherman had already given up without telling anyone and would in fact recall
all of the advanced units at 4 PM (fn42). However, he
must have known that, if something wasn't done, Bragg was going to save
his army, in effect pull out at least a draw with incalculable consequences
for Lincoln's prosecution of the war, not to mention for Grant’s career.
The morning of 25 Nov. Hooker was impatient and requested orders at
9:20 (fn43). At around 9:30 AM, after the fog had cleared,
he received via flag signal from Thomas on Orchard Knob the order to move
to Rossville Gap (What had happened to the “telegraph" of the day before,
also mentioned in Hooker’s report?). That his columns were already in motion
by 10 AM indicates that they were in a state of readiness when the order
was received. In fact, Hooker had been held back until that point by Grant
who kept fine-tuning his plan of battle, first ordering a dawn demonstration
toward the rifle pits and then canceling the order according to Sword (fn44),
and it seems unlikely that Thomas could have been in favor of either the
dawn attack or Hooker’s delay. The standard rate of march back then was
2 miles/hour. However, this standard should not apply here, since this
march was certainly forced. Since Hooker’s advance units had about 4 ½
miles to cover before arriving at Chattanooga Creek, is safe to assume
that his advance units reached it around noon. The creek was flooded and
unfordable. The night before Stevenson, during his retreat from Lookout
Mountain to a position next to Cleburne on Tunnel Hill, had burned the
bridge. According to Hooker’s report, Osterhaus’s division crossed immediately
on the first “stringers" laid of the new bridge. Cozzens writes of a “footbridge"
(fn45). While the bridge was being rebuilt Osterhaus
covered the 3 additional miles to Rossville and cleared away Clayton’s
brigade, thus securing Rossville Gap. He then took some of his forces around
the rear of Missionary Ridge along what today is Seminole Dr., and he met
no opposition, reaching eventually a point almost directly behind Bragg’s
headquarters at around 4:30 PM (fn46) where he was able
to capture 2000 Confederates during the general retreat. (See Sherman’s
report: “My Osterhaus division did Hooker’s best work."). Meanwhile the
rest of Hooker’s troops were brought across gradually, and finally the
artillery crossed the completed bridge as soon as it could bear the weight.
Without artillery it would have been folly to commit his entire force against
the unknown disposition of Stewart’s troops on Bragg’s left flank (fn47).
At some point Geary began attacking Stewart at the western face of the
ridge, and Cruft directly attacked the remains of Clayton’s brigade on
the ridge. The unit tablets on Missionary Ridge tell the basic story. Two
Hooker unit tablets report being “there" (well up on the ridge) at 5 PM.
There is no tablet for Osterhaus on Seminole Dr. behind Bragg Reservation.
The Stewart’s Division’s tablet at a point .4 of a mile south of Bragg’s
headquarters states the following:
“In the afternoon of the Nov. 25th its position was attacked
on the left and left rear by Hooker’s command, and in front by the divisions
of R.W. Johnson and Sheridan. Being thus compelled to yield position the
division retreated toward Ringold."
According to Thomas’s report Hooker effected the crossing “after 2 p.m."
According to Grant’s report Hooker was delayed “for four hours". There
is a difference here of more than 1 ½ hours, a period which is crucial
if the subsequent events at the center of Missionary Ridge are to be understood.
For the above named reasons I choose Thomas as the more reliable source.
For a summary of Hooker’s contribution to these events I quote here
again from Thomas’s battle report:
“In moving upon Rossville, General Hooker encountered
Stewart's division and other troops. Finding his left flank threatened,
Stewart attempted to escape by retreating toward Graysville, but some of
his force, finding their retreat threatened from that quarter, retired
in disorder toward their right, along the crest of the ridge, when they
were met by another portion of General Hooker's command, and were driven
by these troops in the face of Johnson's division of Palmer's corps, by
whom they were nearly all made prisoners."
The conclusion is inescapable that Grant ordered a limited demonstration
with Thomas's men against the center because he hoped only to save the
situation for Sherman, regardless of the cost to the army of the
Cumberland. Much light would be shed on Grant’s thinking that afternoon
if the records of his official correspondence were complete, but they are
not. Several key exchanges of the 24th and 25th between Grant and Sherman
are missing from the official records (fn31), which
leads to further speculation about the possibility that they were suppressed.
Someone who is willing to suppress records is also willing to add to them.
There is a further possibility which offers itself if we confront the
events on Orchard Knob with my reconstructed time
table of Hooker's progress, between which we can see a very close correspondence.
If you consider that Hooker's and Stewart’s artillery made noise (fn48),
if you consider that Grant repeatedly mentions the noise of Hooker’s battle
the day before (only to go strangely silent on the matter in his treatment
of the following day), and if you consider that Thomas was in communication
with Lookout Mountain (the ultimate observation tower) through signal flag
(fn49), and that Thomas states in his official report
that on 24 Nov. Hooker had "reported by telegraph" to him, then it is reasonable
to assume that both Thomas and Grant were informed of how close Hooker
was getting to Stewart. Indeed, Thomas was well-known for his uncanny ability
to judge the progress of a battle by sound alone, even when the battle
was taking place out of his sight (fn50). Coincidence
or not, it is a fact that, the closer Hooker got, the more Grant displayed
his concern for Sherman.
