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20974[civilwarwest] Some meandering thoughts on Tullahma and Ole Rosey

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  • Stephen D. Wakefield a/k/a 'AoT'
    Feb 10, 2000
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      I recently had the opportunity to make a quick business trip over to
      Northeast Alabama. At the conclusion of my business I ran over to the
      Chickamauga battle field. It is a wonderful place and the Visitor
      Center has the nicest Civil War musket and rifle gun collection I have
      ever seen. Although a very busy state highway ( the Lafayette Road)
      runs right though the middle of the park it is a park well worth your
      visit and extensive study. Snodgrass hill is really some steep climb
      folks! If Longstreet was so darn smart then how come a ½ mile gap
      between the Kelly Farm position and Snodgrass Hill was not exploited?
      However, I digress.
      When I left to return to Memphis I decided to take the path less
      traveled and went back thru Mc Lemore's Cove and over LookOut Mountain
      toTrenton . . . Negley's Division's route. It to this day is a very
      steep drive over very a dangerous road. It is also very difficult to
      see why the area is or was ever refereed to as a Gap of any sort. How
      19th century transport ever made that decent and then return climb is
      truly beyond me. At Trenton I got back on the interstate and then went
      back up toward Nashville to Sewannee.
      To this day the terrain is breath-taking and a true wilderness. The
      country is remote and even with the interstate I would fear being
      broken down in such wild country . As I passed the large semi-trailer
      trucks struggling to make the climbs on the interstate I wondered how
      horse drawn artillery was ever able to make some of those climbs.

      After making this drive I was left with a much clearer understanding of
      what a logistical night mare the struggle for Chattanooga was for both
      sides. I really believe that this is a factor before which I have never
      truly appreciated.
      Several years ago at a re enactment part of my job was to try to keep
      track of our battalion wagon. This was a very small period wagon drawn
      by two huge well fed MORGAN horses. I was for the first time confronted
      with trying to overcome physical obstacles that I had never before had
      any concern. A very small creek — about three feet across with banks
      about 4 feet high totally blocked the wagon and cut the battalion off
      from the ammunition re-supply for most of a day. Of course reenactors
      possess absolutely no engineering or pioneering capabilities, but then
      we also do not have to depend on horse drawn supply lines for a very
      existence.
      The mountains ( and these are real mountains), the swift running
      streams and sharp ravines had to make the transportation of foods and
      supplies nearly impossible for both the advancing and retreating
      armies.In the early summer of 1863 these imposing physical barriers
      where magnified even further by a very intense period of rain during
      the actual period of the Tullahoma Campaign.. Also it is important to
      remember that this country was not and is not the agriculturally rich
      area like much of Virginia, Middle Tennessee, central Mississippi where
      many troops could live off the land. This area is the wildest of
      Wilderness. The mountains are even to this day very sparsely
      populated.There were grassy pastures for animal grazing. So that in
      this region the armies not only had to haul their food stuffs by wagon
      but those same wagons had to also haul the grain and long forage that
      the horses required. To the extent any farming exsisted in this region
      it was very small subsistence farming boasting at its best 10 acre
      farming plots. For those who have ever been around draft animals, it
      truly staggers the imagination to contemplate the problem of having to
      supply though transport all the draft animals food and pasture while at
      the same time and with the same wagons hauling food for 50-70K men.
      Truly a mammoth undertaking. Sort of like three steps forward... two
      steps back.

      When I think in logistic terms, I begin to conclude that the period of
      March to August 1863 was truly the turning point of the Civil War. How
      Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland penetrated this logistical
      "black hole" of the Confederacy's natural defenses was perhaps the
      greatest military achievement of the war as well as the South's
      greatest failure.
      If one accepts that the penetration of Georgia and capture of Atlanta
      were essential to ultimate union Victory then the kicking in of the
      doorway to Atlanta thru this logistic black hole was of great
      importance. This logistical `black hole" was North of the Tennessee
      River over the Cumberland Mountains and through the area still known
      today as the "barrens". For those more familiar with the Eastern
      Theater think of a huge "Wilderness" area of strategic scope as opposed
      to Virginia's tactical area.
      This barrier was crossed by Rosey and the Army of the Cumberland months
      before the arrival of Grant, Sherman, and Hooker. This time frame also
      provides a telling demonstration of the importance of the disparity of
      Northern verses Southern Resources. Rosey was able to assemble the
      necessary logistics ( i.e. horses, food, ammunition, wagons, harass,
      equipment) at the same time the Federal government was conducting,
      supporting and supplying important and equally demanding campaigns in
      both Mississippi (Vicksburg and Port Hudson ) and in the East
      (Gettysburg and Chancellorsville). Yet the defending Army of Tennessee
      was reported by Bragg as having been "broken down" logistical by its
      retreat through the same area that Rosey penetrated and successfully
      breached.. Once the Army of the Cumberland reached the Tennessee River
      the key was then to reconstruct the railroad thru to Stevenson an
      engineering feat but not a logistical barrier to the industrialized
      North. In the Tullahoma Campaign Rosey's strategic guts, leadership,
      and guile far outstripped the so-called strategic brilliance of Sherman
      who only once though his Northern Georgia campaign strayed from his
      railroad life line. That one time resulting in the stalemate in the
      Dallas/New Hope Church and Pickett's Mill area.
      One can only wonder what the result of the Tullahoma Campaign might
      have been had Joe Johnston with his pendency for logistically motivated
      defense been in charge of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Bragg's
      failure to even attempt to test though battle, the depth of Rosey's
      logistical capability and support begins to appear darn near the
      stupidest southern command decision of the entire war. Just imagine
      what the reaction of historians would have been had Meade chosen not
      to even test Lee's logistical capabilities in the Gettysburg campaign.
      "Fight him for no other reason than to make him expend all his
      ammunition." Even if he whips you after awhile he runs out of bullets
      and simply can no longer fight you. Remember that Lee himself stated
      that the reason he retreated on July 4th was because he only had enough
      ammunition to fight one more battle.
      When you couple this failure with Bragg's lack of immediate pursuit
      after Chickamauga and his very passive siege of Chattanooga I think
      these items of evidence establish that Bragg had no appreciation for
      the logistical side of 19th century warfare. A stark contrast to U.S.
      Grant. Was this because Grant had been an unglamourous quarter master
      in the War with Mexico? Not only did Bragg apparently fail to
      understand that volunteer soldiers and officers needed to be
      spiritually inspired , he also apparently did not understand that they
      needed to be fed or conversely that if deprived of food they were
      likely to lose their willingness to fight. Was this because as a sugar
      planter, Bragg had learned to view his slaves as expendable
      commodities? After all sugar planting had the highest rate of slave
      mortality of any agricultural use of slave labor.

