On Tuesday, December 8, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, pardoning those who “participated in the existing rebellion,” provided they take an oath of allegiance to the Union.
High ranking Confederate military and civilian authorities, all who had resigned U.S. military commissions at the beginning of the war, and those who abused blacks or whites as prisoners of war were excluded. If one tenth of the citizens who had voted in the election of 1860 so wished, a new state government would be recognized in any seceded state.
On Monday, December 7, 1863 both Congresses of the Union and Confederacy convened. In Richmond, Virginia, President Jefferson Davis in his message to Congress acknowledged the “grave reverses” of the last few months but stated that the enemy “has been checked.”
On Wednesday, December 2, 1863 at Dalton, Georgia, Braxton Bragg formally turned over command of the Confederate Army of the Tennessee to General William Hardee. Bragg reminded the army of his two year association with it and solicited support for its new commander.
From Knoxville, Tennessee, on Thursday, December 3, 1863 James Longstreet began moving his Confederates east and north toward Greeneville, Tennessee, effectively ending his siege against Burnside’s forces. Longstreet’s move enabled him to either take further offensive action in the West or move eastward to Virginia to reinforce Lee’s army.
On Tuesday, December 1, 1863, while accepting his demotion from field command, Braxton Bragg responded Jefferson Davis concerning the criticism against him noting, “The disaster admits of no palliation, and is justly disparaging to me as a commander…I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me.”
Bragg, who at times proved himself an able soldier, had too often shown that he could not work with others; throughout his military career from the Mexican War forward he had consistently criticized others for his failures.
As December 1863 dawned, military fortune favored the North. George Meade’s maneuvers in Virginia threatened Lee’s smaller army. At Charlestown the Union bombardment against Fort Sumter had all but destroyed the military significance of that fortification.
At Chattanooga, Grant, Sherman, and Thomas had prevailed for the Union, and at Knoxville, Tennessee Union forces were still resisting Longstreet. In Texas Union General Nathaniel Banks had effectively closed all ports except Galveston and Sabine Pass to Confederate commerce.
On Saturday, November 28, 1863 in the western theatre Sherman was ordered to Knoxville, Tennessee to assist Burnside’s forces against Longstreet’s Confederates. On the same day Braxton Bragg telegraphed Richmond from Dalton, Georgia, acknowledging “I deem to due to the cause and to myself to ask for relief from command and investigation into the causes of the [Chattanooga] defeat.”
In late November 1863 in Virginia Union General George Meade, as he did earlier in the month, crossed the Rapidan River, attempting to turn Lee’s right flank as he had been repeatedly urged to do by the Union War Department. Without Longstreet’s corps, Lee’s force of approximately 48,500 men could not realistically confront Meade’s nearly 85,000 troops.
Skirmishing occurred along the Rapidan, as Confederate sentries carried the word of Meade’s advance to Lee. What Meade desired was to turn Lee’s flank, forcing him to fall back toward Richmond.
On Thursday, November 26, 1863 Union forces under Sherman, Hooker, and Thomas pursued Braxton Bragg’s retreating Confederates through Chickamauga Station toward Ringgold, Georgia. On the 27th, Hooker engaged the Confederate rear guard in heavy fighting at Ringgold Gap.
On Wednesday, November 25, 1863, Ulysses Grant order William Tecumseh Sherman to attack the north end of Missionary Ridge and seize Tunnel Hill. Hooker’s Union forces would move from Lookout Mountain to cut off a Confederate retreat southward into Georgia, while General Lorenzo Thomas’ troops would attack the Confederate center when Sherman reached Missionary Ridge.