The War in the West


*The most famous battles of the Civil War were fought in the Eastern Theatre:  First Manassas (or First Bull Run), where railroads were first used; the Peninsular Campaign, including the Seven Days, when McClellan could well have taken Richmond; the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, in which Jackson held off Union forces three times his number or more; Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run), where another Confederate victory convinced Lee to invade Maryland, where he fought at Sharpsburg (or Antietam) and withdrew, allowing Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation; Fredericksburg, where the South won a great victory; Chancellorsville, another Southern victory won at great cost; and Gettysburg, the largest battle ever fought in North America.  However, some historians would argue that the war was actually won by the armies in the West (meaning between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River) and at sea.


*The Anaconda Plan was slow, but it was sure.  As 1862 passed, the blockade was beginning to work.  The North now had to take the Mississippi, meaning the entire Mississippi Valley, including the Cumberland and the Tennessee.


*As part of the plan to take the Mississippi River (and the Upper South in general), U.S. Grant attacked Fort Henry on the Tennessee River on 6 February, 1862, and ten days later took Fort Donelson on the Cumberland with the help of Union gunboats sailing off the Ohio River onto its Confederate tributaries.  The Confederate commander had once lent money to Grant when he resigned from the Army for getting in trouble for being a drunk, and he expected some mercy now.  Grant, however, demanded unconditional surrender and got it on 16 February from everyone at Fort Donelson except for Nathan Bedford Forrest who slipped away with his cavalry.  This made Grant famous, and people began to say that his initials, U.S., stood for 'Unconditional Surrender.'


*Not only did this protect the Ohio River, but it let the Union take Nashville, the first of many Confederate capitals to fall.  Lincoln appointed as military governor the most prominent Southern member of Congress to remain loyal to the Union, Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, a former Tennessee governor, congressman, state legislator, and mayor of Greeneville.


*From Fort Donelson, Grant marched toward the Mississippi River leading the Army of the Tennessee.  Along the way, he ran the Confederate Army of Mississippi, commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston.  On 6 April, 1862, Johnston’s army surprised Grant’s men, in some cases overrunning camps where men were cooking breakfast—the hungry Confederates stopped to eat their bacon.


*The United States Army of the Tennessee, which was  later joined by the US Army of the Ohio had 65,085 men when they were combined, while the Confederate Army of the Mississippi had 44,968 men.


*Most of the Yankees ran when the first attack came, but General Benjamin Prentiss’s division held out valiantly for most of the day in a sunken road that came to be called the Hornet’s Nest, after the buzzing of bullets overhead.  Eventually, after being pounded by artillery, they were all killed or captured.


*Grant’s men were pushed all the way to the edge of the Tennessee River.  However, during the fighting, Johnston was killed, bleeding to death from a wound in the leg.  His surgeon could have saved him if he had not been sent off to tend to Union prisoners.  Johnston was (for the moment) replaced by Beauregard, who did not win the battle.


*During the night, Grant was reinforced by General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio.  They fought back the next day, and the fighting was intense and bloody.  By the end of 7th April, 1862 more men had died in this single battle than in all previous American wars put together.  Estimated casualties were 23,746 total; 13,047 from the USA and 10,699 from the CSA.


*Although Grant won the battle in the end, some of Lincoln’s advisors wanted Grant relieved of command because of the shock at the unprecedented death toll.  Lincoln refused, saying he needed a man who would fight.


*After this difficult victory, the Union Army captured Memphis and then went to take Vicksburg.  This was an important fortified city on the Mississippi, and eventually the only point on the river still controlled by the South.  Until the Union gained control of Vicksburg, they could not truly control the Mississippi River.  Grant tried unsuccessfully to attack Vicksburg from several angles over the course of the next 14 months.


*Beauregard had health problems, and also did not get along with Davis, so he was replaced by Davis’s friend, Braxton Bragg, who had served with him (and performed brilliantly) at Buena Vista.  Bragg renamed the Army of Mississippi the Army of Tennessee.


*Bragg had many detractors.  A significant number of his officers (especially his second-in-command, General Leonidas K. Polk, Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana) thought him incompetent, a tyrannical martinet, and possibly insane, and sometimes would not follow his orders.  His men did not, on the whole, like him, and he has been largely regarded as a poor general, and occasionally blamed for the South’s entire loss of the War.  This may not be entirely fair—some of his men and officers felt that he did the best he could with what he had, for attention, and more importantly, men and materiel, were mostly concentrated in the Eastern theatre.  He was, by all accounts, good at administration and at organising his army, but he was not good at getting along with other people, especially those he disliked, and as the fifth highest-ranking general in the entire Confederacy, he had to be able to deal with many people he did not much like.  Worst of all, even if he was a capable administrator, he was not typically a good leader in the field, at least at such a high level of command.


