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  • Bob Redman
    Dear fellow WT enthusiasts, Forgive the following horrendously long posting. It s a repeat of my early posting of my theses which I have brought up to date
    Message 1 of 4 , Sep 3, 2000
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      Dear fellow WT enthusiasts,

      Forgive the following horrendously long posting. It's a repeat of my early
      posting of my "theses" which I have brought up to date after the recent
      exchanges here. If you already know what I think or aren't interested, then
      read no further. At least it's not in latin.

      Greetings,

      Bob Redman

      ---------------------

      A New View of the Battle for Chattanooga

      There are two reasons for devoting special attention to the battle of
      Chattanooga:

      1) It is the decisive battle of the war because it was the only one the
      South absolutely had to not just win, but win then in order to prolong the
      struggle so that some sort of political settlement could be achieved.
      Thanks to Thomas's inspired micro-management (to borrow Stephen Starr's
      felicitous term) of the battle, Sherman was later able to bag Atlanta in
      the nick of time to influence and perhaps determine the outcome of the
      congressional and presidential elections in the North in the fall of 1864.

      2) It is a laboratory example of a politicized battle. Indeed, the battle
      for Chattanooga was perhaps the most politicized battle of the entire war.
      All of the battles were also internal political battles, but what made
      Chattanooga outdo the other ones in this respect was the one-time presence
      of massive reinforcements at about this time to the core armies of the
      Cumberland and Tennessee. The Army of the Cumberland was reinforced by
      Hooker from the East and Sherman from further west, and the Army of
      Tennessee had been reinforced by Longstreet from the East.

      To cap it all was the arrival of Grant who had already been sounded out by
      politicians trying to get him to run for president in 1864. Grant obviously
      was too smart to cave in immediately to these blandishments, but very few
      men are immune to such temptation. I will attempt here to show that Grant,
      in the light of his conduct of the battle of Chattanooga, was not
      completely immune and was at least as interested in furthering his own
      career as he was in achieving the primary military objective. When politics
      ("For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and
      every vile practice. James 3:16) enter into a battle in a big way, purely
      military considerations are bound to suffer. Grant knew what his prospects
      were if he played his cards right, maintained his facade of modesty, didn't
      get too impatient, and held on to his luck, and he planned his strategy
      accordingly.

      Thomas offered an alternative method of conducting war to that of Grant.
      Thomas's method can be summed up as follows: Take care of your men and
      train them well, plan thoroughly so as to put yourself in the position to
      improvise with minimal risk, force or trick your opponent to attack you on
      ground of your choosing, know the terrain better than your opponent does,
      have a reserve ready for flanking movements, be open to technological
      innovation, NEVER EVER throw massed forces against a single point of your
      opponents line (because it almost never really works and is always
      expensive), and strike hard when it counts. This method requires a lot of
      very dull homework on the part of the practitioner, which doesn't recommend
      it to the hasty or the distracted.

      In this Thomas was in agreement with Rosecrans who did exceedingly well by
      this method until he disregarded Thomas's advice to first consolidate in
      Chattanooga before going after Bragg in Georgia. Instead Rosecrans got
      overconfident (also bowing to political pressure), dispersed his forces,
      and stumbled into a battle before he had got set.

      Following the above named precepts, Thomas had been phenomenally successful
      until then in every battle or segment thereof where he had commanded. On
      the other hand, Grant's method was a study in contrasts to that of Thomas.
      Grant's method would work given a preponderance of force, but the human
      cost would be very high. Moreover, Grant's record up to that point did not
      really bear close scrutiny. Nobody knew this better than Grant did.

      However, Grant had an advantage over Thomas: Grant was from Ohio. Thomas
      was from Virginia and had therefore renounced his political base when he
      returned south "at the head of his troops". He had no potential usefulness
      to president makers and exploiters. Indeed, there were many politicians who
      professed to distrust Thomas, suspecting him of doubtful loyalty and
      perhaps, in the long run, of not being amenable to a policy of looting a
      defeated adversary.