Was Grant then willing to sacrifice a good portion of Thomas's army
in order to keep the “dangerous" (fn51) Hooker from
getting credit for winning the battle?
I am, by the way, willing to listen to other explanations of Grant's
behavior, except that he was "foolish" or "hadn't thought the order through".
Grant was not foolish, and he had hours and hours to mull the order over
before Thomas finally let his troops move forward. Besides, if Grant was
foolish, he had no business being there anyway.
A final extant communication from Grant to Sherman on the evening of
25 Nov., not reported by Grant but by the chief signal officer Capt. Ocran
Howard reveals Grant’s fidelity until the very end to his original plan
(fn52). It also makes a fitting postscript to this battle:
"SHERMAN: Thomas has carried the hill and lot in his immediate
front. Now is your time to attack with vigor. Do so. GRANT."
The battle is already over and is as decided as it’s going to be, and
Grant makes one last stab at salvaging something for Sherman whose troops
are already bivouacking for the night. Sherman’s reply to this message
is not recorded (fn53).
Essentially, Thomas's charge up the middle was a well-timed and glorious
mopping up operation, and nothing could have pleased Thomas better. That
it didn't please Grant is attested to by numerous eye-witness accounts
of Grant's anger or even cursing rage as Thomas's troops exceeded his orders
(fn19). He didn't need a success on Thomas's part, and
he really didn't want Hooker to get any credit. So, after the battle, Grant
did the next best thing by rewriting history in both his official report
and later in his Memoirs. He redefined Sherman's attack as a successful
holding operation, turned Thomas's attack into a miracle (fn54)
which he had ordered anyway (but hadn't), and had Hooker disappear into
the black hole of Rossville (fn55).
The machine Grant later helped create was in place for decades and in
the position to induce the general public to buy this legend (fn56).
A large part of the interested public today, including many professional
scholars (fn57), still buys at least a portion this
legend. However, we don't have to, especially if we let Grant speak for
himself who, according to Hooker (true, not the most disinterested of witnesses),
said right after the battle: "Damn the battle. I had nothing to do with
it" (fn58). Has a nice ring to it, anyway.
As far as the unfortunate Bragg is concerned, the intrigues of Polk,
Breckinridge, Hardee, Cheatham, and Longstreet, with Davis's benign connivance,
had much reduced the effectiveness of the Army of Tennessee by the time
the battle took place. Longstreet's 18,000 men were sorely missed after
Longstreet succeeded in getting Davis to order him to Knoxville (in which
Bragg all too willingly acquiesced), but Longstreet himself was not missed
in Chattanooga by his colleagues, as he through insubordination and indifference
had literally thrown away Lookout Valley and thus undermined Bragg's entire
left flank. By the way, at Knoxville Burnside (no fool) paid Longstreet
back handsomely for Fredericksburg.
When on 23 Nov. (after Thomas's "exploratory" move forward expanded
the Federal perimeter to include Orchard Knob) Bragg realized that his
position on Missionary Ridge perhaps was not impregnable, he appointed
Breckinridge of all people to oversee the work of fortification. An engineer
by the name of Captain Green started that very evening in the dark with
very few tools and worked all the next day, but, regardless of what all
the authors say about this battle, Missionary Ridge has very little
military crest with which Captain Green could work, not even with more
time allotted to him. In many places it is about 20 yards wide, and much
of its western face drops off almost vertically, only to be then divided
into innumerable spurs. Cannon could not be decisive up there against a
rush, even with elaborate emplacements for them. Instead, Bragg needed
men to flesh out the line and to constitute a reserve (fn59),
but, with Longstreet's men gone, he could do neither. In addition, Bragg’s
men were split between the flats and the crest which impeded the defenders
on top of the ridge when the assault started. In any case, he would have
been wiser to retreat on the 24th (fn60), and when he
didn't, his own troops took matters into their own hands and decided to
save their army if Bragg wouldn't.
This brings me back to my point of departure - listening years ago in
Bragg Reservation to the quote from Bragg's report about the “shameful
conduct" of his veteran troops. That day I sensed that both they and Bragg
had seen the "masses of troops" moving toward their hanging left flank
and/or the road back home. All including Bragg (regardless of what he wrote
in his battle report for consumption in Richmond) knew whither the masses
of troops were headed. The trap was closing in on them, and Bragg didn’t
have the courage to order retreat. He had collapsed under the weight of
his responsibility. Today, after years of reading and reflection, I feel
that the knowable facts support my first and intuitive assessment of this
I conclude here with Lincoln’s own assessment of Thomas after the battle
of Chickamauga in reply to slanderous comments from “a citizen of New York":
“It is doubtful whether his heroism and skill exhibited last Sunday
afternoon, has ever been surpassed in the world" (fn61).
At Chattanooga Thomas surpassed himself, as the above article has attempted
Acknowledgment and thanks to:
- Jim Ogden of the National Park Service at the Chickamauga Battle Park
visitors’ center for providing essential pieces of evidence and documentation;
- Carrington Montague, Mel Young, and Henry Boyd of the “Friends of
the Park" in Chattanooga for critically reviewing the rough draft of this
- “Shotgun" for making key battle reports so readily available.
- The staff of the Newnan-Coweta Public Library for invaluable assistance
in procuring research material.
