In our focus on the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, it’s easy to forget about what else was going on in the war. Battles fought and movements of armies in the east effected events in the west and the reverse was true as well.
So what was happening in the western theater? Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the last Confederate bastions on the Mississippi River, had surrendered to Union forces in early July, 1863. By September, Union military control of Vicksburg had restored order. A loyal civilian government was in place and the bulk of Grant’s Army of the Mississippi began to move eastward late in the month.
Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next area of conflict in the western theater. Two days of bloody fighting in northern Georgia along Chickamauga Creek (September 19-20) ended in Confederate victory. The Confederate Army of Tennessee, under the command of Maj. Gen Braxton Bragg. had been newly reinforced by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet’s Corps sent from Virginia by Gen. Lee. The defeated Federals of Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans retreated northward to Chattanooga.
The war department in Washington needed to send more men to Chattanooga in a hurry. Grant was made commander of all the western armies. Two corps (15,000 men) would be detached form the Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. Thomas Hooker, and most of Gen. Sherman’s Army of the Mississippi would march through northern Mississippi and Alabama to Chattanooga.
So why is this important to our friends in the Fourteenth Connecticut manning the picket line along the Rapidan River south of Culpeper, Virginia? Gen. Lee knew the Union response to their defeat at Chickamauga would be to send more men to the area. Undermanned as he was with Longstreet’s Corps gone, Gen. Lee determined to try to keep the enemy on his front so busy so that the entire Army of the Potomac had to remain where it was.
In early October, Lee started his troops on a march around the right flank of the Army of the Potomac. They marched west of Cedar Mountain, swung to the north of Culpeper, then northeast to Warrenton. It would be Lee’s last offensive campaign, and the newly refitted, remanned, and retrained Fourteenth Connecticut would play a vital role in the outcome.