      I think that it is also revealing that the period immediately preceding
      the Tullahoma Campaign is to this day most often refereed to as a
      period of total inactivity by Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland.
      You know the story..while Grant and The Army of the Tennessee is
      valiantly marching and fighting in its Vicksburg Campaign, Rosey and
      the (always slow) Army of the Cumberland are sitting on their
      collective rumps arguing with General in Chief Halleck over the need to
      re-fit their all ready abundant Cavalry. What is totally ignored in
      this conventional wisdom is that horses meant territorial control which
      in turn meant logistical capability. The more territory one army
      controlled the more territory it could draw upon for forage and grain
      for draft animals. The more territory it controlled the more farms it
      could draw upon for wagons and additional draft animals.In fact what
      Rosey and the Army of the Cumberland was doing during this period of
      reported inexcusable inactivity was working like crazy to acquire the
      logistical capabilities to launch a campaign into the strategic "black
      hole" of South East Tennessee. How many weeks did Operation Desert
      Storm require to build up the necessary logistical capabilities before
      the active campaign was initiated?
      Also ignored in this conventional view is the enormous strategic
      problem which faced Rosey in trying to build up a logistic reserve
      which would permit a forward movement. At Murfreesboro Rosecrans had
      two potential strategic supply lines. The first possible supply line
      was the Cumberland River. Three defects with this supply line existed.
      First the river is a small one and is therefore subject to closure by
      on shore small field artillery. This was especially true in the absence
      iron clad gunboat protection.All the available Union gunboats were
      committed to Grants' Vicksburg operation. Second was that the river
      supply line needed river boats. Grant throughout this period was
      constantly making urgent requests for all available small draft non-
      armored river steamers to support his various attempts to by-pass
      Vicksburg.Grant's request got priority and so even if the Union forces
      could somehow have protected the frail river boats from getting blown
      up— there were no boats available.The final problem with the river
      supply line was that the Cumberland was not navigatible for many months
      throughout the year. During the dry months the river was too shallow
      and during the wettest months the river simply flowed too swiftly for
      19th century steam boats to travel against the current.
      The alternative strategic supply line was the Nashville-Louisville
      Railroad. For Rosecrans three fundalmental problems existed with this
      possible supply line and there were called John Hunt Morgan, Nathan
      Bedford Forrest and Joe Wheeler. In December 1862 at Holly Springs
      Grant had learned the the hard way what Southern cavalry could do to
      disrupt a rail line. Apparently Halleck did not learn that lesson as
      well as Grant. Having been denied the Cumberland River supply line
      Rosecrans had to have the means to protect the railroad and it
      certainly seems silly for Halleck and others to have refused to
      recognize this fundalmental fact. Also mas stated earlier the
      accumulation of the cavalry would have the secondary but equally as
      important effect of allowing Rosecrans to develop the needed wagon
      transport to support his ulitmate advance into the actual `logistical
      black hole' called South East Tennessee.
      As frustrating as it must have been to Rosecrans to try to work with
      Washington in developing and protecting a strategic supply line
      Bragg's problems in this area were totally unsatisfactory. Bragg simply
      had no strategic supply line. When he had tried to use the rail system
      to Atlanta and Knoxville to provide food stuffs for the hungry troops
      of the Army of Tennessee he had been instructed that accunumlated
      materials in these locations were reserved for the Army in Virginia!
      Further both Bragg and in turn Department Commander Johnston were told
      that Army of Tennessee commissary officers were prohibited from even
      going to these centers of commerce to try and find food to buy!Richmond
      providing the explanation that if Army of Tennessee officiers were even
      permitted to seek supplies in these areas then the price would go up so
      high that the Army of Northern Virginia commissary officers would not
      be able to meet the prices. The result was that Bragg's Army was
      required to not only be prepared to fight the enemy but also had to
      literally feed itself from the barely sufficient agricultural resources
      of the Elk River valley. A bare hand to mouth existence for which
      Richmond justifiably should be condemned as being criminally negligent
      or just plain stupid- take your pick.





      In short folks I think that the Tullahoma Campaign maybe the single
      most important and yet totally ignored event of the American Civil War.
      I would also suggest that William Rosecrans in this campaign
      established though any degree of objective standards his rightful claim
      to rank as one of the best military commanders of the war. Finally
      Bragg's command failures were much more fundamental than an inability
      to get along with his principal subordinates.
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