The American Civil War Overview

CHAPTER VI
THE WESTERN THEATER: BRAGG'S KENTUCKY CAMPAIGN

       With the fall of Corinth, Mississippi at the end of May, it was clear that Memphis could not be held. It fell on June 6th with the defeat of the Confederate ram fleet defending the city. The Mississippi River was now open to Federal gunboats as far south as Vicksburg, Mississippi.
       The Federal command organization underwent major changes during this time period. The end of June, 1862, Major General Pope was ordered east to meet his fate at Second Manassas, relinquishing his command to Major General Rosecrans before departing. On July 11, 1862, Hallack was made commander-in-chief of all Federal armed forces, east and west, and went to Washington, D.C. Grant, who had seriously considered resigning following the close call at Shiloh, was appointed to overall command of Rosecrans' army and other forces in the theater, giving him control of some 75,000 troops.
       Major General Buell's forces, having been ordered to march on Chattanooga, Tennessee, were having a rough time of it. With constant pressure from Washington and additional pressure in the form of Confederate cavalry and guerrilla attacks on his supply lines, his army slowly crawled forward on half rations. Then on August 12, 1862, John Hunt Morgan's cavalry destroyed an 800 foot-long tunnel on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and cut off Buell from his base of supply at Louisville, Kentucky. This, combined with intelligence that Bragg was advancing north, led him to conclude he must fall back to protect Nashville.
       General Braxton Bragg, now in command of Confederate forces in the theater, was not going to stand on the defensive, but was determined to go over to offensive operations to recover both Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy. The campaign began favorably as Confederate forces in East Tennessee, under the control of General Kirby Smith and in cooperation with Bragg, moved north into Kentucky with 12,000 troops. At Richmond, Kentucky they met, on August 30, a command of 7,000 new Federal recruits defending the city. In a one-sided victory, Smith's casualties numbered only about 450 while the Federals lost 206 killed, 844 wounded, and 4,303 captured or missing. Lexington, Kentucky was captured by Smith's forces, unopposed, the following day.
       On September 13, Bragg had reached Glasgow, Kentucky which placed him between Buell, now at Bowling Green, and Smith in Lexington. Bragg's forces moved north to the Green River and forced the surrender of another 4,000 man Federal garrison at Munfordville.
       Buell advanced his forces again northward to Louisville, and then began a movement to the southeast towards Bragg's suspected location. The two armies eventually stumbled into each other outside Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862. Bragg, who was outnumbered three-to-one, but did not think so at the time, ordered an attack by Hardee and Polk. This assault routed the Federal Left Wing under General McCook. On the opposite flank, Joe Wheeler's 1,200 Confederate cavalry managed to immobilize Crittenden's corps of 22,500 Federal troops in an impressive performance. When the battle closed at the end of the day with no decisive results however, Bragg decided to retreat southward. Buell's pursuit was unenthusiastic, and Bragg arrived back in Knoxville on October 22. Lincoln was unhappy with the turn of events and on October 24, ordered Buell to turn over his command to Major General Rosecrans.
       Meanwhile, further west, on September 20, Grant almost succeeded in trapping Major General Sterling Price's command of Trans-Mississippi troops at Iuka, Mississippi, about 20 miles east of Corinth. Again, with Confederate high command confusion, Price and Van Dorn could not decide whether to move their forces north, to link up with Bragg or to advance on some other objective. Van Dorn finally decided to assault Corinth, thinking it now only lightly defended. A total Confederate force of about 22,000 men advanced to the attack on October 3, 1862. Corinth however, was not lightly defended. It contained an equal number of Federal troops and was encircled by a double ring of fortifications backed by artillery, the outer ring which had been built by the Confederates themselves before evacuating the town earlier that year. In some of the most vicious fighting of the war, the Confederate advance actually broke through to the town itself but were outflanked and a Union counterattack quickly drove them back out with heavy losses. A continuation of the fight on October 4 produced no gains for the Confederates and Van Dorn ordered a retreat. Almost trapped by Rosecrans' pursuit and a converging Federal column ordered out by Grant, Van Dorn's forces suffered well over 4,000 casualties to Federal losses of 2,500. The western flank of Bragg's offensive campaign had suddenly collapsed.
       After Rosecrans took command from Buell, Lincoln had expected some rapid offensive action to be taken. Despite repeated urging, Rosecrans found excuses to delay his movement from Nashville until almost Christmas. Then, having learned that one of Bragg's divisions had been detached to Vicksburg and that Forrest's and Morgan's cavalry commands were on raids elsewhere, he moved his Army of the Cumberland to the southeast. The march route was in three columns under Generals McCook, Thomas, and Crittenden. The opposing armies collided on December 31 just north of Murfreesboro at Stones River.
       Both commanders had planned to attack the enemy right flank, but Bragg beat Rosecrans to the punch and the Federal army quickly had to go over to the defensive. Hardee's and Polk's Corps drove McCook's and Thomas' men back with a "hinge" at a point in the Federal line called the Round Forest. Rosecrans' line was bent at almost ninety degrees to his previous position by sunset but it had not broken. Apparently bolstered by Thomas' council at a meeting of his officers that night, Rosecrans decided not to retreat, even though he had suffered about 12,000 casualties to Bragg's 9,000.
       Bragg was now faced with a dilemma. His remaining strength was really inadequate to force Rosecrans from his new position, so on New Year's Day, 1863, he waited, hoping Rosecrans would make the logical decision and retreat. When January 2 found him still in position, Bragg ordered an ill-advised assault on the Federal left flank by Breckinridge's division, which, despite some initial success, was blasted apart by the Federal massed artillery. Thus, January 2 only brought Bragg another 1,700 casualties which he could ill afford. Finally conceding defeat, Bragg retreated during the night of January 3 back to Tullahoma, Tennessee. Rosecrans' army was too battered to attempt a pursuit, but Stones River could be claimed as a Federal victory due, more than anything else, to Rosecrans' stubbornness.

This Page last updated 11/20/03

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CHAPTER VII, The Eastern Theater: The Chancelorsville Campaign