1. See Bragg’s report of 30 Nov., included here in
2. According to Bragg’s report the forces which he
first supposed to be moving “to our front" were then reported “far to our
left" near the route “open to our rear". In my opinion the first indication
that Hooker was moving “to our front" was for Richmond’s consumption, to
avoid the embarrassing question of why Bragg didn’t order a retreat as
soon as he saw Hooker start across the valley.
3. Stephen Z. Starr, “Grant and Thomas: December 1864", Cincinnati
Civil War Round Table
4. David Herbert Donald ("Lincoln", Simon & Schuster
1995) describes two inquires Lincoln made about Grant before the convention:
Still [Lincoln] was not yet ready to bring Grant in from
West. One reason was that the general was beginning to be talked about
as a possible presidential candidate in 1864. He was a favorite of the
influential New York Tribune, and, since his political views were unknown,
he was wooed by both Democrats and Republicans. With General McClellan
conspicuously courting the Democrats, Lincoln was not about to appoint
another general-in-chief who had political aspirations. Washburne referred
him to J. Russell Jones, a close friend of Grant and his investment adviser,
who brought to the White House Grant’s letter pledging that nothing could
persuade him to be a candidate for President, particularly since there
was the possibility of reelecting Lincoln. “You will never know how gratifying
that is to me," the President said after reading the letter. “No man knows,
when that presidential grub gets to gnawing at him, just how deep it will
get until he has tried it; and I didn’t know but what there was one gnawing
at Grant" (p. 490-91)
And again after the convention (p. 525):
After Lincoln’s nomination, there was still a movement
afoot to replace him. Dissidents wanted to call a new convention. “Inevitably
reports of these plans reached Lincoln’s ears. He was neither surprised
nor worried by most of the schemes to replace him as the nominee of the
Republican party, but he was alarmed when he heard that the dissidents
were thinking about running Grant. He did not think the general had political
aspirations but, concluding that he ought to sound him out again, he asked
Colonel John Eaton, who had worked closely with Grant in caring for the
freedmen in the Mississippi Valley, to go to the Army of the Potomac and
ascertain his views. At City Point, Eaton told Grant that many people thought
he ought to run for President, not as a party man but as a citizens’ candidate,
in order to save the Union….Grant replied: 'They can’t compel me to do
it!…My only desire will be, as it has been, to whip out rebellion in the
shortest way possible, and to retain as high a position in the army afterwards
as the Administration then in power may think me suitable for.' When Eaton
reported the conversation to the President, his relief was obvious. “I
told you," he said, “they could not get him to run until he had closed
out the rebellion."
Robert Leckie, “None Died In Vain" (Harper Perennial 1990), concerning
Lincoln's initial inquiry, wrote: "Lincoln was now satisfied, although
the phrase 'Administration then in power' suggested to him that the simple
soldier from the West might not be as artless as he seemed…" (p. 573).
5. Ambrose Bierce, “A Little of Chickamauga", Works
1, p. 271-272
“…we knew well enough that there was to be a fight: the fact that we
did not want one would have told us that, for Bragg always retired when
we wanted to fight and fought when we most desired peace. We had manoeuvered
him out of Chattanooga, but had not manoeuvered out entire army into it,
and he fell back so sullenly that those of us who followed, keeping him
actually in sight, were a good deal more concerned about effecting a junction
with the rest of our army than to push the pursuit. By the time that Rosecrans
had got his three scattered corps together we were a long way from Chattanooga,
with our line of communication with it so exposed that Bragg turned to
seize it. Chickamauga was a fight for possession of a road."
6. Stanley Hirshson, “White Tecumseh", p. 95
7. Grant’s “Memoirs", p. 196
“For myself I was little more than an observer. Orders were sent direct
to the right wing [Thomas] or reserve, ignoring me…My position was so embarrassing
in fact that I made several applications during the siege to be relieved."
This despite Halleck's attempt to calm him down, as in this letter to Grant:
O.R.--SERIES III--VOL II [S# 123] CORRESPONDENCE, REPORTS,
ORDERS, etc., FROM APRIL 1 TO DEC. 31, 1862.(*)--#28
GENERAL: Your position, as second in command of the entire
forces here in the field, rendered it proper that you should be relieved
from the direct charge of either the right wing or the reserve, both of
which are mainly composed of your forces. Orders for movements in the field
will be sent direct from these headquarters to commanders of army corps,
divisions, brigades, or even regiments, if deemed necessary, and you will
have no more cause of complaint on that score than others have.
I am very much surprised, general, that you should find
any cause of complaint in the recent assignment of commands. You have precisely
the position to which your rank entitles you. Had I given you the right
wing or reserve only it would have been a reduction rather than increase
of command, and I could not give you both without placing you in the position
you now occupy.
You certainly will not suspect me of any intention to
injure your feelings or reputation or to do you any injustice; if so, you
will eventually <ar11_183> change your mind on this subject. For the
last three months I have done everything in my power to ward off the attacks
which were made upon you. If you believe me your friend you will not require
explanations; if not, explanations on my part would be of little avail.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, H. W. HALLECK,
Consider also Francis McKinney’s assessment (“Education in Violence",
p. 274): “The reasons for Thomas’ aloofness have never been revealed. Personal
relations between the two had been strained during the Corinth campaign
and seemed to have worsened since. Thomas’ feeling was so marked that it
was adopted by his staffs the model for their official relations with Grant’s
headquarters. As a result, transactions between the two chiefs-of-staff
deteriorated in several instances to personal rudeness. Friendly cooperation
between the staffs was never established."
