Brooks Simpson on Chattanooga
- In just 16 consecutive pages of his chapter on Chattanooga (I omit
the one page with the misprinted map), Dr. Simpson appears to make
numerous misstatements, prejudicial comments, omissions, and
unsupported assertions. The most questionable ones are:
On Page 228-9, Dr. Simpson wrote that James H. Wilson had "preceded
his superior to Thomas' headquarters." No, Wilson arrived after
On Page 229, Dr. Simpson wrote, "The bad roads made it impossible
to gather sufficient rations to feed the army; for the moment [as of
10/23] there was no way to feed Hooker's force as well." Instead,
Hooker was on the railroad line and was receiving rations. Maybe Dr.
Simpson meant something else.
On Page 229, Dr. Simpson wrote about "a plan Smith believed would
restore a line of supply." He didn't state that Thomas believed
the same. As Cozzens puts it, "Thomas, however, was willing to
gamble on Smith, and a full three days before Grant's arrival had
told the Vermonter to begin assembling the boats and bridging
material he would need to carry out his plan." Smith wrote, "The
arrangements had been partially completed before the arrival of
General Grant, General Thomas having approved the plan shortly after
he took command." Even Grant gave Thomas credit for the plan.
On Page 230, Dr. Simpson took a Grant quote which had been spoken to
Baldy Smith about Thomas concerning the 11/7/63 order to attack and
placed it completely out of context: Simpson had it spoken about
Baldy Smith concerning the Cracker Line operation. Dr. Simpson
agreed with me that he was incorrect in his writing.
On Page 231, Dr. Simpson wrote that there were "several barges" for
the Brown's Ferry operation. Actually, there were two flatboats
and some fifty pontoons.
On Page 231, Dr. Simpson wrote that Rosecrans, Thomas, and
Smith "claimed the honor [of authoring the plan] for themselves."
But Thomas wrote that, "To brigadier-general W.F. Smith, chief
engineer, should be accorded great praise for the ingenuity which
conceived, and the ability which executed, the movement at
Brown's Ferry." That doesn't sound as if Thomas claimed the honor
for himself at all.
On Page 231, Dr. Simpson wrote that "Hooker could now bring up
his two corps" into the valley. Actually, it was only one-and-a-half
corps; the 1st Division of the 12th Corps, under corps commander
Slocum, was guarding the railroad between Wartrace Bridge, TN and
Bridgeport, AL throughout this period.
On Page 232, Dr. Simpson wrote that, "Having outlined his plan
[on 11/7], Grant waited for Thomas to implement it." He didn't
have to wait long; Thomas and Smith returned "after dark" that same
day to dissuade Grant from his folly. The author's obvious
implication is that Thomas was slow and/or obstructive.
On Page 232, Dr. Simpson wrote that, Smith "urged" Grant to
order the attack on 11/7/63. The professor and I have debated this.
His position rests, as far as I can tell, on Smith saying that
he "instigated" the attack. My opposing stance was taken
because Smith was of the opinion that the "whole idea seems to have a
crudeness entirely out of place in the mind of a general commanding
an army." He also stated "it will not be a matter of surprise that
the order staggered Thomas." He and Thomas worked together to get it
countermanded. Smith may have instigated the attack with his
proposal for a demonstration, but this is far different from urging a
On Page 232, Dr. Simpson wrote that, "Together the two men rode
out to examine the ground (something Smith should have done in
complying with Grant's earlier request to develop an attack plan)."
Grant's order to attack Missionary Ridge was only given earlier that
day and, therefore, Smith had no chance to determine the feasibility
of the plan before then. It was Grant's responsibility, as he was the
one who ordered the attack, to ascertain its feasibility in one way
On Page 232, Dr. Simpson wrote that Thomas told Grant that, "his
command was in no condition to attack. This was true, at least to a
certain extent...." Dr. Simpson minimizes the problems in the
AotC. The men were still starving and there were hardly any draft
animals to pull artillery. Grant's own statements sufficiently
document the army's inability to attack; on 11/1 he told
Burnside, "Thomas' command is not in condition to do more
than make a demonstration in their immediate front." Grant had
repeatedly noted the AotC's lack of draft animals.
On Page 233, On Thomas' offer to assault Lookout Mountain in a
few days after some siege guns arrived, Dr. Simpson snidely observes,
"it would be hard to fathom exactly how this would help Burnside."
