The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign
by Dennis W. Belcher
TOCWOC’s Take: Dennis Belcher is rapidly becoming known as an expert on the cavalry organizations and actions in Tennessee and Georgia. In addition to an overview of the Army of the Cumberland’s cavalry throughout the war, he has also produced looks at the mounted men of both sides at both Stones River, and now the Union cavalry at Chickamauga. It appears to be a very nice companion to Dave Powell’s recent book Failure in the Saddle, which covered the Confederate Cavalry during the campaign.
Belcher’s book is split into three parts. In the Prelude, he covers the state of the Army of the Cumberland’s cavalry in July 1863, just after the Tullahoma Campaign and just prior to the Chickamauga Campaign. Part two covers The Advance on Chickamauga from July 5 to September 17. And Part Three covers not only the Battle of Chickamauga itself, but also the retreat to Chattanooga and Wheeler’s Tennessee Raid in October 1863.
Interestingly, David Stanley, the usual commander of the Army of the Cumberland’s cavalry, was ill. He faced withering criticism from Army commander William Rosecrans, and eventually gave up command to Robert Mitchell just days before the Battle of Chickamauga. By the time he returned from his illness, he had been assigned to command an infantry division in IV Corps. At this critical time, he was replaced by Robert Mitchell. Belcher believes Stanley was a step above Mitchell as a cavalry chief. These two men had a daunting task, facing some of the best Confederate cavalry commanders of the war, and also fielding fewer men than their Southern counterparts. The (poor and deteriorating) relationship between Thomas Crittenden and Robert Minty played a crucial role in how the campaign played out. Belcher is very high on Robert Minty, especially his saving of Crittenden on September 18, 1863. The Union cavalry overall was pretty successful in the campaign, especially early on because they rarely faced large concentrations of Confederate cavalry. That said, there were failures as well. After crossing into Georgia, Rosecrans broke up his cavalry and used them piecemeal. In addition, an early September raid on Rome, Georgia failed to ever get started, and the reasons why remain unclear to this day. Belcher is not high on Robert Mitchell’s performance as head of the cavalry, pointing to multiple other commanders who were more familiar with both the command and cavalry operations in general. Ultimately, Belcher writes, the Union brass did not take to heart lessons learned during the Chickamauga Campaign, lessons they would repeat on the long road to Atlanta in 1864.
Dennis Belcher’s look at the two Union cavalry divisions of the Army of the Cumberland during the Chickamauga Campaign ably fills a void in the current scholarship, and it pairs nicely with Dave Powell’s book on the Confederate Cavalry during the same campaign. This fourth book in his series on cavalry operations in Tennessee and Georgia continues his excellent track record on the subject. Readers who try the tea leaves are probably hoping he continues on and writes a book about cavalry operations during the Atlanta Campaign, myself included. His conclusion definitely seems to foreshadow such a possibility.
During the Chickamauga Campaign, General Stanley’s two Union cavalry divisions battled Forrest’s and Wheeler’s cavalry corps in some of the most difficult terrain for mounted operations. The Federal troopers, commanded by Crook and McCook, guarded the flanks of the advance on Chattanooga, secured the crossing of the Tennessee River, then pushed into enemy territory.
The battle exploded on September 18 as Col. Minty and Col. Wilder held off a determined attack by Confederate infantry. The fighting along Chickamauga Creek included notable actions at Glass Mill and Cooper’s Gap. Union cavalry dogged Wheeler’s forces throughout Tennessee. The Union troopers fought under conditions so dusty they could hardly see, leading the infantry through the second costliest battle of the war.
- Buy the Hardcover First Edition
Publisher: McFarland (www.mcfarlandbooks.com)
Phone Number: 1-800-253-2187
Release Date: August 2018
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