Missing Pieces

July 10, 2014

Even after all this time and effort, there are at least three organizations involved with the Chickamauga campaign which remain almost entirely unknown quantities. My files contain glimpses of these commands, but only that – glimpses. They are shadows, acting off-stage, or in the wings. We never get to see them center stage.
All three of them have to do with reconnaissance. Two of them are Confederate formations, one is Federal. All of them almost certainly played a role in the campaign between September 8th, when Bragg departed Chattanooga, and September 18th, when the battle actually began.

The first of these is the informal scout detachment drawn from John T. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade. By 1863, virtually every Union brigade and division had a mounted scout detachment, drawn from the command at large. Evidence of those Union scout detachments appears from time to time in the Official Records, usually garnering only a passing mention.
Wilder’s scouts had a more important role than most, given the parent brigade’s direct attachment to Army HQ, and the sorts of independent missions Wilder was usually selected to undertake. Unfortunately, despite the great amount of information we have on Wilder, there is almost nothing on the scouts. Even Richard Baumgartner’s outstanding “Blue Lightning” tome has no details.

The second group belongs to Joe Wheeler’s cavalry corps. Wheeler had an “elite battalion” drawn from his corps, a special detachment he used for scouting and important missions behind enemy lines. Where they spies? Commandos? Deep cover operatives? We don’t know. Given how badly Wheeler failed in intelligence gathering throughout the campaign, I tend to think they weren’t really tasked with scouting – I suspect they were more like Forrest’s escort company, a formation Wheeler kept close and used as his personal combat force, but that is only a guess.

The third group, also Confederate, is potentially the most interesting to me, because I know the least about it. In August 1863, in addition to calling out the Georgia State Line, the State of Georgia mobilized several home-guard cavalry regiments and battalions. The unit formed in Walker County was the 6th Georgia Cavalry Battalion, Georgia State Guard. The first five companies of this battalion were raised in Walker County. Company E, also known as the Pond Springs Cavalry, were local men right in McLemore’s Cove.

This battalion has no presence in the published official Records. You can find a few traces of it in the Georgia state records, but no hint as to what they did, how many men were activated, or where they went.
Today, if you go to the Cove Methodist Church and walk in the little cemetery there, in addition to the Widow Eliza Glenn’s grave, you will see a half-dozen or so men of the 6th Battalion buried here.

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=37332

I wish I knew more about them.

Maybe someday.

Grant and Thomas

July 4, 2014
from Horace Porter's "Campaigning with Grant"

from Horace Porter’s “Campaigning with Grant”

On October 23rd, a very weary Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Chattanooga. He rode to the headquarters of Major General George Thomas, newly promoted to command the Army of the Cumberland, and replacing William S. Rosecrans. Thomas, who had turned down command of this very army a little over twelve months previously, accepted his new assignment without protest. He understood that the Federal government would not let Rosecrans remain in charge, and also that they would brook no additional recalcitrance on Thomas’s part.

Grant, who was still injured from a fall, had to be helped from his horse and brought inside. He was wet, muddy, and tired from the difficult ride over Walden’s Ridge, the only way into the beseiged city of Chattanooga.

The conventional story has it that Thomas was cold, aloof, and even rude to Grant. I have half a dozen biographies of Grant, including both the much cherished Bruce Catton works and my favorite recent biography of the man, by Brooks Simpson. They all pretty much relfect this same narrative.

As noted in the picture, only a few men were present for this seminal meeting, and fewer still left us a detailed discription of the incident.

The most influential of those descriptions comes to us from James Harrison Wilson, one of Grant’s staffers, a brash young Colonel who in later years would have his own reasons to dislike Grant. Perhaps because of this subsequent animosity, historians tend to take Wilson’s words at face value. In any case, it is Wilson’s account that leaves us with the impression that Thomas received Grant so poorly.

Horace Porter’s “Campaigning With Grant” contains the other significant account. In reading it, I am struck by the fact that Porter did not seem to sense anything like the same tension or animosity between the two men, though he does provide many of the same details (wet uniform, puddle under the chair, Grant warming himself by the fire, etc.) Wilson offers.

