Cleaning Out Bragg: Vignettes from the Tullahoma Campaign

The Tullahoma campaign, which took place in middle Tennessee from late June through early July 1863, has not received its just due in the pantheon of Civil War literature, in large measure due to timing (during Gettysburg and the close of the Vicksburg campaign) and the fact that the campaign was largely one of marching and maneuver, not of hard-fought titanic-sized battles with lengthy casualty lists. In many ways, Tullahoma could be considered as General William S. Rosecrans’ masterpiece: he successfully maneuvered General Braxton Bragg’s well entrenched Army of Tennessee from its positions along the Duck River and eventually out of Tennessee altogether, and at a small cost in lives. This goal of securing Tennessee for the Union, and particularly the rich foraging area of middle Tennessee, was an important step in bringing the war to the deep South.

A group of three Union infantrymen displaying various types of coats including a shell jacket and the common sack coat. The youthful gaze reinforces the fact that the average age of the typical soldier in the Army of the Cumberland was 23; the lad at the left is almost certainly a teenager. Note the socket bayonets hanging from their belts. The success of the Army of the Cumberland rested upon the unceasing efforts of men like these. (Library of Congress)

          To help give some sense of what the men of the Army of the Cumberland experienced during the Tullahoma Campaign, I present below a series of vignettes written by Ohio soldiers serving in various parts of the army.

Private William H. Wade, Co. K, 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Third Brigade, Second Division, 20th Army Corps
Tullahoma, Tennessee
July 14, 1863
          We left Murfreesboro on the 24th ultimo and physical incompetents were left back. Our haversacks were to contain three days’ rations while ten were to be hauled in the company wagons. We were not to carry any unnecessary clothing; we could carry one shirt, one pair of drawers, one pair of socks, and our indispensable pup tents. Their adoption with the army has made us more independent of our wagon trains, and leaves room in our wagons for a far greater supply of provisions. If from any cause our wagons fail to reach us after a day’s march, with our shelter tents, coffee pots, and our haversacks, we can go into camp and make ourselves quite comfortable, even if the weather should be rainy.

          The First Brigade of our division encountered the enemy at Liberty Gap about ten miles from Murfreesboro and quite a brisk engagement ensued, which terminated in driving the Rebels from their strong position. Our brigade, commanded by Colonel Philemon P. Baldwin, was partially engaged, the 5th Kentucky and 6th Indiana and our regiment acting as reserve. We drove the enemy some five miles when darkness put a cessation to hostilities, only to be renewed in the morning. It rained very hard all day and continued all night.

On Thursday the 25th there was some firing along the line but no forward movement until 3 o’clock in the afternoon when a general advance was ordered. The Rebs gradually fell back, contesting every inch of ground, until we had possession of the Gap. It rained all day. The brigade was ordered back, and we went into camp, pitched tents, and set about preparing supper: coffee, “flitch” roasted on a stick, and hardtack constituted our bill of fare. We all ready, we seated ourselves on the ground and dove in as only hungry men do. We represented a part of pleasure on a public excursion more than a company of soldiers fighting the battles of our country. We turned in to our little tents, which the boys adamantly refused a month or so before, and the less pious condemned without a board of survey. An active campaign will bring out their good qualities and good judges predict for them a high reputation in the future.
William Travis painting depicting the Confederate retreat during the Tullahoma campaign. The endless rains bogged down the campaign but within a week, Rosecrans and his army had leveraged Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee out of Tennessee for the rest of the war, Hood's invasion notwithstanding.Travis captured the heavy rains in the background of this image, and the drowning of fleeing Confederates in the Duck River is also shown here, and is related in an account from Francis McAdams of the 113th Ohio later in this post.  (Smithsonian Institution)

          About 10 o’clock P.M. on Friday the 26th, our brigade was ordered out on picket. We deployed three companies of skirmishers and advanced. The Rebs fired three or four shots and fell back. We then occupied a very high hill overlooking a beautiful valley. Just below us lay Fosterville, a small village, and close by ran the Shelbyville railroad. Near the outskirts of town, drawn up in line, was about 200 Rebel cavalry and about 40 yards in front of us was the picket line, but we were not disposed to engage them. Quite an interesting conversation was carried on between our boys and the Rebels at this point.
Rebel behind a large stone: “Dare you half way!”
          Yank behind a tree: “Come out of it, I’ll meet you.”
          Reb: “Come on over and get some whiskey, we ain’t mad at you at all.”
          Yank: “Can’t on duty. What regiment you belong to?”
          Reb: “4th Tennessee Cavalry. What regiment you belong to?
          Yank: “1st Ohio.”
          Reb: “Where’s you all a-gwine to?”
          Yank: “Clean out Bragg. Are you a conscript?”
          Reb: “Yes.”

          Here the Major put the quiet to the dialogue. About 7 o’clock we were posted as pickets and at 8 o’clock we received orders to withdraw and countermarch to the Manchester Pike. We built large fires and decamped. We found the road in a terrible condition; the heavy rains had swollen the creeks several feet, so they ran over the road. The mud was fathomless, there was no picking out nice places to step but we had to go it rough and tumble. We crossed 16 creeks or one creek 16 times and trudged through mud knee deep and sometimes deeper. Down from the hillsides came the smaller streams, roaring and tumbling to transfuse into one of larger dimensions, all tributaries to the one we crossed so often. About 2 o’clock in the morning, we went into camp. We were a jolly looking set, some of the boys had fallen down and were all covered with mud, some had lost their shoes and some their guns. We washed the mud off as best we could and fell down to sleep. (Piqua Enquirer, July 23, 1863, pg. 2)

“Pork and Beans,” Battery H, 5th U.S. Light Artillery
Artillery of First Division, 14th Army Corps
En route for Pelham, Tennessee
July 7, 1863

          Thomas’ Corps came up on the enemy pickets on the 24th and drove them back 17 miles from Murfreesboro. On the morning of the 25th, the enemy was found strongly posted on the mountains and our artillery was brought to bear on them but with indifferent success, the distance being too great, and the natural formation of the ground being such as to afford little advantage to the attacking party. In fact, the enemy could have had it all their own way had it not been for the determination and daring with which our infantry skirmishers attacked them. The rebels could be plainly seen on the mountains in force and made several dashes from the woods on our skirmishers, killing a few and wounding several.

          On the 26th, a detour was made by the corps to the right, dividing the enemy from one mountain to another until they fell back on their artillery about 1,200 yards in extent, the artillery being posted on a hill in a strong position. Rousseau’s Division was here massed and formed in nine distinct lines of battle, charged at the double quick across this level, and drove the enemy before them. This was one of the grandest sights I ever witnessed. Each line distinct and straight, it seemed more like a review than an actual battle. The Regulars bravely acquitted themselves leading the charge amid the deadly volleys of the Rebel battery. Seven or eight were killed in the brigade and quite a number wounded. One piece of the enemy’s was captured (having been disabled by our artillery) and the drivers fled with the horses. The rebels fled in the utmost confusion to their mountain fastnesses, taking a route to Wartrace.

          On the 28th we moved four miles towards Tullahoma, one of the rebel Gibraltars, only to learn afterwards that the chivalry had evacuated and left the place in possession of Brannan’s Division. They retreated in great haste, leaving behind them their siege guns, disabled, and the roads literally strewn with cornmeal which their cavalry had lightened themselves of, in the pell-mell and confusion. Camp and garrison equipage, everything in fact, was left behind, but don’t talk in the North of starvation in the Southern army. The subsistence stores left behind do not tell of a famine.
Colonel Cyrus Loomis, Chief of Artillery, 14th Corps

On the 1st we again took up our line of match toward Winchester to the crossing of the Elk River, which we found much swollen and crossed it with difficulty. The infantry stripped and manfully breasted the surging tide, the water reaching in instances to their armpits, and the current very rapid. The artillery crossed safely. Touching on the Winchester Pike, we struck across towards the Pelham road and have been encamped at this point since the evening of the 4th. The army celebrated the Fourth by firing national salutes from the several corps. A speech is said to have been delivered in this division by Colonel Cyrus Loomis, but I had not the pleasure of hearing it. No doubt it was on the old stereotyped plan so much in vogue by the Fourth of July orators.