Although Grant thought it "imperative" to help Burnside and the move
against Lookout was part of Grant's new plan, he didn't pursue it
further. Taking Lookout would also have eased the supply situation.
Cleburne's forced return after Orchard Knob was taken helps to
further disprove the author's attitude.
Taking Grant's side in the aftermath of the abortive attack, on
Page 233, Dr. Simpson wrote that Grant "found himself unhappy with
Thomas." I tried to determine whether the professor thought that
the plan for a full-scale assault was militarily reasonable, but he
did not respond. If the attack was foolish, as I and others have
maintained, then Thomas should have found himself unhappy with Grant.
On Page 234, Dr. Simpson wrote that "Smith still favored attacking
the northern section of Missionary Ridge." Instead, Smith
formulated a new plan based on observations made while he was trying
to get Grant's 11/7 order countermanded.
On Page 234, Dr. Simpson wrote that the Army of the Tennessee
would "bear down on the Confederate right, while Thomas threatened
the enemy center." Instead, Thomas was to move to the left and
join Sherman in a movement down the ridge.
On Page 236, Dr. Simpson's writing throughout his book
minimizes Grant's drinking. At Chattanooga, "Grant, tired after a
long day of exertion, returned to headquarters, Someone offered him
a drink, which he gratefully accepted." Simpson then quotes Rawlins'
letters which stated: "the free use of intoxicating liquors at
headquarters which last night's developments showed me had reached
the general commanding" and "two more nights like the last will find
[Grant] prostrated on a sick bed unfit for duty." Although this
was an unmistakable implication of drunkenness, Simpson ignored that
it happened, much less that it occurred at a crucial time. He
somehow wrote that "Grant was not about to embark on a binge that
would have confined him to his bedroom" and "the whole matter seemed a
tempest in a teapot." After all, the only thing Simpson admitted is
just one drink for a tired, thirsty man. [See the postscript for an
example of Simpson's treatment of other sources.]
On Page 238, Dr. Simpson wrote that, "Unwilling to let Bragg off
without a fight and determined to detain his opponent from
reinforcing Longstreet, Grant ordered Thomas to advance against the
first Confederate line along a rise due west of town known as Orchard
Knob." Instead, Grant's order read, "The truth or falsity of the
deserters who came in last night, stating that Bragg had fallen back,
should be ascertained at once. If he is really falling back, Sherman
can commence at once laying his pontoon trains, and we can save a
day." Grant left it up to Thomas to determine how this was to be done
and taking Orchard Knob was Thomas' idea. Grant's order did
not call for any kind of a "fight" with Bragg.
On Page 238, Simpson wrote that Sherman had "no serious resistance"
at the bridgehead over the Tennessee. Instead, his soldiers easily
captured all but one of the sentries by calling out "Relief." One
shot was fired into the air. Unless one considers the farmer who
complained about the intrusion on his fields, there was no resistance
On Page 239, Simpson gave no description of the AotT's march towards
Missionary Ridge. He wrote that Sherman "was ready to move against
Missionary Ridge." The next reference is that "Sherman reported that
he had already advanced as far as Tunnel Hill on Missionary Ridge."
Left out is how Sherman marched at six-tenths of a mile per hour in
his self-described "dash" to the ridge. In so doing, he threw away
the perfect opportunity to win the battle. That day, the AotT
entrenched on three separate lines, a feat which made Thomas'
reputed "slowness" pale by comparison.
On Page 238, Simpson asserted that "a deep ravine just north of
[Tunnel Hill] had escaped Union observation" and that, "[f]or the
moment, the Yankees had stumbled." By admitting no more than the
equivalent of "mistakes were made," Simpson apparently absolves
Sherman of one of the two major Federal blunders in the battle (the
other being Sherman's failed assault on the 25th). There is no
mention that Sherman, if he had accompanied his troops on their
march, should have determined his proper objective--maybe by looking
for the railroad which ran out of the tunnel on the far side of
Tunnel Hill. (That's why it was called "Tunnel Hill.")