*In the fall of 1862, as Lee marched into Maryland, Bragg marched into Kentucky and performed moderately well at first, but like Lee was fought to a draw at Perryville and ended up retreating to Murfreesboro, where (in a battle also called Stones River) on 31 December, 1862 to 2 January, 1863 General William Rosecrans with 44,000 men beat Bragg’s 37,000, forcing him to retreat to Chattanooga.  Casualties were 23,515 total--13,249 US and 10,266 Confederate.


*This victory boosted the morale of Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, which had repeatedly failed capture Vicksburg.  Seven attempts to do attack it failed, partly due to the Confederate defence and partly to the swampy terrain that surrounded it, making it hard for the Union Army to approach the city, which guarded the Mississippi.  Many men died of disease in the swampy environment.


*Finally, on 18 May, 1863, after a daring amphibious landing near the city and hard fighting to get close, Grant began to besiege Vicksburg (under the command of John Pemberton), shelling the town constantly.  The people lived in improvised bomb shelters, and eventually were reduced to eating horses and rats to survive. 


*They expected to be relieved by Joe Johnston, but he never arrived to save them.  On 4 July, 1863, after a month and a half under siege, the city surrendered on the same day Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg.  The Mississippi belonged to the Union again.  These combined Union victories cause many people to consider this the turning point of the War (although some view Sharpsburg (or Antietam) to ne the true turning point, since it openly made the war about freeing the slaves).


*Lee sent Longstreet west to help Bragg, but, like many generals, Longstreet did not get along with his new commander.  Nonetheless, they worked well enough together when the US Army approached Chattanooga and attacked Bragg.  The Confederate army withdrew, but not too far, and Rosecrans pursued them to a little creek called the Chickamauga just over the border in Georgia.


*On 18 September, 1863, Bragg attacked.  Rosecrans held at first, but on 19 September, he was told there was a gap in his line.  He sent men to fill it, but in doing so opened up a new gap in his line.  Longstreet’s division commander Hood rushed into the breech, disrupting the Federal Army so that most fled, although Hood was shot in the right leg (which was later amputated).  A few soldiers under General George Thomas (the Rock of Chickamauga) held on to defend their fleeing comrades, and finally pulled out (and back to Chattanooga) on 20 September, partly under the direction of James Garfield, Rosecrans’ chief of staff (Rosecrans had already left the field). 


*The battle claimed an estimated 34,624 casualties (16,170 for the Union; 18,454 for the Confederates).  Bragg’s army eventually pursued the Union back to Chattanooga and surrounded the town, but, had they moved more swiftly and decisively, they might have taken the town completely and captured the army, or even destroyed the army as it retreated.  Instead, Bragg did not pursue his enemies until they were safe in Chattanooga and it was too late.  Longstreet, Forrest, Polk, and other generals called for Bragg’s removal, but Davis would not assent to that.


*Ambrose Burnside was sent West in 1863, as well, and took Jonesborough in September, 1863 to seize the supply of salt, for which Lincoln cursed the entire town as a waste of the Army's time.  After that, he moved on to Knoxville.


*To get rid of Longstreet, who was plotting against him, and to divert Federal troops from the relief of Chattanooga, Bragg sent Longstreet to attack Burnside's men in Knoxville.  In the battle of Fort Sanders on 29 November, 1863, Longstreet’s men, trying to sneak up to the fort in the night, tripped on telegraph wire strung for that purpose, fell into a moat around the fort, and eventually retreated in shame.


*A portion of the Union army passed through what is now Johnson City during the latter part of the war, and engaged a Confederate detachment at the railroad bridge near Watauga, then known as 'Carter's Depot' on 1 October, 1864.  It is said that firing of the cannon could be heard all the way to Henry Johnson's Depot, five miles away. 


*In October 1863, Grant was given overall command of the Western armies, and he went to Chattanooga.  He replaced Rosecrans with Thomas, and began to attack the Confederates on 23 November.  On 24 November the Union took Lookout Mountain, and on the 25th, Missionary Ridge.  The Confederates retreated from the Chatannooga area into Georgia.  Combined with Longstreet’s loss at Fort Sanders, this gave Tennessee to the Union.


*On 27 December 1863, Bragg was replaced by Joseph Johnston, although his friend Jefferson Davis hated to do it.  Johnston's task would be to prevent Grant from pushing into Georgia.  Grant himself was soon promoted to Lieutenant-General and Commanding General of the US Army and brought back East in March, 1864.  William Tecumseh Sherman replaced him in the West, and, if anything, proved even more tenacious.

This page last updated 24 September, 2018.
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