Events Leading Up to the Tullahoma Campaign
On October 24, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln relieved Major General Don Carlos Buell of his command of the Army of the Ohio and placed Major General William Rosecrans in charge of the newly formed Army of the Cumberland. Upon Rosecrans’ promotion, Union General-In-Chief Henry Halleck forewarned Rosecrans that “… the Government demands action, and if you cannot respond to that demand some one else will be tried.”
Rosecrans established headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, and quickly prepared his army for battle. On December 26, he moved his army south to engage Confederate General Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee encamped at Murfreesboro. The two armies met at the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863). After the Federals prevailed, Bragg withdrew to Tullahoma, Tennessee, thirty-six miles to the south, yielding Murfreesboro to Rosecrans.
Braxton Bragg’s Defenses
After the Battle of Stones River, Bragg deployed his army in a defensive line nearly seventy miles long along the Duck River, north of Tullahoma. He intended to prevent Rosecrans from capturing the strategically important city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Bragg used small groups of pickets to protect four gaps in the mountains leading to his headquarters in Tullahoma (Liberty, Hoover, Guy, and Bellbuckle Gaps), and he deployed his cavalry to secure his flanks.
William Rosecrans’ Winter Quarters
In the meantime, Rosecrans established winter quarters at Murfreesboro, where his army remained relatively inactive for the next five and one-half months. During that time, Rosecrans resisted pressure from his superiors to press Bragg. Lincoln, Halleck, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton feared that Rosecrans’ inactivity would enable Confederate leaders to detach soldiers from Bragg’s army to relieve Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s operations against Vicksburg. Finally, under threat of being relieved of his command, Rosecrans moved into action on June 23, 1863.
Rosecrans’ Lightning Brigade
As events turned out, Rosecrans’ preparations during the winter and spring were fruitful. Fearing that the federal cavalry was over-matched, Rosecrans and Colonel John Wilder devised a plan to mount infantry troops on horses, deploy them rapidly to crucial positions, and then have them dismount for battle. Rosecrans and Wilder added to the firepower of this “Lightning Brigade” by arming them with newly introduced Spencer Repeating Rifles.
Battle of Hoover’s Gap
On June 23, Rosecrans feigned an attack against the western end of Bragg’s line before making his main thrust against the gaps in the mountains. The next day, Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade” attacked Hoover’s Gap and easily dislodged the Rebel defenders. Wilder resisted several Confederate counterattacks, and by June 26, Bragg’s troops were withdrawing toward his headquarters at Tullahoma. With the threat of Wilder’s regiment at his rear and Rosecrans’ main force bearing down on him after the Union victory at the Battle of Hoover’s Gap, Bragg made successive retreats to Decherd and Cowan over the next several days, before withdrawing over the mountains to Chattanooga on July 3.
Outcome of the Tullahoma Campaign
The Tullahoma Campaign was a brilliantly planned success for the Union forces in Tennessee. Unfortunately for Rosecrans, events happening at Vicksburg and Gettysburg at the same time overshadowed it. Although Bragg saved his army, Rosecrans drove the Confederacy out of Middle Tennessee with very few losses. The Union army suffered a reported 569 casualties (eighty-three killed, 473 wounded, and thirteen captured or missing). Confederate casualties during the Tullahoma Campaign are unknown because Bragg wrote no battle reports, but the Union army captured 1,634 Rebels.