Charles A. Dana, in what is an otherwise detail-rich memoir – see, for example, his description of Rosecrans’s council of war on the night of September 19, 1863 – merely describes Grant’s arrival in four words: “wet, dirty, and well.”

I have no reason to doubt that there was friction between Grant and Thomas, but I find myself questioning Wilson’s underlying assumptions anyway. Brain Steel Wills, in his first-rate biography of the latter (“George Henry Thomas; As True as Steel”) has a detailed discussion of this meeting, and provides an interesting observation. The fault might well lie more with the two staffs than with the two generals. Thomas’s military family might have resented Grant, coming in as the new man, to tell them how to wage war in Chattanooga – though again, Porter’s memoir fails to convey any such resentment, and he was on Thomas’s staff at the time. Equally, Grant’s staff was famously protective of their boss, especially John Rawlins – even to the point of jealousy towards other officers.

George Henry Thomas was a famously taciturn man, a reputation guarded by his wife even after his death, when she destroyed his letters and papers. As a result, we will likely never know exactly what Thomas was thinking as Grant drew rein on Walnut and Fourth Streets, Chattanooga Tennessee on the night of October 23rd. But for history’s sake, I wish more than just one account serves as the basis for this oft-described tension between the two men.

Excerpt: Bragg vs. The newspaperman…

July 1, 2014

The decision to evacuate Chattanooga was a very difficult one for General Braxton Bragg – it signaled defeat, and he knew it, however much he might try to put a good face on things. Just before he left, however, he had an interesting encounter. I wish I had been in the room that day…

 

This is a description of that meeting, taken from Chapter Four of “A Mad Irregular Battle” 

“Bragg left the city on September 8, but not without one last confrontation. Back in July, when he first arrived in the city, Bragg established his headquarters at the Brabson House, a two storey brick mansion on East Fifth Street. On September 7th, the widow Brabson held a farewell tea for the departing general, whom she knew well; Bragg had headquartered there in 1862 as well. That party must have been a gloomy affair, and sparsely attended. Civilians had been leaving for days, with all the trains south to Atlanta crowded with refugees and their valuables.

            One man who hadn’t yet left town was Henry Watterson, the brash young editor of the Chattanooga Daily Rebel. Bragg had been much critiqued by southern newspapers since Perryville, none more vociferously hostile than Watterson’s Rebel. Worse yet, Watterson often published important details of troop strengths, movements, and intentions, all of which Bragg was sure Rosecrans was reading with great interest. For a time that summer, Bragg banned the paper from being sold in military camps. This was a financial disaster for Watterson, who was selling 10,000 copies a day with the army in town, and he appealed the decision. Watterson claimed to have been a Confederate soldier, serving under Leonidas Polk and Nathan Bedford Forrest. After the war he would boast of being a staff officer under Polk, of service with Forrest in 1862, and of being Joseph Johnston’s ‘Chief of Scouts’ in 1864. In fact, he was probably an imposter, since no Confederate records show him as serving.  Physically he was poorly suited for army life, weighing in at a slight eighty pounds and troubled with poor eyesight.

            He was also an unusual sort of fire-breathing Rebel. Son of a Tennessee Congressman, he spent much of his life in the north;  was schooled in Washington, D.C., lived in New York City, and stood on the inaugural platform with Abe Lincoln in 1861. He initially “believed that secession was treason’” when he returned to Tennessee in 1861. He would eventually adopt the southern side of the conflict as his own.

            He was a gifted writer and journalist, who, by the age of 22, had worked for major eastern papers. He made contacts easily, which provided him with sources inside the army. That inside information, presented with verbal flair and acid wit in the columns of the Daily Rebel made the paper immensely popular with the troops. Faced with Bragg’s ban, Watterson approached Colonel Alexander McKinstry, who was positively disposed towards Watterson because of his claimed service with Forrest, and who was now heading up Bragg’s Bureau of Intelligence. They struck a deal. Watterson agreed to let McKinstry approve what he printed, and further allowed McKinstry to use the paper to plant whatever false rumors Bragg wanted, in exchange for permission to keep printing. This arrangement apparently satisfied the irascible army commander, for the Rebel remained in circulation.

