150 years ago: Railroads west to Tennessee

Here is a great article from the excellent Blog: TO THE SOUND OF THE GUNS. The author, Mr. Craig Swain, discusses a spectacular feat of Federal railroad logistics,

In brief the story is this. In August of 1863, Federal Major General William Rosecrans had skillfully maneuvered his Army of the Cumberland to drive Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a key railroad junction and a key to north Georgia.

After the battle, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered two corps from Robert E. Lee’s (Eastern Theater) Army of Northern Virginia transferred by rail to support Bragg. Their commander Lt General James Longstreet came with them.

On Sept 19, Rosecrans and Bragg’s Army clashed again, along Chickamaugua Creek, south of Chattanooga. The first day’s fighting was inconclusive, but Longstreet’s corps were available to reinforce Bragg’s force for the second day’s fighting.

The battle developed slowly, until Rosecrans ordered troops moved to fill a non-existent gap in his line….in inadvertently creating a REAL gap. Longstreet lead an attack into the gap, smashing the Federal right, and driving one third of the Federal army….including Rosecrans….out of line and back towards Chattanooga. The Army of the Cumberland was saved by the stubborn defense of elements of the center and right of the army, lead by Major General George Thomas, who earned the nickname “The Rock of Chickamaugua”.

Despite the heroic stand, it was still a retreat, and the previously successful Army of the Cumberland found itself besieged at Chattanooga, as Bragg’s troops took up positions on the heights overlooking the strategic city. Rosecrans was exhausted, and probably mentally defeated. Lincoln described him as “confused and stunned, like a duck hit on the head”.

The risk was that now the hard-won city might be lost……along with parts of the besieged Federal army.

This brings us to Mr. Swain’s fine article. On Sept 23 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton proposed sending two corps from the inactive (Eastern Theater) Army of the Potomac to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland (as Jefferson Davis had for Bragg). Historian James M. McPherson relates:
“It would be a trip of 1,200 miles by the routes they would have to take. Stanton had consulted railroad officials and said the twenty thousand men could reach Nashville in five days and Chattanooga in a few more. Mindful of the previous movements by the sluggish Army of the Potomac, Lincoln responded skeptically that they could hardly get from Culpepper [VA] to Washington in five days! [A surface distance of only about 70 miles.]

“In the end Stanton prevailed. The movement began September 24. It when like clockwork, a marvel of organization and coordination between the War Department and several railroads. Eleven days after the start, more than twenty thousand [23,000] men of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps [under Major General Joe Hooker] arrived at the railhead near Chattanooga with their equipment, artillery and horses after a trip of 1,233 miles through the Appalachian and across the unbridged Ohio River twice [!] It was the longest and fastest of such a large body of troops before the twentieth century”

These fresh easterners helped stabilize the position in Chattanooga, although the city remained besieged and supplies remained tight. They proved vital to the subsequent successful campaign to break the siege and drive Bragg back into Georgia. That victory opened up the center of the Confederacy to invasion….but that is another story.

Now read how almost magical transfer was made in the article above……..

Categories: Army of the Cumberland, Reblogged | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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