Thomas J. Wood and Controversy at Chickamauga

Readers may find this discussion of Thomas J. Wood at Chickamauga engaging.

I’ve always wondered about the notion that Wood would have obeyed an order he knew was bad out of spite when he knew that men might lose their lives as a result. Then again, Wood shifted his story about Chattanooga a few times as well, in the process missing the whole point about the debate about the assault at Missionary Ridge.

7 thoughts on “Thomas J. Wood and Controversy at Chickamauga

  1. Ned September 17, 2013 / 8:27 pm

    I’ve always wondered about the role of Thomas in this situation. The reason Rosecrans thought there was space between Wood and Reynolds was that Thomas was trying to pull Brannan out of line between them. When Wood went looking for Reynolds he found Thomas who, showing no concern for the right, overrode Rosecrans order and directed Wood to send his men to the far left. Wood’s division was already in motion, but ordering it further away certainly didnt help.

  2. John Randolph September 17, 2013 / 10:35 pm

    I am more familiar with the popular view of Wood as “goat” and, therefore, found the discussion of Wood as “hero” very interesting. Did Wood obey Rosencrans out of spite? One would hope not, but some folks will still have their suspicions based on what is known. Unfortunately, many leaders of men in war, politics, business, etc. are not known for their humble and resilient egos. It’s not hard to imagine Wood feeling humiliated, angry and spiteful towards Rosencrans on that fateful day. This doesn’t excuse Wood in any way for failing his duty to both his men and cause (assuming that he obeyed the order out of spite), but also suggests that in the first place Rosencrans probably exercised less than wise judgement as the commanding general by showing no restraint in his dressing down of Wood in the presence of others.

  3. John Foskett September 18, 2013 / 7:13 am

    Last year, Dave Powell put this up on his blogsite:

    “At midday, I led a walk looking at the “the Fateful Order Of the Day.” This one spent time at the Brotherton House and then at the Wood divisional Tablet on the west side of Brotherton Field – more talk than walk. I like to focus on the largely ignored presence of Alexander McDowell McCook, and the impact of two other orders that I think usually get overlooked in any discussion of Wood. Rosecrans’ order to Wood is well known – “Close up and support Reynolds.” This order was written at 10:45 a.m., delivered at about 10:55, and being executed by 11:15 or 11:20 – with Longstreet attacking between 11:15 and 11:30, to disastrous (for the Federals) result.

    Less well known are two orders written at 10:10 and 10:30 a.m., from Rosecrans to McCook, both of which were received by McCook at about 10:50 or 10:55 – probably literally within minutes of McCook riding up to find Wood getting his order from Rosecrans. The two earlier orders informed McCook that Rosecrans was sending Sheridan to Thomas, and also that the right flank of the army was about to be drawn back west and north. In short, Rosecrans was shifting his entire line. With the order to Wood seen in that context, McCook’s haste can be seen as a little more understandable, if still a disaster in the making.

    When I first started studying Chickamauga, I accepted the Wood-as-Snidely-Whiplash style villian of this story, but both Dr. Robertson and Jim Ogden have, through their own takes on the issue, challenged me into revising my thinking. Now I think there isn’t a villian, per se, just a bad situation unfolding dangerously quickly”

  4. James F. Epperson September 18, 2013 / 3:02 pm

    It also needs to be said that Longstreet’s column would have gone through Wood’s division even if it had not moved.

    • Robert Carter September 18, 2013 / 7:59 pm

      I’m not so sure Longstreet’s column would have broken through if Wood had remained. The Union line was very strong. Neither Breckinridge, Cleburne, nor AP Stewart’s divisions had broken through further north. Longstreet’s lead division, Bushrod Johnson’s, had been weakened by two days of combat. Plus, Union reinforcements were close at hand: Sheridan and Van Cleve. The charge would have been a bloody repulse.

      Wood was not to blame. The faulty order was on Rosecrans’ shoulders. Tall tales of the chewing out of Wood by Rosecrans did not appear until far after the war…….and by no one who was present. It is odd that if Wood was chewed out in front of his staff and men that no one in either camp (Rosecrans’ or Wood’s) left an account of it. To the contrary, after the controversy began, many came forward to dispute the claim. Westrate, Cist, Tucker, and Cozzens left an entertaining and gossipy story behind, but it was untrue and did an injustice to a fine officer. Wood received an order to move immediately from his army commander–bypassing his corps commander. The order was marked “Gallop” on the envelope–urging haste to the movement. McCook, who was present, advised Wood to move immediately. Wood, taking all of this in in seconds, moved. He had to assume Rosecrans had the big picture, and that Reynolds needed him instantly. To delay might bring ruin to the army. Wood did not have 150 years to look back and see what should have been done. He had only seconds…and he obeyed.

      • John Foskett September 19, 2013 / 11:55 am

        I concur regarding Longstreet’s attack – at least to the extent that it was more uncertain of success if Wood, et al. remained in place.. It may still have ultimately succeeded in pentrating the Union line but almost certainly at a greater cost in casualties and time expended. It seems unlikely that it would have had the same catostrophic effect on the A of the C that resulted from exploitation of a vacuum. This was the second time in the war that Old Pete was gifted with a devastating opportunity because his Yankee opponents denuded his front at the wrong time.

  5. Greg Premo November 3, 2013 / 12:46 pm

    I think it is instructive to review how the right had been systematically weakened by Rosecrans prior to Wood pulling out of line as he (Rosecrans) responded to Thomas’ calls for reinforcements.

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