            That afternoon, Watterson appeared at the Widow Brabson’s, brash as ever. The latest retreat and the panic infecting Chattanooga were fuel for the young incendiary. He commented loudly on “Bragg’s almost supernatural ineptitude.” Bragg, of course, was in the room. Watterson, never having met him personally, didn’t recognize the general. They met now. Bragg confronted Watterson, and the two exchanged “pointed words.” Abashed, Watterson soon made himself scarce. Shortly thereafter Bragg left for La Fayette.”

 

Watterson and the Daily Rebel would set up shop again in Atlanta. 

 

Checking In

June 29, 2014

It’s been a while since I posted. Time for an update.

First, the status of Volume One of “The Chickamauga Campaign,” titled “A Mad Irregular Battle.”

We have finished what you might call the developmental editing stage, where we go through the book chapter by chapter to ferret out anything that needs amplification, clarification, etc. That process has taken a while, but we are now in layout, on our way to publication. Since I have been wildly optimistic in the past about publication dates, I will not offer any new predictions here – other than to say, “soon.” Savas-Beatie has produced a lot of titles in the past year or so, so I know they are busy, and can only guess how long it will take to get this book into print and in your hands.

In between, I have been working ahead on the second volume in order to speed up that aforementioned developmental editing, which should mean that Volume II – “Glory or the Grave” should not be all that far behind.

As for exact dates, I refer you to my estimable publisher for that information.

The completion of Volume I has also marked a transition point in my own career – it closes the book (so to speak) on nearly fifteen years of continual research into the Battle of Chickamauga. This is part of why posts here have been sparse. I am not sure how much more I have to say just on Chickamauga.

So I think I am going to use this post to mark an important transition.

I am interested in pursuing a new overarching research and writing project concerning the Civil War. Casting about, I don’t see all that much opportunity in the Eastern Theater. I am working on another maps book, on Chattanooga, and I will pursue various Maps projects as they come up. But I want something larger to focus on as well, some reason goading me into visiting libraries and collecting those letters and diaries.

That project is the Atlanta Campaign. There is surprisingly little written about Atlanta. Certainly Albert Castel’s “Decision in the West,” But his work came out in 1992. There have been a spate of recent battle books on Kennesaw, Peachtree Creek and the battle of Atlanta proper (July 22) but, compared to the attention garnered by the war in the East or even battles like Shiloh, not a lot of effort is being exerted on Atlanta.

So I have begun to collect on the subject. This is a massive undertaking, given how many men were involved, and my preliminary work into archival libraries suggests that there are many hundreds of potential primary source accounts. That should keep me happy for a long while.  

Ultimately, I hope that this work produces something similar to “The Chickamauga Campaign”  – a multi-volume study of Atlanta that draws on a vast number of primary accounts. But we shall see.

What it means for this Blog is that I am going to follow the Armies southward, posting questions, thoughts and ideas here as they come to me. At the very least, Chattanooga and Atlanta will become fair game for posts, maybe other things as they come up.

I am also going to try and resume a more frequent posting schedule here by posting some short excerpts from Volume I, just to let readers see what they can expect when they finally crack the spine of “A Mad Irregular Battle.”

 

The Book Trailer…

April 23, 2014

I have been distracted of late. Nose-to-grindstone stuff. 

But, Savas-Beatie has a book trailer for The Chickamauga Campaign, Vol. I

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-DK-bs6UCk&feature=youtu.be

 

Woohoo!

