Friday, July 20, 2012

Is this the same battle?

According to Connelly [Autumn of Glory pp 223-225] at about 11:30 on 9-20-1863 "Longstreet ordered Hood and Hindman to advance in a mass offensive. . . Suddenly, in one of the war's most notable scenes of panic, the entire Union right collapsed, and retreated. The impact of Johnson's assault, coupled with Hindman on his left, completely obliterated the Union right wing. The remnants of two corps hastily began a retreat toward Chattanooga on Dry Valley Road. By 2 P.M., the fight was over on the right . . . Sometime in the midafternoon, probably about 2:30, Bragg called Longstreet to his field headquarters . . . Longstreet hastily explained the situation. Two Federal corps were in retreat toward Chattanooga, with heavy losses in artillery and prisoners, Longstreet then urged Bragg to send to the left wing some of Polk's troops which had not been as actively engaged. With these, Longstreet would pursue up the Dry Falley Road . . . and thus cut off the remaining Federals from Chattanooga.

"According to Longstreet and others, Bragg seemed to disbelieve that a victory had been won. In his own eyes, his plan for rolling up Rosecrans' left wing had failed, and he was still angry at Polk. Thus, he refused any reinforcements to Longstreet. . . He instead ordered Longstreet to hold his position at Snodgrass Hill. The meeting was brief and somewhat bitter, with Bragg allegedly lashing out at Polk's men for having no fight left; in fact, when the conversation was finished, Bragg left the field. He told Longstreet that if anything else happened, he should communicate with him at Reed's Bridge.

[Connelley provides the following references for the above conversation between Bragg and Longstreet: "Longstreet to Hill, July {?} 1884, quoted in Hill, 'Chickamauga -- the Great Battle of the West,' 658; Longstreet, Manassas to Appomattox, 451-52; George Ratchford, 'Gen. D. H. Hill at Chickamauga,' Confederate Veteran, XXIV (March 1916), 121. Ratchford's father, Major George Ratchford of Hill's staff, overheard the conversation between Bragg and Longstreet. See also Buck, Cleburn and His Command, 151]

Let us turn to the 'same' events in David Powell's Failure in the Saddle, pp167-174: "Shortly before noon, Longstreet's men broke through the Union line at Brotherton cabin and routed a third of the Union Army . . . from the field. In an effort to stem the Rebel tide, John Wilder's mounted infantry launched a desperate counterattack, which in turn routed a Rebel infantry brigade. . . To counteract the Union horsemen and pursue that part of the Union army fleeing the field, Longstreet sent an aide to find Wheeler and ask for Rebel cavalry support.

"Wheeler might have complied with Longstreet's request had he not received an order directly from General Bragg about the same time. Bragg's order instructed his senior cavalryman to ride north a mile or so and attack the Federals found at Lee and Gordon's Mills. Despite two days' fighting and considerable shifting of position by both armies, Bragg was still under the impression that the Union right flank was anchored at the mills: 'There his force must be,' insisted the Rebel commander in his directive."

[Powell then spends several pages describing Wheeler's quandary. He received both requests, decided to obey Bragg and wandered about in confusion looking for the Union Forces who weren't where Bragg said they were.]

Longstreet sent (I don't know how) additional "urgent missives" to Wheeler and because Wheeler didn't obey him Powell, presumably, counts this as another "failure in the saddle." "Wheeler, Powell tells us, "needed to prioritize these missions and decide which were the most critical.

"Instead of making a firm decision and acting decisively, a curious passivity settled over the Rebel cavalry chief. He had begun the morning aggressively enough with a spirited attack against Eli Long's Yankee cavalry, but thereafter his actions are more difficult to explain. Even though his curious tactical decision to countermarch and approach Lee and Gordon's Mills in a roundabout manner was offset by the Union decision to pull back, Wheeler failed to launch a strong attack against a retreating enemy that afternoon and allowed Mitchell's column to withdraw unscathed early that evening. Nor did he send more than token help to Longstreet. . ."

"As the battle ended on September 20 it was clear to most Confederates that they held the advantage, but it was not immediately obvious that the Federal army had quit the field entirely. Most of the Rebels expected the battle to be renewed at first light, especially on Snodgrass Hill. Dawn, however, revealed that the Federals had retreated. The battle was over, the outcome a Southern victory. . ."

"Neither Bragg nor his top commanders were fully aware of the Union movements that night. . . ."

Comment: Powell's emphasis was so different from Connelly's that I had to reread him several times to be sure he was describing the same events. Since Powell's announced aim was to describe "failures in the saddle," that is, incidents demonstrating that Bragg's cavalry officers didn't properly support him, it is somewhat (barely) understandable that he would emphasize Wheeler's activities rather than Longstreet's, but in doing so, he loses track of far-more important events going on at the same time.

Connelly doesn't mention Wheeler's activities perhaps because Bragg sent him off on a wild goose. Instead Connelly describes the overriding problems and concerns and especially Bragg's inability to understand the reality of what had transpired on the battlefield. He sent Wheeler off to where he imagined the enemy was rather than where Longstreet told him it was.

Powell presentation of Bragg's confusion is barely noticeable. One would have had to have read Connelly or someone else to even locate where it appears in Powell's narrative. Bragg, as far as we can tell from Powell, is doing a good job and it is extremely important to Powell's theses to understand Bragg in this way. That is, if his cavalry "failed" him in the saddle, we must understand that Bragg was doing his job well, sending out understandable, clear, and sensible orders that would have gained his army success, or more success than it had, if only his cavalry hadn't "failed" him. But reading Connelly (and others) one sees a very different Bragg, one that failed his army. His failures were so great that they dwarf hypothetical failures of his cavalry, so much so that other historians saw fit not to mention them (assuming they even existed).

No comments: