American Civil War

Priest of Andersonville

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I normally take great pride in being an American, but there are passages in our history which all Americans should be ashamed of.  During our Civil War in many prison camps, both North and South, POWs were treated wretchedly with inadequate shelter, clothing and food.  The worst by far was Andersonville. The vast tragedy at Andersonville came about for a number of reasons. Continue reading

February 27, 1864: First Union Prisoners Arrive at Andersonville

An Andersonville Survivor

One hundred and fifty years ago Union prisoners began arriving at the Andersonville prison camp.  A blot on American honor is the callous way in which many prisoners of war were treated during our Civil War, north and south.  (For a Union prison camp that had a death rate of 25%, google Elmira prison camp, or as the Confederates imprisoned there referred to it, Helmira.)   45,000 Union soldiers would be held at Andersonville and 13,000 of them would die through starvation, bad water, no sanitation and disease.   Accounts of what went on inside Andersonville beggar description.  Jesus wept, sums up the reaction of any decent soul to this abomination.  See the accompanying post for today for the grim details, and for a shining example of humanity by a man motivated by God’s love to love his enemies.

February 22, 1864: Battle of Okolona

Okolona Campaign

It is quite easy to assume that of the many victories won by General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the Civil War, the saddest for him was that of Okolona where his brother Colonel Jeffrey Forrest was killed leading a charge of his brigade.  As General Forrest himself observed:  War means fighting and fighting means killing.

As part of Sherman’s drive to take Meridian, Mississippi, read about that campaign here,  Major General William Sooy Smith led 7,000 cavalry out of Memphis to rendezvous with Sherman at Meridian.  But Smith got off to a late start, and Sherman, waiting for Smith for five days at Meridian, marched out of Meridian on February 20, 1864.  Smith, learning of this, headed back north towards Okolona, Mississippi, pursued by Forrest.  The pursuit was classic Forrest.  Outnumbered three to one, and short of ammunition, it was of course Forrest who was pursuing Smith!    Late on February 20, Forrest skirmished with Smith’s force at Prairie Station and Aberdeen, which hastened Smith’s retreat.

At dawn on February 22, on the prairie south of Okolona, Forrest opened the attack on Smith’s force, which had dismounted and prepared field fortifications.  Forrest’s frontal attack and flank probes quickly cause the Union troopers to retreat, abandoning five cannon.  The Federals reformed on a ridge, where Colonel Forrest received his mortal wound.  Forrest rushed to his brother, and cradling him in his arms cried “Jeffrey! Jeffrey!”.   He then told his adjutant to look after his brother’s body, and led the charge which swept the Union cavalry into headlong retreat, Forrest personally killing three Union soldiers in close combat.  Forrest pursued the retreating Federals for eleven miles.

The defeat was considered a vast humiliation for the Union Army and General Smith resigned from the Army before the year was out.   Here is the report of Forrest on the battle: Continue reading

February 9, 1864: Mr. Lincoln Has His Picture Taken

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Mr. Lincoln took advantage of the winter lull in the War on February 9, 1864 to go, along with his son Tad, to Mathew Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery in Washington DC to have his picture taken.  The manager of the Gallery was Anthony Berger who took the photographs that day.

The above picture was immensely popular after Lincoln’s death, showing the closeness between Lincoln and Tad.  Sadly, Tad would only outlive his father by six years, dying suddenly at 18, his death being variously ascribed to tuberculosis, pleurisy and congestive heart failure.

Lincoln Penny

The above profile shot was taken by Lincoln that day and served as the basis for the image on the Lincoln penny. Continue reading

Civil War Medleys North and South

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Something for the weekend.  In 1963 the Robert Shaw Chorale released an album This Is My Country that had songs from American history.  The above is the Civil War medley for the South and below is the Civil War medley for the North:

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Continue reading

Treasury Salute: Edwin Booth

During World War II the Treasury sponsored radio salutes to great Americans of history.  The above video is their salute to Edwin Booth.

Perhaps the finest American Shakespearian actor of his day, Booth was the son of Junius Brutus Booth, most assuredly the finest American Shakespearian actor of his day, and the brother of John Wilkes Booth.  Junius Brutus Booth threatened to assassinate President Andrew Jackson, read about it here, and John Wilkes Booth of course did assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.  Edwin Booth, who supported the Union as much as his brother did the Confederacy, saved the life of Robert Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln in late 1864 or early 1865.  Lincoln recalled the incident in 1909:

The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name. Continue reading

Lee’s Greatest Victory

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He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward.

Benjamin H. Hill on Robert E. Lee

 

 

“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before.

