If the Confederacy Had Taken Back Chattanooga in 1863 (a McCain/Obama free thread)

For Civil War buffs:
July 4, 1863 wasn’t the death of the CSA but I have generally seen it as the day it received its mortal wound. In the west it was the day Vicksburg fell, making the Mississippi a completely Union river. In the north it was the day that the first of Lee’s troops reached the Rappahannock after their defeat at Gettysburg and the last time they would be on northern soil. In Tennlosing Gettysburg, never to have another major offensive. In Tennessee, it was the day the Union invested Chattanooga after pushing the incompetent Bragg 80 miles in a matter of days. It was the Frost Giants of the Dixiedammerung; I’ve usually thought there was absolutely no way they could have won after this date without a miracle.

However, while these were serious and potentially mortal losses strategically, the war was far from over and there was a whole lot of fight left in the Dixie lion. Suppose that—

Okay, REFRESHER COURSE for buffs who haven’t visited the timespan or western theater in a while:

Chickamauga was fought two months later- one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Bragg, brilliant man by most accounts but by even more half-crazed (conservative estimate) and incompetent and presiding over a general staff that, save for Forrest, wasn’t that stellar either (and most of whom hated him) manages to win the battle in spite of himself and in spite of bad moves and bad information and insubordination from his men due to the equal but opposite incompetence of Rosecrans and that stupid horrible blunder of plugging a hole that wasn’t there and then the chaos. It was expensive as hell in terms of men, but accidental it was one of the last great Southern victories south of Virginia.

Here’s what happened next:

The Union withdrew back to Chattanooga. In spite of his general staff and even enlisted men literally begging him to pursue them and in spite of Richmond flat out ordering him to pursue them, Bragg refused to mount an offensive greater than shelling the city (and even that incompetently). When he should have been driving them from Chattanooga he was contemplating his navel and rubbing shit in his hair, even doing some damned near psychotic things like dispatching his entire cavalry under Wheeler on futile suicide missions into Tennessee and ignoring a death threat from Forrest and sending Longstreet’s entire division to Knoxville under equipped when it was known the north was going to mount an offensive.

Meanwhile Rosecrans is replaced with Grant, invested Chattanooga attacks, the CSA armies are too scattered/exhausted/ill-equipped/grossly mismanaged to do much about it, and the South completely loses Tennessee. Soon Atlanta is the last great fallback, then the siege, then the fall of Atlanta, then Sherman’s March, and ultimately the surrender of Johnston.


Alternate scenario:

Imagine if, somehow, Bragg had been killed immediately after Chickamauga- either fragged by Forrest (who gets away scot free) or his horse spooks and throws him, whatever- but Bragg (who Davis psychotically would not replace) is gone, no more, mort, an ex Bragg gone to sing with the minstrel show invisible. Now suppose the army is given a far more competent leader (use your own discretion if you wish- it can be Johnston [no Napoleon but not a total nutcase] or Longstreet [pretty much ditto] or Forrest [brilliant but not bloody likely he’d have ever been given infantry or really any command higher than he had], but whoever it is, they succeed, circa late September 1863, in completely girding Chattanooga and driving out the Union. They retake and they hold Chattanooga, and in the meantime build major fortifications around Atlanta and use Chattanooga as a base to strike at Knoxville, and ultimately soon succeed in retaking Knoxville. This conceivably could have happened.

In this event Grant would not have broken into Georgia anywhere near as soon, morale would have been much better, and the South would have retained possessions of some vital railroads and supply lines, all while the Election of 1864 is looming. Do you think it would have made much difference in the war?

It’s Bush’s fault.

What? I didn’t mention either of the Presidential candidates.
Seriosuly, that’s a lot of “ifs” to string together. The north simply had the manpower, the agricultural and industrial base, control of the seas, and the transportation infrastructure necessary to make victory inevitable with even marginal commanders.

On the political side… I suppose someone could’ve unseated Lincoln on an “appeasement/negotiated settlement” platform that allows the South to go its merry way.

