Saturday, February 15, 2014
Tennessee River part 2
In the land between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers the First Army had four divisions in place; the 14th Infantry Division, 21st Cavalry Division (dismounted), 61st Ohio Guard and 73rd Nebraska Guard. The latter two divisions were those of militia, recently reorganized as the National Guard. Pershing’s First Army HQ sat miles behind the line on the Kentucky-Tennessee Border in a town called Fulton.
The paper strength of the seventy mile stretch of land between the rivers hovered around one hundred thousand in the four divisions as well as a number of artillery regiments covering the front. In reality, strength at the start of 1914 after six months of war peaked at 74% in the 21st Cavalry and stood as low as 66% for the Ohio Guard. At the cost of more than thirty thousand dead and sixty thousand wounded, the First Army managed to push twenty-four miles into Tennessee since the outbreak of hostilities.
The First Army’s total strength of five hundred thousand was spread across twenty divisions and fifteen regiments and covered the entire state. For his upcoming push, Pershing transferred the bulk of reserves, one hundred thousand soldiers, to staging areas between the rivers. When the spearhead of the offensive broke through Confederate line, reserves would be sent ahead to exploit the opening.
The Army of Tennessee’s total strength numbered at four hundred thousand men in twenty divisions, mostly of Tennessean origin. Covering the land between the rivers, Sylvester deployed the 31st Mississippi, 12th Arkansas and 8th Tennessee Cavalry with the 28th Tennessee kept as strategic reserve. In total, paper strength of eighty thousand entrenched soldiers countered Pershing’s one hundred thousand. In reality, the Confederate battle-ready numbers were lower than the Union counterparts, with the 8th Tennessee Cavalry having the highest at 61%.
Army of Tennessee’s headquarters sat closer to the front line in Nashville, which sat within range of the longest-range artillery pieces in the First Army. Sylvester situated the bulk of his forces around the State capital and had offensive plans of his own. To cover the land between the rivers, he placed Lieutenant General Robert Samson of the 12th Arkansas in command, headquartered in Milan, Tennessee.
Confederate planning in Tennessee revolved around keeping the United States out of Nashville. During the spring of 1914, several divisions were brought forward to the Nashville area in an anticipated counter-offensive, one that at the very least would push the Union out of firing range of Nashville and at the best back into Kentucky. The war in Tennessee was always a nightmare scenario in Richmond. Whereas Virginia had the Potomac River and the western States had wide stretches of land for maneuvering, Tennessee had little in the way of natural barriers.
Aside from the Cumberland River, only minor branches and tributaries flowed from east to west, and these would only provide a minor delay when they ran high. It was believed by the Confederate Army General Staff that the land between the Mississippi and the Tennessee would be the most vulnerable to attack. It was also believed that the two rivers would provide barriers to Union advances in the State. The Confederate Navy deployed a number of river monitors in defense of the region.
John Pershing’s plan for attack involved a massive push in the land between the rivers, what he called Mesopotamia in his dispatches and reports. Tennessee’s east-west defenses were formidable, but its north-south axis was not as well guarded. At the beginning of July 1914, the First Army, spearheaded by the 14th Infantry and 21st Cavalry would drive deep into Mesopotamia. It would be the opening act in Operation Babylon.
Pershing’s proposal was to drive south to a depth of at least fifty miles and swing eastward, crossing the Tennessee River with the objective of cutting Nashville off from the south. The ultimate goal of the operation was the capture of Nashville and the collapse of Confederate lines in the State by the end of 1914. It was hoped that when 1915 began, the United States Army would be poised to invade the Deep South.
Not all of his commanders believed it was a good plan. If it worked, then it would be brilliant, but the odds of success were low in the opinion of his generals. The most vocal opponent was the commander of the 21st Cavalry, Lieutenant General Samuel Arnold. Like Pershing he too graduated from Fort Arnold, a fort that was named for his family. Samuel Arnold was the descendant of American Revolution hero Benedict Arnold who fell in the Battle of Saratoga. The Arnold family served for generations in the United States Army and their opinions were always heard.
He, and a few other senior officers, believed the focus of Operation Babylon should be Memphis. With Memphis firmly in Union hands, the United States could drive hard into Mississippi towards New Orleans, and cut the Confederate States in two. Instead of crossing the Tennessee River, the river should be used to protect the First Army’s flank as it storms towards Memphis. Cutting the Confederacy in half would be the first step in divide-and-conquer.
His proposal did have merits; however Pershing countered that while the United States was at war with Britain and its dominion in the north, the First Army would not receive the reinforcements required to hold Memphis while defending the Tennessee River boundary. On the other hand, if Nashville was outflanked and Tennessee knocked out of the war, then cutting the CSA in half would be far easier. As Pershing was the commanding general and had the confidence of the President and General Staff in Philadelphia, he would decide the path that the First Army would take and that path led to Nashville.