This Day In History: The Union Captures Chattanooga In The American Civil War

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On this day in history during the American Civil War, the Union captures the key Confederate stronghold of Chattanooga.  This singular victory was a result of the brilliant strategizing of the Union General William Rosecrans. He was able to maneuver his forces in such a way as to completely fool the Confederate enemy and to open the way to the capture of Chattanooga. The city was deep in Confederate territory and  an important part of the Rebel army’s supply network. Rosecrans completes a brilliant campaign, that involved feints, and deceptions in order to confuse the southern commanders and this meant that he was able to outfox the Confederate General Braxton Bragg and this directly led to his forces capturing Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The capture of Chattanooga followed a campaign in which there was little fighting and little bloodshed but much maneuvering through the woods and back roads of northern Tennessee.  In June, Rosecrans marched his troops out of their camp in Murfreesboro, Tennessee not far from Nashville . The Confederate forces under Bragg, had adopted a defensive strategy and wanted the Union forces to attack them. Bragg expected his defensive line  would defend Chattanooga and keep the Union army under Rosecrans away from the rich agricultural lands of south Tennessee. Bragg had his army stationed northwest of the town of Tullahoma and was waiting for the Union to advance. However, Rosecrans was an unorthodox General and what he did caught the Confederates by surprise.

He avoided a direct fight and instead moved his army to Bragg’s right flank, the Confederates found themselves in a dangerous position. Bragg pulled his army back to the south so that h would not be outflanked. Again, Rosecrans did something unexpected and  then feinted toward Chattanooga, forcing Bragg to march his weary men to Chattanooga. At the cost of only 560 Yankee casualties, Rosecrans had taken south central Tennessee from Bragg, with only a minimum of fighting, much to the fury of the Rebels.

However, Rosecrans was not satisfied and he wanted to capture Chattanooga. Approaching Chattanooga from the Union forces climbed Lookout Mountain above the city, without being detected by the Rebels. Bragg was once more outmaneuvered and fearing that he would be surrounded in Chattanooga, he retreated to the south and with only some fighting the Union army captured the city. The Northern Press acclaimed General Rosecrans as a hero for his capture of Chattanooga, after so little fighting.

1200px-Chickamauga
Battle of Chickamauga (1863)

Bragg  continued to retreat and formed a new defensive line in Georgia. He was determined to bring the Union to battle.  Rosecrans buoyed by his success advanced to meet Bragg in battle. The two armies met at Chickamauga on September the 19th and 20th, when a Rebel army under Bragg beat Rosecrans and his Union force and they had to  retreat back into Chattanooga.

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