GRANT, Ulysses S. Autograph letter signed ("U.S. Grant Maj. Gen."), TO MAJOR GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS, Commanding Army of the Cumberland; General Head Quarters, Military Division of the Mississippi, Chattanooga, Tenn., 23 November 1863. 1 page, 4to, in ink on lined stationery. Fine condition.
GRANT TO THE "ROCK OF CHICKAMAUGA" AS HE PREPARES FOR THE BATTLE OF CHATTANOOGA
A fine, terse battlefield letter, written on the eve of his victory in the battle of Chattanooga. "General," Grant writes, "the truth or falsity of the deserter who came in last night stating that Bragg had fallen back should be ascertained at once. If he is really falling back Sherman can commence at once laying his pontoon trains and we can save a day...."
At Chickamauga (19-20 September), Thomas's staunch defense of the wavering Union lines had earned him the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga." Bragg--the tactical victor at Chickamauga--briefly besieged the Union forces under Rosecrans in Chattanooga, but large Federal relief forces were immediately ordered to Chattanooga. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, arrived at Chattanooga from Vicksburg on the same day as this letter. At the same time, Sherman and an advance party arrived from Memphis, while his main command followed behind by boat and overland.
Bragg's army held the commanding heights--Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, East and South of Chattanooga. Grant's strategy called for Sherman's army to cross the Tennessee River and the Chickamauga on pontoons and make the main attack against Bragg's right flank on Missionary Ridge. Thomas's army was to make a secondary frontal attack on rebel positions on the ridge. At the same time, Hooker would make a diversionary push from the west against Bragg's flank on Lookout Mountain.
Grant was anxious to move against the Confederates, and wanted to attack on the 21st. "Learning [from a deserter, as reported here] that Bragg had weakened his lines on Missionary Ridge, Grant directed Thomas to conduct reconnaissance in force to see if the Confederates were withdrawing" (Boatner). In fact, Bragg had detached two divisions to reinforce Longstreet in Knoxville. Grant hoped that if Bragg had pulled back, as reported, the Union engineers could lay the pontoon bridges without serious opposition, allowing Sherman's men to cross safely and be in position for the concerted attack a day earlier. But both Sherman's and Hooker's armies were by delayed by rains and it was not until the 24th--the day after this letter--that Grant could order the successful assault (a prelude to Sherman's Atlanta campaign).