Silas' Mud March

The full scenario

It's November, 1863. After being routed at the Battle of Chickamauga in September, the Federal Army of the Tennessee under Maj. Gen. Rosecrans licked its wounds in Chattanooga. The Confederate Army of Tennessee layed seige to the town. By November, troops inside the town subsisted on half rations.

Then, U.S. Grant arrived and took charge. Rosecrans was sacked. The seige was broken as food, forage, and munitions were brought into town via the Crackerline. Several army corps under the commands of generals Hooker and Sherman were marched to the aid of the beleagered federals in Chattanooga.

Outside the town, the victors of Chickamauga squabbled. The soldiers hated Bragg. A cabal led by Longstreet sought Bragg's dismissal from command. (Longstreet and two divisions had been sent west from Virginia to assist the Army of Tennessee in September.) Only President Jefferson Davis supported Bragg. Possessing the confidence of Davis, Bragg sent Longstreet and his two divisions packing. They marched northeast to Knoxville in an attempt to seize that city commanded by the hapless Maj. Gen. Burnside.

Banishing Longstreet soothed Bragg's ego, but created two problems. The first was that Longstreet's divisions had controlled the extreme left wing of the Confederate forces beseiging Chattanooga. Troops from far the right wing would need to replace those leaving the left. The second was that Bragg divided his forces at the same time Grant was multiplying his. These two things were a receipe for disaster.

Two small divisions of Cheatham and Stevenson replaced Longstreet's two large divisions.

As Cheatham was on leave during the transfer, his division was commanded by his senior brigadier, the infamous Mudwall Jackson. Cheatam's (xxx brigades) patrolled the area at the foot of Lookout Mountain near the Craven house.

Stevenson's three brigades were stationed on Lookout Mountain. Stevenson's Division was composed of Pettus' Alabamians, Cumming's Georgians, and John C. Brown's Tennesseans. Some of Brown's Tennesseans received the task of protecting Lookout Valley and the western approaches to Lookout Mountain "with rifle pits and other defenses." See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, p. 668.

The defensive works of Lookout Mountain extended about 2 miles west of the mountain.

"To guard this extended line, to protect these numerous passes, and to complete, with the dispatch so frequently urged upon me [Stevenson] by the general commanding the line of defense, the work upon which was prosecuted agreeably to his orders day and night...." See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, p. 717.

The task fell upon the 18th/26th Tennessee of Brown's Brigade and "a very small and inadequate force of cavalry" to protect the extreme left wing of the Army of Tennessee. See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, p. 717. According to Lt.Col. W.R. Butler, he,

... proceeded with a squad of 30 men across Lookout Valley this morning [19 November], under a heavy fog and smoke, and reached the Trenton road and Will’s Valley railroad 1 miles above the Yankee pickets. I picketed the dirt road two hours and a half or three hours. A battalion of cavalry passed in the direction of Trenton about 10 o’clock. Captured a Yankee officer’s horse, servant, and rigging. If you’ll allow me to take a regiment, I think we can ambush and capture a foraging party any day (at a risk, however). All quiet.

Yours to command,
W. R. BUTLER, Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Outpost.

See, 31 O.R., pt. 3, p. 718.

The 18th/26th Tennessee created a series of outposts at various mountain passes. These outposts extended the Lookout Mountain defenses eight miles beyond the works built by the Brown's Tennessee Brigade. The unit's most distant infantry outpost existed at Nickajack Trace. A "small force of cavalry" extended the regiment's line another eight miles to Johnson's Trace. See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, p. 718. Bragg stretched a small regiment of infantry and a battalion of cavalry over a sixteen mile area from which the enemy was known to be advancing.

Minor skirmishes occurred in the valley on 18-20 November between the 18th/26th and elements of Sherman's Union troops. Sherman's command had been stationed many miles west of Chattanooga, or the "left" of Bragg's army. In placing his army for the eventual battle verses Bragg, Grant wanted Sherman's command to attack the right of the extreme right of the Confederate line. To reach the right, it needed to march across the Confederate front. As a ruse, one of Sherman's divisions crossed the Tennessee River and marched into Lookout Valley from the west. The intent was to delude Bragg into thinking Grant would attack the Confederate left and cause the Confederate commander to divert troops to the west. See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, p. 630.

In part because Bragg lacked sufficient forces, he did not take the bait. However, he did request reconnesaince:


General Hardee directs me to say that you will have a reconnaissance made toward Trenton and Lookout Valley, to ascertain whether there is any enemy at Trenton, or in that direction. The reconnaissance will be made as far down the valley as possible without endangering the command. He also desires me to inform you that he has ordered a reconnaissance from Johnson’s Crook in that direction. Respectfully, general, your obedient servant,

P. H. POOLE, Assistant Adjutant-General.

See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, p. 672.

Another reason the ruse did not work is that Bragg may not have known about the Federal advance on his left. According to Brig. Gen. Hugh Ewing, who commanded the 4th Division of the 15th Army Corps and who was Sherman's brother in law, his Federal division marched deep into Lookout valley on 18-19 November 1863. See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, 630.

The only force confronting Ewing's division was the 18th/26th Tennessee and the battalion of cavalry. Although small in numbers, the Confederates were large in statute as Ewing reported that two Confederate brigades under Brig. Gen. J.C. Brown confronted him. Either that or Ewing did a McClellan because J.C. Brown's contemporary communications and reports reveal him sending only the 18th/26th Tennessee into the valley. No other units succored the 18th/26th. Further, J.C. Brown commanded only one brigade at this time.

Days after the Federals had left the valley, Bragg ordered a reconnaissance into the valley. The 18th/26th performed the reconnaissance and reported back to its superiors that day:

MAJOR: Colonel Butler has returned and reports no enemy on the mountain. Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson occupies Johnson’s Crook and had sent a scout toward Trenton. I have ordered Major McConnell to take up his old position at Trenton and withdraw his picket from the Johnson Crook road. Not hearing again from you, I have ordered Captain Kuhn to move to position occupied by McConnell’s picket on this road (10 miles distant), report to you from time to time, and to establish two courier stations for that purpose. He has neither rations nor forage. My brigade is in motion to its old camp, leaving Butler on picket, as before. I have ordered Colonel Butler to construct defenses at each pass of logs, &c. I am, major, yours, &c.,

J. C. BROWN, Brigadier-General.

See, 31 O.R., pt. 2, p. 672.




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