7.5. In this I go only a little bit further than Governor Brownlow who,
upon presenting Thomas a gold medal offered him by the Tennessee legislature
on the 2nd anniversery of the battle of Nashville said: "General, in no
spirit of flattery, I must be permitted to say, that in the great struggle
of four years, which recently convulsed the Nation, of all military commanders,
you are perhaps the only one that never lost a battle, and in the government
of armies and departments never made a mistake." T. van Horne, "Life of
Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas", p. 416
8. “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War", W.F. Smith’s
Comments on General Grant’s “Chattanoga" vol. 3, p. 714
“…there is not the slightest reason for doubting that Thomas would
have made the same move with the same men and with the same results had
General Grant been in Louisville…" And indeed Thomas could do it alone.
Francis McKinney writes in "Education in Violence" on p. 279: "Thomas'
solution of his supply problem, which seems simple enough in retrospect,
impressed his associates. Grant, who felt the situation to be impossible,
Dana, who reported that the Army of the Cumberland balanced on the knife
edge of disaster, and Sherman, who had no idea that things could be so
bad, watched Thomas bring order out of chaos" [italics mine].
9. Francis McKinney, “Education in Violence", p. 302
“Grant seemed uninterested in the staff work that smoothes the way
for combat activity."
10. Many authors retell the anecdote originating from
James H. Wilson (Grant’s then inspector general) that Thomas snubbed Grant
at his arrival in Chattanooga after a difficult trip over Walden’s Ridge.
Instead of immediately offering Grant dry clothes, Thomas let Grant sit
for a while in front of the fire while a puddle formed underneath him from
his wet clothes. For some Grant apologists this incident was the basis
for all of Grant’s future persecution of Thomas.
11. Horace Porter, "Campaigning with Grant", pp. 3-5
"As soon as general Grant had partaken of a light supper immediately
after his arrival, General Thomas had sent for several general officers
and most of the members of his staff to come to headquarters, and the room
soon contained an exceedingly interesting group. A member of General Thomas's
staff quietly called that officer's attention to the fact that the distinguished
guest's clothes were pretty wet and his boots were thoroughly soaked with
rain after his long ride through the storm, and intimated that colds
were usually no respecters of persons [italics]. General Thomas's mind
had been so intent upon receiving the commander, and arranging for a conference
of officers, that he had entirely overlooked his guest's travel-stained
condition; but as soon as his attention was called to it, all of his old-time
Virginia hospitality was aroused, and he at once begged his newly arrived
chief to step into a bedroom and change his clothes. His urgings, however,
were in vain. The general thanked him politely, but positively declined
[italics mine] to make any additions to his personal comfort, except to
light a fresh cigar. Afterward, however, he consented to draw his chair
nearer to the wood fire which was burning in the chimney-place, and to
thrust his feet forward to give his top-boots a chance to dry."
12. “Battles and Leaders", vol. 3, p. 715-716
13. In fact a flanking movement around the northern
end of the ridge was made, but not by any troops under Sherman, but rather
by Wilder’s cavalry under Thomas. In his order of 18 Nov. to Sherman (quoted
in Grant’s battle report) there is a cryptic mention of a brigade of cavalrymen
which was to be “thrown across the Tennessee above Chickamauga and may
be able to make the trip to Cleveland [halfway between Chattanooga and
Knoxville] or thereabouts." McKinney on p. 292 mentions “Thomas’ cavalry
which was wrecking Bragg’s communications further off to the north and
east." I find this further corroborated in Sam Watkins “C. Aytch", p. 100
. Watkins and Sgt. Tucker were on picket duty opposite the mouth of N.
Chickamauga Creek. A Yankee waded over to swap “a few lies, canteens, and
tobacco". “That man was General Wilder, commanding the Federal Cavalry,
and at the battle of Missionary Ridge he threw his whole division of cavalry
across the Tennessee River at that point, thus flanking Bragg’s army, and
opening the battle. He was examining the ford, and the swapping business
was but a mere by-play. He played it sharp, and Bragg had to get further."
Although this story is apocryphal (since Wilder was on sick leave from
the army at the time because of typhoid), it is still worth retelling.
14. Peter Cozzens, “Shipwreck of Their Hopes", p.
15. McKinney, 295
“Historians seem to be unanimous in the belief that the order to the
Fourth and Fourteenth corps were to halt and await further orders after
they had taken the rifle pits at the base of the Ridge. There is no doubt
that this was the understanding of Grant, Granger, and Wood. In addition
there is the eye-witness testimony of Gen. Joseph Fullerton (“Battles and
Leaders" vol. 3, p. 724): ‘The only order given was to move forward and
take the rifle -pits at the foot of the ridge.’"
16. Grant’s “Memoirs", p. 339
“But Sherman’s condition was getting so critical that the assault for
his relief could not be delayed any longer."
