By Art Forster & Mike WeitzelAugust 23, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. --Approximately 25 senior leaders from the Army Contracting Command and Expeditionary Contracting Command learned how contracting actions affected the Civil War battle of Chickamauga.
They participated in a staff ride to Chattanooga, Tenn., near the battlefield, Aug. 17-18. Jeff Parsons, Army Contracting Command executive director, and Mike Weitzel, ACC historian, led the team-building visit.
The Army staff ride combines studying a battle or campaign from history by traveling to the site where it took place and examining how the decisions and outcomes of that battle affect today's operations.
This trip provided the group a first-hand opportunity to understand and appreciate the challenges of wartime contracting and the importance it played in the battle that marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia. The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the American Civil War and involved the second highest number of casualties in the war following the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Braxton Bragg fought the Union Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans, to the west of Chickamauga Creek, which flows into the Tennessee River about 3.5 miles northeast of downtown Chattanooga. Although the Confederates were technically the victors, driving Rosecrans from the field, Bragg did not achieve his objective of destroying Rosecrans, nor of restoring Confederate control of East Tennessee. Union forces retreated to and successfully defended Chattanooga. The next spring, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, would use Chattanooga for his base as he began his march to Atlanta and the sea.
Staff ride participants experienced and studied the serious logistical challenges faced by both sides. The staff ride incorporated maps, historic narrative, and actual railroad and riverboat experiences to show that although Union supplies had to travel much longer distances, skillful use of railroad and water transport assured Rosecrans' troops had what they needed. Confederate supply depots and transport lines were more often interdicted by Union forces and less capable of delivering needed food and ammunition.
The Civil War review provided the staff ride participants the opportunity to learn about the development of Army contracting. Union Army contracting officers and appointed civilian officials secured the necessary supplies from citizen merchants, farmers and livestock owners. The staff ride looked at some of the first Congressional legislation governing Army contracting.
They also examined some of the unique difficulties faced by their contracting predecessors. Civil War contractors used telegraph and physical letters for communications, hand wrote contracts, and found the U.S. Treasury Department paying contractors with special war certificates or promissory notes that would not be redeemed for years by the new American government.
The battle also underscored the importance of technology in combat. Though heavily outnumbered, a Union brigade using new Spencer repeating rifles and another brigade using Colt repeating rifles allowed for an orderly withdrawal from the battlefield. The Spencer, with an internal seven-round magazine, could fire as many as 21 rounds per minute compared to three muzzle-loaded rounds by an infantry soldier using a standard musket.
The staff ride participants walked the ground where these repeating rifles showed their technological prowess versus superior numbers. This provided the final lesson of the staff ride when participants put the contracting, transportation, communications, and logistics lessons together to see the importance professional contracting officers played in the Battle of Chickamauga.