By the end of the war, nearly 200,000 blacks fought in the Federal military. Charles A. Dana, whom Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had sent to Mississippi to spy on Grant, reported back to Washington after this engagement: “The sentiment in regard to the employment of negro troops has been revolutionized by the bravery of the blacks in the recent battle of Milliken’s Bend.”
From that day forward, through Fort Wagner to the end of the conflict, African Americans played a major role in the Union war effort.
Few people remember the battle at Milliken’s Bend today, but it was a crucial event leading to essential black participation in the Federal triumph. It deserves much more attention.
Robert Lee Hodge
Regional Emmy award-winning filmmaker, writer, preservationist and reenactor
The most obvious military operation that is grossly underrated is the Tullahoma Campaign. It began on June 24, 1863, in the area south of Murfreesboro, Tenn., with a massive Federal offensive launched by Union Gen. William Rosecrans’s 60,000-strong Army of the Cumberland. The Yankee objective was to outmaneuver and “turn” their Rebel opponent’s flank that was on a strong defensive line in mountainous terrain and force retreat. This effort would edge the Federals closer to the capture of the important nearby railroad hub of Chattanooga. The Federal capture of Chattanooga would be another coffin nail in a shrinking Confederacy. Opposing Rosecrans’s Federal troops were 45,000 toughened Rebels in the Army of Tennessee under the command of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.
In a masterful series of movements and deception, Rosecrans was able to pry Bragg’s Rebels from the all-important gaps into the mountainous country. Through these movements, juxtaposed with Bragg’s well-known lack of leadership and cooperation with subordinate generals in his command, the Rebels were “outflanked” time and again until Chattanooga — the fast-rail center of the then cutting-edge technology of trains and an obvious military objective — was eventually abandoned.
What Rosecrans was able to accomplish was a huge military feat. His massive Federal army moved from Murfreesboro, 45 miles to the southeast, to Tullahoma in 10 days, over ground that would normally be considered prime real estate for battle, yet Rosecrans spilled little blood, sustaining only 600 casualties and inflicting 2,500 on Bragg’s Rebels. Lincoln wrote, “The flanking of Bragg at Shelbyville, Tullahoma and Chattanooga is the most splendid piece of strategy I know of.” A Union general said, “If any student of the military art desires to make a study of a model campaign . . . . No better example of successful strategy was carried out during the war than in the Tullahoma campaign.”