      Before I begin discussing this confrontation I want to discuss the possible
      background of a personality conflict between Grant and Thomas. Consider
      what it was like to be a career officer in the pre Civil War army. If you
      were from the South, and especially from Virginia, you had the best chance
      of promotion because of Virginia's decade long domination of the war
      department. Northern born officers therefore had years to conceive and then
      nurture a grudge against southern born officers. For whatever reason,
      Grant's career had stagnated before the Civil War, and Thomas, the
      quintessential Virginian, had made steady progress. This disadvantage, of
      course was completely reversed with the start of the war, but that does not
      mean that old resentments were forgotten. Then, after the battle of Shiloh,
      Halleck arrived on the scene. He apparently disapproved of the way Grant
      had handled the battle, so he made Grant a supernumerary second in command,
      placed his troops under Thomas, and spent most of his time at Thomas's
      headquarters during the slow march to Corinth. Shortly thereafter, Thomas
      requested that Grant's troops be returned to him, perhaps adding only fuel
      to the fire. Finally, every one of Grant's victories up until his arrival
      at Chattanooga had drawn much criticism, much of it justified. Knowing this
      as well as anyone, Grant faced Thomas whose record of success to that point
      had been an astounding 100 %. On the other hand, Thomas must have resented
      Grant's very presence there as an affront and a suggestion that Thomas
      couldn't do the job alone. Thomas also surely did not approve of Grant's
      improvised approach to doing battle which led to avoidable suffering and
      death among the troops in his own commands. So, when Grant arrived at
      Chattanooga on 23 Oct. 1863, the stage was set for a behind the scenes
      confrontation. They both knew each other very well, and both had reasons
      for mistrusting the other. According to all anecdotes about Grant's first
      arrival at Chattanooga, Thomas let him know he wasn't particularly welcome.

      Another factor was the freshness of Grant's promotion to commander of the
      department of the Mississippi. Grant was on his way east to deal with the
      Lee problem on which many a good man before him had bitten out his teeth.
      If Grant were to stumble in his new assignment, the only possible choice to
      succeed him would have been Thomas. To fatten his account for emergencies,
      Grant needed a certain kind of victory in Chattenooga. I sustain that
      Grant, as a part of his political contingency planning, came to Chattanooga
      expressly to head Thomas off at the pass. However, it was, politically at
      least, "nolo contendere" because Thomas was one of those rare top
      commanders who focused more on the military objective than his personal
      advancement.

      Grant needed to not just win at Chattanooga (in order to affirm his recent
      promotion), but to win in certain way by stacking the deck so that the
      fairly pliant Sherman would get the starring role and Grant the credit, and
      Thomas wouldn't. Grant's plan was to give Sherman the bulk of the troops
      and have Thomas and Hooker do no more than demonstrate and cooperate with
      Sherman once Sherman had crushed Bragg's northern flank. In fact, on 25
      Nov. Sherman had, according to Baldy Smith, "six perfectly appointed
      divisions" (3 of his own plus 3 borrowed from Thomas and Hooker), whereas
      Thomas had 4 and Hooker 2 1/2. Sherman obviously expected an easy triumph,
      but he had yet to meet in battle an all-rounder like Cleburne who, unlike
      Johnston, would also attack. He was not just halted by Cleburne with less
      than a quarter of his forces, he was thrown back. A lot of his men were
      even captured in a counter-attack and went to Andersonville. Sherman's
      attack was, as Cozzens writes, "one of the sorriest episodes in a war full
      of sorry episodes".

      Things were really desperate at 2:30 PM on 25 Nov. for both Grant and
      Thomas. The day was almost over, and if something wasn't done shortly,
      Bragg was going to get away with no more than a bloody nose. But if
      something were done too soon, then Thomas's troops would be ground up, and
      Bragg would be able to claim not just a draw, but a victory. So Grant
      started ordering Thomas to move his 4 divisions forward to the base of the
      ridge and then stop, ostensibly to induce Bragg to cease reinforcing
      Cleburne, just a demonstration please. This order has been called many
      things, the word "foolish" being often used because the Union soldiers
      would have been exposed to galling fire from above and unable to defend
      themselves.

      Most of the books say that Thomas's men , at the last possible minute, then
      saved the day by disregarding their "foolish" order and taking matters into
      their own hands in a uniquely successful charge up the center of
      impregnable Missionary Ridge while Hooker was "finally" threatening Bragg's
      southern flank. A miracle (in other words, a one-time fluke) had occurred.

      Aside from common sense, two considerations speak against this neat
      interpretation:

      1) Newly available source material (Stewarts' Divisions' reports,
      Broadfoot's Supplements) shows that the situation may have even more
      contrary to Grant's plan than is commonly supposed. Hooker was not just
      threatening Stewart's flank, he may even have been the catalyst for Bragg's
      collapse in the center. The retreat began first in Stewart's sector of the
      line under Hooker's attack. This, in turn, threw demoralized troops toward
      the center which facilitated the breakthrough in the center.

      2) Many authors report uncertainty on the part of senior Union officers
      concerning the order they actually received. Some believed they had
      received an order to take the crest. Did Thomas intervene here to make sure
      that someone would take the initiative and move out of the rifle pits? Or
      did he trust to fate and his insistent training of the troops? At the
      moment we can only speculate.

      Note again that Grant, at every step of the campaign, had explicitly
      relegated Thomas and Hooker to supporting and demonstrative roles. Thomas
      had proposed a concentration against Bragg's southern flank, but was turned
      down. Thomas then had to nudge Grant into authorizing Hooker's attack on
      Lookout Mountain, and then his movement against Rossville Gap. On the
      afternoon of 25 Nov. Thomas then repeatedly STALLED Grant's murderous
      limited demonstration order. Thomas had to impede the order from being
      carried out until Hooker had engaged Stewart, thus reducing the risk to his
      precious Army of the Cumberland.

      That Grant had reason to be nervous about Sherman well before 2:30 PM on 25
      Nov. was obvious to all observers on Orchard Knob. Sherman's troops had
      started crossing the Tennessee at around 2 AM on 24. Nov. By dawn about
      8000 troops were already on the south bank. Nine hours later Sherman, after
      having moved forward 1 1/2 miles and encountered no more than skirmishers,
      entrenched on Billygoat Hill. He then reported to Grant that he had reached
      the tunnel, the objective stated in his orders. However, Sherman was in
      error. The tunnel was still 2 long miles away, and the people on Orchard
      Knob could see that Sherman couldn't be at the tunnel. That night Cleburne
      was moved in to fill a void on Tunnel Hill. It must have been a long night
      for Grant too, plenty of time for him to formulate a contingency plan.

      How had Sherman made such an error? In the middle of Nov. he briefly came
      to Chattanooga to confer with Grant. On 15 Nov. he writes in his Memoirs
      that he walked to Ft. Wood to inspect the northern end of the ridge. From
      that point the tunnel entrance is about 5 miles away and masked by a spur
      of the ridge. However, the notch in the ridge under which the tunnel is
      located - the second notch from the north - is perfectly visible. On 16
      Nov. he rode along the north bank of the Tennessee to a point opposite S.
      Chickamauga Creek and climbed a hill with Baldy Smith who had been there
      with Thomas on 7 Nov. This point is about 4 1/2 miles from the tunnel mouth
      which was visible from there. On these two occasions either nobody pointed
      out the actual distance from the first rise of the ridge (Billygoat Hill)
      to the tunnel (under the 2nd notch), or Sherman wasn't listening or
      looking. Sherman afterward cited "wrongly laid down maps" which he surely
      would have added to his battle report if he could have produced them.
      Thomas's was, however, famous for his maps which his secret service
      topography engineers (among them Ambrose Bierce) produced. Sherman must not
      have had one of Thomas's maps, and neither did Grant (footnote here Grant's
      battle report)! This indicates a breakdown in the cooperation between the
      staffs of Grant, Sherman, and Thomas which goes beyond Grant's and
      Sherman's carelessness in such matters. Departing from this forced
      conclusion, we must further conclude that the tensions between Grant and
      Thomas must have been much higher than any historian I have read has been
      willing to postulate. This forms the background of the often and variously
      described drama between the two generals which took place on Orchard Knob
      the afternoon of 25 Nov.

