Volume XXVII Issue #1 • An Excerpt From:


The
Tullahoma Campaign

by Michael R. Bradley

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Note: All Blue & Gray feature articles are annotated.




Two cell phone towers serve today to mark the positon of Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade” at Hoover’s Gap. The campaign was marked by a period of miserable weather, prompting a Confederate officer to say that “Tulla” was Greek for “mud,” and “Homa” meant “more mud.”


About 2:00 a.m. on June 23, 1863, it began to rain in Middle Tennessee. The rain continued to fall, sometimes quite heavily, for the next eleven days. So much rain at this time of the year, in this place, was an unprecedented occurrence, but to this weather phenomenon can be attributed several important historic events. For one, the Confederate Army of Tennessee would escape a trap carefully set by Union Maj. Gen. William Starke Rosecrans. Second, as a result of that escape the reputation of Rosecrans would begin to decline, while the star of Ulysses S. Grant would ascend. Rosecrans would sink to obscurity before the end of the year while Grant would later become commander of all United States forces. Third, the Union cavalry in the Western Theater became a force with which to be reckoned. Fourth, the war in the West would continue for almost two more years—to Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, the Atlanta Campaign, Franklin, Nashville, the March to the Sea—before Union forces accomplished what might have been achieved at Tullahoma in 1863.

Grant’s celebrated capture of Vicksburg and Robert E. Lee’s retreat after his loss to George G. Meade at Gettysburg, both on July 4, overshadowed the occupation of Middle Tennessee in a campaign that ended on the same day. However, the strategic value of Rosecrans’ victory was of equal, if not greater, significance than either of the other Union victories. Arguably, the Confederacy suffered more damage as a result of the Tullahoma Campaign than was the case at either Gettysburg or Vicksburg. At Gettysburg, Meade won a defensive victory which boosted morale in the Army of the Potomac and in the North; but defensive victories do not win wars. At Vicksburg, Grant won a psychological victory by making U.S. control of the Mississippi River complete, but the Trans-Mississippi area was not crucial to the survival of the Confederate war effort. At Tullahoma, Rosecrans brought a large area under permanent U.S. occupation, thereby depriving the Confederacy of critical supplies of military goods, foodstuffs, recruits, and livestock for both the cavalry and transportation services. This remarkable achievement by Rosecrans and his men is generally forgotten since Rosecrans fought a campaign of strategic maneuver rather than engaging in bloody battlefield tactics, but these accomplishments should not be overlooked and the potential results of the campaign should not be ignored.

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