Due to some foulup with blogger this post did not get published at its appointed time, so it is now a bit out of order, sorry about that.
During the retreat after Stones River the criticisms of Bragg bubbled back up. On January 11th Bragg, after reading the criticisms in newspapers, sent a letter to all division and corps commanders asking their opinion of the retreat and their opinion of him in general. He told them to consult their subordinates and implied that he would resign if he had lost their good opinion. Hardee's corps came down unanimously against Bragg and thought that a change would be in the best interests of the army. Only Jones Withers supported Bragg. Instead of resigning Bragg told Davis that he was a victim of a cabal. While this was going on Polk was in Richmond complaining to Davis about Bragg and so Davis might have easily believed the cabal charge.
In order to get a second opinion on the army, and also perhaps to rid himself of a disgruntled general, Davis sent Joe E Johnston to Tullahoma. On January 27 Johnston met with Polk, Hardee and Bragg. He reported to Davis that there was unrest in the army but Bragg had performed well at Stones River and it would be unfair to remove him now. After Johnston left Bragg wrote his report on Stones River. He gave praise to Polk, Hardee and Cleburne while criticizing Cheatham, Breckinridge and McCown. Hardee thought Bragg's assessment of Cheatham, Breckinridge and McCown was correct but loved the fact that Bragg continued to make the army unrest even worse. Bragg had McCown arrested and Cleburne would serve on that court martial. Cleburne was the judge on the panel and also was one of the chief witnesses. McCown received a six month suspension and afterwards only served in minor posts.
On March 19th Johnston returned to Tullahoma, this time with orders from Davis to take command of the army from Bragg and send Bragg back to Richmond. At first Johnston kept Bragg in Tullahoma as Mrs. Bragg was sick. Then Johnston became ill and needed Bragg around in case Rosecrans' attacked. Eventually Johnston left Bragg's army to serve as theater commander.
In April Polk's report of Stones River came out and commended Cheatham. Bragg was convinced that they were in cahoots and sent a letter to Polk's subordinates asking about an event in the Perryville campaign. Cleburne also received this letter because he had serve with Polk during the Perryville campaign. Cleburne asked Hardee for advice. Hardee told Cleburne not to responded as it seemed that Bragg was just fishing for a court martial which is what Bragg was doing.
Cleburne's division underwent a minor overhaul in May. Johnston was now in Mississippi halfheartedly trying to save Vicksburg. To respond to one of his calls for men Bragg sent Breckinridge with 2 of his 3 brigades. Then Bragg took Bushrod Johnson's brigade from Cleburne and combined it with Breckinridge's remaining brigade into a new division under Stewart. As compensation Cleburne received Churchill's brigade of recently exchanged prisoners, these men had surrendered at Arkansas Post without firing a shot. No other division in the army wanted these men but Cleburne welcomed them to the division. He told them that they would be judged on what they do and not on what happened previously.
Cleburne's division was in the Liberty Gap area but Bragg was not really prepared for a Union advance. On June 24 Liddell's two regiments were unable to hold Liberty Gap against the Union assault. Bragg now had to retreat as Rosecrans conducted a pretty impressive campaign of maneuver. Cleburne's men acted as the army's rear guard for most of this retreat. On July 5th his division crossed the Tennessee River and Hardee turned command of the corps over to Cleburne while Hardee went to Chattanooga to discuss strategy with Bragg. Cleburne's corps went east of Chattanooga and took up a defensive position upriver of the town. This is the area where Bragg thought Rosecrans would cross the river. A week later Hardee was sent west to help Johnston. Cleburne thought he might get corps command on a permanent basis but DH Hill soon arrived to take the position. In late August Rosecrans crossed west of Chattanooga and on September 7 Cleburne led his division south.
As his division marched south from Chattanooga more changes were being made to its structure. Churchill was transferred to the trans-Mississippi and his brigade was now commanded by Deshler. Liddell's brigade was removed from the division and Liddell soon had his own division. Despite the changes and the retreat esprit de corps was high in the division.
