September 24, 1863: Hooker to Chattanooga

 

 

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was an irascible and cantankerous man who didn’t suffer fools, or anyone else for that matter, gladly.  He was often a pain to be around.  However he more than made up for his lack of people skills, with driving energy, imagination and tenacity.  These characteristics all came into play in the wake of the Union defeat at Chickamauga.

On the night of September 23 he went to the White House and took the drastic step of summoning the President from his bed to attend a hurried council of war.  Stanton proposed to dispatch to Chattanooga from the Army of the Potomac the XI and XII corps, some 20,000 men.  Lincoln was dubious that the troops, having to travel some 1200 miles by rain, would arrive in time to aid Rosecrans.  Stanton came prepared for this objection.  Present at the meeting was Colonel D.C. McCallum, head of the Department of Military Railroads, who, at Stanton’s prompting, promised that the troops could be shipped in a week, and vouched for it with his life.  Lincoln, reassured, agreed to the plan.  The expedition was to be commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac, given another opportunity to play a major role in the War.

Stanton worked through the night and the entire next day, issuing orders, seizing railroads and giving Hooker full authority to use all and any resources necessary to make this lightning move.  Hooker, back in a major command again, wasted no time putting the troops into motion.  The troops began to entrain at Manassas Junction on September 25, and the first troops arrived at Bridgeport, Alabama on September 30, having traveled via Washington, D. C.- Baltimore, Md,- Bellaire and Columbus, Ohio- Indianapolis, Ind.-Louisville, Ky,- Nashville, Tenn, and on to Bridgeport, 30 miles from Chattanooga.  All the infantry in the two corps had arrived within nine days, with the cavalry, artillery, baggage, etc, having all arrived by the middle of October.

This was a stupendous demonstration of the ability of the Union at this stage of the War to transport large amounts of troops very swiftly over vast distances, one of many reasons why the Confederacy was unable to exploit a local victory like Chickamauga to reverse the overall trend of the War.

Published in: on September 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. The way Stanton’s energy made up for the disaster of Chimackauga reminds me of two other famous defeats mended by the energy of the losing commander (Stanton wasn’t the commander, but he was the commanders’ commander). From Macaulay’s essay on Frederick II of Prussia:

    The fourth campaign, the most disastrous of all the campaigns of this fearful war, had now opened. The Austrians filled Saxony and menaced Berlin. The Russians defeated the King’s generals on the Oder, threatened Silesia, effected a junction with Laudohn, and entrenched themselves strongly at Kunersdorf. Frederic hastened to attack them. A great battle was fought. During the earlier part of the day everything yielded to the impetuosity of the Prussians, and to the skill of their chief. The lines were forced. Half the Russian guns were taken. The King sent off a courier to Berlin with two lines, announcing a complete victory. But in the meantime, the stubborn Russians, defeated yet unbroken, had taken up their stand in an almost impregnable position, on an eminence where the Jews of Frankfort were wont to bury their dead. Here the battle recommenced. The Prussian infantry, exhausted by six hours of hard fighting under a sun which equalled the tropical heat, were yet brought up repeatedly to the attack, but in vain. The King led three charges in person. Two horses were killed under him. The officers of his staff fell all round him. His coat was pierced by several bullets. All was in vain. His infantry was driven back with frightful slaughter. Terror began to spread fast from man to man. At that moment the fiery cavalry of Laudohn, still fresh, rushed on the wavering ranks. Then followed a universal rout. Frederic himself was on the point of falling into the hands of the conquerors, and was with difficulty saved by a gallant officer, who, at the head of a handful of Hussars, made good a diversion of a few minutes. Shattered in body, shattered in mind, the King reached that night a village which the Cossacks had plundered; and there, in a ruined and deserted farmhouse, flung himself on a heap of straw. He had sent to Berlin a second dispatch very different from his first: “Let the royal family leave Berlin. Send the archives to Potsdam. The town may make terms with the enemy.”

    The defeat was, in truth, overwhelming. Of fifty thousand men who had that morning marched under the black eagles, not three thousand remained together. The King bethought him again of his corrosive sublimate, and wrote to bid adieu to his friends, and to give directions as to the measures to be taken in the event of his death. “I have no resource left”—such is the language of one of his letters—”all is lost. I will not survive the ruin of my country. Farewell forever.”

    But the mutual jealousies of the confederates prevented[Pg 324] them from following up their victory. They lost a few days in loitering and squabbling; and a few days, improved by Frederic, were worth more than the years of other men. On the morning after the battle he had got together eighteen thousand of his troops. Very soon his force amounted to thirty thousand. Guns were procured from the neighboring fortresses; and there was again an army. Frederick II managed eventually to win a war he ought to have lost, by sheer persistence and the collapse of his enemies’ unity; a bad long-term precedent, which encouraged Germany in 1918 and 1945 to fight on till well beyond defeat in the hope of a similar miracle – which did not materialize.

    The other was Cannae. Hannibal is often reproached, by men who never led or fought in an army, with not turning his 26,000 exhausted men straight towards Rome; but one has to think of their sheer weariness, as well as of that other factor, less acknowledged in antiquity, yet inevitable – post-traumatic shock; you can’t spend a whole day killing by brute force 73,000 men who were all fighting not to die, without trauma and horror. And what is more, 26,000 men were simply not enough to besiege Rome. Where Hannibal is at fault is in his failure to use his triumph to forge alliances in Italy and draw rebels against Rome to him. He tried, but proved remarkably inferior to his surviving enemy, the consul Varro, who, having barely escaped the battlefield, did not rest a day but spent the next three weeks whirling around the neighbouring regions like a hurricane, reinforcing alliances and raising every man who could bear arms. Within three weeks, Rome had an army again – only 30,000 men, true, certainly not enough to take the field against the victors of Cannae, but much more than enough to prevent any further danger to Rome.

    Having done all that, Consul and Senate staged a memorable bit of political theatre (this is Italy, after all, or at least our ancestors). On a hot, dusty summer day, alone and on foot, looking for all the world like the sole survivor of a catastrophe, the head of the Roman state approached the City: and there, drawn up in order, was the Senate surrounded by great numbers of citizens. The Senate rose and voted unanimously thanks to the Consul, for refusing to despair of the Fatherland. Thus, says an Italian historian, the City answered to catastrophe.

    • Fabio I have always thought that the reaction of the Senate after the defeat of Cannae is a textbook example of how to deal with a catastrophic defeat. I also like the auctioning of the land on which Hannibal’s army stood and it fetching a good price. Magnificent! In defeat the temptation is always to live down to Heinlein’s popularization of the traditional reaction to disaster: “When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.” Do the opposite and you are often back on course to recover from it.


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