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Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
Chapter 32b - 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.


From accounts made public since the war it appears that his animals were so reduced from want of forage at the time of the October rains that General Rosecrans could not move his artillery over the muddy roads, which suggests mention that the campaign ordered by the President from the change of base could have forced him from his works in his crippled condition, and given us comfortable operations between him and his reinforcements coming from Virginia and Mississippi.

In his official account, General Bragg said that the road on the south side was left under my command, which is misleading. My command—three divisions—was on his line of investment, east of the city and of the mountain; the road was west of the mountain from six to twenty miles from the command. We were in support of his batteries, to be ready for action at the moment his artillery practice called for it. We held nearly as much of his line as the other eight divisions. None of the commanders had authority to move a man from the lines until the 8th of October, when he gave orders for posting the sharp-shooters west of the mountain. The exposure of this detachment was so serious that I took the liberty to send a brigade as a rallying force for it, and the exposure of these led me to inquire as to the assistance they could have from our cavalry force operating on the line from the mountain to Bridgeport, some eight or ten miles behind them. The cavalry was not found as watchful as the eyes of an army should be, and I reported them to the general, but he thought otherwise, assured me that his reports were regular, daily and sometimes oftener.

Nevertheless, prudence suggested more careful guard, and I ordered Captain Manning, who brought from Virginia part of my signal force, to establish a station in observation of Bridgeport and open its communication with my head-quarters. General Bragg denied all reports sent him of the enemy from my signal party, treated them with contempt, then reported that the road was under my command.

His report is remarkable in that he failed to notice the conduct of his officers, except of the killed and wounded and one division commander whom he found at daylight of the 21st advancing his line of skirmishers in careful search of the enemy who had retreated at early twilight the evening before under shouts from the Confederate army that made the heavy wood reverberate with resounding shouts of victory. That officer he commended as the " ever vigilant." He gave due credit to his brave soldiers for their gallant execution of his orders to charge and continue to charge against the enemy's strongholds, as he knew that they would under his orders until their efforts were successful, but the conduct of the battle in all of its phases discredits this claim. When the right wing of his army stepped into the Lafayette-Rossville road the enemy's forces were in full retreat through McFarland Gap, and all fighting and charging had ceased, except the parting blows of Preston's division with Granger's reserve corps. A peculiar feature of the battle was the early ride of both. commanders from the field, leaving the battle to their troops. General Rosecrans was generous enough to acknowledge that he left his battle in other hands. General Bragg claimed everything for himself, failing to mention that other hands were there.

While General Rosecrans was opening a route beyond reach of our sharp-shooters, his chief engineer, General W. F. Smith, was busy upon a plan for opening the line of railway on the south side, and Ills first step was to break up the line of sharp-shooters. On the 19th he made a survey of the river below Chattanooga. On the same day, General Rosecrans was superseded in command by General George H. Thomas. A day or two after that my signal party reported some stir about the enemy's camps near Bridgeport, and the cavalry reported a working force at Nicojack Cave.

The cavalry was put under my orders for a reconnoissance, and I was ordered to send a brigade of infantry scouting for the working party. Nothing was found at the Cave or by the reconnoissance, and the cavalry objected to my authority. On the 25th orders came to me to hold the mountain by a brigade of infantry. After ordering the brigade, I reported a division necessary to make possession secure, suggesting that the enemy's best move was from Bridgeport and along the mountain crest; that we should assume that he would be wise enough to adopt it, unless we prepared against it. But our commander was disturbed by suggestions from subordinates, and thought them presumptuous when they ventured to report of the probable movements of the enemy.

On the night of the 27th of October, General Smith moved to the execution of his plan against our line of sharp-shooters. He put fifty pontoon-boats and two flat- boats in the river at Chattanooga, the former to take twenty-five men each, the latter from forty to seventy- five,—the boats to float quietly down the river eight miles to Brown's Ferry, cross and land the troops. At the same time a sufficient force was to march by the highway to the same point, to be in readiness for the boats to carry them over to their comrades. The sharp-shooters had been posted for the sole purpose of breaking up the haul along the other bank, and not with a view of defending the line, nor was it defensible, while the enemy had every convenience for making a forced crossing and lodgement.'

