Henry V. (Henry Van) Boynton.

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Cincinnati Commercial Gazette,

AUGUST, 1888.

Second Edition, with Corrections.



_Comrades of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland:_

When General H. V. Boynton's letters recently appeared in the Cincinnati
_Commercial Gazette_, so vividly portraying the achievements and heroism
of the Army of the Cumberland in its campaign for the possession of
Chattanooga, including the inevitable incident thereto, the battle of
Chickamauga, I thought how agreeable it would be for each member of the
society to have a copy for perusal at our approaching reunion on the
twenty-fifth anniversary of Chickamauga.

Accordingly I asked General Boynton's permission to print these letters
in pamphlet form, as advance sheets of any volume in which he may
determine to put them with other matter. To this he most cheerfully
assented in the following letter:

WASHINGTON, _Sept._ 1, 1888.

MY DEAR GENERAL: You are welcome to the Chickamauga letters for
any use you choose to make of them. While the salient features
of both days' battle are easily understood, the details of
movements by brigades are in many cases intricate. For this
reason various errors may have been made in the text. If those
who observe them will take the trouble to correct them before
the public, they would thus assist in establishing the correct
history of a battle in which the Army of the Cumberland should
take great pride.

Very truly yours,

General W. S. Rosecrans.

With this explanation, the letters are given in the order of their
respective dates.


WASHINGTON, _August 3_. [Special.] - In two preliminary letters about
Chickamauga the attempt was made to describe the field as it appears
to-day, and to present some of the scenes of the battle which came
rushing back over the plains of memory with a power suggestive of the
departed legions that once clothed these farms, forests, and ridges with
the terrible magnificence of battle.

In a sense, to write of Chickamauga is to try to excite interest in a
subject which far too many regard as worn; but to the veterans who
fought there it will never be a threadbare story. For that generation
which has been born and has come to manhood since Chattanooga was won by
the Union arms, there is no campaign which can be studied with greater
profit, or which will more richly repay the reader. History has not yet
done justice to Chickamauga, but its verdict is sure. Many of the
misconceptions of the days following the battle still exist in the
popular mind. It may be years before they are cleared away; but
eventually the Chickamauga campaign will stand in the history of our war
as unequaled in its strategy by any other movement of the contest, and
as unsurpassed, and probably not equaled, for the stubbornness and
deadliness which marked the splendid fighting of Unionist and rebel
alike; and, furthermore, it will stand as a substantial Union victory.

Just in proportion as the credit due is awarded to those who planned and
executed the campaign will well-merited condemnation be meted out to
those at Washington who insisted upon forcing the movement without
regard to proper and vital preparation, who withheld re-enforcements,
and who, in spite of public and private warnings which it was criminal
not to heed, made rebel concentrations against Rosecrans possible from
in front of Washington itself, and from Charleston, Mobile, and

It will be the purpose of a few letters to go over some of the
well-known ground of this campaign with a view of enforcing the ideas
expressed in general terms above, and attempting to present a clear
account of this most involved, and still seriously misunderstood battle.
The strategy - matchless in our war - which compelled Bragg to abandon
Chattanooga; the life and death struggle for concentrating the Union
army when Rosecrans, against the protests of Washington authorities that
it could not be true, found his widely separated corps confronted with
re-enforcements from every part of the Confederacy; and, lastly, the
great battle in the Chickamauga forests for the possession of
Chattanooga, are each most fruitful and interesting themes. The present
letter will relate to the first-named subject, the strategy of the
Chickamauga campaign.

Marching from Murfreesboro on the 23d of June, 1863, General Rosecrans
had advanced against Bragg, who was strongly fortified, and whose lines,
besides, occupied gaps and ranges of great natural strength. By
brilliant strategy, with the loss of only 586 killed and wounded, and
thirteen captured or missing, the Army of the Cumberland, with its nine
divisions and twenty brigades, operating through sixteen days of
continuous rain, maneuvered Bragg, with his seven divisions and
twenty-three brigades, out of his natural and artificial strongholds,
and forced him across the Tennessee. Up to that time there had been no
strategic campaign to equal this, and it was soon to be far surpassed,
except in the one element of loss, by the campaign to follow it. So
brilliant had been the conception and the execution that all the corps
commanders, headed by General Thomas, hastened to call on General
Rosecrans and offer the warmest congratulations.

At the close of the Tullahoma campaign Bragg occupied Chattanooga and
the mountain passes above and below it. Rosecrans's army lay along the
western base of the Cumberland Mountains, its right above Winchester and
its left at McMinnville. Here General Rosecrans at once began the most
vigorous preparations for another campaign for the occupation of
Chattanooga. Because the necessities of the case compelled secrecy as
one of the main elements of success, there was soon at Washington a
manifestation of unreasoning impatience over what was criticized as the
inaction of the Union commander; but those who were on the ground know
well the unceasing activity and energy with which the work progressed of
accumulating sufficient supplies of food, material, and ammunition,
preparing the means for crossing the Tennessee and obtaining the
necessary knowledge of the mountain passes, roads, and trails by which
the army must move. Rosecrans's supplies reached him over a badly
equipped line of worn railroad, a hundred and thirteen miles in length,
and, as can be readily understood, when the daily wants of a great army
preparing for extended movement and battle are considered, the matter of
accumulating a surplus of supplies was not the task of a day or a week.
With every effort the railroad was not repaired until July 25, and the
forward movement began on the 14th of August.


A glance at the map will disclose the great natural obstacles which lay
between General Rosecrans and Chattanooga. As his army faced toward the
latter point, the Cumberland Mountains, with a general elevation of
2,200 feet, rose before it. The escarpment was everywhere precipitous,
and destitute of every means of approach except narrow mountain roads
and trails, with the one exception that a short railroad ran from Cowan
to Tracy City, on the summit of the range. To the eastward this range
dropped by like precipitous and difficult slopes into the valley of the
Sequatchee River. Beyond that stream rose the equally sharp cliffs of
Walden's Ridge, with a general elevation of 1,300 feet. This fell off
along the eastern and southern edge of the plateau into the valley of
the Tennessee, and overlooked it from the mouth of the Sequatchee River
to a point far above Chattanooga. It was fifty miles as the crow flies
from the lines of Rosecrans's army across this continuous mountain
region to the valley of the Tennessee. This river was broad and deep,
and presented in itself the most serious natural obstacle which the
Union army had encountered since it left the Ohio River. It was 2,700
feet wide at Bridgeport, and 1,254 feet at Caperton, the points where
the bridges were subsequently thrown.

On the left bank of the river, the stronghold of Chattanooga lying
behind the river, and the great ranges to the westward between
Rosecrans's position and his own, might well seem to Bragg impregnable,
in fact almost unassailable. First, toward the west, came the Lookout
range, rising abruptly from the river to the height of 2,200 feet, and
stretching southwestwardly far into Georgia and Alabama. Its western
precipices looked down into the narrow valley of Lookout Creek. Beyond
the latter rose the equally precipitous cliffs of the Raccoon Mountains,
the latter having the same general elevation as the Lookout range.

The gorge of the Tennessee where it breaks through these mountain ranges
is so narrow and so thoroughly commanded from the heights on both sides
as to render it impracticable to so move an army as to attack it from
the front or river side.

With these giant obstacles to the progress of his columns, most serious
even if they had been within the Union lines, but almost insuperable
when found in an enemy's territory, and while he was bending every
energy to complete preparations for carrying out a brilliant plan of his
own for overcoming them, General Rosecrans was astonished at receiving
on August 4, only ten days after his railroad had been repaired to the
Tennessee River, a dispatch from Halleck saying: "Your forces must move
forward without delay. You will daily report the movement of each corps
till you cross the Tennessee River."

To a commander who was building boats, opening mountain roads, rushing
the accumulation of stores, getting out material for four thousand feet
of bridges, preparing to leave his base carrying provisions for
twenty-five days, and ammunition for two battles, and crossing three
mountain ranges and a deep and broad river, in an enemy's country, and
in the face of an army, this dispatch was not only astounding, but
discouraging and exasperating to the last degree.

