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American Civil War : War in the West, 1863-1865

Tullahoma to Atlanta

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American Civil War : War in the West, 1863-1865

Major General William T. Sherman, USA

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration
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The Tullahoma Campaign

As Grant was conducting operations against Vicksburg, the American Civil War in the West continued in Tennessee. In June, after pausing in Murfreesboro for nearly six months, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans began moving against Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma, TN. Conducting a brilliant campaign of maneuver, Rosecrans was able to turn Bragg out of several defensive positions, forcing him to abandon Chattanooga and driving him from the state.

Battle of Chickamauga

Reinforced by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's corps from the Army of Northern Virginia and a division from Mississippi, Bragg laid a trap for Rosecrans in the hills of northwestern Georgia. Advancing south, the Union general encountered Bragg's army at Chickamauga on September 18, 1863. Fighting began in earnest the following day when Union Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas attacked Confederate troops on his front. For most of the day, fighting surged up and down the lines with each side attacking and counterattacking.

On the morning of the 20th, Bragg attempted to flank Thomas' position at Kelly Field, with little success. In response to the failed attacks, he ordered a general assault on the Union lines. Around 11:00 AM, confusion led to a gap opening in the Union line as units were shifted to support Thomas. As Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook was attempting to plug the gap, Longstreet's corps attacked, exploiting the hole and routing the right wing of Rosecrans' army. Retreating with his men, Rosecrans departed the field leaving Thomas in command. Too heavily engaged to withdrawal, Thomas consolidated his corps around Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge. From these positions his troops beat off numerous Confederate assaults before falling back under the cover of darkness. This heroic defense earned Thomas the moniker "The Rock of Chickamauga." In the fighting, Rosecrans suffered 16,170 casualties, while Bragg's army incurred 18,454.

Siege of Chattanooga

Stunned by the defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans retreated all the way back to Chattanooga. Bragg followed and occupied the high ground around the city effectively putting the Army of the Cumberland under siege. To the west, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was resting with his army near Vicksburg. On October 17, he was given command of the Military Division of the Mississippi and control of all Union armies in the West. Moving quickly, Grant replaced Rosecrans with Thomas and worked to reopen supply lines to Chattanooga. This done, he shifted 40,000 men under Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Joseph Hooker east to reinforce the city. As Grant was pouring troops into the area, Bragg numbers were reduced when Longstreet's corps was ordered away for a campaign around Knoxville, TN.

Battle of Chattanooga

On November 24, 1863, Grant began operations to drive Bragg's army away from Chattanooga. Attacking at dawn, Hooker's men drove Confederate forces from Lookout Mountain south of the city. Fighting in this area ended around 3:00 PM when ammunition ran low and a heavy fog enveloped the mountain, earning the fight the nickname "Battle Above the Clouds." At the other end of the line, Sherman advanced taking Billy Goat Hill at the north end of the Confederate position.

The following day, Grant planned for Hooker and Sherman to flank Bragg's line, allowing Thomas to advance up the face of Missionary Ridge in the center. As the day progressed, the flank attacks became bogged down. Feeling that Bragg was weakening his center to reinforce his flanks, Grant ordered Thomas' men to move forward to assault the three lines of Confederate trenches on the ridge. After securing the first line, they were pinned down by fire from the remaining two. Rising up, Thomas' men, without orders, pressed on up the slope, chanting "Chickamauga! Chickamauga!" and broke the center of Bragg's lines. With no choice, Bragg ordered the army to retreat back to Dalton, GA. As a result of his defeat, President Jefferson Davis relieved Bragg and replaced him with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

Changes in Command

In March 1964, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to lieutenant general and placed him in supreme command of all Union armies. Departing Chattanooga, Grant turned over command to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. A long-time and trusted subordinate of Grant's, Sherman immediately made plans for driving on Atlanta. His command consisted of three armies which were to operate in concert: the Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, the Army of the Cumberland, under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, and the Army of the Ohio, under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield.

The Campaign for Atlanta

Moving southeast with 98,000 men, Sherman first encountered Johnston's 65,000-man army near Rocky Face Gap in northwest Georgia. Maneuvering around Johnston's position, Sherman next met the Confederates at Resaca on May 13, 1864. After failing to break Johnston's defenses outside the town, Sherman again marched around his flank and forced the Confederates to fall back. Through the remainder of May, the Sherman steadily maneuvered Johnston back towards Atlanta with battles occurring at Adairsville, New Hope Church, Dallas, and Marietta. On June 27, with the roads too muddy to steal a march on the Confederates, Sherman attempted to attack their positions near Kennesaw Mountain. Repeated assaults failed to take the Confederate entrenchments and Sherman's men fell back. By July 1, the roads had improved allowing Sherman to again move around Johnston's flank, dislodging him from his entrenchments.

Previous: Turning Points | Civil War 101 | Next: War in the East, 1863-1865
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