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Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
Chapter 32a - Failure to Follow Success
Longstreet differs with General Bragg as to Movements of Pursuit— The Confederates on Lookout Mountain—Federals gain Comfortable Positions around it—Superior Officers of Bragg's Command call for his Removal—Bragg seeks Scapegoats—President Davis visits the Army—Tests the Temper of the Officers towards Bragg—He offers the Command to Longstreet—He declines—His Reasons—General Bragg ignores Signal-Service Reports and is surprised—General Joe Hooker's Advance—Night Attack beyond Lookout Mountain—Colonel Bratton's Clever Work—Review of the Western Movement and Combination—It should have been effected in May instead of September— Inference as to Results had the First Proposition been promptly acted upon.


ABOUT sunrise of the next morning, General Bragg rode to my bivouac, when report was made to him of orders of the night before, to replenish supplies and prepare to take up pursuit at daylight. He asked my views of the next step to be taken, explaining that there were some defensive works about Chattanooga to cover the enemy in that position.

I knew nothing of the country except of its general geographical features, but the hunt was up and on the go, when any move towards his rear was safe, and a speedy one encouraging of great results. I suggested that we cross the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga and march against the line of the enemy's rear; that if, after so threatening as to throw General Rosecrans to full retreat, we found it inconvenient to pursue him, we turn back with part of the army and capture or disperse the Union army in East Tennessee under General Burnside. He stated that he would follow that course, ordered the right wing to march, and the left wing to follow as soon as the way was clear,—the left to care for the dead and wounded during the wait. As it was night when the rear of the right wing stretched out on the road, my march was not taken up until the morning of the 22d. General McLaws joined me on the 21st with his other brigades, and General Jenkins joined Hood's division. Afterwards G. T. Anderson's brigade joined the latter. When our march reached General Bragg's head-quarters and reported on the 22d, he gave me orders to direct a division from the line of march to follow the enemy towards Chattanooga.

When asked if he had abandoned the course upon which his march was ordered, he said the people would be greatly gratified to know that his army was marching through the streets of Chattanooga with bands of music and salutations of the soldiers. I thought, and did not fail to say, that it would give them greater pleasure to know that he had passed the Tennessee River, turned the enemy out of Chattanooga in eager flight , to save his rearward lines, whilst we marched hammering against the broken flanks of his columns. But the cavalry had reported that the enemy was in hurried and confused retreat, his trains crossing the river and passing over the nose of Lockout Mountain in disorder.

The praise of the inhabitants of a city so recently abandoned to the enemy, and a parade through its streets with bands of music and flaunting banners , were more alluring to a spirit eager for applause than was the tedious march for fruition of our heavy labors.

General Rosecrans prepared, no doubt, to continue his retreat, anticipating our march towards his rear, but finding that we preferred to lay our lines in front of him, concluded that it would be more comfortable to rest at Chattanooga, reinforce, repair damages, and come to meet us when ready for a new trial.

When General Bragg found that the enemy had changed his mind, and was not inclined to continue his rearward march, he stretched his army in a. semicircle of six miles along the southeast front of Chattanooga, from the base of Lockout Mountain on his left, to his right resting on the Tennessee River, and ordered Alexander's batteries to the top of the mountain, my command, McLaws's, Hood's, and Walker's divisions, occupying the left of his line of investment. His plan was to shell the enemy from his works by field batteries, but the works grew stronger from day to day on all sides of the city. Our infantry was posted along the line, as supports for the batteries, with orders not to assault unless especially ordered.

The northern point of Lookout Mountain, upon which Alexander's batteries were posted, abuts upon the Tennessee River. The city lies east of the abutment and nestles close under it. The base of the mountain has a steep, rugged grade of five hundred feet above the plateau, and from its height the mountain crops out into palisades of seven hundred feet. General Alexander managed to drop an occasional shell or shot about the enemy's lines by lifting the trails of his guns, but the fire of other batteries was not effective.

At the end of a week's practice the Confederate commander found the enemy getting more comfortable in his works, and thought to break him up by a grand cavalry raid. On the 30th he ordered General Wheeler to organize a force of his effective mounts, cross the river, and ride against the railway and such depots and supply-trains as he could reach. The cavalry destroyed some wagon-trains and supplies, and gave the enemy more trouble than the artillery practice, yet failed to convince him that it was time to abandon his position, but, on the contrary, satisfied him that he was safe from further serious trouble.