On the other hand, I also suppose someone could’ve unseated Lincoln on a “incompetency” campaign, promising to install Generals like Grant, with a record of success, whilst weeding out the incompetents. Note: it doesn’t matter whether this hypothetical candidate could’ve done it or not; we all know to what extent politicians will make promisies they can’t keep (or have no intention of keeping) in order to get elected. But it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a “fire eater” president is elected in '64 on a promise to end the war on terms favorable to the North with his “Bold, New Strategy!!!”

First off, Bragg was grossly incompetent, but his subordinates counted among themselves some of the best Confederate commanders. Rosecrans was actually a great general, if a slow-moving one, and he unstoppable when he acted. Chickamauga the result of some of those odd historical events which occured almost totally because of random chance. Had a subordinate given correct (and only slightly different) information, or Longstreet not walked right into the exact correct spot (which he did by accident, not knowing it was there), the battle might have had a very different outcome.

Second, the Confederacy could not make any gains on their already-major victory as it actually happened. They were incapable of taking Chattanooga, despite the defenders being isolated, without immediate reinforcement, and starving. The idea that Bragg could have somehow defeated them, marched north, and done anything interesting is ridiculous, as both Grant and Sherman were soon on their way to come clean his clock. Which they proceeded to do.

It is worth noting that Rosecrans did a workman like job of maneuvering the Army of the Tennessee out of Chattanooga in the spring and summer of 1863, and that he was the victim of abysmal bad luck at Chickamauga when a misconception of the formation of his firing line resulted in a 400 yard gap jut where and when Longstreet’s Corps (on loan from the Army of Northern Virginia) staged a second Picket’s Charge. In all likelihood the only thing that saved the Army of the Cumberland/Ohio was George Thomas’s stand on the northern flank of the Union position allowing the rest of the army to retreat (albeit in a fairly disorganized fashion) behind the Chattanooga defenses. Even though secure in the city the Union army was nearly starved out before the Cracker Line link to the railroad was opened. While there was a wagon road to Chattanooga from the north it was not adequate to supply the army. There were stories about hungry horses and mules gnawing off each other’s tails, and hungry soldiers sifting through horse dropping for kernels of undigested corn. In addition while Rosecrans had enough strength to hold Chattanooga he did not have the strength or manoeuverability to drive Bragg’s army off, to break the siege. Bragg had enough strength to besiege Chattanooga but not enough strength to break into the city’s defenses.

So Rosecrans was replaced with Grant, who was the hero of the hour, who brought with him his right-hand man, Uncle Billy Sherman. Between them Grant and Sherman and Thomas opened a secure supply route to the railroad from Nashville (following through on steps that Rosecrans had initiated) and reenforced that Army of the Cumberland/Ohio with the Army of the Tennessee and proceeded to beat the stuffings out of Bragg at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge and send the Southern army reeling back into Georgia and North Alabama.

Clearly Bragg was not a first rate army commander. Among other things he lacked the ability to manage the inflated egos of his principal commanders. About all that Bragg’s corps commanders could agree on was that none of them had any confidence in Bragg. But Jeff Davis liked Bragg from their acquaintance in the Mexican War ( a little more cannister, Captain Bragg). After Lookout Mountain/Missionary Ridge, however, Davis had no choice. Bragg was sacked and replaced with Joe Johnson, who Davis really disliked but who was about the only rebel general available for the job. When Johnson managed a fighting retreat to Atlanta the next spring and summer Davis sacked him if favor of the crippled, drug addled and Sir Walter Scott besotted John Bell Hood.

What ever chance the Confederacy had to maintain a force in being in the West to keep the pressure off Lee and to keep supplies flowing into the Virginia Theater was lost by Hood’s reckless attacks on Sherman at Atlanta and his disastrous invasion of Tennessee. That resulted in the destruction of Hood’s army before Nashville, Sherman’s March to the Sea and then into the Carolinas ( to face Joe Johnson again) and the most poignant verse of The Yellow Rose of Texas:

And now I’m marching southward
My heart is full of woe
I’m going back to Alabama
To see my Uncle Joe.
There’s a yellow rose in Texas....

Uncle Joe, of course was Joseph Johnson, Lieutenant General, Confederate States Army.


