In command of the Army of Tennessee Confederate General Braxton Bragg retreated from a bad position in Tullahoma to a worse position in Chattanooga starting in mid-June, 1863. Although Bragg's retreat had been a pell-mell affair across 80 miles of eastern Tennessee, Union Brevet Major General William S. Rosecrans chose to consolidated his gains in early July rather than strike the unprepared Confederates. After stopping unexpectedly for 6 weeks in Stevenson and Bridgeport, Alabama, on August 16, 1863, Rosecrans announced his decision to continue pursuit of Bragg to his commanders. Although elements of the Army of the Cumberland began to move the following day, Rosecrans' main army, consisting of 3 corps, returned to "regrouping" for another 2 weeks.
With roughly 65,000 men in late August, the Army of the Cumberland was deployed in a semi-circle around Chattanooga from western Alabama to northeastern Tennessee. Additionally, Rosecrans deployed smaller groups, each as a distraction aimed directly at Bragg. Colonel John Wilder deployed his troops across the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga. Brigadier General William Hazen, in command of the operation, moved his brigade as if to join Ambrose Burnside and the reformed Army of the Ohio in attacking Simon Bolivar Buckner's Army of East Tennessee in Knoxville. Hazen's destination was actually Wilder's left flank. Also north of Chattanooga was Brigadier General George Wagner and Robert Minty's cavalry, also under the command of Hazen. Gordon Grainger and his Reserve Corps were left to guard the railroad and telegraph wires of southern Tennessee from the renown abilities of Nathan Bedford Forrest, detached from Bragg, but between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
The Army of Tennessee had been dwindling in size since its withdrawal from Murfreesboro, Tennessee the previous winter, mostly because of desertions. In Chattanooga, the 40,000 man force was divided between Daniel Harvey Hill and Leonidas Polk. Hill had just been promoted to Lieutenant General so that he outranked General Alexander Peter (AP) Stewart and transferred from North Carolina in hopes the commander could replace William Hardee. Jefferson Davis ordered Hardee west in June in an attempt to draw Ulysses S. Grant's attention away from Vicksburg as well as break up the anti-Bragg cabal that always formed among Bragg's subordinates.
When Rosecrans began his initial movements on August 16, Bragg decided to wait and see what developed. On August 21, after returning from a hospital near Ringgold where both he and his wife were being treated, Bragg acted, withdrawing garrisons near Chattanooga and deploying A. P. Stewart to Buckner in Knoxville. He also wired Joseph E. Johnston, now in command of the West, to request the 11 additional brigades of infantry that Johnston had promised him if he were attacked.
The only problem was Johnston never had 11 brigades to send to Bragg. Instead, he tapped the divisions of W. H. T. "Billy" Walker and John Breckinridge (6 brigades in total) and sent them to Bragg over the next week. Finally, Bragg ordered the citizens of Chattanooga to leave the city, a controversial order that many chose to disobey.
Movement was to begin with Thomas Crittenden and the XXI Corps (Left Wing, 14,000 men) crossing the Tennessee River at Shellmound, Tennessee (now under Lake Nickajack) and moving across the north end of Lookout Mountain (nearest Chattanooga) to Rossville, Georgia, before heading south over established roads to Lee and Gordon's Mill. George Thomas and the XIV Corps (Center Wing, 22,000 men) were to cross the river at Bridgeport, Alabama, then cross Lookout Mountain at Stevens Gap before dropping into the northern end of McLemore Cove, a deep mountain cove formed by Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain. Alexander McCook and the XX Corps (Right Wing) was to cross the river at Caperton's Ferry, Alabama, then cross Lookout Mountain at Winstons Gap and Hendersons Gap before dropping into Broomtown Valley southwest of Menlo, Georgia at Alpine. Winstons and Hendersons are not technically gaps in Lookout Mountain, but low areas were farm roads had been built.
Starting on August 29, 1863 three separate crossings of the Tennessee River were managed by the Army of the Cumberland, each with a different commander. The crossing at Shellmound was entrusted to Joseph Reynolds who used flatboats to cross and secured the opposite bank without resistance. At Bridgeport, General William Lytle used a combination of logs from nearby forests, floorboards from local houses, some pontoons that arrived by rail and the remains of a destroyed railroad bridge to span the Tennessee in two days. On September 1, 1863, General Philip Sheridan rode across the bridge and assumed command of his division, part of George Thomas's Center Wing.
Only to the south, near Capeton's Ferry, did there appear to be any organized resistance. Colonel Hans Christian Heg could see the Confederate fires across the river, so he choose boats to send the Right Wing across the river. Only the sound of oars striking the water and muffled commands came from the boats as they glided across the river. Rebel pickets fired a single volley as the Union soldiers reached the opposite bank, withdrawing up Sand Mountain with Billy Yanks in hot pursuit.
