Chickamauga- Plenty of Blame to Share

William S. Rosecrans fought  nearly perfect campaign  forcing his Confederate opponent out of Tennessee.  When the newly reinforced Confederates finally turned to fight Southeast of Chattanooga, he and his subordinates were unprepared for the strategic implications. 

  • George H. Thomas, “The Rock of Chickamauga,”  is justly praised for his dogged defense of Horseshoe Ridge on September 20.  But, his earlier failure to grasp tactical realities on his front, his near compulsion with protecting his left flank, clouded the decision making of the man who most trusted his judgment, Rosecrans.  Thomas’s tunnel vision weakened the rest of the Union position.
  • Recent scholarship on the battle inexplicably gives Thomas Wood a pass for his discreditable decision making on September 20.  This in large part is due to his service record(and favorable mentions in Grant’s memoirs) after the battle.  Handed a discretionary order, he made the unfathomable choice to exercise no discretion at all. He had an axe to grind with his commander and blindly obeying this order, with all its pettiness, doomed the Army of the Cumberland.  
  • Rosecrans was a trusting soul, often loyal to a fault.  James A. Garfield joined the Army at the outset of the campaign accepted the offer to become Rosecrans’s Chief of Staff.  Rosecrans took a liking to the ambitious brigadier, but Garfield was only partially up to the task.  During the heat of battle, Garfield was preoccupied with writing orders, losing track of the many moving parts of  headquarters- confusion ruled the day under his watch.  His insistence that Rosecrans push on to Chattanooga and not join Thomas at Horseshoe Ridge was most fortuitous for his career.
  • Secretary of War Edwin Stanton did not trust Rosecrans leading an army- going as far as dispatching a spy, Charles Dana, to inform on all Rosecrans’s decisions.  The War Department knew of Longstreet’s movement west within days of it beginning.  Rosecrans was not notified of the movement until after crossing the Tennessee river into Georgia.  There would be no time to counter the deployment with any other Union troops. 
  • Months of campaigning had taken a toll on Rosecrans.  Notorious for endless banter and insomnia, the Union commander was haggard and his nerves frazzled when the Army of Tennessee stopped running to turn and fight.  His compromised personal state, combined with the other actors in play, provided the perfect recipe for defeat along the banks of the Chickamauga creek. 


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