The congregation freezes. Those who have been ready to go forward and kneel at the communion rail remain fixed in their pews. The minister stands in his place stunned and motionless. The black man slowly lowers his body, kneeling at the communion rail.

After what seems an interminable amount of time, an older white man rises. His hair snowy white, head up, and eyes proud, he walks quietly up the isle to the chancel rail.

So with silent dignity and self-possession, the white man kneels down to take communion along the same rail with the black man.

Lee has said that he has rejoiced that slavery is dead. But this action indicates that those were not idle words meant to placate a Northern audience. Here among his people, he leads wordlessly through example. The other communicants slowly move forward to the altar with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation. In the end, America would defy the cruel chain of history besetting nations torn apart by Civil War.”

From “April 1865:  the Month that Saved America” Continue reading

For Bales

Something for the weekend.  For Bales.  A Confederate song mocking the defeat of the Union forces under Major General Nathaniel Banks, one of the more inept political generals, in 1864.  The Red River campaign had as its objective the capture of Shreveport, Louisiana, in northwestern Louisiana, the largest city still under the control of the Confederates in the Pelican state, and the capture of hundreds of thousands of bales of cotton on plantations along the Red River.  The bales of cotton were eagerly eyed by Union speculators and the entire campaign had an unsavory plundering feel to it.  In any case the campaign ended in disaster for the Union, with the Union forces being beaten decisively at the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill.  Major General Richard Taylor, the only son of President Zachary Taylor, who commanded the Confederate forces in both engagements, was hailed as a hero of the Confederacy and promoted to Lieutenant General.

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Here is a video of an extensive presentation  by Dale Phillips on the Red River campaign:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPb5LR1goio Continue reading

Patrick Cleburne and Emancipation

In January of 1864 the Confederate Army of Tennessee high command was roiled by a proposal of its best divisional commander Major General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant, that Southern slaves be freed, and that black men be enlisted in the Confederate Army.  This was not the first time that a Confederate officer had made such a proposal, General Richard Ewell had advised Jefferson Davis to free the slaves after First Bull Run for example, but this was the most elaborate, well thought out proposal yet made on the subject of emancipation by a Confederate officer.  The plan met with considerable opposition among the officers of the Army of Tennessee that learned of it, and on instructions from Richmond it was quietly shelved.  Cleburne would die leading a charge at the battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.  By this time Confederate plans to enlist slaves were being discussed publicly.  A bill allowing the enlistment of blacks in the Confederate Army was passed on March 13, 1865 by the Confederate Congress, far too late to aid the Confederacy.  Even that Act did not stipulate freedom for slaves who served.  A different positive reception to Cleburne’s proposal is one of the more tantalizing what ifs of Civil War history.  Here is the text of the letter in which Cleburne set forth his plan: Continue reading

Wanted: John Hunt Morgan

Wanted John Hunt Morgan

The Civil War is filled with tales of adventure, and perhaps one of the more interesting is the escape by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan from an Ohio prison on November 27, 1863.  After his surrender following his Great Raid through Indiana and Ohio in June-July 1863, go here to read about it, Morgan and  his officers were sent to the Ohio state penitentiary due to overcrowding in prisoner of war camps in Ohio.

At the prison the Confederates were housed in the newly constructed East Hall with a partition being constructed to separate the prisoners of war from the criminals.  Eventually 68 Confederates would be housed there.  The Confederates were not required to wear prison uniforms and allowed to receive packages.  Morgan was determined to escape from the outset of his captivity.  When he heard that his pregnant wife was ill he redoubled his efforts to find some way out.

Opportunity dawned with a decision on November 3 that the Federal government would assume responsibility for the Confederates.  No longer would their cells be cleaned, and inspected, by a prison guard each day.  The Confederates learned from a prisoner about a ventilation chamber under the ground floor cells.

A few days digging got them through the cell floor into the air chamber.  They then began to tunnel through a wall of the chamber and up to the prison yard.  A smuggled newspaper gave them the schedule for the Little Miami Railroad that ran by the prison.

Shortly after midnight on a rainy November 28, 1863, Morgan and six of his officers made their break, going into the air chamber, through the tunnel, out into the prison yard and then scaling the wall.  The escape of Morgan and his men was not discovered until just before dawn.  Two of the escapees were recaptured on December 2.

