Blind Obedience to Orders
A Day in the Life of Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood


     In early September 1863 as the Army of Tennessee and Army of the Cumberland began maneuvering for position, military protocol had been tested in the upper echelon of Major General William Rosecrans' Army.

     The army's chief of staff, Brigadier General James A. Garfield had called upon the 21st Army Corps the night of September 6th to task the division of Thomas J. Wood to ride and feel for the enemy now in the vicinity of Lookout Mountain.

     Within four hours Garfield had woken to two communications from the cavalry commander in the field one of which enclosed a cipher message for Washington City that Major General Thomas Crittenden would await further advice from them prior to starting General Wood's cavalry for this purpose. The terse response to this was a repeat of the original order to corps headquarters; "…The commanding general directs you to order General Wood to make a reconnaissance in force, as was intended by the order sent through General Garfield." Army headquarters did not seem impressed by a staff officer doing General Crittenden's bidding, nor going around the commanding officer to do so.

     General Wood had considered the reconnaissance mad. There was too much room for the enemy to cut his withdrawal off. He wrote to corps headquarters calling it a "blind obedience to orders" even after being provided the affirmation that army headquarters had continued to approve of the decision having had receipt of his two messages the night before. It became a classic case of neglect, appearing as if he would not accept such orders without the express approval of Major General Rosecrans himself.

     The reconnaissance force had found itself now inside a wide valley that threatened its column from both front and rear. If the effort of moving to the base of Lookout Mountain was going to work, Wood was convinced he needed the infantry division of Major General John M. Palmer to cover the rear area. He expressed to Captain Percival Oldershaw of Crittenden's staff his disbelief in the foolishness of Rosecrans' order without providing him that contingency.

     Before day's end General Wood attempted to personally explain his disrespectful comments to the chief of staff himself and further convince him that he executed his orders with the utmost speed that safety to his command would allow. He maintained that any changes in position his cavalry made during the reconnaissance was done under conditions that General Crittenden would not have been aware of and with no time to explain, the cavalry should have been allowed the latitude to do so.

     Prior to the move of any further troops to the aid of Wood, Crittenden sent forward two staff officers to report the road from his headquarters to the deployed cavalry force in the event General Rosecrans wanted to move Palmer's infantry in support. In the end, however, 21st Corps maintained General Woods' neglect to duty. Considering him lucky, General Crittenden had not pressed charges against his subordinate, and he had gotten away with the simple disappointment of the commanding general's "mission unaccomplished".


Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2003

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar.net