It had become a habit at Washington to sneer at the slowness of General
Rosecrans, as it was later to denounce General Thomas in similar terms
at Nashville. There was no more reason or justice in the one case than
in the other. The verdict of history has been reached in the case of
General Thomas. It is sure to come, and to be the same in this matter,
for Rosecrans.

To this dispatch, which can only be excused on the ground of wholly
inexcusable ignorance of the active preparations in progress and the
natural difficulties of an advance, General Rosecrans replied with his
accustomed clearness and spirit: "Your dispatch ordering me to move
forward without delay, reporting the movements of each corps till I
cross the Tennessee, is received. As I have determined to cross the
river as soon as practicable, and have been making all preparations and
getting such information as may enable me to do so without being driven
back, like Hooker, I wish to know if your order is intended to take away
my discretion as to the time and manner of moving my troops." To this
Halleck responded: "The orders for the advance of your army, and that it
be reported daily, are peremptory." General Rosecrans immediately wrote
the following reply, and, calling his corps commanders together, read
the dispatches given above. There was no dissent from the proposition
that at that stage of their preparations it was impossible to move. He
then read his reply as follows, and all approved and agreed that they
should support him:

"GENERAL HALLECK: My arrangements for beginning a continuous movement
will be completed and the execution begun Monday next. We have
information to show that crossing the Tennessee between Bridgeport and
Chattanooga is impracticable, but not enough to show whether we had
better cross above Chattanooga and strike Cleveland, or below Bridgeport
and strike in their rear. The preliminary movement of troops for the two
cases are very different. It is necessary to have our means of crossing
the river completed, and our supplies provided to cross sixty miles of
mountains and sustain ourselves during the operations of crossing and
fighting, before we move. To obey your order literally would be to push
our troops into the mountains on narrow and difficult roads, destitute
of pasture and forage, and short of water, where they would not be able
to maneuver as exigencies may demand, and would certainly cause ultimate
delay and probable disaster. If, therefore, the movement which I propose
cannot be regarded as obedience to your order, I respectfully request a
modification of it or to be relieved from the command."

On the following day Halleck replied as follows:

"I have communicated to you the wishes of the Government in plain and
unequivocal terms. The objective has been stated, and you have been
directed to lose no time in reaching it. The means you are to employ and
the roads you are to follow are left to your own discretion. If you wish
to promptly carry out the wishes of the Government you will not stop to
discuss mere details. In such matters I do not interfere."

This was answered the same day by General Rosecrans as follows:

"Your dispatch received. I can only repeat the assurance given before
the issuance of the order. This army shall move with all dispatch
compatible with the successful execution of our work. We are pressing
everything to bring up forage for our animals. The present rolling-stock
of the road will barely suffice to keep us day by day here, but I have
bought fifty more freight cars, which are arriving. Will advise you

This was the last of interference from Washington, but, accustomed as
all there were to interfering at will, and directing affairs according
to the situation as they saw it, they could not brook such manifestly
proper independence as was shown by Rosecrans, and from that time
forward there was needed only an excuse to insure his removal.

Had there been a tithe of the attention given to preventing the rebels
from concentrating on his front from every part of the Confederacy - in
fact, bringing Longstreet's veterans from the lines under Halleck's own
eyes - that there was to the kind of interference which has been noticed,
Bragg would have been destroyed in front of Chattanooga. But this
subject properly belongs in a succeeding letter. The dispatches given
above are well known, but their reproduction will prove a convenience to
readers who may not carry their exact terms in mind.

Ten days later, namely, on August 14, the movement to secure Chattanooga
began. A glance at the map will reveal its strategy.