Morgan and three of the other Confederates went to a train station and took a train to Cincinnati.  Making their way to the Ohio, Morgan and one of his men paid a boy to row them across in his boat to Kentucky.  A native of the blue grass state, Morgan breathed easier although he was still in Union territory.  Within a few weeks he was back behind his Confederate lines, now a hero to all Confederates, along with the four other men who succeeded in escaping. Continue reading

January 3, 1864: Death of Dagger John

Archbishop John Hughes

“Bury me in the sunshine”, were the last words of the Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, as he departed this Vale of Tears on January 3, 1864.  Hughes was looked upon by his contemporaries as a force of nature rather than a man.  Overseeing with skill the explosive growth of the Church in New York, and helping lead generations of Catholic immigrants out of poverty,  he also found time to take part in the public affairs of his day, and was probably the best known Catholic churchman of his time.  He was also a very tough and fearless man.  After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow.  (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched.  On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics.  No wonder his enemies and friends nicknamed him “Dagger John”!

At the beginning of the Civil War he had thrown himself wholeheartedly behind the preservation of the Union, rallying New York’s Irish to support the cause and going to Europe at the instigation of the Lincoln administration to garner support for the Union.  Small wonder that after his death Lincoln wrote,

“having formed the Archbishop’s acquaintance in the earliest days of our country’s present troubles, his counsel and advice were gladly sought and continually received by the Government on those points which his position enabled him better than others to consider. At a conjuncture of deep interest to the country, the Archbishop, associated with others, went abroad, and did the nation a service there with all the loyalty, fidelity and practical wisdom which on so many other occasions illustrated his great ability for administration.”

His finest moment probably was when, visibly dying, he rose from his death bed to make a speech on July 16, 1863 which helped quell the draft riots.  The speech is extremely interesting.  It contains a fair amount of humor, Hughes recognizing that the Irish always loved a message if it was leavened with laughter, and the Archbishop’s message was an appeal to the New York Irish based upon their love of Ireland and their innate sense of fairness.  It is a marvel to me that a dying man could do this, but Dagger John accomplished it.  Here is the text of the speech:

MEN OF NEW YORK:  They call you rioters and I cannot see a riotous face among you.  (Cheers)  I call you men of New York, not gentlemen, because gentlemen is so threadbare a term that it means nothing positive. (Applause.)  Give me men, and I know of my own knowledge, that if the City were invaded by a British or any other foreign Power, (laughter.) the delicate ladies of New York, with infants at their breasts, would look for their protection to men, rather than to gentlemen. (Applause.)  Of course, there is no reason why you should not be gentlemen, for there is no real difference between these terms.  (Applause.)  I address you of my own choice; and I would do so if I had to go on crutches.  No one has prompted me to do it.  My lungs are stronger than my limbs.  It gratifies me that you have met in peace and good order here at this time.  This, however, does not surprise me—it is what I expected.  I do not address you as the President. (laughter,)  or the Governor, or the Mayor, or a military officer.  I address you as your father.  (Cheers.)  VOICE—You are worth the whole of them.  And I am not going to go into the question, what has brought about this unhappy state of things.  It is not my business to do so but as far as I am concerned myself, you know that I am a minister of God, and a minister of peace, who in your troubles in years past, as you know, never deserted you.  (Cheers, and cries of “No, never.”)  With my tongue and my pen I have stood by you always, and so shall to the end of my life, so long as you are right, and I sincerely hope that you are not wrong.  (Cheers.)  I am not a runaway Bishop in times of danger.  (A Voice—”No, you’re not like BEECHER.”)  It has been perhaps a calamity, but I do not regret it. That I never was conscious of the sentiment of fear until the danger was over, and then sometimes I might perhaps get a little nervous.  (Cheers.)  I could not even in the best of cases, as you know, fight for you. 

The course of nature has denied me that privilege but I can still stand by you, I can still advise you, and, if necessary, I can die with you.  (Great cheering.)  As I said before, I will not enter into the question which has provoked all this excitement.  No doubt there are some real grievances, but still I think that there are many imaginary ones—because in this world everything is comparative in its nature.  There are no people in the world that have not some cause of grievance, and there are few that have not greater cause for complaint than we can complain of, after all.  (Cheers.) Everything is comparative, and a change is not always an improvement.

When I cast my thoughts back to the land of my forefathers, and when I think of it’s desolation, when I see the fertile west and south of Ireland depopulated and cattle browsing on the ruins of the cottages of the noble race that once lived there, I thank God that I was permitted to be among those who had an opportunity of coming to this country, where at least no such wretched tyranny is practiced (great cheering.)  If you are Irishmen, and the papers say the rioters are all Irishmen, then I also am an Irishman, (tremendous applause) but not a rioter, for I am a man of peace.  If you are Catholics, as they have said, probably to wound my feelings, then I also am a Catholic (cheers.) Continue reading

Make the Sign of the Cross and Go In!

