Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis analyzes a minor campaign of the American Civil War, but one which illustrates the importance of the railroad, as a line of communications, to strategy. In the Spring of 1862, the Union Army in the west concentrated at Pittsburg Landing, in Tennessee, preparatory to an advance south on Corinth, Mississippi. General Ormsby Macknight Mitchel, in command of the Third Division of the Army of the Ohio, was given the defensive duty of safeguarding the Federal left, which included Middle Tennessee, against any Confederate threat from Chattanooga. Instead, Mitchel advanced to and captured Huntsville, Alabama.
This action provided several opportunities for the Union that Mitchel attempted to pursue. His occupation of northern Alabama severed the Confederate connection between Virginia and Mississippi and forced the South to transport men and material via Mobile, rather than by the expeditious route through Chattanooga and northern Alabama.
After securing northern Alabama by advancing to Stevenson and Tuscumbia, Mitchel tried to convince his superiors that with more men he could advance from Tuscumbia upon the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, which was the line of communications of the Confederate army located at Corinth. His advance, whether a turning movement or raid, would have broken the stalemate at Corinth and led to the Union capture of that strategic rail junction.
When Mitchel's superiors did not support his proposal, he turned his attention to Chattanooga in hopes of executing the same maneuver upon the Western and Atlantic Railroad, Chattanooga's only link with the deep south. Although he planned to use the same strategy as he had proposed for turning Corinth, this move would not have been successful because of difficulty feeding and supplying the enlarged force that would have been needed to disrupt Confederate communications.
Therefore, Mitchel's only success was in holding the Memphis and Charleston Railroad for almost three months. Eventually the Federal armies used that road to tranfer men and supplies from the Corinth area to Chattanooga in a move to block the same threatening Confederate army that had retired from Corinth.
Terry, Michael Robert, "Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel and the Railroad: A Study of the Significance of Lines of Communications in the Civil War, 1861-1862" (1984). Theses and Dissertations. 1126.