Rosecrans had decided to cross the Tennessee in the vicinity of
Bridgeport, and subsequently the Raccoon and Lookout Mountain ranges at
points south of Chattanooga, and thus compel Bragg to evacuate the place
or to come out of it and fight for his line of communications. It is
easily seen that if after crossing the river the enemy, warned in time,
should be found in force on the western slopes of these ranges further
progress in that direction would have been impossible, and a return to
the north bank of the river obligatory. It was, therefore, necessary to
wholly deceive Bragg as to the points of crossing.

Burnside was marching from Kentucky into East Tennessee. Any apparent
movement of the Army of the Cumberland in force in that direction would
naturally lead Bragg to believe that a junction of the Union forces was
contemplated on his right.

Everything being ready, Crittenden opened the campaign with the
Twenty-first Corps. Leaving his camps at Hillsboro, Manchester, and
McMinnville on the 16th of August, he crossed the Cumberland Mountains
and occupied the Sequachee Valley from a point between Jasper and Dunlap
to Pikeville. Van Cleve held the latter place, Palmer was established at
Dunlap, and Wood at Anderson, between Dunlap and Jasper. All built
extensive camp fires and moved about in such ways as to convey to
observers from the heights the impression that the whole army was
moving. Meantime Minty's active cavalry had moved through Sparta and
driven Dibrell's cavalry eastward through Crossville, on to the
Tennessee, and over it, and Dibrell, having come to reconnoiter and see
what was going on, naturally got the idea that Rosecrans's army was
coming. The crossing of the Cumberland was but the first step of the
imposing diversion. Though the mountain roads were few and very
difficult, Crittenden's movements over them had been completed exactly
on time. The advance over Walden's Ridge, equally difficult, though it
was not quite as high as the main range, was immediately undertaken.
Minty, on the extreme left, appeared on the Tennessee more than thirty
miles above Blythe's Ferry, where he made most energetic commotion.
Hazen reached the river in the vicinity of Dallas. Two brigades were
strung out along the edge of the cliffs on the top of Walden's Ridge,
where they overlooked Blythe's Ferry, and could be seen from the other
side of the river. Minty, with his troopers, swept down the valley of
the Tennessee to near Chattanooga. Wilder and Wagner also appeared in
the valley. While a show of building boats was made in the small streams
about Blythe's Ferry, Wilder from the heights of Walden's Ridge,
opposite Chattanooga, opened fire on the town with artillery. Bragg was
thoroughly deceived. Forrest was ordered far up the Tennessee to
Kingston to watch for the expected crossing. Buckner was ordered from
East Tennessee toward Blythe's Ferry.

As may be supposed, Wilder's cannonading produced the wildest excitement
in Chattanooga. The rolling-stock of the railroads was hastened out of
reach. The depots of supplies were moved out of the range of the
unexpected bombardment. D. H. Hill's corps was hurried off to guard the
river above, and other heavy forces were moved in the same direction.
Everything done by Bragg was based upon the idea that Rosecrans was
moving in force to points on the river above the city.

Meantime the real movement was going on quietly sixty to eighty miles in
the opposite direction, in the vicinity of Bridgeport and Stevenson. A
force of cavalry for the purposes of observation, and to convey the idea
by quick movements that Rosecrans was feigning below, while really
expecting to cross above the city, was sent as far westward as Decatur.
Thus Rosecrans was operating along the river through a hundred miles of
mountain region and fifty miles of low country beyond, and in spite of
the natural difficulties every part of the plan was working with

Thomas and McCook on the right moved at the same time with Crittenden.
Reynolds, of Thomas's corps, had marched in advance and repaired the
roads by way of University, and down the eastern slope of the mountain
to Jasper. Brannan followed him, and both were at first kept well out of
sight of the river. Baird and Negley came down nearer to Bridgeport, and
McCook descended back of Stevenson. With the exception of Sheridan, at
Bridgeport, all were kept well out of sight from the enemy's cavalry on
the left bank.