A good time had by all…

March 15, 2014

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Last week about fifty people gathered at Chickamauga National Military Park for what has turned into an annual event: the CCNMP “Seminar in the Woods.” Now in its 11th (or possibly 12th, memories are a little vague) year, I first started organizing the Seminar in order to study the battlefield in more depth than a normal tour affords. I have deliberately kept structure informal and the costs low: I charge for the bus on Friday, but there is no cost for the tours on Saturday. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that Park Historian Jim Ogden spends two days with us, the lack of cost is simply much easier to manage.

Besides, I am not a tour director, meal organizer, or complaint guy.:) If you don’t like your hotel I take great comfort in knowing that I had nothing to do with booking it.:) You are on your own for meals and lodging.

This year’s event worked out well. Good weather both days, and we covered some ground that we hadn’t tackled before or had not revisited in a long time. We drove down into Johnson’s Crook, on the east side of Lookout Mountain, to at least see where most of the Union XIV Corps ascended Lookout, though taking a bus up Newsom Gap Road is impossible. On Wednesday I reconned this in my car, and discovered that even the term “gravel road” is too generous. Ruts and switchbacks, all the way. I was so nervous about running across a washout and having to back down the mountain (in most places turning around was not an option) that I forgot to take a single picture.

While discussing the XIV Corps, we talked quite a bit about logistics, and one of the items that came up was this excellent  – if much under-used – book by Edward Hagerman:

http://www.amazon.com/American-Civil-Origins-Modern-Warfare/dp/0253207150/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394911056&sr=1-1&keywords=the+american+civil+war+and+the+origins+of+modern+warfar

I was so busy with the touring stuff that I didn’t take any pictures, though some other attendees have already posted some of their photos to Facebook. Of course, most of my pictures tend to be of monuments and War Department tablets anyway, so I am not so sure how exciting they would be for others.

We are already planning on next year. See you then. 

 

CCNMP Study Group Update

February 12, 2014

Heads up if you hope to attend the Study Group on Friday – we stand at 49 pre-registered. The bus is almost completely full. It seats a maximum of 55. Walk-on space will be extremely limited, if any is available at all. We are very nearly sold out. If you hope to attend the Friday session, consider this LAST CALL. seats will be held on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

I will post here when we officially sell out. 

Of course, Saturday has no attendence limit, since we will be on foot. 

thanks again for your support. 

Study Group Update

February 5, 2014

Things are progressing quickly. In the past few days I have received a number of registrations, and as of today, we now have 44 registered participants. That means there are only ten more spots available on the bus on March 7th. If you are interested in attending, please Register ASAP. 

Mr. Jim Ogden and I both thank all of you who signed up. We expect an outstanding event this year. 

 

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Artillery Hell?

February 2, 2014

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Chickamauga is not known as an “artillery” battle. Just the opposite, in fact. All the woods make it very much a soldier’s battle, one into which artillery ventured at their peril. The Union XIV Corps lost a division’s worth of artillery on September 19, and several other Union batteries were overrun as well.

If anyone thinks of artillery at Chickamauga, they likely turn to Ambrose Bierce’s powerful description of Union guns in Poe Field, stopping Confederate General William Bate’s charge on the late afternoon of September 19:

“the field was gray with Confederates . . . .Then the guns opened fire with grape and canister for perhaps five minutes – it seemed an hour – nothing could be heard but the infernal din of their discharge and nothing seen through the smoke but a great ascension of dust from the smitten soil. When all was over, and the dust cloud had lifted, the spectacle was too dreadful to describe. The Confederates were still there . . . but not a man was on his feet . . . and so thickly were all covered with dust that they looked as if they had been reclothed in yellow. ‘We bury our dead’, said a gunner, grimly.”

 A vivid word picture.

But there are cannon all over the field at Chickamauga, not just lining the north end of Poe Field. They have their stories to tell, as well.

Take, for instance, the 4th Indiana Battery position on Battleline Road. You can find the 4th Indiana’s guns just south of Tour Stop #2, where the Regular Army monuments stand, not far south of where the Shell Pyramids for Brigade Commanders Colquitt and Helm memorialize the deaths of those two men. Not many people pay a great deal of attention to the 4th, I suspect, as the monuments come thick and fast down the length of Battleline Road; too many to stop and think about each one individually.

