When I am struggling to figure out what to read, I go to a familiar topic—the Civil War. I also try to read an excellent author’s work. My latest read hits both of these. Although Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War is not solely written by Eric Wittenberg (it is co-written by David Powell), I can see his influence in the words.
Although the Tullahoma Campaign under General William S. Rosecrans does not garner the attention of the other two major campaigns that occurred simultaneously (Gettysburg and Vicksburg), the success of his army (Army of the Cumberland) was pivotal in the Union’s war efforts to conquer the South. The Campaign’s success cleared most of Tennessee of Confederate forces and changed the course of the war in the Western Theater.
Powell and Wittenberg do yeoman’s work establishing the situation for both sides prior to the Campaign. They describe the strategic and tactical circumstances in the region and Theater. They also detail the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, including in leadership and supplies.
Although Rosecrans had some issues (primarily a prickly personality), the Confederates led by General Braxton Bragg had more—principally in the leadership. Not only was Bragg not the right general for the task, they correctly point out that he was undercut by his corps commanders (Generals Polk and Hardee and their subordinates). For example, Polk actively wrote to President Jefferson Davis to replace Bragg.
After setting up the situation on the ground, Powell and Wittenberg proceed to methodically detail the Campaign as it developed. They praise Rosecrans for his meticulous plans and how his subordinates executed those plans—even as historic rains mired the roads into nearly impassable avenues. Rosecrans adapted to the changing situation. He switched the lead assault corps when the rains delayed the march of his initial selection. Powell and Wittenberg rightly criticized Bragg for his slow response to the impending threat to his flank.
Wittenberg’s signature is all over the Union cavalry action descriptions—most of his books focus on cavalry operations. The Union cavalry was inferior in number (and some would say quality) in Tennessee prior to the Campaign, but that changed during the Campaign—partly due to Confederate reallocation of forces. The Union cavalry was pivotal in the resounding success of the Army of the Cumberland during the Campaign. For example, Colonel John Wilder’s Lightning Brigade seized a key gap with minimal losses that allowed Union infantry to exploit the Confederate defenses.
Powell and Wittenberg’s discussion of the aftermath of the Campaign is excellent. Their analysis of the Campaign and the ramifications it had on both sides is balanced. They support their conclusions with insight from other historians who have studied the Western Theater.
Tullahoma is an excellent review of how the Union wrested western Tennessee from the Confederacy.