Friday, July 20, 2012

Chickamauga, Bragg & his Cavalry

I obtained David Powell's Failure in the Saddle the other day. Perhaps I could have gotten through it a bit more smoothly if I hadn't encountered this material before in such books as This Terrible Sound, The Battle of Chickamauga by Peter Cozzens and Nathan Bedford Forrest, First with the Most by Robert Selph Henry. 

The first major problem I encountered in Failure in the Saddle is "slanting." Powell emphasizes or leaves out material in such a way as to suggest that Bragg is doing a fairly good job but that his cavalry is letting him down.

Without providing a reference Powell writes on page xviii "Brag also expands the duties of cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest. Prior to the summer of 1863 Forrest operated as an independent-minded brigade commander with a talent for raiding and partisan-style activities. Bragg promotes him to command a mounted corps and assigns a host of traditional cavalry duties. Commanding a brigade of partisan raiders had not prepared Forrest for these activities. With no prior military experience to draw upon, and with no chance to hone his skills at lower levels of traditional responsibility, Forrest is expected to seamlessly assume the complex duties of managing a far-flung corps of cavalry almost overnight."

Notice the shift from "a talent for raiding and partisan-style activities" to "commanding a brigade of partisan raiders." Forrest did not command a brigade of partisan raiders, no more than Col Wilder and his "Lightning Brigade" did when he duped Bragg into falling for Rosecrans ruse. Also, virtually everything I'd read about Forrest prior to Powell is that he was a military genius. He knew what to do and did it . . or rather tried to do it despite being frequently thwarted by traditionalists such as Bragg who preferred outmoded ways of doing things. Forrest wasn't alone in his techniques and practices by the way. Wilder and Buford were Cavalry commanders for the North who used similar techniques.

It was Bragg who insisted that Forrest was limited to partisan-raider sorts of practices. Bragg had a low opinion of Forrest. Furthermore he didn't trust the information he got from Forrest. Forrest would pass back information that if Bragg would send him a brigade or two he could achieve a wonderful victory only to be ignored by Bragg. Working with Bragg over time Forrest's opinion of him dropped lower and lower until he could no longer in good conscious work for him. Forrest as almost everyone else writes was doing a good job in the saddle. It was back at command headquarters where the failure resided.

Powell doesn't give us a true picture of Bragg prior to the Battle at Chickamauga (IMO). Here is Powell describing Wilder's ruse (which Powell doesn't describe as a ruse) on Stringer's Ridge on August 21st: "The appearance of Yankees opposite the city alarmed many, but no enemy troops had crossed the Tennessee River above or below Chattanooga. In Bragg's headquarters, one glaring absence was the lack of any reports from Wheeler, whose men were picketing downstream. Colonel Brent on Bragg's staff recorded the mounting uncertainty and sense of growing frustration. . . ."

I doubt that there are many who could infer from this that Bragg isn't with his staff, but he wasn't. Here is Cozzens on the events of August 21: "Otey [who provided information about the approaching Federals] might have gotten a more satisfactory reply had someone in authority been at headquarters. But Bragg was back at the army hospital at Cherokee Springs, near Ringgold, trying to restore his jangled nerves and something of his battered health . . . The rest of the high command was in church, for President Davis had declared this to be a day of prayer and fasting for the crumbling Confederacy. . ."

"To the north, demonstrations proceeded according to schedule. Minty had his brigade galloping about near Blythe's Ferry. The other half of Wilder's brigade was making its presence known to the Confederate picket posts opposite Harrison, While Hazen marched ostentatiously across the Tennessee Valley to join them. That night and for several to come, Wilder had details out working to create the illusion of a gathering army. They banged boards together, hammered on barrels, and sawed countless planks, which they tossed into streams to simulate castoff lumber form an imaginary flotilla under construction. Bugles blew for fictitious commands, and bands serenaded phantom bivouacs. Hazen played out the same charade farther upriver.

"Rosecrans's deception was a huge success. Bragg returned from Cherokee Springs on the night of 21 August convinced that Hazen's feint heralded the start of a major thrust by the Army of the Cumberland against the rear of Simon Buckner's command in East Tennessee."

Where is a "failure in the saddle" in all of this? Powell assumes that Wheeler should not have been duped as Bragg and the rest of the army was but should have discovered were Rosecrans main army was located. I doubt it and so, apparently, does Powell. On page 42 he writes "Even if he had had more details of the enemy crossings, Bragg might not have reacted to them much differently. The small parties of Federals slipping across the Tennessee River between Shellmound and Stevenson since the 22nd and sparring with Rebel outposts had already been dismissed as deception, so the latest reports would probably have been interpreted as more the the same. Bragg's attention remained fixed on his right flank, upstream from Chattanooga toward Knoxville. Brent's casual dismissal of the Bridgeport crossing as a feint confirms that Rosecrans' diversions deceived Bragg completely. D. H. Hill, whose infantry corps defended the upstream portion of the river, concurred with Bragg. In fact, Hill insisted adamantly that the main crossings would come on his front between the mouth of Chickamauga Creek and Harrison, Tennessee."

"On August 29, Bragg belatedly instructed Wheeler to bring his entire corps forward, realizing at last that the Rebel screen was dangerously inadequate. The order, however, reflected how fixated army headquarters was with Hill's front."

This order also shows how Bragg liked to use his cavalry. He didn't tell it to range far and wide and find out where the enemy was. He deduced where the enemy was and sent his cavalry out to confront it.

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