You guys really are unclear on the concept of a “lost cause,” aren’t you? :wink:

Ex Tank, Lincoln was running against George McClellan. Had McClellan won the Confederacy would’ve won by forfeit.

That verse, as sung by Confederates, went like this:

*Oh my feet are torn and bloody, and my heart is full of woe,
I’m going back to Georgia, to find my Uncle Joe,
You may talk about your Beauregard, sing of General Lee,
But the gallant Hood of Texas, played hell in Tennessee. *


spoke-, your recollection is better than mine. Serves me right for trying to post from work and from an ageing memory.

dropzone, I don’t see this as a exercise in “Lost-cause-ism,” rather as an exercise in our history, noting that my several times great grandfather was part of the army that occupied Chattanooga, fought at Chickamauga, and stormed Missionary Ridge. Your comment about the 1864 election and the consequences of a McClellan presidency is apt, though unprovable. Little Mac did try to distance himself from the “the war is a failure, let the erring sisters go” plank of the Northern Democratic Party but there can be little doubt that McClellan would have entered negotiations with the Confederacy. It is equally clear that the only negotiated terms that Davis and company would accept centered on Southern independence, although they might have accepted Southern independence without a fugitive slave treaty. Faced with the stark choice between continuing the war and accepting Southern independence I am not at all sure the Northern electorate, and especially the army, would have bought into a negotiated settlement. McClelland would have pushed for a restoration of a status quo ante bellum. That proposition was not going anyplace. I doubt that McClellan would have accepted a negotiated settlement that did not involve a restoration of the Union. In other word, the war would have gone on with Lincoln or without him. The difference might have been that McClellan might have taken the presidential power to be the commander in chief of the army and navy seriously and actually taken command in the field, replacing Grant. That could have been a catastrophe when you consider McClellan’s performance on the Peninsula and at the Maryland Campaign in 1862.

For better or worse it did not happen. While Grant/Meade continued to be bogged down in front of Petersburg and the casualties from the Overland Campaign continued to mount, Sherman did take Atlanta, progress toward a Union victory could be demonstrated, the army did vote overwhelmingly for Lincoln and Lincoln was elected with a mandate to prosecute the war. Without Rosecrans capture of Chattanooga, the breaking of the Army of the Tennessee at Lookout Mountain/Missionary Ridge, the capture of Atlanta, which proved to be the drop of water that overflowed the bucket, might never had happened or may have been delayed too late to save the 1864 election.

Not “Lost cause-ism,” just a little exercise in how close we sometimes come to the abyss.

Heh. One of my great-grandfathers was with the 6th Georgia Cavalry at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. You and I are 1-1 in ancestor matchups. :smiley:

It was a JOKE! Thus the :wink: . Though ExTank was correct noting the number of “ifs” in the OP.

I have no doubt that, with Tennessee and Georgia solidified as in the scenario described in the OP, Pres McClellan would agree to any terms Davis proposed, at least eventually and after allowing Grant to crawl back in a bottle from anger and frustration and having arrested Sherman for attempting to wring his neck. “Daring” was not in his vocabulary, except when he used it as a synonym for “excessively prudent.” Though it takes a pair of brass ones for a serving general to run against a standing president.

ETA: How the hell old ARE you guys? My great-grandpappy was born in '63, my grandma didn’t have my mom until she was 36, and my mom had me at age 30.

I’ll do you guys one better. I had an ancestor who, in spite of being 18 and living in New York State in 1861, didn’t fight at all. He wasn’t an only kid, was just a farmer, and was certainly too poor to hire a substitute, so who knows how he got out of the draft, but while your ancestors were shooting each other, he was staying out of it. :slight_smile:

Far too little credit is given one of the foundations of our country: dodging the draft. How many of our some-degree-of-grandfathers left Europe one step ahead of the press gang or the draft board?

It comes from being the last child of the last child of the last child — all born late in the father’s life. I’m only in my mid-40s, but I have two great-grandfathers who were Confederate veterans. One of my grandmothers lived to nearly 108, and was lucid until age 100, so I got to know the child of a Confederate veteran quite well.