18. Cozzens, p. 391:
“[Grant] never satisfactorily explained his foolish order to Thomas
to seize only the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. Instead Grant
chose to lie. In both his report of the battle and his memoirs, he insisted
that he had given Thomas express authority to carry the ridge itself, and
implied that he fully expected that to be done. General Thomas died just
four years after the war, and in any case was not the sort to engage in
egotistical bickering. Few chose to dispute Grant’s version of events while
19. The question of the extent of Grant’s surprise,
dismay, anger, or rage as the 4th and 14th corps continued up the ridge
after taking the rifle pits would alone be the topic of a scholarly article.
Suffice it to mention here that many eyewitnesses give testimony that Grant
definitely did not want Thomas’s men to make that charge. I mention here
Fullerton (B & L, vol. 3, p. 725), Charles Brigham of the New York
Tribune (Hirshson, p. 174), and Thomas Wood (“The battle of Missionary
Ridge", p. 42) whom I quote here: “This statement of General Grant is absolutely
refuted by the anger displayed by him (which display was witnessed by many
living men, and has been publicly attested by several responsible witnesses)
when he saw my division commence the assault of Missionary Ridge, accompanied
by the breathing out of threatenings and slaughter, against myself especially
if the assault failed…If General Grant intended the assault of the crest
of the Ridge to follow immediately on the heels of the initial success,
he certainly kept that intention to himself."
20. For ex.: Broadfoot’s supplements to the Official
Records, Vol. 6, p. 129, report of Capt. W.B. Scott:
Under attack from the West [by Johnson] Stewart’s line held. “No one
seemed to dream of being driven from our position…When we felt that all
was safe they had broken our lines on our left, and ere we knew it, we
were flanked and fired upon from the rear [by Osterhaus]."
21. Walter H. Hebert "Fighting Joe Hooker", p. 297
He cites as his authority for this William Baldy Smith in “An Historical
Sketch of the Military Operations Around Chattanooga, Tennessee, September
22 to November 27, 1863," Military Historical Society of Massachusetts,
22. McKinney, p. 295
23. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/2 [S#
55] NOVEMBER 23-27, 1863.--The Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign.
No. 62.--Report of Brig. Gen. August Willich, U. S. Army,
commanding First Brigade.:
“At 11 a.m. I received an order to prepare for an advance, and to advance
toward Missionary Ridge at the signal of six rapid cannon shots. I understand
since that the order was given to take only the rifle-pits at the foot
of the ridge; by what accident, I am unable to say, I did not understand
it so; I only understood the order to advance".
24. Maj. James Connelly, “Three Years in the Army
of the Cumberland", p. 156
25. Cozzens, p. 247 (based upon OR 31, pt. 2,
68, 116 and accounts by Wilson, High, Fullerton, and Roper)
At about 3:00 Grant sharply said: “General Thomas, order Granger to
turn that battery over to its proper commander and take command of his
own corps. And now order your troops to advance and take the enemy’s first
line of rifle pits."
26. McKinney, p. 284
27. Bruce Catton, “Grant Takes Command", p. 499
28. Catton, p. 81
29. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/2 [S# 55] NOVEMBER
23-27, 1863.--The Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign. No. 32.--Report of Col.
Jason Marsh, Seventy-fourth Illinois Infantry.
31. Sword, p. 201:
“This crucial message is missing from the reported official communications.
Also, it appears further dispatches between Sherman and Grant similarly
were not reported. A mysterious gap occurs in communications to and from
these generals from November 24 to midday on November 25 (with two exceptions),
despite the reference by signal officers to active communications during
this critical period (OR 31-2-42,44,597)."
32. Sherman, “Memoirs", p. 361
33. Sherman, “Memoirs", p. 361
34. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. XXXI/2 [S#
55] NOV. 23-27, 1863.--The Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign. No. 4. --:
CHATTANOOGA, TENN., November 24, 1863--6 p.m. (Received 4 a.m., 25th.)
“Major-General HALLECK: The fight to-day progressed favorably. Sherman
carried the end of Missionary Ridge, and his right is now at the tunnel,
and left at Chickamauga Creek. Troops from Lookout Valley carried the point
of the mountain, and now hold the eastern slope ann [sic] point high up.
I cannot yet tell the amount of casualties, but our loss is not heavy.
Hooker reports 2,000 prisoners taken, besides which a small number have
fallen into our hands from Missionary Ridge." U.S. GRANT, Major-General.
35. OR, Series I-volume 31, part II-reports, p. 75.
In addition Gen. O.O.Howard has this to say in a report about the railroads
as he found them in his sector: "From the map it will be noticed that the
Atlanta railroad, passing south of Fort Wood, runs northeast nearly parallel
with the river. The East Tennessee railroad, passing north of Fort Wood,
crosses the other before entering the tunnel through Mission Ridge. My
line cut both these roads, and its left rested just across the Citico on
the river." (O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/2 [S# 55], p 348)
36. Atlas to Accompany the OR, series I, vol. 31,
part 2, page 27
37. Ambrose Bierce, “George Thurston", Stories, 369
“Whether in camp or on the march, in barracks, in tents, or en bivouac,
my duties as a topographical engineer kept me working like a beaver - all
day in the saddle and half the night at my drawing table, platting my surveys.
It was hazardous work; the near to the enemy’s lines I could penetrate,
the more valuable were my field notes and the resulting maps. It was a
business in which the lives of men counted as nothing against the chance
of defining a road or sketching a bridge."