But the 4th Indiana is special. Take a closer look. Note that that guns are angled, pointing northeast and southeast, not simply facing outward at random. Also note that the cannon are in the apex of Battleline Road’s most eastward bend, directly astride the ridge that defines George Thomas’s second-day position.

The battery began the fight on the 19th under command of Lieutenant David Flansburg, and was one of units which came to grief that morning. Flansburg was wounded and captured, and the battery lost five guns. Those guns and enough limbers were retaken during the day to restore four pieces – two Napoleons and two James Rifles – into full effectiveness. They were now positioned here, commanded by First Lieutenant Henry J. Willets of Valparaiso.

Taking advantage of a small bend in the ridge, Willits’ guns were posted at the curve in Baird’s line, between Scribner’s and Starkweather’s brigades, and angled forward so that in addition to firing straight ahead, their fire could also sweep the length of the Union front to either the north or south. Due to the cedar glade, “a clear space averaging 75 yards,” the Hoosiers’ field of fire was excellent, extending laterally to the left as far as the Reed’s Bridge Road. Any troops moving west against a Union line would thus expose themselves to a flanking fire from a brace of Union cannon.

If you walk the length of the Kelly field line heading south from the 4th Indiana, you will see a number of other cannon. Johnson’s and Palmer’s divisions formed here, and they had plenty of artillery. Baird’s batteries, however, were all wrecked on the 19th; of the eighteen guns taken into action on Saturday morning, now only four were fit for action. Willits would be the division’s only artillery support for the entire day on Sunday.

The Hoosiers acquitted themselves brilliantly. 

First to come to grief was Helm’s Brigade of Kentucky Orphans. The brigade split here, with half going on out into McDonald Field, while the other half were pinned down in front of the 4th Indiana. A gap opened between Helm’s men, who were Breckinridge’s left flank, and Confederate Brigadier Lucius Polk’s Brigade, comprising Cleburne’s right.  That gap would become an obsession with Daniel Harvey Hill, who spent the rest of the morning trying to plug it. Colonel Peyton H. Colquitt of South Carolina fell victim to this obsession about noon, attempting to move his brigade into that position; and at different times both the brigades of Edward C. Walthall and John K. Jackson also were sent in here.

Walthall’s deployment was especially unfortunate, not because Walthall’s Mississippians took heavy losses here – they did not, advancing very cautiously and not entering the Cedar Glade – but because Walthall’s line was stripped away from St. John Liddell’s division just as Liddell was supposed to advance and support John C. Breckinridge, then attempting to attack into Kelly Field from the north. the result: Liddell advanced too late with his remaining brigade, under Govan, and was repulsed in turn.

All morning long, the 4th Indiana helped break up attack after attack, and Rebels from each of the brigades unfortunate enough to face them recalled the heavy cannonading facing them – all from just four guns. The advantage terrain can sometimes provide should not be underestimated.

At about 11:00 a.m., in an effort to silence Willits’ storm of steel, Cobb’s Kentucky Battery tried to engage, with no success.

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At about 1:00 p.m., looking for a place to be useful, Mebane’s Tennessee Battery tried the same thing, from virtually the same spot – another failure.

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With that failure, the Confederate Right Wing ground to a halt. The fighting on the Kelly Field line would not re-commence until much later in the afternoon…

 

Study Group Update

January 13, 2014

To all attendees: We are nearing the Feb 1st Deadline, when I have to pony up for the bus and cancellation becomes non-refundable. The good news is that we have more than enough folks signed up, so the bus is no problem, though there are still seats available. Between those already signed up and the NPS folks who usually attend, I expect we will have 30 attendees, just about the right sized group for what we like to do. 

If you haven’t signed up and plan to, get your check in the mail, please. to make sure you get a seat. Here’s a link to the original post, BTW: 

http://chickamaugablog.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/seminar-in-the-woods-2014-march-7-and-8-2014/


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