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This Terrible Sound, A Book Review

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#1 Belasar


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Posted 01 June 2012 - 06:50 PM

This Terrible Sound, By Peter Cozzens, 1992, University of Illinois Press, 675 pages, Illustrations by Keith Rocco, Notes and Index, Hardbound, Amazon New $9.00, Used $6.39

Reviewer's Note: This Book is about the American Civil War Battle of Chickamauga.
If this subject is not of interest to you, please select another thread.

It is my hope to eventually have a seperate sub-forum for history subjects other than WWII.
If this meets with the approval of the powers that be, and is of interest to our members, that is.

The Battle of Chickamauga, September 19-20 1863, has been for me one of the most confusing and difficult to follow from the American Civil War. This massive book offers a minute by minute accout of the battle and is the best I have yet had the pleasure to read.

This battle, fought a few months after the Union victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, offers one of those great what might have been's. For once the Confederate Army of Tennesse outnumbered the Union Army of the Cumberland. (Rebel armies were named for the region the operated in, Federal armies for a major river they were formed near and operated out of) About 120,000 men from both sides fought in this contest.

William Rosecrans, the Union Commander, was under intense pressure to continue the roll of Federal victories won by Meade and Grant, who both were now on the defensive, and skillfully forced Confederate General Braxton Bragg to retreat from the city of Chattanooga almost bloodlessly. This however was not enough for Halleck and Lincoln who pressed for deeper incursions into the middle south.

Bragg was urgently requesting reinforcements to hold his position and was fortunate in that other southern leaders were receptive to massing troops there to effect a turn about in southern fortunes. Chief amoung these were James Longstreet who advocated an offensive in the west. Sadly, it seems he desired a independent command as much as he did a southern victory. It was common knowledge that Bragg was despised by most of his Corps and Divisional commanders and Longstreet probably thought he could wrangle command from him.

Rosecrans too, had command problems. While he was respected by his Commanders they were a mixed lot to say the least. Thomas (XIVth Corps) was first rate, but McCook (XXth Corps) and Crittenden (XXIst Corps) had yet to distinguish themselves in any meaningfull way. Granger commanding the Reserve Corps was thoughly hated by his troops. Burnside, who had a reinforced Corps had no intention of following any order given by Rosecrans.

Bragg's plan for his reinforced Army, Army of Tennesse, Longstreet's Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia and a division from the Army of the West, was basicly sound. Mass his troops and attack one wing (XIVth Corps) of the Army of the Cumberland and then roll up the remainer. Sadly for the south this was probably his last sound decision.

Bragg struck before all his troops had arrived and over heavily wooded ground that the local commanders did not have time to survey first. What was intended as a hammer blow became a meeting engagement between two armies massing at one point on the map. Both sides on the first day sent in troops by the brigade and division piecemeal with little coordination. The terrain often slpit brigades, regiments and even companies into different directions. Either side would gain a local advantage, only to be dislodged by fresh enemy troops. By the end of the first day the Confederates had pushed the Federals back about a mile, but the Union had a solid line.

The Union troops had nothing to be ashamed about the first day's battle despite being forced back. Generally Brigade and Division commanders acted well and even Rosecans's other corps commanders acted with elan and descretion, though by the day's end they were more spectators rather than troop commanders. For the second day the Army of the Cumberland faced several problems.

Braggs attacks had forced Union attention to its left flank and this became Rosecrans's obsession. The fighting had broken up the corps orginization terribly with Thomas now in command of troops from all three corps, yet not all of his own corps which he urgently requested to be sent to him. Most of Longsteet's corps had yet to fight and was still fresh. Worst of all Rosecrans was mentally exhausted and not thinking clearly. His decesions on the first day were sound, but this faculty would desert him on day two.

Despite this Bragg nearly threw away his advantage by deciding to re-organise his army into two Great Divisions, one lead by Polk on the right the other by Longstreet on the left. Doing so in the face of the enemy is dangerous enough, but the efforts to make sure all Division and Brigade commanders knew ot these changes and their objectives on the next day can only be described as comical. Messengers passed each other in the night, headquarters could not be found and generals went to sleep without ensuring their subordinates had their marching orders. By daybreak many Brigades did not know they were to go into the attack at first light!

Polk assigned to lead off, launched his attack late and piecemeal as during the first day. Despite this it was fierce enough for Thomas to renew his call for more troops. Thomas had very strong lines with a small reserve of his own which succeeded in halting Polk's attack. Rosecrans never the less ordered a division out of the center to reinforce the left, but it was held in place by local commandrs as the threat to the left had ended.

Rosecrans then ordered a division from the right to replace the one that did not move from the center, thinking he had left a gap and the right was quiet. Gen. Wood commanding this division knew there was no gap to fill, and could see signs of Longstreet's troops massing to his front, yet waved the written order about and ordered his troops away from their breastworks to fill a gap that didn't exist. Wood had been rebuked twice from Rosecrans for not following orders before and let his pride overrule his common sense despite plea's by other Union officers.

Say what you may about Longstreet's motivations for comming west, his attack was perfectly organised and struck the just abandoned Union breastworks with force that could not be held. The Union right shattered and the center (what remained of it) fell back on the Union left.

Nothing McCook, Crittenden or Rosecrans could do would restore the breech. None of these officers distinguished themselves here and all fell back to the rear. Some discussion was made about working their way to Thomas who still held out, but their heart was not in it. Thomas held till dusk but it was a near thing and then he too fell back.

Bragg having won a tremendous victory, did nothing to exploit it and Roscrans held onto Chattanooga with his shattered and demorized army. Bragg's Corps and Division commanders nearly mutineed and sent a letter to President Davis to have the army commander removed! Davis came west but only made the matter worse, making Lincoln's command choices look brilliant by comparison.

The Confederate victory at Chichamauga became in effect meaningless and not the oppertunity to redeem the losses of July that the South hoped for.

This book is written much in the style of Ken Burn's Civil War programme, with engaging little stories about the general's and private's. Many maps are present to show the course of the battle, and a complete order of battle is offered. The notes alone run some 90 pages! The first day's battle is still alittle confusing, but considering successive units fought over the same ground for the entire day this is understandable.

Highly reccomended!


Edited by belasar, 01 June 2012 - 11:44 PM.

Wars are rarely fought in black and white, but in infinite shades of grey

(Poppy is occasionaly correct, or so I hear)

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