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Volume 30, No. 9 – September 2017


President’s Message:

The Round Table has lost a long-time member, Monroe Ackerman. He passed away on August 15th.  Monroe gave many presentations, and faithfully made the coffee for our meetings. His presence will be sorely missed.

In October, William McEachern will present a program entitled: The Break Through: The Fall of the Confederacy.

At the November meeting, Robert Krasner will speak about Rutherford B. Hayes.  He was a member of the 23rd Ohio regiment, lawyer, politician, philanthropist, president of the National Prison Association, and father of eight.

Robert Macomber will be the Speaker in December.

Gerridine LaRovere

September 13, 2017 Program:

September will be the 30th anniversary of the Round Table. We will celebrate with festivities including a special raffle with a $30.00 gift card to Publix.  Our program will be fun and fascinating facts about the Civil War that you might be surprised to learn.


August 9, 2017 Program:

LongstreetOur speaker was LTC (Ret.) Harold Knudsen.  The presentation drew from his book, General James Longstreet the Confederacy’s Most Modern General.  His writings come from his love of military history married up with his experience with 20th Century Army doctrine, field training, staff planning, command, and combat experience.

The South, on the heels of two major losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg was facing the path to defeat if military fortunes could not be turned around in their favor.  General James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee’s famed War Horse, had prior to the Gettysburg Campaign, advocated addressing matters around Vicksburg, Mississippi as a matter of strategic imperative.  He warned Lee that undertaking a strategic offensive into Pennsylvania was not the correct priority.  Lee overruled him, and they went forward to meet failure at Gettysburg.  Lee then realized his War Horse had been correct, and subsequently supported Longstreet’s suggestion to reinforce Braxton Bragg in Georgia and attempt to wrest the strategic initiative in that theater in the fall of 1863.  Longstreet went west with his corps, and won a stunning victory for Bragg at Chickamauga, which swung the initiative to Bragg; generating many operational opportunities that indeed promised to give the strategic initiative to Bragg’s theater if he acted.  Bragg did not recognize his opportunities.  He decided upon a useless partial siege that eventually lost the initiative.  This allowed the Union to reinforce Chattanooga, overmatch him, and retake the offensive.  Realistically, it was the Confederacy’s last chance to prevent defeat.

Most interpretations of the 1863 Chattanooga campaign claim the unchallenged establishment of the supply line known as the “Cracker Line” was the decisive event that caused the reversal of the initiative away from the Confederates and gave it to the Union.  It has appeared so to many historians, but a defeat like Bragg’s is seldom the result of a singular tactical event.  The painting of the Cracker Line in this campaign as the turning point is probably due the tangible effects of lifting the hungry troop’s morale by restoring full rations covered by the period newspapers and recent historians, but the truth is, the Cracker Line was a temporary logistical remedy. (The pontoon bridge established to accommodate the first wagon loads brought through by Hooker, washed away shortly after its first uses.)  Actually, steamers (with greater capacity than wagons) shuttling supplies between Bridgeport and Chattanooga ensured the flow of full rations into November.   Also contrary to many popular portrayals, General Longstreet not moving troops into Lookout Valley and the restoration of full rations to Thomas’ army did not cause the loss of the campaign for Bragg. (The notion that the Confederates could have denied Union entrance into Lookout Valley by emplacing troops in this terrain compartment is a myth; as there were no less than ten ferries and fords where the Union could cross between Caperton’s Ferry and Kelley’s Ferry.   Covering every one of these and not be flanked, attacked from the rear, or cut off from Bragg’s main force on Missionary Ridge was impossible.)  The campaign was largely lost before the Cracker Line was put in, and the true reason for the Union success is found in the level of war between tactics and strategy – Operational Art.

Through the prism of Operational Art (initially an Industrial Age concept) Longstreet saw the Union corps movements going on around Bragg were the decisive factors.  Tactical events in Lookout Valley, such as the Union bridgehead at Brown’s Ferry, the night battle at Wauhatchie, the Cracker Line, and Bragg’s idea to cut it with a division (or more), were irrelevant.  The key operational facet working against Bragg: the growing Union Center of Gravity (CoG).

CoG is the key aspect, that “thing” for simplicity sake, which gives an army its real power.  The CoG of the Union Army in the Chattanooga campaign was the aggregate strength of all the reinforcements brought into the area, plus the troops inside Chattanooga, and also the troops in Knoxville, which all came under Grants operational control.  While the logistics flow over Hailey’s Trace into Chattanooga was the lifeline to Thomas, Bragg never made a serious attempt to cut it.  It is also a fact that supply throughput over Haley’s Trace was sufficient to meet basic needs for the length of time the Union needed to reinforce.  Yet, Bragg incorrectly thought Haley’s Trace was insufficient, so when the Cracker Line was put in, he incorrectly identified it as the new CoG by extension of his myopic tactical focus (even after Hooker linked up with Thomas).  And, as this campaign illustrates, if one does not correctly figure out his opponent’s CoG, then the planning and executing of operations that do not solve the operational problem set will occur.  The opponent will gain the upper hand, and thus tactical actions, even some successful ones, will not generate the right effects in the operational realm.