During the retreat Bragg found an opportunity to strike at Rosecrans' scattered army at McLemore's Cove. Hindman was to attack first and Cleburne would support the attack . The morning of the attack went by with no sound from Hindman's area. Bragg and Hill were with Cleburne but waited until noon to order him to attack. Bragg hoped that Hindman would attack if he heard Cleburne's attack. Just as Cleburne's skirmishers were becoming engaged Bragg changed his mind and called off the attack. At 4:30 PM firing was finally heard from Hindman but when Cleburne went forward they found that the Union had escaped from the trap.
On September 19th Cleburne marched north to take part in a new battle. Around sunset his division crossed Chickamauga Creek at Thedford's Ford and marched two miles to the extreme right of the army. In the dark they went into position behind Liddell's division and Liddell urged Cleburne to attack. Cleburne was hesitant to attack because of the late hour, thick woods and unknown terrain. DH Hill arrived and Liddell urged him to order Cleburne to attack, which he then did. Cleburne began his advance at 6 PM with Deshler on the left, then Wood and Polk. The attack was a success at first but Wood, in the center, gave way. Cleburne brought up artillery to within 60 yards of the Union line and Wood was able to resume the advance. Finally at 9 PM the attack was halted.
On September 20 Cleburne was awake at sunrise (about quarter to 6 AM). Hill and Breckinridge joined him for breakfast. At 6:30 AM a courier from Polk arrived with orders for Breckinridge and Cleburne. The orders were for a dawn attack, which time had already passed. Hill was upset that Polk was ignoring the change of command, but actually Bragg had reorganized the army the night before, in part to limit Hill's role. Hill wrote a reply for Polk and the courier left. Polk though soon arrived to find out why there was no dawn attack. Cleburne said that once his men had eaten they would attack. Polk was fine with this explanation and left. He wasn't gone long when Bragg arrived. Bragg was upset that there had been no dawn attack, said the attack should begin as soon as possible and then he too left. It was now 8 AM.
Cleburne got his men ready and made a reconnaissance of the ground. At 9:30 AM Breckinridge could be heard attacking so Cleburne went forward. They attacked the Kelly Field salient and it was pretty much a disaster. Thomas' men had been preparing breastworks most of the night and were able to shuffle fresh men in and out of the front line. Wood and Polk got separated in the attack. Deshler became entangled with Stewart on his left. Cleburne helped sort this mess out and got Stewart to join in the attacks with Deshler. At 11 AM Cleburne ordered Wood and Polk to retreat and had Deshler cover the retreat. Deshler was among the Confederate brigade commanders killed in the battle. At 2 PM Deshler's brigade was finally ordered out, the division had lost about 50%. At 3:30 PM a staff officer told Cleburne to move to the right to attack again. Cleburne had the officer lead him to the spot to attack from. At 5 PM they attacked just as Thomas was pulling out, the evacuation turned into a stampede. The pursuit didn't really get going until the next afternoon and reached Missionary Ridge on the afternoon of the 22nd. On September 24 Bragg made a reconnaissance in force at Chattanooga. Cleburne's division was within 200 yards of the Union trenches when he saw the divisions on either side of him retreat. He wanted to make the attack but without support had no choice but retreat. Cleburne had brought 5115 men into battle at Chickamauga, they lost 1743 killed and wounded. Despite fighting at night they only had 6 missing.
Bragg vs the generals
For the third straight time after a campaign Bragg and his generals turned to infighting rather than preparing to fight the Union. Bragg felt that with a victory he had more leeway to get rid of those he disliked. The first to go was Hindman, who was suspended from command. He also suspended Polk, but Davis said that he'd need to file official charges or let it go. Davis thought this would make Bragg give up on Polk but instead Bragg had Polk arrested. A petition was passed around asking for Bragg's removal from command. Cleburne mainly kept his opinions to himself but he did sign the petition. Davis had to come visit the army to see what all the trouble was and in essence gave Bragg carte blanche to fix the dissent. DH Hill was made the scapegoat. Hill asked for and received Cleburne's support.
In Cleburne's report he praised Polk, Deshler and RQ Mills (Deshler's successor). He made no mention of Wood, positive or negative. The day before Cleburne submitted his report Wood submitted his resignation. It is not known if Cleburne showed Wood the report first or why else Wood might have resigned. Neither ever talked about it.