Retreat from Chattanooga

Chattanooga before the Civil War
Chattanooga before the Civil War

On July 4, 1863, the Confederate Army was safely ensconced in Chattanooga where they would stay for the next two months peering anxiously over the Tennessee River for the Union Army.  No one was happy that General Bragg had retreated without much of a fight, but at least Chattanooga still remained in Confederate hands.

As I have mentioned before, General Bragg was a good planner, but he wasn’t very good at changing his plans when other people didn’t cooperate.  Bragg was sure that General Rosecrans and the Union Army of the Cumberland would cross the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga and try to drive the Confederates out by pushing them south.  And, for a while, it appeared that he was correct.

General Rosecrans decided that splitting his army had worked so well against Bragg before that he would do it again.  He split his army into three divisions.  One fired cannons across the Tennessee River from precisely the location Bragg expected.  The other two went south, over the Cumberland Plateau and then over Lookout Mountain.  These southern divisions would move toward Chattanooga from the south, essentially blocking Bragg and his army in Chattanooga and cutting him off.

When Bragg finally realized, at the beginning of September, that most of the Union Army was coming at him from the south, he ordered his army to retreat from Chattanooga and head south.  Although Chattanooga was an important location for the Confederacy, Bragg did not want to get trapped in it.

The Confederate Army of Tennessee pulled out of Chattanooga and headed south until they came to the town of Chickamauga.  The Union Army, still in three divisions, pursued them gleefully.  Rosecrans became puffed up with victory and decided that the Confederate Army was on the run heading for Atlanta.  Rosecrans ordered the three divisions of his army to pursue the Confederates with all possible speed.

But Bragg did not plan to run to Atlanta.  At Chickamauga he stopped his army and turned them to make a stand.  He knew that Rosecrans still had his army divided and he hoped to be able to fight one division at a time until he had defeated all three.  The Confederate army could then return, victorious, to occupy Chattanooga again.

Will Rosecrans figure out Bragg’s plan in time?  Will Bragg’s commanders execute his plan effectively?  Will the Confederate Army return to Chattanooga?  The answers will be in future installments of Civil War History in a Nutshell.