Union CoG within the Theater = Thomas + Hooker + Sherman + Burnside = 100,000 men

Planning irrelevant tactical operations we see stemming from Bragg’s fixation with Lookout Valley when Hooker marched into it on the 27th of October, 1863.  Stating the new supply line was “vital; it involves the very existence of the enemy at Chattanooga” i.e. the CoG; Bragg wants James Longstreet to do something about the alarming presence of a new Union corps operating on his left flank.  Longstreet, however, understood the concepts that would embody the level of war known in the latter 20th Century as Operational Art.   This type of intuition allowed him to see that the CoG was the Union corps sized elements that were in the process of gathering.  The Union had already harnessed the key Decisive Point,  which was Bridgeport, Alabama.  Through an unchallenged reinforcement flow into Bridgeport, they were building a position of dominance in the operational area.  Once Hooker became active, Longstreet knew they were in trouble, and a major decision to change course was needed by Bragg.  But Longstreet is essentially forced by Bragg (who was in an agitated state) to attempt a useless tactical action to satisfy Bragg’s want of “doing something about it.”  They decide on a small scale night attack into Lookout Valley; an irrelevant and indecisive spasm, which Longstreet planned against the Union supply train parked in Wauhatchie.  This fails, due to several errors in coordination and other misunderstandings, to put it mildly, but even if this raid had been successful, the reality is that it would have had no effect upon the Union CoG.

Next, Bragg has the idea to have Longstreet move troops into Lookout Valley, but without any clear offensive objective.  Such a move could only be temporary.  If the Confederates committed large numbers of troops in Lookout Valley, they would risk this force being cut off in the valley by a Union thrust south of Lookout Mountain once Sherman joined Hooker.  Longstreet correctly did not follow Bragg’s idea of a blocking position as it was not tactically sound or part of a clearer purpose.  Ordering a major operation such the one required was the job of the commanding general, not a corps commander.  It was up to Bragg to decide upon a thorough course of action, resource that course of action, and issue orders to all his corps commanders to execute it.  As it were, most interpretations say that Bragg told Longstreet to use all force necessary to redress the situation; which meant nothing.  Bragg never issued orders for the other two corps commanders to place their divisions under Longstreet’s control, -- and corps commanders don’t tell other corps commanders to simply hand over troops.  Unless Bragg was going to the majority of his divisions in a decisive strike against Bridgeport, neutralize or push Hooker away, merely blocking the Cracker Line would not affect the growing Union CoG.

One point that makes spreading forces for a tactical defense in Lookout Valley a poor choice was the illusion of the hoped for Union starvation.  Bragg thought from the beginning of his partial siege, he could cause starvation to collapse the Union hold on Chattanooga. Even though Union soldiers in Chattanooga were for weeks on half rations (even quarter rations some days) because of difficulties on the sixty-mile long Haley’s Trace,  they were not starving.  While they were hungry, no Union soldiers were going to actually starve before the initiative changed – even without the Cracker Line.   This is the essence of Bragg’s misidentification of the Union CoG.  Although little is mentioned in the historiography, with the rising water level on the Tennessee River (allowing some boats to clear the half dozen obstructions along the way), the Union had steamer traffic between Bridgeport and Chattanooga beginning early-mid November.   As a result Grant had two multi-modal supply routes running concurrently into and around Chattanooga by mid-November.  Longstreet sums up the greatest logistical factor for the Union is that: "they supplied that army for six weeks without the Cracker Line."

Entry PointThe event that changed the initiative to the Union was the unopposed Union force flow into Bridgeport of forces under Hooker and Sherman.  The arrival of Joseph Hooker’s corps size element changed the operational situation to the Confederates having to face the Union in two directions (they had to face Thomas and now Hooker.)  Sherman’s arrival in November would bring Union operational domination.  This force flow of reinforcements is the reason that also illustrates why the Cracker Line was not the Decisive Point.  The Decisive Point of Bridgeport enabled Hooker to arrive and operate on Bragg’s left/rear, Sherman to arrive and get into place; it was the origin of Haley’s Trace, and the origin of steamer supply to Chattanooga.

If you lose momentum, you lose the initiative.  Bragg allowed this to occur with his partial siege.  Even though he had some time after the arrival of the first Union units in Bridgeport on the 25th of September, he never acted against Bridgeport, losing an opportunity to keep the initiative and further isolate Thomas at Chattanooga.  After Longstreet had sent his artillery coordinator, Porter Alexander to recon the area, and then envisioned an operational level strike against Bridgeport to achieve precisely these effects, Longstreet presented this plan to Bragg (as well as President Davis).  Davis told Bragg to execute it, but Bragg would not; his continued inaction further contributed his defeat.   Grant’s superior numbers and taking the initiative with many of the facets of Operational Art working in his favor by November allowed him the freedom to execute operational maneuver against Bragg’s army.