      When Grant started giving his order to Thomas at about 2:30 PM on 25 Nov.
      he did not yet know that Sherman was not just repulsed. He could not have
      dreamed that Sherman had already quit without telling anyone. However, he
      must known that, if something wasn't done, Bragg was going to save his
      army, in effect pull out at least a draw with incalculable consequences for
      Lincoln's prosecution of the war, not to mention for Grant's career. The
      precision of the sequence of events which followed speaks for Thomas's
      inspired management in the face of Grant's interference.

      The conclusion is inescapable that Grant ordered a limited demonstration
      with Thomas's men against the center because he hoped only to save the
      situation for Sherman, regardless of the cost to the "orphan" army of the
      Cumberland. Much light would be shed on Grant's thinking that afternoon if
      the records of his official correspondence were complete, but they are not.
      Several key exchanges of the afternoon of the 25th between Grant and
      Sherman are missing from the official records which leads to further
      speculation about the possibility that they were suppressed.

      There is a further possibility which offers itself if we confront the
      events on Orchard Knob with a reconstructed time table of Hooker's
      progress, between which we can see a very close correspondence. If you
      consider that Hooker's artillery made noise, and if you consider that
      Thomas was in communication with Lookout Mountain (the ultimate observation
      tower) through signal flag, and that Thomas states in his official report
      that on 24 Nov. Hooker had "reported by telegraph" to him, then it is
      reasonable to assume that both Thomas and Grant were informed of how close
      Hooker was getting to Stewart. The closer Hooker got, the more Grant
      worried about Sherman.

      Was Grant then willing to sacrifice a good portion of Thomas's army in
      order to keep Hooker from getting credit for winning the battle?

      I am, by the way, willing to listen to other explanations of Grant's
      behavior, except that he was "foolish" or "hadn't thought the order
      through". Grant was not foolish, and he had hours and hours to mull the
      order over before Thomas finally let his troops move forward.

      In any case, Thomas's charge up the middle was essentially a well-timed and
      glorious mopping up operation, and nothing could have pleased Thomas
      better. That it didn't please Grant is attested to by numerous eye-witness
      accounts of Grant's anger or even rage as Thomas's troops exceeded his
      orders. He didn't need a success on Thomas's part, and he really didn't
      want the "dangerous" Hooker to get any credit. So, after the battle, Grant
      did the next best thing by rewriting history in both his official report
      and later in his Memoirs. He redefined Sherman's attack as a successful
      holding operation, turned Thomas's attack into a miracle which he had
      ordered anyway (but hadn't), and had Hooker disappear into the black hole
      of Rossville. The machine Grant later helped create was in place for
      decades and in the position to induce the general public to buy this
      legend. A large part of the interested public today, including many
      professional scholars, still buys this legend. We don't have to, especially
      if we let Grant speak for himself who, according to Hooker (true, not the
      most disinterested of witnesses), said after the battle: "Damn the battle.
      I had nothing to do with it." Has a nice ring to it, anyway.

