Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Gap - part 3

There were several minor details of the order that could have prevented the immediate execution of the order. There are other issues surrounding the issuing of the order but those are not important for this discussion. If Brigadier General James Garfield hadn't been too busy with other orders he could have informed Rosecrans that there was no gap. If Wood had taken a few minutes to verify the order and inform Rosecrans that the order was based on faulty knowledge the order could have been rescinded. If Wood had informed Rosecrans that there was a sizeable force in his front that he was skirmishing with the order could have been rescinded. In any respect the order was followed to the letter and was executed immediately.

Rosecrans was a temperamental man during this campaign and twice he had rebuked Wood. On September 6 Major General Thomas L. Crittenden had ordered Wood to make a reconnaissance to the base of Lookout Mountain. Wood felt that this would expose his division and ignored the order on the pretext that Crittenden "fixed no hour for the movement." Then Wood pulled his division back two miles. Later Crittenden sent two staff officers to Wood's headquarters to check on events which Wood interpreted as spying. He exploded at Crittenden who told him the recon order came from Rosecrans to which Wood replied, "I cannot believe that General Rosecrans desires such a blind adherence to the mere letter of this order." The next day Wood did send Colonel Charles G. Harker to Lookout Creek. Rosecrans responded to Wood that he "was disappointed that your reconnaissance was not made earlier" and that he was still uninformed of the strength and location of the enemy. This was the first rebuke and compared to what would be coming this was mild.

At Chickamauga around 9 AM of September 20 Rosecrans came across Wood's division about a third of a mile from the front. He was supporting Major General James S. Negley when he really was supposed to replace Negley but there had been a mix up in written orders. Wood had only received oral orders to take this position and obviously those orders had not been clear. Rosecrans lost his temper (he had been in a foul mood for the last few weeks) and yelled at Wood, "What is the meaning of this, sir? You have disobeyed my specific orders. By your damnable negligence you are endangering the safety of the entire army, and, by God, I will not tolerate it. Move your division at once, as I have instructed, or the consequences will not be pleasant for yourself." Wood was speechless. There have been many versions of the story since but every source traces its roots to Henry Cist's book, The Army of the Cumberland. Cist was not actually at the battle and his book has no footnotes to indicate where he got the story from. To be fair to Cist not many history books in 1882 had footnotes. Prompted by the release of Cist's book Wood wrote a letter to the New York Times explaining that there had never been a rebuke on September 20, that his only meeting with Rosecrans was very brief;

Gen. Rosecrans asked me, without heat of language or manner toward me, so far as
I observed, why I had not moved earlier. I replied that I had moved
promptly on the receipt of the order. He said the order had been sent some time
before. I replied that I knew nothing as to when the order was dispatched
from his headquarters, (be it remembered the order reached me through the corps
commander,) and reiterated that I had moved promptly on the receipt of the
order. Gen. Rosecrans made no further comment on the preceding movement of
my division, and added: “Hurry up and relieve Gen. Negley on the line.”

Rosecrans only mentioned that peremptory orders were given in his official report. Perhaps Rosecrans did not want to provide the details of the incident so that he could focus on more important events of the campaign, or perhaps the incident was not noteworthy as Wood's letter indicates.


Anonymous said...

Interesting read. I did a Chickamauga/Chattanooga/Stones River battlefield staff ride last month. Based on my experience w/ various military history topics, historical writing, and particularly historical quotes, are subject to much interpretation.

Anonymous said...

The verbal rebuke you refer to on Sep 20 is a fictionalized account from EV Westrate's Book "Those Fatal Generals" not to be taken as fact (Glenn Tucker). The historical record is pretty strong in showing this whole scenario was a post war creation to defend Rosecrans. Don't forget Wood's order was marked "Gallop" which means he was to act ASAP and that the commander of his sector, Alex McCook was with him at the time and assured Wood he would fill the gap and that he should move. The strongest evidence is that Wood was never brought up on one single charge related to this and never lost a command. Compare this to what happens to McCook, Crittenden and Negley following the battle leading to a court of inquiry. Look at Wood's performance the rest of the battle, he helps save the army. The historical evidence just does not support the Cist version of these events.

Anonymous said...

What is fictionalized is the dialogue between Rosecrans and Wood (the verbal rebuke). It is taken directly from Westrate pp. 222-223 and quoted as fact in Glenn Tucker's Book on Chickamauga. This adds to the Cist version of events but the dialogue is often quoted as if it were fact which it is not.

Nick said...

Cozzens (using Cist) and Tucker (using Westrate) both say there was a rebuke. Cozzens version is pretty mild compared to Tucker's. As Dave Powell said in one of the other comments this rebuke might actually be the rebuke Rosecrans gave to Negley and over the years the story was transfered to Wood.

My intention was only to show that Rosecrans was in a foul mood, quick to anger that day. Wood was a prickly man, we don't know if he was still seething over the early September flare up but any man who takes the time in the middle of a campaign to write, what ends up as 8 pages in the OR, two long letters defending his position seems like someone who would hold a grudge and probably still be upset 10 days later. Did it enter into his actions that day? I have no idea but I think that evidence needs to be presented and not ignored.

Maybe Wood didn't let the earlier incident cloud his judgement at all. But if he was rebuked to any degree at all that day, and again for an incident with orders, one has to wonder if Wood might have acted a bit out of spite when given another order. He might have felt that he had no choice but to obey the letter of the order lest he anger Rosecrans for the third time over orders.

Also do we know where Westrate got the story? I can find very little biography on him but I know he wasn't there, probably wasn't even born yet.