(August 9, 2017) Unlike Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate armies west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi River seldom won major battles. The biggest success, at Chickamauga in late September 1863, was a Pyrrhic victory, costing the Rebel Army of Tennessee more casualties than the defeated federal Army of the Cumberland. Kennesaw Mountain was a sizable Confederate win, but most of the other convincing victories in the region—Chickasaw Bayou, Holly Springs, Richmond, Munfordville—were strategically small.
Yet there were at least two instances when the Army of Tennessee should have achieved a significant victory, but failed for mysterious reasons. The first was at McLemore’s Cove on Sept. 10 and 11, 1863, shortly before the nearby battle of Chickamauga.
Things had not gone well for the Confederates in Tennessee that summer. The Union general William Rosecrans had deployed his Army of the Cumberland with such skill in mid-June 1863 that it suffered minimal casualties when maneuvering Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee out of the central part of the state. Bragg was forced to retreat into fortified Chattanooga, which was barely within Tennessee state lines.
Then, on Aug. 21, Rosecrans began a follow-up campaign to dislodge Bragg from Chattanooga in order to capture the railroad center without storming its defenses. On Sept. 9 he succeeded, when Gen. Thomas Crittenden’s corps entered the town without the loss of a single man.