Victory on a field of battle does not necessarily translate to victory in war. Post-battle decisions are as important as those made during the heat of battle. Gen. Braxton Bragg’s decision after Chickamauga demonstrates this point. Instead of bearing great fruit, the Southern victory at Chickamauga resulted in the failed siege of Chattanooga that began Sept. 22, 1863.
Two days earlier, Confederate forces routed the Federals. Even though Gen. George Henry Thomas stalled the Southern forces at Snodgrass Hill, the majority of Union troops ran to Chattanooga.
On the morning of the 22nd, Chattanooga lay before Bragg. He needed the city to continue his offensive. With the Tennessee River and the railroads, Chattanooga was a communication and transportation hub, making it a critical center for both sides. But how to get it? He had three choices.
Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest advocated one option. He wanted to attack the Federal Army immediately and aggressively, driving them into the river.
Gen. James Longstreet argued for a maneuver in which his forces would head north, cross the river and then move west to get behind the Union forces. In this scenario, either the federal lines of communication would be cut or they would evacuate the town.
Instead, Bragg allowed the federals to remain in Chattanooga with minimal harassment. His forces occupied much, if not all, the high ground on the south side of the river. He did send cavalry forces to interdict supply trains intended for Union troops traveling over Walden’s Ridge.
However, most importantly, his decision ceded the initiative to the Northerners. This passive option permitted the Union to regroup, rest and prepare for their offensive that came approximately two months later.
Bragg’s passivity sealed the fate of the Confederacy. The great victory at Chickamauga could have led to a resurgent South, delaying or possibly altering the outcome. Rather, Bragg’s poor decision made the great victory at Chickamauga meaningless.
David Schmidt is an avid history buff. He and his family moved to Chattanooga several years ago. He has fallen in love with the community and its history. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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