Simpson accurately but misleadingly noted about Bragg's stripping of
his center to reinforce the right: "Whether this was in fact true, a
point to be much debated in the years to come...." Yes, it was
debated. But now, there is general agreement that troops did not come
from Bragg's center to oppose Sherman. Simpson doesn't bother to
mention that. (An analogy would be that "the bayonetting of men
in their tents at Shiloh has been debated"; it was also debated, but
it would be similarly untrue.)
On Page 240, Simpson then wrote how Grant "decided that if Thomas
moved forward, Bragg would be forced to take away men now opposite
Sherman." Such a goal would make no sense if Grant really
planned a two-stage assault, as the author postulated. Grant
certainly wouldn't want Confederates to move toward the place of
attack; the author's contention is really an indication that the
rifle-pits were Grant's true objective.
On Page 240, The author wrote that, "Grant had in mind a two-stage
assault [by Thomas' AotC on Missionary Ridge] ... perhaps in
coordination with Hooker or Sherman." But there's little evidence
for and much against Grant having planned a two-stage assault in the
first place. In the early afternoon of the 25th, with Sherman's
assault petering out and Hooker's three divisions still out of sight,
Grant had the following conversation with General Wood, according to
Grant : General Sherman seems to be having a hard time.
Wood: He does seem to be meeting with rough usage.
Grant : I think we ought to try something to help him.
Wood: I think so too, General, and whatever you order we will try to
Grant : I think if you and Sheridan were to advance your divisions
and carry the rifle pits at the base of the Ridge, it would so
threaten Bragg's center that he would draw enough troops from the
right, to secure his center, to insure the success of General
Simpson tried to impeach Wood by saying to me that he wrote the above
21 years later; Grant's memoirs, however, were written 22 years after
the battle. Even if Grant had two stages in mind, he gave no orders
to that effect, no matter what he said to Meigs or wrote in his
memoirs. Simpson rationalized that, "The idea seemed reasonable,
although a frontal assault up a ridge might ordinarily be deemed
On Page 241, Simpson wrote that "Then [Grant] took charge of
Thomas' army." I've not seen any other author state this, nor
have I seen evidence for it. Beyond ordering Thomas' troops to take
the rifle-pits, Grant did not take Thomas' place as commander of the
On Page 242, Simpson wrote that "Thomas grew queasy with concern;
Grant told him to calm down." This is based on one William Shanks.
Simpson completely ignores all the other sources who indicated that
Grant was the nervous one, loudly questioning Thomas and Granger to
determine who ordered the troops up the ridge and threatening whoever
On Page 242, Simpson wrote that, "Meanwhile, Hooker's columns
were finally astride the ridge, sweeping northward." He mentioned
nothing about Hooker routing Clayton's brigade, flanking Bragg's
position on the ridge, and trapping much of Stewart's division
between his own forces and those of Johnson.
On Page 244, Simpson summed up the victorious assault: "But it is
improbable that what became known as the 'the miracle of Missionary
Ridge' was the result of conscious designindeed, one would
question the wisdom of ordering a frontal assault up such a steep and
broken slope [contradicting his contention above that the 'idea
seemed reasonable']. Grant no doubt contemplated an assault by Thomas
in support of Sherman; that he planned what happened strains
credulity." So, did Grant plan the two-stage assault or not? Or
did he expect the two-stage assault to fail, because expecting it to
succeed would strain credulity. Simpson was being self-contradictory.
Throughout this chapter, Dr. Simpson rarely found a good word for
Thomas (e.g., "rude behavior," "Thomas showed little interest in the
plan" and "not exactly the words of an aggressive fighter").
Conversely, he rarely found a bad one for Grant. On what may be his
biggest leap of faith, the notion that Grant planned a two-stage
assault up the ridge, Simpson doesn't even qualify his ability to
read Grant's intentions (i.e., "Grant had in mind a two-stage
assault"). On a topic where Simpson's is a distinctly minority
opinion, the author offers none of the evidence against his case and
seems to have little to exhibit in favor of it.
I readily admit to having high standards. Cozzens' works don't
escape my scrutiny and occasional criticism either. But given the
errors and bias which I see in less than one chapter of Simpson's
biography, I can't consider it to be reliable source of information
or opinion. Readers of this post may not consider me reliable, in
return. I ask one favor, though; instead of critiquing my brief by
focusing on what may be the weaker assertions, start with the most
solid evidence (e.g., where Simpson just plain got his facts wrong).
