Civil War: Challenges of Eastern Tennessee

Once the defeated Federals retreated into Chattanooga, their plight took top military priority. Suddenly, reinforcements arrived in droves, and four major armies, commanded by some of the Civil War’s most noted officers — Maj. Gens. Joseph Hooker, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman for the Union, and Lt. Gens. James Longstreet and John Bell Hood for the Confederacy — were converging on the region. The victory at Chickamauga reinvigorated the Confederate military outlook for a few optimistic weeks before all resultant advantage was wasted. How could Bragg fail to follow up on so spectacular a victory? How could Jefferson Davis suggest a reduction in the Confederates’ strength at that critical juncture? Why were Longstreet and more than 17,000 troops sent to Knoxville?

There were serious deficiencies in capability and judgment at the highest levels of Confederate command in October 1863. Alerted to a unanimous vote of nonconfidence against Bragg by his subordinate generals, Confederate president Jefferson Davis arrived to settle the personnel dilemma. As part of the resolution — perhaps inspired by a letter from Gen. Robert E. Lee that wished omniscience had allowed them to send Longstreet against Knoxville and Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, rather than into north Georgia — Davis dispatched Lee’s “old war horse” on an ill-considered foray into east Tennessee. As an elated Grant later wrote in his autobiography, “On several occasions during the war [Davis] came to the relief of the Union army by means of his superior military genius.”

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