          I cannot depict the hardships this army has endured on the march through the mountains. It rained almost incessantly since we left Murfreesboro, and the roads have been fearfully bad. With much difficulty our supply trains have moved along, and the artillery horses and transportation mules are badly used up. The infantry has suffered the most, wading through deep and heavy mud, the rain pouring down in torrents, their clothing wet through and heavy with rain and mud. Besides carrying their blankets, equipment, 60 rounds of ammunition, and three days rations of hard bread and coffee, which was nightly like a solid pulp of dough. (Toledo Daily Commercial, July 20, 1863, pg. 2)

This group shot of three Union soldiers, probably Westerners, ranks as one of my favorite photos from the period. The jaunty angle of their hats, the look of confidence and determination, and the hard look in their eyes says that these men have "seen the elephant." With the exception of a few minor engagements, the Tullahoma campaign proved to be more of an endurance test than a contest of arms. Marching with 60 pounds of equipment through a weeklong rainfall along mud-spattered Tennessee mountain backroads would harden anyone. (Library of Congress)

Corporal Charles P. Bail, Co. B, 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Second Brigade, Second Division, 21st Army Corps
Camp at Manchester, Tennessee
July 10, 1863

          We were ordered to move from Readyville on the 24th of June; we left there on the morning of that day, the weather being very rainy and disagreeable, the roads very slippery, muddy, stony, and extremely hilly. One the second day of our march, we ascended one step or elevation of the Cumberland Mountains. Here we were obliged to stay for two days so as to get our train up to this elevation. Teams were doubled up, that is from seven to eight span of mules were hitched to one wagon, and then a long rope was fastened to the end of the neap, and from 30-40 men would take hold of the rope. Amid the yells of teamsters, the shouts of the soldiers, and the splashing of the mud, the wagons would move slowly up the hill and then hurrah for another. This process was continued for two days and nights (for the work went on nights) and some 300 wagons were drawn up. This being done, we moved on through the muddiest most miserable roads imagination could conceive of, for it rained every day nearly all the while. We were obliged to send back details of men to help up the ambulances and wagon train. Our progress was necessarily very slow.

          It was supposed that, although Bragg evacuated and fell back from Shelbyville, Beechgrove, and Manchester, he would make a desperate stand at Tullahoma, so the troops were pushed on as fast as possible. A part of the cavalry dashed in rear of Tullahoma and cut the railroad, and then retreated back, all moving forward to what was supposed to be Bragg’s stronghold. But Bragg had leaked out, leaving his heaviest guns. Meantime, we splashed through the rain and mud until we came to the Elk River which was so rapid and deep we could not ford it.

          Reports say that our cavalry has pushed on to Chattanooga and find that Bragg has withdrawn most of his forces from there. It is supposed he has been ordered to reinforce Richmond. His Kentucky and Tennessee troops abandoned him by regiments and are giving themselves up to our troops. Today, a regiment of Tennesseans came into this place and gave themselves up. They were dragging the secession flag through the mud and swearing that they had been humbugged long enough. (Jeffersonian Democrat, July 24, 1863, pg. 2)
William Travis painting depicting Bragg's retreat from Shelbyville, Tennessee in July 1863. Francis McAdams and his comrades in the Reserve Corps moved in shortly thereafter and set up camp among the buildings of the business district. Unfortunately, the area was plagued with fleas. 

Private Francis M. McAdams, Co. E, 113th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Second Brigade, First Division, Reserve Corps
Shelbyville, Bedford Co., Tennessee
July 4, 1863

          The Reserve Army Corps commanded by Major General Gordon Granger left the pleasant town of Franklin on the morning of June 2nd and marched to Triune, a distance of 14 miles where we continued to remain until the 23rd ultimo when we were ordered to the front, and since then we have been fronting through an almost incessant rain and bottomless mud. In the past fortnight it has rained about 14 days, is raining now, and we have a fair prospect of a damp time.

          During our march from Triune to this place, our regiment tasted some of the solid privations of soldiering, being compelled to march through the drenching rain often till late at night, then to lay down and rest as best they could, in and out of the mud, with nothing but a gum blanket for a bed and covering. Notwithstanding they were unaccustomed to such privations, they stood the march like old soldiers, laughing at their own discomforts, and though all else about them was soaked with rain, they kept their spirits and patriotism undampened.

          The town of Shelbyville is pleasantly situated on the right or north bank of the Duck River, and 25 miles south of Murfreesboro. In the days of peace, it must have been a place of more than ordinary business and beauty, but this national curse has stripped it of both. We find the people professing great loyalty to the government, and I am of the opinion that their loyalty can be relied upon. We are occupying the buildings of the town for quarters, and our brigade is Provost Guard of the place. These buildings are commodious and well suited for our comfort, but we prefer to bivouac in the verdant shady wood from the fact that fleas are so numerous. Our boys have committed great slaughter among them since we have occupied what appears to be their stronghold, and the probability is that one or the other must soon succumb.