      As far as the unfortunate Bragg is concerned, the intrigues of Polk,
      Breckinridge, Hardee, Cheatham, and Longstreet, with Davis's benign
      connivance, had much reduced the effectiveness of the Army of Tennessee by
      the time the battle took place. Longstreet's 18,000 men were sorely missed
      after Longstreet succeeded in getting Davis to order him to Knoxville (in
      which Bragg all too willingly acquiesced), but Longstreet himself was not
      missed in Chattanooga by his colleagues, as he through insubordination and
      indifference had literally thrown away Lookout Valley and thus undermined
      Bragg's entire left flank. When on the 23rd of Nov. (after Thomas's
      "exploratory" move forward expanded the Federal perimeter to include
      Orchard Knob) it dawned on Bragg that his position on Missionary Ridge
      perhaps wasn't quite so impregnable as it might look, he appointed
      Breckinridge of all people to oversee the work of fortification. An
      engineer by the name of Captain Green started that very evening in the dark
      with very few tools and worked all the next day, but, regardless of what
      all the authors say about this battle, Missionary Ridge HAS VERY LITTLE
      MILITARY CREST with which Captain Green could work, not even with more time
      allotted to him. In many places it is about 20 yards wide, and much of its
      western face drops off almost vertically. Cannon could not be decisive up
      there against a rush, even with elaborate emplacements for them. Instead,
      Bragg needed men to flesh out the line and to constitute a reserve, but,
      with Longstreet's men gone, he could do neither. In addition Bragg's men
      were split between the flats and the crest which impeded the defenders on
      top of the ridge when the assault started. In any case, he would have been
      wiser to retreat on the 24th, and when he didn't, his own troops took
      matters into their own hands and decided to save their army if Bragg
      wouldn't.

      This brings me back to my point of departure - listening in Bragg
      Reservation to the quote from Bragg's report about the unexplainable
      behavior of his veteran troops. That day I sensed that both they and Bragg
      had seen the "masses of troops" moving toward the road back home. All
      including Bragg (regardless of what he wrote in his battle report for
      consumption in Richmond) knew whither the masses of troops were headed. The
      trap was closing in on them, and Bragg didn't have the courage to order
      retreat. He had collapsed under the weight of his responsibility. Today,
      after years of reading and reflection, I feel that the knowable facts
      support my first and intuitive assessment of this battle.

      -------------------------------------------------

      Twenty questions about the battle of Chattanooga (basis for thesis above)

      1) Fact: The morning of the 25th there was communication between Thomas on
      Orchard Knob and signalmen on Lookout Mountain because this was how Thomas
      sent his orders to Hooker at about 9:30 once the fog had lifted. Is it
      possible that these signalmen, who were in a perfect position to observe
      Hooker's movements across the valley, did not keep Thomas informed of
      Hooker's further progress that day? Is it possible that Grant, no more than
      20 yards away from Thomas the afternoon of the 25th (Orchard Knob wouldn't
      permit a greater distance), was not also so informed?

      2) Fact: Thomas in his official report of the battle states that on 24 Nov.
      Hooker "reported by telegraph" that he had defeated the Confederate
      defenders at Craven's house on Lookout Mountain. Who cut the telegraph wire
      on the 25th?

      3) Fact: Hooker was known to be extraordinarily ambitious. He was
      especially motivated to wipe out the stain of Chancerllorsville. What then
      held Hooker back halfway up on Lookout Mountain the morning of 25 Nov.
      until 10 AM?

      4) Fact: Hooker had artillery with him and used it against Stewart starting
      sometime between 3 and 4 PM on 25 Nov. Is it possible that Thomas and
      Grant, Bragg and Breckinridge, Confederate grunt up on the ridge and Union
      grunt down on the flats didn't hear this cannonfire and the other attendant
      racket?

      5) Facts: the western face of the ridge was cleared for field of fire, the
      upper Chattanooga valley was a mixture of cultivated fields and forest, and
      there were no leaves on the hardwood trees. Bragg reports that he saw at
      about 11 AM "masses of troops coming from Lookout" and heading toward his
      front. Could the Confederate grunt up on the ridge not also see Hooker
      proceeding unopposed across the valley toward his road back home?

      6) Fact as reported by Sword: August Willich, a German born and Prussian
      trained general officer of Wood's division situated right in front of
      Orchard Knob, stated afterward that he had understood that, according to
      his orders, he was to "advance" after reaching the rifle pits. Is it likely
      that such a person would have misconstrued the order as issued by Grant?
      Did he then receive a different order, and if so, from whom and through whom?