If you agree that his book falls short in just a third or a half of
these cases, that should still be quite an indictment.
P.S. After his victory at Vicksburg, Grant traveled to New Orleans
where he attended a banquet. Afterwards, the general rode off
quickly on a horse and had an accident, which had been attributed to
a train's whistle and/or another horse. Simpson stated that,
"Grant had been a victim of a falling horse before."
The author, in earlier chapters, had denigrated certain individuals
who had reported that Grant had been drinking. In New Orleans,
however, two Union generals provided documentation of Grant's
drunkenness. Dr. Simpson furnished their respective quotations with
commentary designed to impeach the generals' evidence: "[Banks
said] 'I am frightened to think that he is a drunkard. His
accident was caused by this, which was too manifest to all who saw
him'(Banks failed to explain how Grant's drinking caused the
locomotive to blow its whistle or the horse to fall). Franklin, who
loved to gossip about Grant (although Grant, for reasons still
unclear, held Franklin in high regard), declared several months later
that 'Grant had commenced a frolic which would have ruined his body
and reputation in a week,' Franklin, however, remained silent on why
he had done nothing to stop the process."
After stating how Washburn and L. Thomas said nothing about Grant's
drunkenness, Dr. Simpson continued: "Had the general [Grant] been
in the condition described by Banks and Franklin, no one could have
failed to observe it; indeed, Banks and Franklin would have been
derelict in their duty to allow Grant to ride in such a condition.
Yet one wonders whether Grant, flushed by a drink or two, pressed the
limits of his skill" with his fast riding.
Banks doesn't have to explain anything about Grant's accident; he
stated that Grant was drunk and that his accident was due to this.
It doesn't matter whether Franklin liked to gossip about Grant or
that Grant liked him, for whatever reason. He agreed that Grant had
started a binge, er ... excuse me, "frolic." I don't think
Franklin's memory of such an incident can be questioned just because
a few months passed. Since Grant's drinking was abruptly stopped due
to the accident, Franklin's forecast of a week's frolic didn't
take place and, thus, there was no "process" to stop. Banks asserted
that Grant's drunkenness was quite evident to all who saw him and I
didn't know that it was the duty of an officer to stop his superior's
drinking or his mounting a horse afterwards; I guess the slogan went:
officers don't let other officers ride drunk.
This is all a fine example of the author's apologetics. It would
serve history better if he had just admitted, "It was likely that
Grant got drunk at the banquet, and this could well have resulted in
his accident with the horse." Period.
- Let me shed some light on this.
If I suffer a wound, it is "very" serious. If a friend suffers a wound, it
is serious. If you suffer a wound, it may be serious. If an enemy of the
U.S. (I don't mean Confederates here, that's over and long gone) suffers a
wound, it isn't serious enough. You see, it depends.
Now that's my definention of how serious a wound is I think I know what
Grant meant! It was serious. Your mileage may vary.
>Subject: Re: [civilwarwest] Re: Sherman's wound
>Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 17:36:24 EST
>In a message dated 1/9/2006 11:47:37 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,
>--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "James F. Epperson"
> > --- In email@example.com, "josepharose" <josepharose@y...>
> > wrote:
> > >
> > > But I'm NOT saying that Grant's *assessment* of Sherman's wound was
> > > wrong.
> > Sure you are. Grant called it "severe," and on that basis
> > you say Grant was a liar. Grant's assessment *has* to be
> > wrong or else we can conclude that you are ... never mind ;-)
>I was very explicit. Grant had sufficient experience in war to assess
>the wound and, as it didn't come close to being severe, I'm sure that
>he *assessed* it correctly.
>But it is a supposition on your part that he did. Maybe he did have the
>experience to assess it correctly --- although that in itself is an
>assumption on your part. It doesn't mean that he *did assess it
>correctly*. Maybe it bled a lot and this misled Grant. Maybe it
>wasn't known whether or not a bone had been hit. Maybe Grant
>simply projected his concern for a valued colleague and friend.
>All of that is possible, and none of it makes Grant a liar. That's
>the problem with your "analysis" here.
>I have the educational and professional background to judge mathematical
>issues. That doesn't mean I answer every question correctly 100%
>of the time. Sometimes I simply make a mistake. Making a mistake
>doesn't make me a liar; it doesn't make my mistaken answer a lie.