38. McKinney, p. 279, Piatt and Boynton, p. 474
39. McKinney, pp. 274-5
“James H. Wilson, Grant’s inspector general, wrote about Thomas: ‘And
later, when I came to know him better, he not only confirmed the impression
of perfect self-reliance he gave me on that occasion, but made it clear
that the need of supervision from any source had never presented itself
to his mind.’"
40. Cozzens, p. 392. See also W.F. Smith’s assessment
of Grant’s treatment 20 years later of the battle and Thomas in “Battles
& Leaders", vol. 3, p. 715
“General Grant’s narrative [in his “Memoirs"] is in text and inference
so unjust to the memory of the late Major-General George H. Thomas that
is proper to make a statement of facts taken in the main from official
41. Cozzens, pp. 246-247
42. Sword, p. 257
43. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. XXXI/2 [S#
55] NOV. 23-27, 1863.--The Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign.No. 9.--:
WHITE HOUSE, LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, November 25, 1863--9.20 a.m.
"Major-General REYNOLDS: Have regiment on Summertown road; one on summit
of Lookout. Enemy reported picketing Chattanooga Creek. They appear to
be burning camps in valley. I await orders [italics mine]. JOSEPH
44. Sword, p. 232
45. Cozzens, p. 245
46. This is an extrapolation from other information.
Osterhaus had to be in place there at about this time in order to intercept
the Confederates fleeing from Cruft’s attack.
47. It is a matter of record what happened when Hooker
attempted to rush Ringgold Gap on 27 Nov. while his artillery was still
behind the burned bridge over Chickamauga Creek. Hooker certainly should
have used more caution here, but he was under pressure to pursue a beaten
enemy. When Sheridan sent his men into a trap in the darkness of the evening
of 25 Nov. he was praised for his aggressiveness and was later promoted
and, later still, allowed to try his hand at pursuing trapped Indian families.
Consider here Dana’s treatment of the Ringgold Gap affair (O.R.-- SERIES
I--VOL. XXXI/2 [S# 55]NOV. 23-27, 1863):
Yesterday the first great fault in this admirable campaign
occurred at this place…It was a very dangerous defile to attack in front,
and common sense plainly dictated that it should be turned. This could
be done without difficulty by way of White Oak Ridge, which can be passed
with ease in many places, while Taylor's Ridge is steeper, though infinitely
easier to go over, than Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga. However, Hooker
attacked in front, and the result was officially reported by him last night
in the loss of 500 killed and wounded, where there was no necessity of
losing 50. Having been <ar55_71> repulsed in his first attempt Hooker
tried to turn the position, but in this blundered yet worse, for he sent
his troops through the nearest gap in White Oak Ridge, not more than half
a mile distant from the gorge, where the movement was fully visible to
the enemy, and where they had time to prepare a destructive cross-fire,
which made this attack quite as fatal as the former. Having thus failed
in this flank movement, in which the Twelfth Missouri lost nearly all its
officers, he sent Geary's troops again at the front, and finally carried
it by Geary's New York regiments. RINGGOLD ,November 28, 1863--8 a.m. [C.
48. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIX/2 [S# 49]: “CHATTANOOGA,
November 25, 1863--1 p.m.
"Rebels just opened artillery in that direction, apparently at his
column. In our front here rebel rifle-pits are fully manned, preventing
Thomas gaining ridge. [C. A. DANA.]"
49. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. XXXI/2 [S#
55]NOV. 23-27, 1863.--The Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign. No. 9.--:
SIGNAL STATION OPPOSITE SOUTH CHICKAMAUGA, Nov. 25, 1863--9 a.m.
"Communication has just been opened with Lookout, and message to General
Hooker sent. MERRILL."
50. McKinney, p. 100
“On July 2 [1861, before the battle of 1st Manassas]…Thomas surprised
his subordinates by accurately interpreting, from the sound of the firing,
what was happening on the skirmish line out of range of his vision."
51. Grant’s “Memoirs", p. 581-582:
“…[Hooker’s] achievement in bringing his command around the point of
Lookout Mountain and into Chattanooga Valley was brilliant. I nevertheless
regarded him as a dangerous man. He was not subordinate to his superiors.
He was ambitious to the extent of caring nothing for the rights of others."
52. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/2 [S# 55] (OR 31-2-596,650)
53. Sword, p. 260
54. Grant in his after battle report of 23 Dec. 1963
describes the unfathomable in this fashion: “I can account for this only
on the theory that the enemy’s surprise at the audacity of such a charge
caused confusion and purposeless aiming of their pieces." Grant could leave
it up to Dana and others to expressly use the word “miracle".
55. The very OR Atlas map (mentioned above) which
Grant attached to his battle report tells the entire story. The credits
to the mapmakers in the bottom right hand corner, surrounded by a large
white area, cover the battlefield almost up to Rossville. Grant doesn’t
place a single Hooker unit at the southern end of Missionary Ridge.
56. McKinney, p. 304:
“What came to be known as the Grant Legend grew up around the series
of battles which he fought for the possession of Chattanooga. The impression
was planted that it was the unique battle of the war, planned from beginning
to end and fought as planned, and that Grant’s own army of the Tennessee
played the dominant role and led the way to victory. The Legend was conceived
in the battle reports of Grant and Sherman. Campaign literature devised
to elect and re-elect Grant to the Presidency made full use of it. Some
of Grant’s unscrupulous biographers sought to rivet it into history. Undoubtedly
similar legends grow up around all great military leaders. The only point
to be made about this one is that it downgraded Thomas to upgrade Grant
and Sherman. It was done subtly at first. There was no denial of the fact
that Thomas had initiated and implemented the changes in the battle plans
nor was it denied that the Cumberlanders usurped the major role on the
twenty-fifth. But there began an official campaign to label Thomas as a
sluggard which became strident and outspoken after his death."
57. Shelby Foote gives us a perfect example of this
on page 850 of vol. 2 of his book "The Civil War, a Narrative" where he
relates that Hooker was "delayed some four hours" at Chattanooga Creek,
thus demonstrating "Fighting Joe's ineptness". Sound familiar?
58. Freeman Cleaves, “Rock of Chickamauga, p. OR,
vol 31, pt. 2, 69. Morris, “All Hell Can’t Stop Them", 40.
59. Cozzens, p. 390
“What sealed the Confederate fate on Missionary Ridge…was the absence
of a strong, mobile reserve with which to plug gaps along the ridge."
60. The evening of 24 Nov. Hardee counseled retreat,
Breckinridge advised Bragg to stay and fight.
61. McKinney, p. 271, David Bates, “Lincoln in the
Telegraph Office", 1907, p. 169
62. Cozzens, p. 210:
Corse in trouble sent back Col. Jones to Sherman to advise against
the attack against Swett’s battery. Sherman replied: “Go back and make
that charge immediately; time is everything."
Appendix 1: Reconstructed comparative
time table for the day of 25 Nov. 1863
As Sherman himself said this same morning (fn62):
“Time is everything!"
Thomas and center
Sherman at Tunnel Hill
Hooker signals readiness
Thomas nudges Grant about Hooker (speculation)
Stevenson’s troops from Lookout Mountain march all night long north
on ridge, tell their story en route
Hooker receives order
Thomas sends Hooker order to move via flagmen
Stevenson’s troops begin to take position next to Cleburne
Hooker’s troops move, advance units already in valley
Corse starts frontal attacks against Swett’s battery on Tunnel Hill
Bragg reports Hooker’s movement across valley.
Loomis starts attack toward tunnel
Bragg receives report of activity at Chattanooga Creek. Hooker sends
Osterhaus accross on first “stringers".
Bushbeck joins Loomis
Hooker announces he needs one more hour to complete bridge. Osterhaus
secures Rossville Gap
Riflefire heard as Osterhaus attacks Rossville Gap. This is also heard
up on the ridge.
Mathies attacks Tunnel Hill from west.
Grant goes to lunch.
Hooker’s cannons cross Chattanooga creek and begin firing. Osterhaus
secures Rossville Gap
Grant returns, sees Sherman’s troops fleeing from Tunnel Hill. Cannon
fire from south audible. Grant suggests that Thomas move troops forward
to the rifle pits and stop
Sherman’s final attack against Cleburne is repulsed, Cleburne counter-attacks,
takes prisoners. Sherman calls it quits, does not tell Grant.
Cruft and Hooker drive Clayton. Osterhaus moves along rear of ridge
without opposition. Impossible that Stewart is unaware of this movement.
Sound of battle from Hooker’s direction intensifies. Grant sharply
issues his verbal order for Thomas’s men to move to the rifle pits and
Geary moves against Stewart from southwest. Osterhaus continues north
toward center, still no opposition.
Battle noise moves further north. Grant again issues the verbal order
for Thomas’ men to move to the rifle pits and stop.
Panicked troops from Clayton and Stewart units flee towards center
and down eastern side of ridge.
The 6 cannon fire in successions to initiate the advance of Thomas’s
4th and 14th corps toward the ridge.
Cruft and Hooker drive Stewart, Johnson advances up ridge from west.
4th and 14th corps engage Confederates in rifle pits. Some continue
up ridge, rest follows, Grant rages. Panic intensifies in Bragg’s center.
Sherman apprised by Grant that Thomas has “carried the hill": “Now
is your time to attack…". Sherman’s reply to Grant missing in records.
Osterhaus meets Johnson’s troops on top of ridge.
Johnson’s troops almost shoot Osterhaus.
Hooker bivouacs on ridge, troops celebrate.
Sheridan gets some men killed pursuing in darkness.
Cleburne forms rear guard, Sherman does not pursue.
Appendix 2 Twenty questions about the battle of Chattanooga (basis for thesis above)
1) Fact: The morning of the 25th there was communication between Thomas on Orchard Knob and signalmen on Lookout Mountain because this was how Thomas sent his orders to Hooker at about 9:30 once the fog had lifted. Is it possible that these signalmen, who were in a perfect position to observe Hooker's movements across the valley, did not keep Thomas informed of Hooker's further progress that day? Is it possible that Grant, no more than 20 yards away from Thomas the afternoon of the 25th (Orchard Knob wouldn't permit a greater distance), was not also so informed?