Sheridan alone made a show of his presence and openly began the
construction of a trestle through the shoal water, in order to lessen
the length of the floating bridge. As this was without a decided show of
strength it deepened the impression that the movements on this wing were
the feint and those toward the upper river the real move. In fact, after
watching Sheridan's trestle building for a while from the other side of
the river, Anderson's brigade of infantry, the only infantry force
available to oppose a passage of the river, was withdrawn and sent to

The bridge for Caperton's Ferry was brought down on a train, which was
halted out of sight, and a road cut for its transportation through the
woods to a point near its destination, where the troops which were to
lay it were drilled in their work.

Early on the 29th fifty boats, each carrying fifty men, were brought out
of the woods near Caperton's, rushed across an open field, launched, and
quickly rowed to the opposite shore. The Confederate cavalry pickets
were driven off and twenty-five hundred men held the south bank. The
bridge was promptly laid. Davis was soon over, and then McCook's entire
corps, with cavalry, started promptly for Valley Head, forty miles down
the Lookout range. Reynolds collected boats at Shellmound, Brannan had
built rafts and cut out canoes at the mouth of Battle Creek. The long
bridge was successfully laid at Bridgeport, and before Bragg had
recovered from his surprise, in fact before he had comprehended the
extent of the movement, Rosecrans, with two corps, was over the river
and moving on his communications.

As soon as the crossing was assured, Crittenden marched with celerity by
way of the Sequatchee Valley towards the bridges and was soon across
with the main body and advancing on the left of it directly towards

This crossing of the Tennessee was a great feat. The bridges were not
sufficient for the army. Reynolds gathered small boats and improvised
his own means of crossing. Brannan's men had cut out canoes from immense
poplars and launched them in Battle Creek out of sight. Some of them
would hold fifty men. They also built rafts, one of them large enough to
carry artillery. These, with an abandoned rebel pontoon boat,
constituted Brannan's flotilla. When the signal was given the whole
swept out from behind the bushes which concealed the mouth of Battle
Creek and made for the opposite shore. The rebel pickets withdrew and
the crossing was secured. Then all his men who could swim, piling their
guns, clothing, and accouterments on a few fence rails, pushed these
before them and thus gained the opposite bank. Later, Wilder swam his
mounted brigade across the river and joined Crittenden south of
Chattanooga. Halleck must have had this ability for crossing a river in
the presence of an enemy in mind when he telegraphed Rosecrans, a few
weeks before, to move at once and keep moving.

But this crossing, and the grand diversion which made it possible, were
only the preliminary, and by no means the formidable parts of the
movement. To complete it, Rosecrans was to cut loose from his base,
carry twenty-five day's supplies and sufficient ammunition for two
battles, cross two precipitous and difficult mountain ranges wholly
within the enemy's territory, and their passes presumably strengthened
and defended, and, after crossing the last range at widely separated
points, to descend into the valley in the rear of that enemy's
stronghold, prepared for battle or any other contingencies which might
arise on this distant and isolated theater of action.

When Bragg discovered the real point of crossing and the lines of actual
movement it was too late to recall the forces dispatched up the
Tennessee or to post columns of sufficient strength on the slopes before
Rosecrans to impede his advance in force. How strong the positions thus
turned by the Union forces were will appear from the statement that so
precipitous and otherwise difficult were the roads over these ranges
that at several of them it required a day and a night for a division
with its artillery and reduced trains to make the ascent.

The Union commander had delayed his movement until the corn was ripe in
order that it might not be necessary to carry grain for his animals,
which would have largely increased his trains - so careful, thoughtful,
and wise was he in every detail of preparation.

Bragg's failure to resist in the vicinity of Rosecrans's crossings and at
the crossings of Raccoon Mountain was due in part to the fact that even
after he knew that the heads of columns were over the river he was still
inclined to look upon their movements as a feint, and to regard the real
point of danger to lie above the city. Rosecrans, even after crossing,
sought successfully to strengthen such impressions in Bragg's mind. He
directed Wagner's, Wilder's, and Minty's brigades to report to Hazen,
and with this force, some 7,000 strong, the latter was ordered to make a
conspicuous show of crossing the river far above Chattanooga. This

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Online LibraryHenry V. (Henry Van) BoyntonChattanooga and Chickamauga → online text (page 1 of 6)