At that time the shortest line of the enemy's haul of provisions from the depot at Stevenson was along the road on the north bank of the river. The Confederate chief conceived, as our cavalry ride had failed of effect, that a line of sharp-shooters along the river on our side could break up that line of travel, and ordered, on the 8th of October, a detail from my command for that purpose. As the line was over the mountain about seven miles beyond support, by a rugged road not practicable for artillery, I ordered a brigade of infantry detailed to go over and protect the sharp-shooters from surprise or capture. The detail fell upon Law's brigade. The line for this practice extended from the east side of Lockout Creek some ten miles down the river. The effect of the fire was about like that of the cavalry raid. It simply put the enemy on shorter rations until he could open another route for his trains.

But more to be deplored than these novel modes of investment was the condition of the Confederate army. After moving from Virginia to try to relieve our comrades of the Army of Tennessee, we thought that we had cause to complain that the fruits of our labor had been lost, but it soon became manifest that the superior officers of that army themselves felt as much aggrieved as we at the halting policy of their chief, and were calling in letters and petitions for his removal. A number of them came to have me write the President for them. As he had not called for my opinion on military affairs since the Johnston conference of 1862, I could not take that liberty, but promised to write to the Secretary of War and to General Lee, who I thought could excuse me under the strained condition of affairs. About the same time they framed and forwarded to the President a petition praying for relief.* It was written by General D. H. Hill (as he informed me since the war).

While the superior officers were asking for relief, the Confederate commander was busy looking along his lines for victims. Lieutenant-General Polk was put under charges for failing to open the battle of the 20th at day- light; Major-General Hindman was relieved under charges for conduct before the battle, when his conduct of the battle with other commanders would have relieved him of any previous misconduct, according to the customs of war, and pursuit of others was getting warm.

On the Union side the Washington authorities thought vindication important, and Major-Generals McCook and Crittenden, of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps, were relieved and went before a Court of Inquiry; also one of the generals of division of the Fourteenth Corps.

The President came to us on the 9th of October and called the commanders of the army to meet him at General Bragg's office. After some talk, in the presence of General Bragg, he made known the object of the call, and asked the generals, in turn, their opinion of their commanding officer, beginning with myself. It seemed rather a stretch of authority, even with a President, and I gave an evasive answer and made an effort to turn the channel of thought, but he would not be satisfied, and got back to his question. The condition of the army was briefly referred to, and the failure to make an effort to get the fruits of our success, when the opinion was given, in substance, that our commander could be of greater service elsewhere than at the head of the Army of Tennessee. Major-General Buckner was called, and gave opinion somewhat similar. So did Major-General Cheatham, who was then commanding the corps recently commanded by Lieutenant-General Polk, and General D. H. Hill, who was called last, agreed with emphasis to the views expressed by others.

The next morning the President called me to private " conference, and had an all day talk. He thought to assign me to command, but the time had passed for handling that army as an independent force. Regarding this question, as considered in Virginia, it was understood that the assignment would be made at once, and in time for opportunity to handle the army sufficiently to gain the confidence of the officers and soldiers before offering or accepting battle. The action was not taken, a battle had been made and won, the army was then seriously entangled in a quasi siege, the officers and soldiers were disappointed, and disaffected in morale. General Grant was moving his army to reinforce against us, and an important part of the Union army of Virginia was moving to the same purpose.

In my judgment our last opportunity was lost when we failed to follow the success at Chickamauga, and capture or disperse the Union army, and it could not be just to the service or myself to call me to a position of such responsibility. The army was part of General Joseph E. Johnston's department, and could only be used in strong organization by him in combining its operations with his other forces in Alabama and Mississippi. I said that under him I could cheerfully work in any position. The suggestion of that name only served to increase his displeasure, and his severe rebuke.