The war was never a far-away thing for my family. I grew up in a valley through which two armies once marched-- Sherman’s in pursuit of Hood’s. When my sister and I were children, our mother used to wake us with a song set to the tune of a Georgia 6th Cavalry bugle call:

Get up you rebels
You lazy devils
And feed your horses some corn

Smart man. :wink:

Was 6th Georgia assigned to Wheeler or to Forrest?

Two of my ancestors at Chickamauga were in Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps. It must have been a not altogether unpleasant but odd experience for them as Wheeler’s Corps was barely utilized. A couple of units spent the battle running recon and some supply disruption (Wheeler’s specialty) but most of them saw little if any action even though it saw some of the bloodiest hand-to-hand fighting of the war. (A month later they were doing raids into middle Tennessee in one of Bragg’s most famous odd moves.)

The most famous story about Bragg, relayed thusly on Wiki-

was possibly an invention of U.S. Grant in his memoirs. There’s no denying Bragg had serious mental (and physical) problems, though. OTOH, Uncle Joe doesn’t seem to have been a whole lot better as a general, just more sane. Very hesitant usually, at least that’s how I perceive him; would love to read other views. And Bragg seems to have performed pretty well when demoted to brigadier.

I’ve always wondered how Jeff Davis would have been remembered had he been (as he insisted later at least he wanted) a general instead of president. He was an innovative man in some ways and was considered one of the best Secretaries of War the country ever had, but he also had his classism and snobbery and refusal to listen to anybody else when he had his mind made up. (Perhaps he should have been CSA Sec. of War; he couldn’ve written to King Mongkut and said “if Lincoln doesn’t want those elephants, we’ll take them”.)

In defense of Uncle Joe, Kennesaw Mountain was the only Confederate victory during the Atlanta campaign. I really don’t think you can fault Johnston’s actions against Sherman in Georgia. There was no way the Army of Tennessee could have driven Sherman back, and Johnston was at least keeping the army intact and slowing Sherman’s advance down. This stands out if you look at what Hood did with the army when he got ahold of it…throwing it away with a stupid attack on Nashville that destroyed the army, while giving Sherman free reign in Georgia and the Carolinas.

And before that, while its true Johnston didn’t shower himself with glory at Seven Pines, he at least stopped the Union advance. (Of course, that’s damning with faint praise, becase the US commander was McClellan, but still…)

That was definitely a story Grant old, although it actually might have been true.

As far as Joe Johnson, though, he was a fine general. A little shy of the out-and-out battle, but very skilled in managing and moving his troops. The problem was that he was not prepared to take insane risks in the hope of a huge payoff, wich Lee did. However, for most of the war he was fighting against the more skilled and aggressive western Union generals, against who such tricks as dividing forces and trying to circle the enemy were doomed to a bloody failure. Johnson simply never had the manpower to do what Richmond demanded of him.

When Grant attacked Vicksburg, Johnson moved to support the city garison. Grant was able to deploy Sherman as a rear-guard with enough troops that he still outnumbered Johnston 1.5 to 1 while maintaining an unbreakable seige line. And these were not green soldiers or exhausted ones. With few options, Joe Johnson could not and did not save the city or its garrison. Jefferson Davis blamed Johnson, but he was the one who created the divided command structure and did not order reinforcements to that critical area, despite some being available.

There was a well written article in a recent issue of* Civil War Times* by Noah Trudeau, author of a recent bioof Sherman, in which he debates how much could have been done. Trudeau of course has the option of armchair quarterbacking with a full stomach and no bullets flying (which he concedes), and of course he’s privy to tons more info than the Army of Tennessee (or Sherman for that matter), but his thesis is that the CSA (particularly Wheeler) actually could have done a lot more to mess up Sherman than they did.

One of his statements is that the Confederate cavalry should have concentrated on river crossings. This was invariably where the northern armies were most vulnerable and it was a vulnerability that Sherman worried about a lot in his private writings. While in pitched battle there’s no question that Wheeler would have been slaughtered by either wing of Sherman’s army, it’s Trudeau’s contention that as geurillas they missed many great opportunities to really eff 'em up.

