Archive for October, 2019

Ominous Portents

October 17, 2019

Ulysses S. Grant’s rail route to Louisville also took him through Indianapolis, arriving there sometime in the afternoon of October 17. Stanton had waited for Grant’s train. While on the platform, Stanton met with Indiana’s powerful Republican Governor, Oliver P. Morton, who was stunned to learn that “relieving General Rosecrans . . . [was] the object of [Stanton’s] trip.”

Though Rosecrans was a Democrat, he was also very popular with the rank and file of the Army of the Cumberland, many thousands of which were Morton’s constituents; Morton himself “had great admiration” for Rosecrans. Stanton further astounded Morton when he told the Governor that Rosecrans had wired Lincoln on October 3rd, claiming that it “was useless to talk of putting down the rebellion and recommending an armistice with a view of agreeing on terms of peace.”

Had that been true, Morton would certainly have reason to be taken aback. But in relating this tale, Stanton did Rosecrans a great injustice: Rosecrans’s original dispatch said nothing of the kind. Instead, Rosecrans suggested to Lincoln that the Federal Government should offer a general amnesty to any Rebel deserters. While Lincoln agreed in concept, he also realized how such an offer would be perceived as weak in the wake of a defeat like Chickamauga, and politely rebuffed the idea as untimely. Besides, it far overstepped Rosecrans’ authority. Stanton took umbrage at this new example of Rosecrans’ temerity, and misrepresented it to Morton (and probably others) to further justify removing Rosecrans from command.

Grant’s train was just pulling out of Indianapolis when “a messenger came running up to stop it, saying the Secretary of War was coming into the Station and wanted to see me.” This was the first face-to-face meeting between the North’s most victorious field commander and the Secretary.

Boarding Grant’s car, Stanton accompanied him to Louisville. As was his wont, Stanton wasted little time in small talk. In his memoirs Grant recalled that “soon after we started the Secretary handed me two orders, saying that I might take my choice of them. The two were identical in all but one particular. Both created the ‘Military Division of the Mississippi,’ (giving me command) composed of the Departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee.” In one, Rosecrans was left in command, while in the second, Rosecrans was replaced by Thomas. “I accepted the latter.”


October 5, 2019

crossposted from Facebook:

A conversation with Chickamauga’s leading author.

QUESTION: Dave, as we all know, Chickamauga was the second-bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War. Only the Battle of Gettysburg was bloodier. When I was very young, for Christmas my Dad gave me the huge America Heritage History of the Civil War (remember that?). Having grown up close to the Chickamauga Battlefield, I was very disappointed to see that Chickamauga and Chattanooga were barely footnotes in that massive volume (they did earn one of the cool maps though!). Only recently, and largely through YOUR effort, has Chickamauga, and the Western Theater as a whole, begun to garner national attention. My question to you is, why do you think Chickamauga was so “forgotten” for so many years? Was it because it was a “hollow” victory? Was it because of largely unknown and “forgotten” commanders? Was it because no Lee or Grant or Stonewall or JEB fought here? Was it because of the Eastern press? Chickamauga is (and WAS) certainly worthy of study. By volunteering at the Visitor Center at Chickamauga I can attest that many visitors have recently “discovered” Chickamauga and are driving in to visit the field in growing numbers. So….why was Chickamauga forgotten and ignored for so long?

ANSWER DAVID POWELL: I do remember the American Heritage History of the Civil War. My Dad had a well-thumbed copy. I went out and bought a replacement a few years ago.

Interest – and tourism – at Chickamauga began less than three weeks after the battle. When Jefferson Davis visited the army in October of 1863, he requested a tour, and park lore tells us that soldiers created signboards identifying key features of the field – the first such markers, and forerunners of today’s surviving “Fingerboard” signs that still dot the park in places. In December, after the Confederates were driven off Missionary Ridge, Grant, Thomas, and numerous other Federals visited the field. Grant and Thomas cut walking sticks from some of the timber on the field.

In the 1870s and 1880s, the railroads promoted Chickamauga and other western battlefields, since so many of those fields lay alongside their tracks through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. In 1892 the famous “Dixie Flyer” – first-class passenger service from origin points at Chicago and St. Louis all the way to Florida, via Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta – began service. To promote it, the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis RR, along with the W & A (Western & Atlantic) published a guide highlighting those battlefields. In it, the guide described Chickamauga (incorrectly) as “the bloodiest battle of the war.” Reunions were held in Chattanooga for both sides, and, as evidence of the national interest, today you can travel to Civil War museums and memorial halls all over the country to find “Chickamauga Logs”: battle-scarred tree-trunks cut from the field and shipped everywhere. They were in such demand that there was actually a cottage industry of creating fake Battle Logs, embedding shells and shell fragments in drilled out tree-trunks to produce suitably impressive artifacts.

Certainly among the reasons Chickamauga and Chattanooga were selected to jointly form the country’s first National Battlefield Park was because of the importance of the campaign, and not the least, because so many soldiers from almost every state in the Union contributed men who fought there.

So the Veterans remembered.

But times change. The rise of the Lost Cause in Civil War lore was driven largely by prominent ex-Confederates who fought in the Army of Northern Virginia and for whom Robert E. Lee was Southern Manhood personified. The focus on Lee’s campaigns, and especially Gettysburg, was a natural outpouring of that. Lee and Jackson also caught the attention of a certain class of foreign officers, primarily British, who wrote extensively about the Eastern Theater.

As a result, by the time of the centennial, (1960s) the entire Western Theater had been eclipsed by the war in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Antietam and Gettysburg studies appeared frequently. What attention that was paid to the west centered largely on Grant, as a sort of curtain-raiser to his title bout with the southern heavyweight contender, Lee, in 1864. Sherman absorbed most of the remaining energy not absorbed by the East.

Chickamauga was the subject of one of the earliest battle studies, by Union participant John Turchin in the 1880s. After that, however, it barely merited a mention. Glen Tucker’s monograph appeared in 1961. No other single study of the battle would appear for another 31 years until Peter Cozzens tackled it in 1992. Chattanooga has done a little better, with modern studies by Cozzens, Wiley Sword, and a couple of others; but even the least decisive battles in the East (Fredericksburg, say) have had more works.

I think that as a study subject, Chickamauga suffers from a host of “problems.” Firstly, neither Bragg nor Rosecrans are first-rank personalities; certainly not A-list CW Celebrities. Secondly, The Army of Tennessee was an army ravaged by constant defeat; ill-fated and seemingly inept. The army’s tactical successes never produced lasting results, and thus, were seemingly wasted. There was no panache of victory as with the Army of Northern Virginia. Only frustration and confusion.

Thirdly, Chickamauga’s immense tactical complexity works against it. It was the most confusing battle of the war, bar none. The same ground exchanged hands repeatedly, and one side’s tactical advantage could be supplanted within just a short span of time by the other side’s resurgence. Regiments found themselves fighting over the same positions from multiple directions. For a modern historian untangling all this confusion represents a major investment of time and commitment. The sage of all Chickamauga Historians, Glenn Robertson, took decades to finally publish his work. My own efforts consumed nearly fifteen years. This is a very hard battle to digest and understand, let alone explain.

I have also noticed an upswing in interest, however, and I love to see it. At last Chickamauga is receiving the attention it deserves.

Chickamauga Study Group 2020 Seminar in the Woods

October 1, 2019

Mission Statement: The purpose of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Study Group is to create a forum to bring students of the American Civil War together to study and explore those events in the fall of 1863 that led ultimately to the creation of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, as well as explore other nearby Civil War-related sites.

Tour Leaders: Jim Ogden and Dave Powell

Date: Friday, March 6, and Saturday, March 7, 2020; By bus and car caravan.

All tours begin and end at the Visitor’s Center.

By Bus:
Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00: Out of the Cove, and the Dry Valley Road
We will track the Union movements out of McLemore’s Cove, from Pond Spring and Gower’s Ford to Crawfish Spring, Rosecrans’ HQ at the Gordon-Lee Mansion, and then follow the Union retreat up the Dry Valley Road on September 20, 1863.
We will be taking a lunch break from about 11:30 to 1 PM. Lunch is on your own, it will not be provided.
We will also be walking more than usual on a Friday tour, as we explore the Dry Valley Road retreat route.

Friday evening, 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. – Q&A Panel with Jim Ogden, Dave Powell, and others (as announced)

Site: Constitution Hall, 201 Forrest Road, Fort Oglethorpe, GA
Reprise of the Annual free-form Question and Answer session.

Car Caravan – Saturday Morning, 8:30 to Noon: Bushrod Johnson’s advance, Afternoon of September 19.
At 2 pm on September 19, Bushrod Johnson’s division was attacked by the Federals of Hans Heg’s Brigade in the woods north of Viniard Field. In response, Bushrod Johnson counter-attacked, under orders from John Bell Hood. But Johnson’s front fractured, with Fulton’s and a portion of Gregg’s brigades veering northwest, ultimately striking into the south end of Brotherton Field, where at 4 pm they helped unravel the Union line there.

Car Caravan – Saturday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: Negley and Sirwell occupy Snodgrass Hill, morning til noon, September 20
Early on the morning of September 20, Union General James S. Negley received orders to pull out of line and move north to rejoin the rest of George Thomas’s XIV Corps in and around the Kelly Field Line. What did Thomas intend? What did Negley understand he was to do? Negley’s division became fragmented by those orders, and eventually, to his everlasting mortification, James Negley retired from the field at a crucial moment.

Friday’s Tours will be by Bus. Pre-registration and Fee required: $45, due by February 1 2019.

Sign-up after February 1 or on-site Fee (based on space available): $50

Saturday: no charge.

Fees raised in excess of our costs (as well as any donations) will be used to support the causes of battlefield preservation, interpretation, and renovation.
In 2019 the Study Group donated $500 to the Jewell Monument fund, run by the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, for maintenance and restoration needs.

Send to (and make checks payable to):
David Powell
1300 Mark Street
Bensenville IL 60106

This fee is NON-REFUNDABLE after February 1st, 2020. Once we are committed to the bus, we will be charged the booking fee, no matter what.

Please note that everyone is responsible for their own lodging, meals, snacks and incidentals.
Thank you, see you in March.