Many like to speculate the “what if” had Bragg kept Longstreet, and not detached him to go after Knoxville.  Ostensibly, would Bragg have been stronger and better able to face Grant in a defensive battle on Missionary Ridge?  Perhaps, and although Grant decided upon a double envelopment of Bragg’s position on Missionary Ridge the 23rd of November, 1863, it is worth mentioning he had many options to exercise against Bragg.  Certainly, the “unexpected” frontal assault by Thomas straight up the ridge into Bragg’s center was a surprise success.  Perhaps if Thomas had attacked Longstreet’s two crack divisions positioned atop Missionary Ridge (Longstreet’s troops had good experience setting up a kill zone such as the one they created at Fredericksburg), Thomas might have suffered a costly repulse.  Still, if Grant’s attacks had failed, and Missionary Ridge proved too tough a position to take with the plan he started with, the battle was not over.  Grant could use his superior numbers to both fix Bragg and maneuver around to cut Bragg’s rail line of supply, forcing him off the ridge that way, for example.  Grant never gave up after one course of action proved ineffective, he consistently tried something different.  From an operational planning standpoint, Grant had set the conditions to dominate once he had overmatched Bragg.  The added bonus of Bragg’s unwise choice to spread out his forces, sending Longstreet to Knoxville, and another 11,000 troops halfway between, only made his victory more overwhelming.

The myth that the Chattanooga campaign was lost in Lookout Valley in the tactical level from the establishment of a supply line is incorrect.  The operational level corps movements decided this campaign.  Earlier, Bragg had recognized an operational opportunity that the spread out Union corps prior to Chickamauga presented; and he correctly chose to strike them under those circumstances.  During Chattanooga, however, he was not attuned to the facets of the operational level, and he subsequently lost several opportunities during this campaign.

Although operational concepts can be found in earlier wars, they were generally aligned with the strategic level of war.  Earlier examples, such as the 1781 Yorktown campaign, contained many of the operational facets.  (There was no professional military education that taught officers to distinguish a level of war between tactics and strategy.)  However, the synchronization of the land and sea forces and functions was done in slow motion compared to how quickly a corps (larger in 1863 than entire armies in the Revolutionary War) could move in 1863.  The concepts that comprise modern Operational Art became more distinguishable with the advances of rail, allowing large corps to move great distances quickly, and as the telegraph allowed coordination of the movements.  At Chattanooga Bragg stuck to the tactical; unable to intuitively change dimensions, and thus he misidentified the Union CoG.

BridgeportJames Longstreet recognized the CoG clearly in this campaign.  His professional experiences and the culture of how he and Lee reviewed their operations brought Longstreet to the necessary level and ability where he could intuitively determine a course of action to counter the Union CoG.  From this he envisioned a strike against Bridgeport, Alabama designed to restore maneuver for the Confederates, eliminate the primary Union force flow entry point, and keep apart the Union Corp’s so that they could not support and cooperate with each other.  By overlaying Longstreet’s operational thinking, it becomes clear that the myths of tactical actions in Lookout Valley and conclusions about the Cracker Line as the decisive events miss the mark.  Lee’s Warhorse had it right: Bridgeport, not Lookout Valley was the key to Chattanooga.

[Editor’s note:  At this point, LTC Knudsen’s materials, which he sent by e.mail ends.  His talk, however, went on.  The next remarks are from my memory of what he said.]

Knudsen introduced our group to the modern day concept of Operational Art, the level of war that interrelates tactics and strategy.  Before  the advent of highspeed logistics, the commanders handled strategy  and the officers in the field translated this into tactics.  As the above story demonstrates, Longstreet saw that the strategic plan to eliminate the Union army in Tennessee could not be done by tactics alone as Bragg had tried.  Longstreet’s vision of the CoG saw the need to eliminate the source of supply from Bridgeport indirectly, by seizing a Decisive Point.  This was far short of a strategy, but far more than a series of tactical maneuvers and/or battles.  Bragg never got it.

The presentation illuminated this with illustrations from the long past and more recent past.  One illustration was General Douglas MacArthur and the Inchon landing.  The strategy was to push Chinese and North Koreans out of the Pusan Perimeter.  MacArthur reasoned that tactics like Bragg used to punch at Thomas would not work.  He used operational art to land at the “unlandable” port of Inchon and push across the narrow peninsular to cut off the north’s supplies and possibly encircle the enemy.  The tactics at Inchon involved the capture of an airfield, the destruction by air power of a massed tank counter stroke, and the liberation of Seoul.  I would argue that Longstreet and MacArthur both had the 14 points listed below well in hand.

Operational Art

Last changed:  08/22/17

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