          Our forces occupied this place on the 27th, driving the rear guards of Bragg’s army from the place. In their hurried attempt to cross the narrow bridge that spans the Duck River on the road leading to Tullahoma, many of them were knocked off into the river and drowned. A body was taken from the river today which had been in the water eight days. It had been washed over a dam where the motion of the falling water kept it constantly in motion till every vestige of clothing was stripped from it. The scene was shocking in the extreme. A great number have been taken out at different times, but it is though some will not be recovered at all. (Urbana Citizen & Gazette, July 23, 1863, pg. 1)

This image depicts a pair of M1829 64-lb James rifled siege guns from the Civil War. The correspondent from the 36th Ohio noted that when his regiment examined the fort at Tullahoma, three of these siege guns were left behind. "The carriages had been burned and the guns were so hot as to preclude the possibility of holding hands on them for more than half a minute," he wrote. It is easy to see why Bragg left the "heavy metal" behind: each gun tube weighed nearly four tons and would have required the efforts of dozens of horses and a hundred men to move along the muddy roads. Add in the fact that Bragg was retreating south into an even more mountainous area and it becomes abundantly clear why he left these guns behind. 

“B.,” 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Third Brigade, Fourth Division, 14th Army Corps
Camp near Elk River, Tennessee
July 6, 1863

          On the 2nd, word came that Tullahoma was evacuated- Bragg gone, skedaddled, and all we had to do was march in and possess this Rebel stronghold which we accordingly went and did, reaching the town at 4 p.m. on July 2nd. The rebels evidently left in a hurry as they left hundreds of wall tents standing and neglected to burn a warehouse of commissary stores. Quite a large amount of camp and garrison equipage, small arms, three 64-lb siege guns (one spiked with a three-cornered file), ammunition, twelve sacks of corn meal, about 200 bushels of beans, and smaller articles in larger proportions fell into our hands. Tullahoma was well-fortified and could have withstood a good siege, but as an Alabama citizen said, it was a man-trap and could have been surrounded if Bragg had only waited long enough to enable us to do it. On the approaches to town extensive earthworks had been thrown up, and all the trees within a half to three-quarters of a mile had been cut down, the branches pointing outwards, rendering it an almost impenetrable brush pile. Bearing on all these points were placed heavy guns commanding every road and field.

On the northwest side of town, just on the outer edge or suburbs, was a large bastion fort which was one of the most complete forts I have yet seen. It was about 10 feet high and fully as thick at the base and from 200-225 feet square and made to mount twelve 64-lb siege guns bearing on every point of the compass. Underground storehouses and magazine were built, proof against shot or shell, and a well capable of furnishing water for a large garrison in the center. Encircling this fort is a ditch 12 feet wide, about 10 feet deep, and nearly half filled with water; whether by design or caused by the late heavy rains I am unable to say. To protect the entrance was a large stockade built of upright saw logs and filled in with dirt. A drawbridge was thrown across the ditch which was withdrawn at pleasure. It was in this fort that the siege guns mentioned were found. The carriages had been burned and at the time I was in the fort, the guns were so hot as to preclude the possibility of holding hands on them more than half a minute.

Cornmeal was scattered along all the roads leading out of Tullahoma and bread trampled into the ground. Meat had all been burned, officers’ and medical chests left behind. Everything was confusion and betoken a hasty and precipitate exit. No doubt General Bragg could have maintained his position at Tullahoma for some time and at considerable sacrifice of life on our side, but he would have finally to yield with possibly the loss of his entire army.

The army remained in Tullahoma but one night, leaving at 4 a.m. the next day in pursuit of the enemy. Generals Negley and Sheridan have been treading on his heels ever since. But such roads! They are enough to discourage any general. Not a single day has passed since this army left Murfreesboro but what it has rained more or less. The mud is deep and the streams high. Of course, the enemy is leaving no bridges behind them and this also impedes our progress and tries the patience of officers and men. Yet with all these distractions and obstacles, the army is in splendid condition and fine spirits.

This part of Tennessee south of Manchester is a low, flat, swampy country with but few evidences of cultivation. Large ponds are to be found almost every mile, the water in them being clear and cool. In the valley lying along either bank of the Elk River we find a much better country and nearly all under cultivation. The finest springs of water I ever saw are to be found along the banks of this river- freestone water, very clear and very cold. The water boils up out of the ground in such quantities that I have seen one single spring that would furnish water enough for this large army. (Gallipolis Journal, July 30, 1863, pg. 1)


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