I recognized the authority of his high position, but called to his mind that neither his words nor his manner were so impressive as the dissolving scenes that foreshadowed the dreadful end. He referred to his worry and troubles with politicians and non-combatants. In that connection, I suggested that all that the people asked for was success; with that the talk of politicians would be as spiders' webs before him. And when restored to his usual gracious calm I asked to have my resignation accepted, to make place for some one who could better meet his ideas of the important service. He objected that my troops would not be satisfied with the change. I suggested a leave of absence, as winter was near, when I would go to the Trans-Mississippi Department, and after the troops were accustomed to their new commander, send in my written resignation, from Texas, but he was not minded to accept that solution of the premises.

Finally, I asked his aid in putting the divisions that were with me in more efficient working order, by assigning a major-general to command Hood's division. He had been so seriously crippled that he could not be in condition to take the field again even if he recovered, and a commander for the division was essential to its proper service. As he had no one, or failed to name any one, for the place, I suggested the promotion of the senior brigadier then in command of it, General M. Jenkins, who was a bright, gallant, and efficient officer of more than two years' experience in active warfare, loved by his troops, and all acquaintances as well. He had been transferred, recently, by the War Department to the division, upon application of General Hood, and in consequence there was some feeling of rivalry between him and Brigadier-General Law, the next in rank, who had served with the division since its organization, and had commanded it at Gettysburg after General Hood was wounded, and after his taking off in the battle of Chickamauga. The President referred to the services of General Law with the division, but failed to indicate a preference. I thought it unwise and not military to choose a junior for assignment to command over his senior officers, and prejudicial to the esprit de corps and morale of any army, except under most eminent services, and in this instance where service, high military character, and equipment were on the side of the senior it was more objectionable, but consented that it would be better to have General Law promoted, and the feeling of rivalry put at rest, than to leave the question open ; General Jenkins's heart was in the service, and he could submit to anything that seemed best for its interests ; but the President failed to assign a commander.

The interview was exciting, at times warm, but continued until Lockout Mountain lifted above the sun to excuse my taking leave. The President walked as far as the gate, gave his hand in his usual warm grasp, and dismissed me with his gracious smile; but a bitter look lurking about its margin, and the ground-swell, admonished me that clouds were gathering about head-quarters of the First Corps even faster than those that told the doom of the Southern cause.

A day or two after this interview the President called the commanders to meet him again at General Bragg's head-quarters. He expressed desire to have the army pulled away from the lines around Chattanooga and put to active work in the field, and called for suggestions and plans by which that could be done, directing his appeal, apparently, to me as first to reply.

I suggested a change of base to Rome, Georgia, a march of the army to the railway bridge of the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, and the crossing of the river as an easy move,—one that would cut the enemy's rearward line, interrupt his supply train, put us between his army at Chattanooga and the reinforcements moving to join him, and force him to precipitate battle or retreat.

General Bragg proposed that we march up and cross the river and swing around towards the enemy's rear and force him out by that means. No other plans were offered, nor did other officers express preference for either of the plans that were submitted.

Maps were called for and demonstrations given of the two plans, when the President ordered the move to be made by the change of base to Rome, and in a day or two took leave of us. He had brought General Pemberton with him to assign to the corps left by General Polk, but changed his mind. General D. H. Hill was relieved of duty; after a time General Buckner took a leave of absence, and General Hardee relieved General Cheatham of command of the corps left to him by General Polk.

About this time General Lee wrote me, alluding to the presence of the President, the questions under consideration, my proposition for him to leave the army in Virginia in other hands and come West to grander, more important fields, to his purpose in sending me West to be assigned to command there, and expressing anticipation of my return to Virginia.

The President left the army more despondent than he found it. General Pemberton's misfortune at Vicksburg gave rise to severe prejudice of the people and the army, and when the troops heard of the purpose of the President to assign him to command of Polk's corps, parts of the army were so near to mutiny that he concluded to call General Hardee to that command. A few days after lie left us a severe season of rain set in, and our commander used the muddy roads to excuse his failure to execute the campaign that the President had ordered.

Late on the 20th of September and during the 21st, General Rosecrans reported his condition deplorable, and expressed doubt of his holding at Chattanooga, and called to General Burnside in East Tennessee, to whom he looked for aid; but finding only feeble efforts to follow our success he recovered hope, prepared defensive works, and was looking to renewal of his aggressive work when he was relieved.

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