The successful Union campaign in Middle Tennessee in the summer of 1863 was a turning point in the Civil War. In just eleven days, and with very little fighting, the Army of the Cumberland maneuvered the Confederate Army of Tennessee completely out of Middle Tennessee. The campaign secured an agriculturally productive region for the Union, set the stage for the major battles around Chattanooga that fall, and led to the crucial struggle for Atlanta the following year.
The campaign was part of two years of conflict along the railroad extending from Nashville through Chattanooga to Atlanta. The first clash occurred on Stones River near Murfreesboro at the end of 1862. From a military standpoint, the battle ended in a draw, but on January 3, 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg retreated, moving his army south to a twenty-mile-long front in the Shelbyville-Tullahoma area.
The next move belonged to Union Major General William S. Rosecrans. Despite proddings from President Abraham Lincoln, Rosecrans refused to budge from his Murfreesboro base until he was satisfied his army was ready. When Rosecrans finally moved on June 23, 1863, he followed a brilliant plan: go around Bragg’s army, sever its line of supply, reinforcement, and retreat along the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, and force the Confederates to turn around and fight. At the very least, the Southerners would have to retreat to protect their lifeline south.
The range of hills separating the two armies figured prominently in Rosecrans’s plan. Avoiding the easy advance around the hills on the western edge of the front, Rosecrans chose the difficult route directly through the hills on the east. To confuse the Confederates, he sent large parts of his army in several directions.
The Confederates held at Shelbyville and Liberty Gap near Bell Buckle, while the main Federal thrust went through Hoover’s Gap on the Murfreesboro-Manchester Turnpike. By June 27, Union troops were at Manchester in the Confederate rear. Bragg had no choice but to retreat to Tullahoma. Over the next several days, Bragg’s army made successive retreats to Decherd and Cowan, before the final retreat over the mountain to Chattanooga on July 3.
Incessant rain slowed the Union advance, and Rosecrans was not able to strike Bragg’s army before it got away. But Rosecrans did achieve his secondary goal of forcing the Confederates out of Middle Tennessee. The battleground then shifted to the Chattanooga area.
The Federals deployed about 77,000 men in the Tullahoma campaign and the Confederates 44,000. The Union losses totaled 550 captured, wounded, and killed. The Federal forces captured 1,634 Confederates, but the number of Confederate wounded and killed is not known.