Tuesday, June 18, 2013

War News: Union Army About to Attack in Tennessee, Lee Invades the North

The New York Herald published many dispatches for June 18, 1863 collected from various war zones. One from Murfreesboro, Tennessee said, “General Bragg has undoubtedly received reinforcements of three brigades, viz: Bates’, Clayton’s and Churchill’s. … Bragg now has eighteen brigades of infantry and cavalry. There are indications that, in cooperation with Buckner at Knoxville, he is about to assume the offensive, and invade Kentucky, striking at about Monticello or Carthage, in East Tennessee."

Confederate General Braxton Bragg did receive reinforcements at this time, but it is by no means clear he seriously intended to invade Kentucky. Meanwhile, he and Union General William Rosecrans had been basically “shadow-boxing” since the Battle of Stones River, near Murfreesboro, which had ended on January 2nd.

The U. S. Army high command, and President Lincoln, had been urging Rosecrans to go on the offensive to keep Bragg from releasing units that might help relieve General Grant’s siege of Vicksburg. Rosecrans had chosen to firm up his supply base, and to train and strengthen his army. That was especially true for his cavalry arm, which was badly outnumbered by the Confederates.

The dispatch published in the Herald went on, “Buckner has a large force, and is speedily organizing for offensive operations.”
General William Rosecrans.
Library of Congress.

Ironically, while these dispatches suggested that Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland would soon find itself on the defensive, the general had decided his army was ready to move. Less than a week later, Rosecrans began an advance that would, at small cost, virtually eliminate Confederate forces from central Tennessee. This despite continued heavy rain that severely hampered offensive movement.

Another dispatch on June 18th, published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, offered much more ominous news: “There is now no doubt that Lee has a large army, with about one-third of it occupying the country in the vicinity of Winchester and Martinsburg. The loss of Winchester laid open the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania to invasion, and justifies the promptest measures to increase our army.”

The presence of these Confederate troops did indeed open Pennsylvania to invasion and, little over three weeks later, resulted in the bloody Battle of Gettysburg.

References: “Important from Tennessee,” New York Herald, New York city (June 19, 1863).
William Mathias Lamers, The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge (1999)
“Telegraphic News: Rebels Evacuated Chambersburg,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio (June 18, 1863).

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