The vigilant foe knew his opportunity, and only waited for its timely execution. It is needless to say that General Smith had little trouble in establishing his point. He manned his boats, floated them down to the crossing, landed his men, and soon had the boats cross back for his other men, pushed them over, and put them at work intrenching the strong ground selected for their holding. By daylight he was comfortably intrenched, and had his artillery on the other side in position to sweep along the front.

The Confederate commander did not think well enough of his line when he had it to prepare to hold it, but when he found that the enemy proposed to use it, he thought to order his infantry down to recover the ground just demonstrated as indefensible, and ordered me to meet him on the mountain next morning to learn his plans and receive his instructions for the work.

That afternoon the signal party reported the enemy advancing from Bridgeport in force,—artillery and infantry. This despatch was forwarded to head-quarters, but was discredited. It was repeated about dark, and again forwarded and denied.

On the morning of the 28th I reported as ordered. The general complained of my party sending up false alarms. The only answer that I could make was that they had been about two years in that service, and had not made such mistakes before.

While laying his plans, sitting on the point of Lockout rock, the enemy threw some shells at us, and succeeded in bursting one about two hundred feet below us. That angered the general a little, and he ordered Alexander to drop some of his shells about their heads. As this little practice went on, a despatch messenger came bursting through the brushwood, asking for General Longstreet, and reported the enemy marching from Bridgeport along the base of the mountain,—artillery and infantry. "General Bragg denied the report, and rebuked the soldier for sensational alarms, but the soldier said, " General, if you will ride to a point on the west side of the mountain I will show them to you." We rode and saw the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps under General Hooker, from the Army of the Potomac, marching quietly along the valley towards Brown's Ferry. The general was surprised. So was I. But my surprise was that he did not march along the mountain top, instead of the valley. It could have been occupied with as little loss as he afterwards had and less danger. He had marched by our line of cavalry without their knowing, and General Bragg had but a brigade of infantry to meet him if he had chosen to march down along the top of the mountain, and that was posted twenty miles from support.

My estimate of the force was five thousand. General Bragg thought it not so strong, and appearance from the elevation seemed to justify his estimate. Presently the ear-guard came in sight and made its bivouac immediately in front of the point upon which we stood. The latter force was estimated at fifteen hundred, and halted about three miles in rear of the main body.

A plan was laid to capture the rear-guard by night attack. He proposed to send me McLaws's and Jenkins's divisions for the work, and ordered that it should be done in time for the divisions to withdraw to the point of the mountain before daylight, left me to arrange details for attack, and rode to give orders for the divisions, but changed his mind without giving me notice, and only ordered Jenkins's division. After marching his command, General Jenkins rode to the top of the mountain and reported.

The route over which the enemy had marched was along the western base of a series of lesser heights, offering strong points for our troops to find positions of defence between his main force and his rear-guard. After giving instructions to General Jenkins, he was asked to explain the plan of operations to General McLaws in case the latter was not in time to view the position from the mountain before night. A point had been selected and ordered to be held by one of Jenkins's brigades supported by McLaws's division, while General Jenkins was to use his other brigades against the rear-guard, which rested in the edge of a woodland of fair field of approach. The point at which Law's brigade rested after being forced from its guard of the line of sharp-shooters was near the northern base of the mountain about a mile east of the route of the enemy's line of march. As General Law's detached service had given him opportunity to learn something of the country, his brigade was chosen as the brigade of position between the parts of the enemy's forces. General Law was to move first, get into position by crossing the bridge over Lockout Creek, to be followed by Jenkins's other brigades, when McLaws's division was to advance to position in support of Law's brigade.

I waited on the mountain, the only point from which the operations could be seen, until near midnight, when, seeing no indications of the movements, I rode to the point that had been assigned for their assembly, found the officers in wait discussing the movements, and, upon inquiry, learned that McLaws's division had not been ordered. Under the impression that the other division commander understood that the move had miscarried, I rode back to my head-quarters, failing to give countermanding orders.

The gallant Jenkins, however, decided that the plan should not be abandoned, and went to work in its execution by his single division. To quiet the apprehensions of General Law he gave him Robertson's brigade to be posted with his own, and Benning's brigade as their support, and ordered his own brigade under Colonel Bratton to move cautiously against the rear-guard, and make the attack if the opportunity was encouraging.

As soon as Colonel Bratton engaged, the alarm spread, the enemy hastened to the relief of his rear, encountered the troops posted to receive them, and made swift, severe battle. General Law claimed that he drove off their fight, and, under the impression that Colonel Bratton had finished his work and recrossed the bridge, withdrew his command, leaving Colonel Bratton at the tide of his engagement. General Jenkins and Colonel Bratton were left to their own cool and gallant skill to extricate the brigade from the swoop of numbers accumulating against them, and, with the assistance of brave Benning's Rock brigade, brought the command safely over, Benning's brigade crossing as Bratton reached the bridge.

The conduct of Bratton's forces was one of the cleverest pieces of work of the war, and the skill of its handling softened the blow that took so many of our gallant officers and soldiers.

Colonel Bratton made clever disposition of his regiments, and handled them well. He met gallant resistance, and in one instance had part of his command forced back, but renewed the attack, making his line stronger, and forced the enemy into crowded ranks and had him under converging circular fire, with fair prospects, when recalled under orders to hasten to the bridge. So urgent was the order that he left the dead and some of the wounded on the field.

General Law lost of his own brigade (aggregate) ........................ 43
General Robertson (1 wounded and 8 missing) ........................ 9
Colonel Bratton lost (aggregate) ........................ 356
Confederate loss ........................ 408
Union loss (aggregate) ........................ 420

It was an oversight of mine not to give definite orders for the troops to return to their camps before leaving them.

General Jenkins was ordered to inquire into the conduct of the brigades of position, and reported evidence that General Law had said that he did not care to win General Jenkins's spurs as a major-general. He was ordered to prepare charges, but presently when we were ordered into active campaign in East Tennessee he asked to have the matter put off to more convenient time.

We may pause here to reflect upon the result of the combination against Rosecrans's army in September, after our lines of transit were seriously disturbed, and after the severe losses in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Tennessee; and to consider in contrast the probable result of the combination if effected in the early days of May, when it was first proposed.

At that time General Grant was marching to lay siege upon Vicksburg. The campaign in Virginia had been settled, for the time, by the battle of Chancellorsville. Our railways were open and free from Virginia through East Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, to Central Mississippi. The armies of Rosecrans and Bragg were standing near Murfreesboro' and Shelbyville, Tennessee. The Richmond authorities were trying to collect a force at Jackson, Mississippi, to drive Grant's army from the siege. Two divisions of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia were marching from Suffolk to join General Lee at Fredericksburg. Under these circumstances, positions, and conditions, I proposed to Secretary Seddon, and afterwards to General Lee, as the only means of relief for Vicksburg, that Johnston should be ordered with his troops to join Bragg's army; that the divisions marching for Fredericksburg should be ordered to meet Johnston's, the transit over converging lines would give speedy combination, and Johnston should be ordered to strike Rosecrans in overwhelming numbers and march on to the Ohio River.

As the combination of September and battle of Chickamauga drew General Grant's army from its work in Mississippi to protect the line through Tennessee and Kentucky, and two Federal corps from the Army of the Potomac, the inference is fair that the earlier, more powerful combination would have opened ways for grand results for the South, saved the eight thousand lost in defending the march for Vicksburg, the thirty-one thousand surrendered there. Port Hudson and its garrison of six thousand, and the splendid Army of Northern Virginia the twenty thousand lost at Gettysburg. And who can say that with these sixty-five thousand soldiers saved, and in the ranks, the Southern cause would not have been on a grand ascending grade with its bayonets and batteries bristling on the banks of the Ohio River on the 4th day of July, 1863!

The elections of 1862 were not in support of the Emancipation Proclamation. With the Mississippi River still closed, and the Southern army along the banks of the Ohio, the elections of 1864 would have been still more pronounced against the Federal policy, and a new administration could have found a solution of the political imbroglio. " Blood is thicker than water."

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