2) Fact: Thomas in his official report of the battle states that on 24 Nov. Hooker "reported by telegraph" that he had defeated the Confederate defenders at Craven's house on Lookout Mountain. Hooker's battle report also mentions telegraph communications. Who cut the telegraph wire on the 25th?
3) Fact: Hooker was known to be extraordinarily ambitious. He was especially motivated to wipe out the stain of Chancerllorsville. What then held Hooker back at the foot of Lookout Mountain the morning of 25 Nov. until 10 AM?
4) Fact: Stewart's artillery started firing at Hooker sometime around 1 PM. Hooker got his artillery across Chattanooga Creek around 2 PM and started using it then (at the very latest) against Stewart. Is it possible that Thomas and Grant, Bragg and Breckinridge, Confederate grunt up on the ridge and Union grunt down on the flats didn't hear this cannonfire and the other attendant racket?
5) Facts: the western face of the ridge was mostly cleared for field of fire, the upper Chattanooga valley was a mixture of cultivated fields and forest, and there were no leaves on the hardwood trees. Bragg reports that he saw at about 11 AM "masses of troops coming from Lookout" and heading "toward his front". Could the Confederate grunts up on the ridge not also see Hooker proceeding unopposed across the valley toward their road back home?
6) Fact as reported by Sword: August Willich, a German born and Prussian trained general officer of Wood's division situated right in front of Orchard Knob, stated afterward that he had understood that, according to his orders, he was to "advance" after reaching the rifle pits. Is it likely that such a person would have misconstrued the order as issued by Grant? Did he then receive a different order, and if so, from whom and through whom?
7) Fact as reported by Cozzens: After Grant's second verbal order to Thomas to have his men move to the rifle pits and stop, Thomas and Gordon Granger (the man who had saved Thomas at Chickamauga) conferred alone for a few minutes, whereupon Granger "went off". What did Thomas say to Granger?
8) Fact as reported by Cozzens: After Grant's second order to take the rifle pits, still nothing happened, whereupon Grant ordered the movement a third time, and the machinery started into motion. Where did Granger go and to whom did he talk between Grant's 2nd and 3rd enunciations of the order?
9) Fact: Grant's order for Thomas to have his men "demonstrate" toward the rifle pits and stop would have, if rigidly adhered to, exposed these troops to grave danger because of the plunging fire. Was Thomas the sort of man to not intervene in some way in order to mitigate the effect of such an order?
10) Fact: Many writers call this order on the part of Grant "foolish" or "ill-considered" or even "quixotic". Was not Grant anything but foolish, and did he not normally reflect on his orders, and isn't the word quixotic an unusual term to describe the behavior of the mature general Grant?
11) Observation: There is an amazing congruity between the chronology of Hooker's progress against the Confederate left flank and the chronology of Grant's repeated ordering of Thomas to move against the rifle pits AND STOP. Is this a coincidence?
12) Fact: According to Sword, some of the official communications of the afternoon of 25 Nov. between Grant and Sherman are missing from the Official Records. Is it possible they were removed, and if so, by whom?
13) Fact as reported by many of the officers of Stewart's Divisions' battle reports (Broadfoot's Supplements to the OR) show that the Confederate retreat began first in his division under the attack from Hooker, before Tucker gave way in the center. Why does Grant state in his battle report, and then again in his Memoirs, that Hooker was held up for four hours at Chattanooga Creek and did not meet the expectations placed in him?
14) Fact: From any elevated point within the former Federal perimeter, one can clearly see the two notches (through which pass today Campbell St. and Lightfoot Mill Road) delineating the northern and southern limits of Tunnel Hill. Why couldn't Sherman, who in his “Memoirs" reports having gone to Ft. Wood, see this?
15) Fact: From various points along Hixon Pike on the northern bank of the Tennessee, you can see the the depressions marking the limits of Tunnel Hill. On 7 Nov. from a hill in that area opposite the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek (probably today's River Hills) Baldy Smith and Thomas did see the campfires on Missionary Ridge. What did Sherman see the afternoon of 16 Nov. when he made his reconnaissance outing to this same spot?
16) Fact: Sherman cited "wrongly laid-down maps" which led him to think that Billygoat Hill was Tunnel Hill. Did such defective maps exist, and, if so, to what extent were they defective? Why did Sherman not include the defective maps in his battle report?
17) Fact: Thomas had the most extensive “secret service" of any army of the war. Many specialists were employed in this service, including professional topographical engineers who provided information for Thomas's famous topographical books. What were these engineers doing during the 2 months between the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga?
18) Fact: Grant in his orders to Thomas of 18 Nov. complains obliquely about "not being provided with a map giving names of roads, spurs of the mountains, and other places". Why would Grant, after having spent 3 weeks at Chattanooga, admit to any discerning reader of his order that he couldn't get the information he wanted from Thomas? Was he, in fact hinting at something else?
19) Fact according to Baldy Smith, Thomas's chief engineer: There were scientifically prepared and accurate survey maps of the area in Thomas's HQ. Why didn't Grant ask for a more detailed map if he wanted one, and if he did ask, why didn't he get one? Why would he begin a battle without one?
20) Observation: Grant's behavior in Chattanooga was inconsistent with the common description of him as being modest and unassuming. His subsequent battle report was inconsistent with the common description of him as being honest. Was not Grant as ambitious and occasionally as unscrupulous as many another top commander in this and any other war?