Chickamauga & Chattanooga: The Battles That Doomed The Confederacy, by John Bowers
It is unusual to read books on Civil War history where the author is as conflicted as this one with regards to the outcome of the battles involved. The author makes it clear that he is descended from one of the Confederates who fought in these battles and that he would obviously not exist had the battles gone a different way. Yet while the author clearly laments the way that the emptiness of the victory of Chickamauga and the decisiveness of the defeat of Chattanooga led inexorably to the defeat of Southern arms through the invasion of the Deep South by Sherman, at the same time the author is himself clearly of the opinion that the causes for which the Confederacy fought concerning racial supremacy and rebellion against authority were themselves unjust, even if he is quick to point out the nobility of the diverse Southerners he discusses. Just as the Civil War found the nation divided, and some states and families found themselves divided as well, so too the author’s own mind is divided, and makes him a fitting example of the sort of division that this book celebrates so ambivalently.
This book is about 250 pages long or so and it is divided into eleven chapters. The book begins with the Battle of Stones River and the failure of Bragg to defeat Rosecrans and the heavy losses that were suffered by both armies that led to months of stasis (1). After that the book discusses Rosecrans’ successful maneuvering of Bragg out of Central Tennessee which led to a frantic response by the South to reinforce Bragg (2). The increased strength of Bragg’s army led to an attack on the widely scattered Union corps that sought to unite in defense (3), which led at first to a fiercely fought first day of battle (4) in which the South had slightly the upper hand (5). After that a gap in the lines led to a successful rebel assault that swept half of the Union army way (6) and that led to ferocious fighting where Thomas was able to hold off the Confederates long enough to save the army in its retreat to Chattanooga (7). After that the author discusses the siege of the Army of the Tennessee (8) as well as the hostility in the Confederate officer corps that led to the dispersion of the rebel army (9). Naturally, defeat followed (10), and the author views the rebel cause as doomed from this point (11).
It is not surprising that this book is a companion volume that talks about two sequential battles, seeing that one is the immediate cause of the other. There is a fair amount of setup here as the author talks about the Battle of Stones River and the movement of first Southern and then Northern troops to the area to attempt to reverse or confirm the successful conquest of Chattanooga. The author praises the bravery of soldiers on all sides and points out the ways that the leading generals Rosecrans and Bragg suffered from flaws that hindered their ability to gain success, and also discusses the divisions between both the armies among themselves, because of personal disagreements as well as because of regional differences within the Union and Confederacy. The result is a fascinating if somewhat melancholy tale where the author is able to praise a Southern Unionist like Thomas to a great degree and try to resolve his ambivalence about the Civil War and its results. And if you care about the battles of the Western front of the Civil War there is a lot to appreciate here. This is definitely a worthwhile volume, and one that has a lot of detail to share about the campaign as a whole and its context.