Winter reorganizations: Army of the Cumberland

Last week, I gave a lengthy justification for readers to consider winter encampment activities as related to the Civil War.  Overlooked, as we are drawn to the battles or campaigns, these encampments did much to setup those more “attractive” events. One of the examples I offered was the Army of the Cumberland’s stay, which lasted well into the spring, at Murfreesboro in 1863.  The length and breadth of that activity deserves full book length treatment, in my opinion. But for the moment, allow me to focus on one category of that encampment’s activities – reorganization.

The formation that won the Tullahoma Campaign, captured Chattanooga, and then was defeated at Chickamauga, was a different formation than the one which had won at Stones River in January.  Yet, the differences in that organization are somewhat subtle.  Consider the formation that Major-General William S. Rosecrans moved out of Nashville with in December 1862:

Fourteenth Corps Dec 18 1862

Um… this is an eye-test chart, I know.  Click the illustration and you’ll hit Flickr where you can zoom in and out.  This is roughly what Rosecrans had, on or about December 18, 1862.  Some things to note here (as I know you have trouble reading it!):

  • Rosecrans had three hats.  At this period of the war the “commands” of Department of the Cumberland, Army of the Cumberland, and Fourteenth Corps were almost interchangeable.
  • The formation of the Department/Army/Corps was a hand over from the previous Army of the Ohio as it was under Major General Don C. Buell.
  • In the old Army of the Ohio, there had been an organization for the field, for campaigning, and an organization on paper, for administration.  The former was built around wings and was temporary to meet situations.  The later included numbered divisions (up to Twelve) with separately numbered brigades (into the thirties).
  • When Rosecrans assumed command, he gradually changed that arrangement, first with three somewhat permanent wings.  But even as late as the middle of December 1862, the army still operated with the division and brigade designations from before.
  • For example, Major-General Alexander McCook commanded the Right Wing constituted of the 9th Division (13th, 21st, and 22nd Brigades), 2nd Division (4th, 5th, and 6th brigades), and 11th Division (37th and 35th brigades, plus a brigade brought over from 13th Division, formerly 1st Division of the Army of the Mississippi… a sidebar for later discussion).
  • Just days before battle at Stones River, Rosecrans reverted the division/brigade numbering to a more conventional format – that we are more familiar with, having each wing’s division numbered internally, and likewise each division’s brigades likewise numbered in sequence.

To that last set of points, consider the 41st Ohio, which was in the 19th Brigade, under Colonel William B. Hazen, and in the 4th Division under Brigadier-General John M. Palmer (who’d transferred over from that Army of the Mississippi division, by the way). Just before the big battle, the 41st Ohio’s parent organization changed to Second Brigade, Second Division, Left Wing, Fourteenth Corps.  Just a paper change, you say.  But think about it from the perspective of the officer trying to sort out who is aligned on his left or right flank.  That might be the “old” 22nd Brigade of Brigadier-General Charles Cruft showing up.  Or it might be the “new” Third Brigade, First Division, Left Wing, which used to be Colonel Charles Harker’s 20th Brigade.  You see, there were three possible names for each brigade that might possibly be in play at Stones River.

Now I am placing more emphasis on that factor than probably ought to be.  I know of no cases where confusions derived on the field due to the designation changes.  Usually, as we know from official reports, the reference was to a commander’s brigade by name.  If there was any confusion, it was usually confined to the staff when managing the administrative details.

However, there’s a subtlety here we should be keen to.  Prior to December 1862, a soldier in Hazen’s Brigade carried the name of his unit as the 19th Brigade.  That carried with it a somewhat implied detachment from divisions and corps.  The brigade might be reassigned to another formation on a temporary basis.  That’s why it was numbered in such manner.  But once the designation was changed to reflect an ordinal under a parent division, that changed.  Now Hazen’s Brigade was bound to Second Division… though that division might move between wings or assignments as needed.

Turning forward to the winter encampment, that assignment was further solidified by orders which came down on January 9, 1863.  Specifically, General Orders No. 9 from the War Department… not the Army or Department… but the War Department, mind you:

By direction of the President, the Army of the Cumberland, under the command of Major-General Rosecrans, is divided into three army corps, to be known as the Fourteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-first.

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas is assigned to the command of the Fourteenth Army Corps; Maj. Gen. A. McD. McCook to the command of the Twentieth; and Maj. Gen. T.L. Crittenden to the command of the Twenty-first Corps.

The result was this organization, adding a Reserve Corps, by June 30, 1863:

Fourteenth Corps June 30 1863

Now the soldier in the 41st Ohio was part of the Second Brigade, Second Division, Twenty-first Corps.  There is certainly a formality to that.  And more importantly an attachment to a formation.  At some point down the road, people would start talking about corps badges and such.

And yes, the organization was more balanced than that used at Stones River.  You’ll note that as Fourteenth Corps became a subordinate formation, Rosecrans lost one of his many hats, being “only” the army and department head.  Still Thomas had a “big” command with the Fourteenth Corps’ four divisions.  But the overall result was to give Rosecrans a more responsive organization.  We could well drill into particulars, namely with cavalry and other “lightning” formations if you get my drift.  But even at the high level, this looks like a flexible, responsive, and fighting formation.

There’s another subtle part to this which also need be addressed.  Rosecrans issued his own general order effecting the arrangement of the corps.  But that referenced the War Department’s order. And as you read it, yes that was the President’s orders.  From the top.

You see, prior to January 9, if Rosecrans had an issue, hypothetically speaking, with a wing commander, he might figure a way to administratively move him out.  But after January 9, any changes with the corps commanders had to be made with the blessings of those in Washington… top people in Washington.  This reorganization served to bind the subordinate formations, right down to the individual soldier, to a unit.  Likewise we see the “big army” was somewhat bound to the soldier.

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