Once across, the Union Army began running into logistics problems almost immediately. A section of Lytle's hastily built bridge collapsed, stranding Absolam Baird on the wrong side until September 4th. While Heg moved some of the right wing quickly across at Caperton Ferry, Brigadier General John Brannon took longer and had to wait for Reynolds' men to clear the single road out of Shellmound. John Palmer's men then had to wait for Brannon's boats and for Brannon to clear the road.
As Rosecrans' men disappeared into Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain they also disappeared from Bragg's scouts. Little was known of their whereabouts and that had Bragg deeply concerned. As the reinforcements from Johnston arrived, Bragg was distracted, trying to get his Cavalry chief, Joe Wheeler, to find the main body of the Army of the Cumberland.
Although Bragg did not know it, by September 4th the Right and Center Wings had mostly crossed Sand Mountain and were crossing the valley toward Lookout Mountain. Crittenden, slowed by a variety of woes, approached Whitesides that morning. He forwarded orders from headquarters for a reconnaissance of the railroad in the area to Brigadier General Thomas Wood, who chose to ignore them. When Crittenden reminded Wood of the orders, Wood sent a brigade under Charles Harker forward, but then withdrew to a safer place. After a series of communication between Rosecrans adjutant James Garfield, Crittenden and Wood, Rosecrans admonished Wood, setting up the fateful obedience to orders that would allow the Confederate breakthrough at the Brotherton Cabin on September 20th.
Not yet sure of his destination, Bragg had his adjutant draft orders for a movement to Rome, Georgia on September 6. On September 7th, as the Army of Tennessee withdrew from Chattanooga they discovered a portion of Crittenden's Left Wing had seized the small portion of Lookout Mountain overlooking Chattanooga.
From the eastern front, Davis and Robert E. Lee agreed that reinforcing Bragg was a good idea at this crucial time. Lee tapped James Longstreet for a variety of reasons, including the fact that of all his commanders Longstreet knew Rosecrans the best -- they had roomed together at West Point. What Lee did not know is that Longstreet expected to be placed in command of the Army of Tennessee at least temporarily while in Georgia.
After Bragg withdrew from Chattanooga he finally found out where at least part of the Union Army was. Cavalry reported that Thomas entered McClemore Cove, and he knew Crittenden was atop Lookout Mountain. As Crittenden came down on September 9th, the Left Wing commander detached the 92nd Illinois Regiment to take Chattanooga. Only the whereabouts of the 13,000 man Right Wing remained unknown, so Bragg decided to turn and fight Rosecrans' divided force in detail. Bragg's first attack would strike the Center Wing under George Henry Thomas.
Confederate cavalry found a division of the center wing of Rosecrans army on September 9th. Lead elements of the Army of the Cumberland descended from Lookout Mountain into McClemore Cove. On September 10. Bragg ordering Thomas Hindman to advance from Lee and Gordon Mill to strike Negrey from the north, and for ailing Pat Cleburne to join Hindman.
After delaying for most of September 10th and 11th, Hindman finally launched his attack against rear elements of Negrey's division, only to call the attack off a few minutes later because of the approach of darkness. On the evening of September 11, Bragg was reprimanding Hindman for his actions.
Davis Crossroads made Rosecrans aware of the Army of Tennessee, but the Union commander assumed Bragg's army was behind Pigeon Mountain. Major General Alexander McCook, who came across Lookout Mountain to Alpine on September 10, realized that Thomas had failed to meet his objective of taking Lafayette when his couriers returned with report of Rebels in Broomtown Valley. McCook was cut-off from the main body of Rosecrans force.
On September 12 James Garfield and George Thomas began extended attempts to reach McCook. He ordered Crittenden to move south towards McClemore Cove and Granger to advance to Ringgold. Rosecrans then asked Henry Halleck to send Ambrose Burnside to Chattanooga for support and wanted additional men from Ulysses S. Grant in Vicksburg. Then on September 13, with essentially no change in his situation, Rosecrans told Thomas and Crittenden that he intended to attack Bragg in Lafayette.
Although William Rosecrans did not know the location of William McCook, Braxton Bragg did, and his location on Bragg's left had the Army of Tennessee concerned. Bragg's fear of McCook and anger at Hindman subsided at least long enough for him to plan another attack, this time against sending Leonidas Polk against Crittenden, then making his way to Lee and Gordon's Mill from the north. This attack, too, failed to materialize.
The only thing that seemed to be going right for Bragg was that McCook retreated from Alpine, freeing up Bragg's left flank. McCook decided it was impossible to get through Lafayette and decided to return up Lookout Mountain and use Stevens Gap to get into McClemore Cove.
Rosecrans trying to move to Bragg's rear through Lookout Mountain was a tactical nightmare and a strategic disaster. When his armies came out of the gaps they were spread across 50 miles of enemy territory.
Georgia History Articles about North Georgia history and the state in general. This section is currently being developed. For more information on Georgia History, please see The Civil War in Georgia The Civil War in Georgia Beginning with the Great Locomotive Chase and the battle of Chickamauga, to the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea