William Tecumseh Sherman

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

General William T. ShermanAfter Abraham Lincoln promoted Ulysses S. Grant to General-in-Chief of the Union armies, he replaced him with his chief subordinate and friend, William Tecumseh Sherman as commander of the Western Theater. Technically, Sherman became commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which entailed command of all Union troops in the Western Theater of the war.

Sherman, like Grant, was a West Pointer who resigned his commission to become at first a banker and eventually a lawyer. From 1859 until January 1861, he was the superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy. In January 1861, Sherman was required to accept receipt of arms surrendered to the State Militia by the U.S. Arsenal at Baton Rouge. Instead of complying, he resigned his position as superintendent and returned to the North, declaring to the governor of Louisiana, “On no earthly account will I do any act or think any thought hostile … to the … United States.” 

At the start of the war Sherman sought a commission which he eventually received with the aid of his brother, Senator John Sherman. Sherman was commissioned as colonel of the 13th U.S. Infantry regiment, effective May 14, 1861. He was one of the few Union officers who distinguished himself at the First Battle of Manassas. He so impressed Lincoln that he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. He was transferred to Department of the Cumberland under General Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame.

Sherman succeeded Anderson in October 1861. It was during this assignment that Sherman experienced some type of mental breakdown. He was releved of command at his own request and went home to recover. He returned to active duty in December and had rear-echelon positions under General Henry W. Halleck. It was in this position that he first encountered Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman commanded Gran’t logistical efforts in the capture of Fort Donelson.

Sherman was formally transferred to the Army of West Tennessee as commander of the 5th Division. in March 1862. At Shiloh, Sherman like most other Union commanders was taken by surprise by the Confederate attack. Despite being caught unprepared by the attack, Sherman rallied his division and conducted an orderly, fighting retreat that helped avert a disastrous Union rout.

Meeting Grant at the end of the first day’s fighting, he had a memorable conversation with his commanding officer. Sherman said simply: “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” After a puff of his cigar, Grant replied calmly: “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.” 

Sherman proved instrumental to the successful Union counterattack of April 7, 1862. At Shiloh, Sherman was wounded twice—in the hand and shoulder—and had three horses shot out from under him. His performance was praised by Grant and Halleck and after the battle, he was promoted to major general of volunteers, effective May 1, 1862.

Grant was kicked upstairs to a meaningless position as Halleck second-in-command. After the capture of the undefended city of Corinth, Mississippi Sherman persuaded Grant not to leave his command, despite the serious difficulties he was having with Halleck. Within a short period of time Grant was reinstated, Halleck was promoted to General-in-Chief and Sherman became military governor of Memphis, Tennessee.

By early 1863 Sherman was in command of the XV Corps. He suffered a severe repulse at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, just north of Vicksburg. He was involved in in the successful assault on Arkansas Post. He then joined Grant for the assaults around Vicksburg. Sherman was not in favor of Grant’s strategy but carried it out superbly.

After the fall of Vicksburg, Sherman succeeded Grant in command of the Army of the Tennessee. His army was part of the relief of Chattanooga and the subsequent assault on Missionary Ridge.

Subsequently, Sherman led a column to relieve Union forces under Ambrose Burnside thought to be in peril at Knoxville. In February 1864, he led an expedition to Meridian, Mississippi, to disrupt Confederate infrastructure. After his elevation to command of the Western Theater Sherman would lead his army to the successful capture of Atlanta. By then his troops had taken to calling him “Uncle Billy.”


The Decision that transformed the Civil War

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Ulysses S. GrantOver the course of his presidency Abraham Lincoln made a number of decisions that changed the direction of the war. His initial response to the firing on Fort Sumter was one such decision. Another was the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation that added a new dimension to the conflict: the freeing of the slaves.

But the decisions that he made on March 9, 1865 were to to have ramifications right through to the end of the war and beyond. For it was on that day that he appointed General Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of all of the Union armies and General William T. Sherman as his replacement as overall commander of the Union armies in the Western Theater.

Up to this point in the conflict, Lincoln’s record of appointments of general officers was mixed at best. At the onset of the war the Union armies had a mix of professional soldiers and politicians as their commanders. George McClellan was a professional while his successor Ambrose was both a professional and a politician. Benjamin Butler and Nathaniel Banks were both politicians.

Lincoln felt that he needed the Democrat politicians on his side in order to have the Union war effort be seen as bi-partisan. All of the above officers and a number of other ones were by and large Democrats.

As the war progressed most of these men were found wanting and the professional, West Point-trained officers began to rise to the top of the command hierarchy. That’s not to say that they were always the best choice but overall they were the most competent officers available.


We also need to understand that not one single general officer, North or South, had experience commanding large bodies of troops. The antebellum United States Army numbered about 16,000 officers and men scattered in company-size units throughout the country. Like their raw recruits the army commanders were learning on the job. At First Manassas (or Bull Run), both armies could best be characterized as ‘armed mobs’.

Grant and Sherman were the products of the Union armies in the Western Theater. At the start of the war Grant began the war as the sole military professional in Galena, Illinois. He recruited a company of volunteers and accompanied them to the state capital of Springfield where he was offered a position training new recruits.

But Grant was not satisfied with that role and lobbied hard for a field command. With the help of family friend, Illinois congressman Elihu B. Washburne, Grant rose from colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment to commander of the District of Cairo.

From his base at Cairo, Grant led increasingly large forces against the Confederates at Belmont, Missouri, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. At Fort Donelson Grant demanded the unconditional surrender of the Confederates from his one-time friend Simon Bolivar Buckner.

At Shiloh proved his ability to respond to the reverse of the first day of combat and whipped his foes on the second day. Shiloh was the costliest of the war to date, with total Union and Confederate casualties of 23,746. Grant received high praise from many corners. He later remarked that the carnage had made it clear to him that the Confederacy would only be defeated by complete annihilation of its armies.

After Shiloh the commander of the Western Theater, General Henry W. Halleck, promoted Grant to the meaningless position as his second-in-command. After it took Halleck 19 days to move 30 miles to Corinth, Mississippi which allowed the entire Confederate to retreat unchallenged, Lincoln ordered Grant’s reinstatement as the commander of the Army of the Tennessee.

Grant’s next challenge was the capture of the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Jefferson Davis said the Vicksburg was the nail that held the two haves of the Confederacy together. Vicksburg was surrounded by swamps and bayous that called for an imaginative circuitous approach.

Grant who was a master of combined arms used river boats to ferry his troops across the Mississippi River south of the city. He then circled to the east of the city where he engaged the Confederate defenders in a series of battles that forced them back into the city. After a campaign that last over two months, General John C. Pemberton surrendered the city and its garrison of some 33,000 men on July 4, 1863.

Lincoln put Grant in command of the newly formed Division of the Mississippi in October 1863, giving Grant charge of the entire western theater of war except for Louisiana. After General William Rosecrans was defeated at Chickamauga, he was forced to retreat to Chattanooga, Tennessee where his army was besieged by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Grant was able to organize a relef force with his use of the famous “Cracker Line”. Once the siege was broken Grant organized three armies to attack Bragg’s troops on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. On November 25, 1863 they drove the Confederates into headlong retreat and opened Georgia and the heartland of the Confederacy to Union invasion. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General, a position that had previously been given only to George Washington and Winfield Scott.

Grant was recalled to Washington in March and was given overall command of the Union armies throughout the country. His first action was to articulate a new strategy. It would be a comprehensive effort of coordinated Union offensives, attacking the rebel armies at the same time to keep the Confederates from shifting reinforcements within southern interior lines. Grant ordered the offensives to commence in May 1864.



The Army of the Cumberland Advances on Chattanooga

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Chickamauga Campaign

The Army of the Cumberland

Advances on Chattanooga

In mid-August of 1863, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans set his Army of the Cumberland on its advance from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In order to engage the Confederate forces of General Braxton Bragg, who were entrenched around the city, the Union army would need to cross a 30 mile stretch of barren land and cross the Tennessee River.

In order to distract Bragg’s attention from his real intentions, Rosecrans ordered Colonel John T. Wilder and his Lightning Brigade to advance to a point northeast of the city. He hoped that Wilder’s appearance there would reinforce Bragg’s expectations that the Union attack would come from that direction.

Wilder’s 1,500-man brigade was a unit that had made a huge impact during the Tullahoma Campaign. A mounted infantry unit, they were equipped with hatchets but more importantly with seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles. The Spencer rifles gave them a tremendous firepower advantage over single-shot muskets.

Wilder’s Brigade advanced to the designated position on August 21st. He was positioned on the Tennessee River opposite the city. He ordered the accompanying 18th Indiana Light Artillery (Capt. Eli Lilly‘s battery) to begin shelling the city. The shelling caught many of the residents by surprise and caused a great deal of consternation, in addition to sinking two river steamers. They also accomplished their primary goal and drew Bragg’s attention to their location.

Over the next two weeks, the Union shelling continued while the Union army crossed the Tennessee River west and south of the city. When Bragg learned that the Union army was southwest of the city on September 8th, he ordered the withdrawal of his Army of the Tennessee into Georgia. The Confederates abandoned the important rail and supply center without any significant resistance. Bragg’s army marched down the LaFayette Road and camped in the city of LaFayette, Georgia.

Following the Second Battle of Chattanooga, a rather one-sided affair, Rosecrans ordered his army to pursue the retreating Confederates into Georgia. He dispatched three different corps on three different roads in order to advance on a wide front. His center corps was commanded Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. This unit moved just across the border to Trenton, Georgia, and prepared to move on to Lafayette in pursuit of Bragg.

Rosecrans had received poor intelligence and was convinced that the enemy army was continuing to move south the Dalton, Georgia. Bragg, realizing that the Union army was separated and vulnerable to defeat in detail, planned on attacking Thomas’ XIV Corps and defeating him.

This engagement, known as The Battle of Davis’s Cross Roads, also known as the Battle of Dug Gap, was fought September 10–11, 1863. On the Union side was the division of Maj. Gen. James S. Negley, supported by Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird‘s division. Thomas’ corps had raced forward into Georgia, seizing the the important gaps in Missionary Ridge and the Pigeon Mountains, and moving out into McLemore’s Cove.

Negley’s Division was moving across the mouth of the cove on the Dug Gap road when Negley received information that the Confederates were concentrating their forces around Dug Gap. Meeting determined resistance, he withdrew to Davis’ Cross Roads on the evening of September 10th to General James S. Negleyawait the supporting division.

Facing Negley were the divisions of Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman and Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne. Hindman’s Division had been ordered by Bragg to assault Negley in the flank at Davis’s Cross Roads. Cleburne’s Division was ordered to make a frontal assault against Negley through the gap. Hindman’s force was to have received reinforcements for the assault but they never arrived. Therefore, the Confederate commanders on the scene decided not to attack on the evening of the 10th.

However, the following morning (September 11th) fresh troops did arrive and the Confederates began to advance. The Union commanders decided to make a strategic withdrawal to Stevens Gap and set up defensive positions. Negley’s position was on the ridge east of West Chickamauga Creek, while Baird’s Division moved through them to Stevens Gap and established a defensive line there. Once established, both divisions awaited for the rest of Thomas’ Corps to arrive.

After this unsuccessful attempt to defeat one of the isolated Union corps, Bragg now turned his attention to the north and the corps of  Maj. Gen.Thomas L. Crittenden. This set the stage for the bloody Battle of Chickamauga on September 19.






The Chickamauga Campaign: Background

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Chickamauga Campaign

The Chickamauga Campaign:


Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans had secured a brilliant victory in the Tullahoma Campaign by a series of maneuvers that forced General Braxton Bragg out of his defensive positions. Bragg’s army retreated across the Tennessee River to the area around Chattanooga and the Chickamauga Creek.

The city of Chattanooga is nestled in the mountains of the extreme southeast corner of Tennessee. During the American Civil War, it was an important rail and supply center for the Confederacy. It was a gateway from points further south to the Confederate states to the north and east. The rail lines through the city ran north to Knoxville and Nashville while those that headed south went to Atlanta.

Located on the navigable Tennessee River, Chattanooga was a center for the production of iron and coke. Situated between Lookout MountainMissionary Ridge, Raccoon Mountain, and Stringer’s Ridge, Chattanooga occupied an important, defensible position.

Click Map to enlarge.

For the Union army, Chattanooga presented itself as an important staging base for the further campaigns into Georgia and the Deep South. Capturing the city would provide the Union army with a gateway to an advance to Atlanta, the most important city in the Deep South.

Rosecrans hoped to duplicate his campaign of maneuvering in order to force Bragg from the city. Instead, after early successes, the Union Army of the Cumberland would fight the Confederate Army of Tennessee in a bloody two-day battle and the Union would gain a legendary hero, George H. Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga.

The Union Army of the Cumberland that marched south in the middle of August 1863 was much the same one that had executed the Tullahoma Campaign. Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans was in command with future president,Brig. Gen. James Garfield as his chief of staff. It consisted of three infantry corps commanded by Maj. Gens. George H. Thomas,  Alexander McD. McCook and Thomas L. Crittenden, with a total of 50,000 men.

The army had a Reserve Corps, essentially an oversize division of 7,400 men, commanded by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and a Cavalry Corps of 10,000, commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert B. Mitchell. Interestingly, three McCook brothers, Alexander, Daniel and Edward, were in command positions.

Meanwhile, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee had seen some significant changes after the Tullahoma Campaign. The Confederate high command had been plagued with toxic relationships between Bragg and his two wing commanders, Leonidas Polk and William J. Hardee.

At the end of July, the Confederate government merged Bragg’s Department of Tennessee and the Department of East Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. General Simon B. BucknerSimon B. Buckner. Buckner had very little respect for Bragg’s generalship abilities. This stemmed from Bragg’s unsuccessful campaign in Buckner’s native Kentucky in 1862. It added 18,000 troops to Bragg’s army but also extended his command responsibilities northward to the Knoxville area.

Hardee had requested a transfer to Mississippi in July, which was granted. However, he was replaced by Lt. Gen. D.H. Hill, a general who did not get along with Robert E. Lee in Virginia. After Malvern Hill, he had criticized Lee for ordering his division in a frontal assault of the strong Union position. After the battle, he wrote, “It wasn’t war; it was murder.” Hill was placed in Polk’s right wing with two divisions under his command.

The Confederate high command, looking to gain numerical superiority, transferred Lt. Gen. James Longstreet‘s Corps of two divisions from the Army of Northern Virginia to the Army of Tennessee. This was the first time that the Confederate Army moved a large number of troops from one theater to another.

When the movements were complete, Bragg had about 65,000 men. This was a significant increase from his previous number of troops. His Right Wing, commanded by Polk, had a total of 5 divisions. His Left Wing, commanded by Longstreet, had a total of 6 divisions. One cavalry corps, under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, had 2 divisions while a second cavalry corps under Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest also consisted of 2 divisions.

Rosecrans was under intense pressure from Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck in Washington to advance south against Chattanooga. Halleck was burning up the telegraph lines with appeals and threats to try to get Rosecrans moving. By early August, Halleck ordered Rosecrans to begin his movement immediately. Rosecrans was outraged at the tone of “recklessness, conceit and malice” in Halleck’s order and insisted that he would be courting disaster if he were not permitted to delay his advance until at least August 17.

General James LongstreetThe Cumberland Plateau, across which the Union Army needed to traverse, was a 30-mile stretch of rugged, barren country. The roads were poor and the area provided little in the way of forage. In order to re-locate his army, Rosecrans would need to take all of his supplies with him. In essence, he needed to accumulate enough supplies to cross the distance without a reliable line of communications. All of his generals were in favor of this approach except the chief of staff, James Garfield.

The army began to move on August 16th and took a week to arrive at the Tennessee River Valley. Rosecrans had planned a series of clever distractions to deceive the Confederates on his crossing location. Once again, Rosecrans was attempting to maneuver Bragg from his defensive positions without fighting a major battle. It was not to be.



Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

From the beginning of the war Abraham Lincoln had searched for a military commander in the East. He was looking for a fighting general, one who had the ability to lead the Federal forces to victory in the East and end the war. It take him until March 1864 to find one: Ulysses S. Grant.

At first he appointed Irvin McDowell. McDowell was a professional soldier of no great ability. He led the Federal army to a crushing defeat at the First Bull Run (Manassas).

General George McClellanLincoln then replaced him with George B. McClellan who had served in western Virginia at the beginning of the war. He was a dashing, charismatic leader who forged the Army of the Potomac from the shattered fragments of McDowell’s army. However, McClellan was a perfectionist who did not wish to take his creation into battle under less than ideal conditions.

After a great deal of pressure McClellan embarked on a campaign to take Richmond. He embarked his massive force, moved them by water to Yorktown and marched them up the narrow Virginia Peninsula. After a number of battles, first against Joseph Johnston and then when he was wounded, against Robert E. Lee, McClellan forces where back where they began at Harrison’s Landing.

Rather than sacking McClellan Lincoln took the indirect approach and appointed a western general John Pope who was given the command of the Army of Virginia. Pope immediately blundered into a Confederate trap and was crushed at Second Bull Run. The Confederates then invaded Maryland.

Lincoln swallowed his pride and asked McClellan to resume complete command of the Army.  At Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland the Army of the Potomac fought what was to be the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. At Antietam McClellan was exposed as a timidBloody Lane at Antietam commander. Failing to use his overwhelmingly superior forces in a coordinated attack, he fed his forces into the battle piecemeal. The Confederates were able to blunt all of his assaults. He then compounded his mistakes and allowed the battered enemy to withdraw back to Virginia. Lincoln replaced McClellan for the final time.

He was replaced by Ambrose Burnside who in December 1862 tried to force the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. Showing his inability to improvise in the field Burnside persisted in frontal assaults on the main Confederate positions resulting in horrendous casualties. Burnside was replaced by debonair, self-promoting “Fighting Joe” Hooker.

Hooker proclaimed that his headquarters would be in the saddle. One newspaper said that Hooker had his headquarters in his hindquarters. At Chancellorsville Hooker was completely out-maneuvered and defeated by Robert E. Lee with a Confederate army half his army’s size. Lincoln was in complete despair saying: “My God! What will the country say?”

Hooker was replaced by George Gordon Meade in late June 1863 when Lee again led his Army of Northern Virginia on an invasion of the north. At Gettysburg Meade led the Federal army to victory in a three-day defensive battle. Like McClellan at Antietam, Meade failed to follow up his victory and the Confederates returned to the safety of Virginia to rest and refit. Lincoln again despaired for the Union.

That November Meade took his army on a half-hearted offensive that tried to force the Confederate entrenchments at Mine Run. The Army of the Potomac limped back to their encampments with nothing to show for it. Meade was not to answer Lincoln’s need for a fighting general.

Through all of the inept, timid commanders in the East one general in the West stood out as a commander who understood the need to destroy the General Ulysses S. Grantenemy’s army utterly: Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a West Point graduate who had served with some distinction in the Mexican War. After that war he had drifted into civilian life in St. Louis and Galena, Illinois where he worked at his father’s tannery.

At the onset of the war Grant recruited a company of volunteers and led them to Springfield. In the capitol he accepted a position from the governor to train troops. He was good at it but was anxious for a field command. At the end of August 1861 he was given the command of the District of Cairo. He was commanded to make an attack against Confederate forces at Belmont, Kentucky. In an amphibious assault he led 3,100 union troops against Fort Belmont on November 7, 1861. He initially held the fort but was forced to retreat by overwhelming force.

Grant then decided to work his way down the Mississippi River and capture Confederate water fortresses. The lightly manned Fort Henry fell on February 6, 1862. Fort Donelson was a different story. In cooperation with the Navy, his 25,000 man force took this fort ten days later. At Fort Donelson Grant coined what was to be his signature surrender demand:  “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender.” Lincoln promoted Grant to major general of volunteers.

By April the Federal army, known as the Army of the Tennessee, had increased to nearly 50,000 men. At Shiloh, Tennessee they fought a costly battle with Confederate forces number nearly 45,000. On the first day of the battle the Federal army was pushed back to the landing but on the second day Grant ordered a counterattack that defeated the Confederate force. The Confederate commander, Albert Sidney Johnston, was killed. Some 23,700 were killed or wounded at Shiloh making it the costliest battle of the war to date.

Grant was demoted by Henry Halleck to second-in-command of a combined 120,000 man army. It took the persuasions of his friend William T. Sherman to stop him from resigning his commission. Eventually, this massive force was broken up and Grant returned to his command of the Army of the Tennessee.

By December 1862 Grant was resolved to take the Confederate fortress city of Vicksburg on the Mississippi. At first he attempted an overland campaign that became stalled by Confederate cavalry attacks. After a series of unsuccessful river and bayou battles Grant changed his strategy andThe Mississippi River Squadron running the Confederate Blockade at Vicksburg moved his troops down the west side of the Mississippi. He then crossed over to the east side and attempted to take the city by storm. When that was unsuccessful he settled down for a seven week siege. Confederate commander John C. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863.

With the fall of Vicksburg the Mississippi River was completely controlled by the Federal Army and Navy. The Confederacy was now cut in two. Lincoln gave Grant command of the entire Federal war front in the West with the exception of Louisiana.

Grant then commanded his combined armies in a series of battles in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee. These resulted in the eventual defeat of Confederate forces in this region. The decisive 1863 Chattanooga battle opened Georgia and the heartland of the Confederacy to Union invasion by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman.

Grant was promoted to Lieutenant-General, only the third man to hold that rank; George Washington and Winfield Scott being the other two. He was given complete command of all Federal armies in the field. Grant traveled to Washington to meet with Lincoln and plan the next moves in the war. After realizing that eventual victory would need to come from the East he decided to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac.

In short order the country would come to learn more about the man that Lincoln had given the entire Federal army to. When some complainers spoke to Lincoln about rumors of Grant’s drinking, he exclaimed: “I can’t spare the man, he fights”.  Over the next year Grant’s armies would batter the Confederate forces on all fronts into utter defeat.