I’ve studied Wheeler more than most Southern generals strictly due to genealogy. He’s a tough one to make a call on: absolutely no question that he was brave as rabid Rottweiler, but he was a terrible disciplinarian and almost too loyal to authority (he was about the only truly loyal general Bragg had). He was also ridiculously young and inexperienced to be a general: he was only 28 when fighting Sherman, had graduated West Point but at the bottom of his class (and this due to the facts that he failed cavalry tactics and wasn’t a particularly good horseback rider in his student days- by the end of the war he was [his Duck River jump is legendary- some Yankees stopped shooting at him and began firing salutes in admiration]), and his only real action before the war was guarding wagon trains in New Mexico Territory and Kansas for a government contracter. (Odd trivia about him: he was the son of New England Yankees who relocated to Augusta GA and from the time he was 6 he lived in CT, MA, NYC, West Point, and other northern locales with only rare visits to his father in Georgia, and after college he lived in Pennsylvania then posts in Nebraska, West Texas, Kansas, and New Mexico and never once in the deep South- but he was 100% southern in his self-identity and sympathies and enlisted in the CSA Infantry (not cavalry) almost immediately when the war broke out.)
He seems to have known his weaknesses though; throughout the war his forces were far less cavalry (though that was their title) than mounted infantry or dragoons, rarely if ever attacking from horseback if they weren’t forced to do so.
Something Trudeau I think underestimates the importance of is that the Georgia civilians and farmers had come to hate Wheeler’s Cavalry and the few Confedrate infantry units just as much as they did Sherman. Like Sherman they had no supply lines and had to forage, which meant that farmers who survived Sherman either through not being on his route or through successfully hiding food and other valuables frequently got hit just as hard by Wheeler, who didn’t even have Confederate money to pay them with (most of his men fought without pay of any kind for the last years of the war). One former slave interviewed by the Federal Writers Project many years later said something to the effect of “Sherman left us with nothin’ to eat but shit and weeds and gristle, then long come Wheeler and took the shit and weeds and gristle”. Wheeler noted the irony in his later writings that south Georgians, not without loyalists but overwhelmingly pro-CSA during the early days of the war, were incomparably more hostile towards him than the farmers of Middle Tennessee, many of whom were “Tories” (as he called them- pro-Union) throughout the war.

Sorry, got off on a total rambling wreck from Georgia technical hijack. I really want to re-trace Sherman’s march at some point and see some of these sights, particularly Ebeneezer Creek and Monroe’s Crossroads (NC). I used to live in Milledgeville (which definitely has a sense of its history) and had a friend whose house was on the sight of the Griswoldville battlefield but ironically didn’t know the family connection to the site at the time (it was one of the bloodiest battles of Sherman’s march- Confederate defeat where I now know an ancestor was wounded by a falling horse).
So irritating: I went miles out of my way to see Bennett’s Farm near Durham a couple of years ago when driving back from D.C., and that happened to be the one day ever they were closed due to some kind of conference the staff was attending. Felt like honoring its significance first by getting drunk like Breckinridge then by torching the place in honor of Sherman’s march through S.C. (which was a whole lot more destructive than his Georgia vacation).

The North, lacking the South’s cavalier tradition and horses whose bloodlines stretched back more than last week, turned that into a feature not a flaw.. And by the time of the Rebellion that was the trend for cavalry because a city boy could be turned into a cavalryman by putting him on a nag and teaching him how to not fall off. I assume by Wheeler’s time most of the cavaliers and their thoroughbreds were dead and he was stuck with farmboys whose primary familiarity with a horse was watching its ass as they plowed.

ETA: And using them as mounted infantry has lasted to today. Remember the GIs on horseback in Afghanistan? Sometimes a horse is the best way to get around.

The 6th was assigned to Forrest at Chickamauga, and they were the first into the battle.

But for most of the War the 6th was part of Wheeler’s Corps, as I understand it.

Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.

And Confederate logistics were sickly at their best.

By Chattanooga, it was all falling apart.

There were no shoes or boots. Food, horseshoes, powder & shot—it was all low. Horses got no oats, because the men needed the food more.

The Union had plenty of everything, albeit shoddy. Delivered efficiently by rail.

By Chattanooga, it was all over but the dying.