      7) Fact as reported by Cozzens: After Grant's second verbal order to Thomas
      to have his men move to the rifle pits and stop, Thomas and Gordon Granger
      (the man who had saved Thomas at Chickamauga) conferred alone for a few
      minutes, whereupon Granger "went off". What did Thomas say to Granger?

      8) Fact as reported by Cozzens: After Grant's second order to take the
      rifle pits, still nothing happened, whereupon Grant ordered the movement a
      third time, and the machinery started into motion. Where did Granger go
      and to whom did he talk between Grant's 2nd and 3rd enunciations of the order?

      -9) Fact: Grant's order for Thomas to have his men "demonstrate" toward the
      rifle pits and stop would have, if rigidly adhered to, exposed these troops
      to grave danger because of the plunging fire. Was Thomas the sort of man to
      not intervene in some way in order to mitigate the effect of such an order?

      10) Fact: Many writers call this order on the part of Grant "foolish" or
      "ill-considered" or even "quixotic". Was not Grant anything but foolish,
      and did he not normally reflect on his orders, and isn't the word quixotic
      an unusual term to describe the behavior of the mature general Grant?

      11) Observation: There is an amazing congruity between the chronology of
      Hooker's progress against the Confederate left flank and the chronology of
      Grant's repeated ordering of Thomas to move against the rifle pits AND
      STOP. Is this a coincidence?

      12) Fact: According to Sword, some of the official communications of the
      afternoon of 25 Nov. between Grant and Sherman are missing from the
      Official Records. Is it possible they were removed, and if so, by whom?

      13) Fact as reported by resident historian Jim Ogden of the Chickmauga NPS:
      Stewart's Divisions' battle reports show that the Confederate retreat began
      first in his division under the attack from Hooker, before Tucker gave way
      in the center. Why does Grant state in his battle report, and then again in
      his Memoirs, that Hooker was held up for four hours at Chattanooga Creek
      and did not meet the expectations placed in him?

      14) Fact: From any elevated point within the former Federal perimeter, one
      can clearly see the two notches (formed by Campbell St. and Lightfoot Mill
      Road) delineating the northern and southern limits of Tunnel Hill. Why
      couldn't Sherman, who in his Memoirs reports having gone to Ft. Wood, see
      this?

      15) Fact: from Hickson Pike on the northern bank of the Tennessee, you can
      see the western portal of the railroad tunnel and, on 7 Nov. on a hill in
      that area opposite the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek, Baldy Smith and
      Thomas did see the campfires on Missionary Ridge. What did Sherman see on
      16 Nov. when he made his reconnaissance outing to this same spot?

      16) Fact: Sherman cited "wrongly laid out maps" which led him to think that
      Billygoat Hill was Tunnel Hill. Did such defective maps exist, and, if so,
      to what extent were they defective?

      17) Fact: Thomas had the most extensive "secret service" of any army of the
      war. Many specialists were employed in this service, including professional
      topographical engineers who provided information for Thomas's famous
      topographical books. What were these engineers doing during the 2 months
      between the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga?

      18) Fact: Grant in his orders to Thomas of 18 Nov. complains obliquely
      about "not being provided with a map giving names of roads, spurs of the
      mountains, and other places". Why would Grant, after having spent 3 weeks
      at Chattanooga, admit to any discerning reader of his order that he
      couldn't get the information he wanted from Thomas?

      19) Fact according to resident historian Jim Ogden of the NPS at
      Chickamauga: There was an accurate geodesic survey map of the area in
      Thomas's HQ. Why didn't Grant or Sherman ask for a detailed map, and if
      they did ask, why didn't they get one? Why would they begin a battle
      without one?

      20) Observation: Grant's behavior in Chattanooga was inconsistent with the
      common description of him as being modest and unassuming. His subsequent
      battle report was inconsistent with the common description of him as being
      honest. Was not Grant as ambitious and occasionally as unscrupulous as many
      another top commander in this and any other war?
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