General William S. Rosecrans

My avatar when I blog and when I comment on blogs is Major General William Rosecrans.  As my personal motto for the coming year I will adopt one of his sayings:  Make the Sign of the Cross and Go In!

Outside of his family, General William S. Rosecrans had three great passions in his life:  His religion, Roman Catholicism, to which he had converted as a cadet at West Point, the Army and the Union.  In the Civil War all three passions coincided.  Rising to the rank of Major General and achieving command of the Army of the Cumberland, until he was removed in the aftermath of the Union defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans conducted himself in the field as if he were a Crusader knight of old.

Raised a Methodist, Rosecrans’ conversion was a life long turning point for him.  He wrote to his family with such zeal for his new-found faith that his brother Sylvester began to take instruction in the Faith.  Sylvester would convert, become a priest, and eventually be the first bishop of Columbus, Ohio.

His most precious possession was his Rosary and he said the Rosary at least once each day. In battle the Rosary would usually be in his hand as he gave commands.  He had a personal chaplain, Father Patrick Treacy, who said Mass for him each morning and would busy himself the rest of the day saying masses for the troops and helping with the wounded.  In battle he exposed himself to enemy fire ceaselessly as he rode behind the General.   Rosecrans, after military matters were taken care of, delighted in debating theology with his staff officers late into the evening.

As a general Rosecrans was in the forefront of Union commanders until his defeat at Chickamauga.  His removal from command following the battle was controversial at the time and has remained controversial, some historians seeing in it a continuation by Grant, who was placed in charge of Chattanooga following Chickamauga, of his long-standing feud with Rosecrans.  Certainly Rosecrans had already drafted the plan followed by Grant to reopen the lines of supply to the Union forces in Chickamauga.  Go here to read a spirited defense of General Rosecrans which appeared in issue 401 of The Catholic World in 1898.

Rosecrans resigned from the Army in 1867 and had a successful business career.  He served in Congress from 1881-1885.

He narrowly missed being the first Catholic president of the United States.  General James Garfield, an Ohio Republican Congressman and future president, who had served under him, telegraphed Rosecrans during the 1864 Republican Convention to see if the Democrat Rosecrans would serve as Veep on a Union ticket with Lincoln.  Rosecrans gave a cautiously positive reply but Garfield never received the telegram and the nomination went to Andrew Johnson.  Rosecrans suspected that the telegram had been intercepted by Rosecrans’ old nemesis, Secretary of War Stanton.

One hundred and fifty-one  years ago Rosecrans was fighting a huge battle at Stones River in Tennessee that would last from December 31, 1862-January 3, 1863.  He succeeded in defeating Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee and drove him from central Tennessee.  It was an important victory, a needed shot in the arm for the Union after the disaster of Fredericksburg.  Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans:

“You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

During that battle he was a man on fire, constantly charging to points of danger, heedless of risks to himself, rallying his men, inspiring them and beating off Confederate charge after Confederate charge.  Rosecrans was in the maelstrom of particularly vicious fighting when his Chief of Staff,  Lieutenant Colonel Julius Garesche, a fellow Catholic who had been made a Knight of Saint Sylvester by Pope Pius IX,  warned him about risking himself to enemy fire.   “Never mind me, my boy, but make the sign of the cross and go in!” A moment later, a cannon shell careened into the general’s entourage, beheading Garesche and spraying his brains all over Rosecrans’ overcoat.  Rosecrans’ mourned his friend, as he mourned all his brave men who died in that fight, but that didn’t stop him an instant from leading his army to victory. Continue reading

State of the Union 1863

Abraham Lincoln

On December 8, 1863 Lincoln sent his annual message to Congress in which he reviewed the state of the country during the year that was coming to an end.  The message to Congress would have been read by a clerk.  We would call this today a state of the union address.  Washington had delivered his annual messages to Congress personally to joint sessions.  This custom was ended by Thomas Jefferson, who thought the President delivering a speech to Congress smacked of monarchy, too closely resembling the speech from the throne delivered by English monarchs at the opening of Parliament.  Thereafter president’s sent their annual messages to Congress in written form, until Wilson revived the custom of delivering the speech in person.

One aspect of Lincoln’s speech that surprised me when I first read it is the amount of it devoted to foreign affairs, almost half, if the portion dealing with foreign nationals in the United States is included.  Lincoln devotes less than a quarter of the speech to the War which is unsurprising.  The War news was a constant feature of life in the United States during the Civil War, and Lincoln probably looked upon the annual message as an opportunity to remind Congress and the people that the War was not the only thing occurring in the United States.  Lincoln ends his message with a general overview of his policy regarding Reconstruction.  Lincoln could hope now that ultimate victory might be on the horizon, and he realized that a substantial portion of the Republican members of Congress opposed any leniency to the South.  Lincoln was beginning his tight rope walk to both satisfy the demands of the Radical Republicans for civil rights for freedmen, and to deny them their desire to punish the South.  He would continue to walk that tightrope until the bullet of Booth brought his life to an end with consequences the nation is still living with.  Here is the annual address of President Abraham Lincoln for 1863: Continue reading

The Reply of Jefferson Davis to Lee’s Offer to Resign

Ah, Jefferson Davis.  During the War he was a devil figure for the North and after the War many Southerners blamed him for their loss.  Actually Davis was a highly accomplished man who came close, against all odds, to achieving independence for his new nation.   Often regarded as a bloodless pedant, Davis was instead a man who usually wore his heart on his sleeve, for good and ill.  A good example of this is the letter he drafted on August 11, 1863 in which he responded to the offer to resign made by General Robert E. Lee in the wake of the Gettysburg defeat:

 

 

Richmond, Va., August 11, 1863.

General R. E. Lee, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:

Yours of the 8th instant has just been received. I am glad that you concur so entirely with me as to the wants of our country in this trying hour, and am happy to add that after the first depression consequent upon our disasters in the West, indications have appeared that our people will exhibit that fortitude which we agree in believing is alone needful to secure ultimate success.

It well became Sydney Johnston, when overwhelmed by a senseless clamor, to admit the rule that success is the test of merit; and yet there has been nothing which I have found to require a greater effort of patience than to bear the criticisms of the ignorant, who pronounce everything a failure which does not equal their expectations or desires, and can see no good result which is not in the line of their own imaginings. I admit the propriety of your conclusions that an officer who loses the confidence of his troops should have his position changed, whatever may be his ability, but when I read the sentence I was not at all prepared for the application you were about to make. Expressions of discontent in the public journals furnish but little evidence of the sentiment of the army. I wish it were otherwise, even though all the abuse of myself should be accepted as the results of honest observation.

Were you capable of stooping to it, you could easily surround yourself with those who would fill the press with your laudations, and seek to exalt you for what you had not done, rather than detract from the achievements which will make you and your army the subject of history and object of the world’s admiration for generations to come. Continue reading

November 25, 1863: Missionary Ridge

Chattanooga_Campaign_Nov_24-25

The culmination of the Chattanooga campaign, the battle began in the morning on November 25 with Sherman attempting to take Tunnel Hill.  His attacks met with no success in the face of fierce Confederate resistance.

Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to advance against Missionary Ridge, and the attack began at 3:30 PM.  Grant, doubting that the heavily fortified Missionary Ridge could be taken by a frontal assault, ordered that only the rifle pits at the base of the ridge be taken, with the troops to await further order.  Thomas launched a four division attack, about 23,000 men.  The rifle pits were taken, and the Union troops began to come upon heavy fire from Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge.  They immediately began a charge up the ridge to the astonishment of Grant:

 Our men drove the troops in front of the lower line of rifle-pits so rapidly, and followed them so closely, that rebel and Union troops went over the first line of works almost at the same time. Many rebels were captured and sent to the rear under the fire of their own friends higher up the hill. Those that were not captured retreated, and were pursued. The retreating hordes being between friends and pursuers caused the enemy to fire high to avoid killing their own men. In fact, on that occasion the Union soldier nearest the enemy was in the safest position. Without awaiting further orders or stopping to reform, on our troops went to the second line of works; over that and on for the crest—thus effectually carrying out my orders of the 18th for the battle and of the 24th for this charge. 

I watched their progress with intense interest. The fire along the rebel line was terrific. Cannon and musket balls filled the air: but the damage done was in small proportion to the ammunition expended. The pursuit continued until the crest was reached, and soon our men were seen climbing over the Confederate barriers at different points in front of both Sheridan’s and Wood’s divisions. The retreat of the enemy along most of his line was precipitate and the panic so great that Bragg and his officers lost all control over their men. Many were captured, and thousands threw away their arms in their flight.

Missionary Ridge

The battle of Missionary Ridge was the most stunning example in the War of a frontal attack against a fortified position succeeding.  Bragg’s center was broken and his army routed, with headlong retreat being the only course of action open to him.  Confederate and Union casualties were each about 10,000 with another 4000 Confederates taken prisoner.  Many of the Army of the Cumberland Union troops went into battle yelling “Chickamauga!  Chickamauga!”  That defeat was now well avenged, and the Chattanooga Campaign was at an end.  Here is the report of Major General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland:   Continue reading

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