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Battle of Chickamauga--Sept. 19' & 20' 1863 Kurz and Allison
The Army of the Cumberland advanced all the way to Chattanooga, without encountering any serious opposition from the retreating forces of General Bragg. General Rosencrans, the Union commander, ordered the Union forces to continue after the Confederate forces south of the city. There, they were attacked by Bragg, who was reinforced by the troops of General Longstreet. In the ensuing battle, which was the bloodiest of the Western theater, Longstreet's soldiers attacked a gap in the Union lines, causing a third of the Union army to stream back to Chattanooga. Forces under General Thomas regrouped and held off the Confederate forces for the remainder of the day allowing an organized retreat for the remaining forces.
Rosencrans successfully forced Confederate General Bragg out of Central Tennessee. After a number of successful flanking movements by Union forces, Bragg was forced to withdraw from Manchester and then all the way back to Chattanooga. Rosencrans and the Army of the Cumberland continued after Bragg to Chattanooga. There they again out maneuvered Bragg and crossed the river to the South of Chattanooga, not to the North as Bragg was expecting. The Union army cut the railroads from Atlanta, and thus forced Bragg to withdraw from Chattanooga. The city with its vital rail links fell without a shot being fired. Rosencrans however, was becoming overconfident, while Bragg was being reinforced. The Union army continued from Chattanooga in pursuit of Bragg's army in three separate columns. Bragg was waiting for Rosecrans' in mountains outside town; waiting to spring a trap on Rosencrans unsuspecting columns. Unfortunately for Bragg his subordinates did not attack when they were ordered to. Rosencrans realized how vulnerable his split forces were, and ordered them to concentrate in the valley of the West Chickamauga Creek.
On the morning of the 19th of September 1863 the bloodiest battle of the Western campaign began. Bragg began attacking the union left flank. All day the sides fought, with very little movement, in the dense thicket of the Chickamauga devastating casualties were suffered by both sides. That night Bragg's long awaited reinforcements arrived. General Longstreet with 12,000 veterans of the campaign in Virginia arrived and went right into the battle. On the morning of the 20th Bragg ordered Polk to attack on the right with Longstreet to follow on the left. Polk made no serious advance against Thomas forces on the left. At 11:30 Longstreet attacked with all his forces. He succeeded in breaking through a gap in the Union lines. As the gap grew Union forces retreated in disarray. Among those who retreated was Rosencrans. Luckily for the Union forces, Thomas organized a last ditch defense with the Union troops that did not retreat. The defense which lasted until nightfall earned Thomas the title- Rock of Chickamauga. It also allowed his forces to make an orderly withdrawal to Chattanooga that night. Bragg was urged by his subordinates to follow up with an attack on Chattanooga, but he refused deciding instead to begin a siege of the city instead.
Confederate Advance at Chickamauga
Confederate artillery opening fire upon the Union calvary, who had begun destruction
Battle of Chickamauga, Sept. 19 and 20, between Generals Rosecrans and Bragg / from a sketch by our special artist J.F. Hillen
Headquarters of General Snograss
Account Of The Battle of Chickamauga
In the dimly lit log cabin of the Widow Glenn, the military map was spread. Worried Union officers of the Army of the Cumberland crowded around as Major General William S. Rosecrans, their haggard commander, asked for an assessment of the situation facing his troops on the night of September 19, 1863. Sunday morning would certainly bring with it a renewal of the savage fighting that had swirled along the banks of Chickamauga Creek most of that day.
The Union army had been hard-pressed along an extended battle line, but had refused to break under the pressure of repeated assaults from General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. The XIV Corps of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas had borne the brunt of some of the fiercest fighting. Bone tired from his day’s work, Thomas settled back in a chair and napped. As was his practice, Rosecrans in turn asked each officer for his advice on the fight to come. Each time his name was mentioned, Thomas roused long enough to say, ‘I would strengthen the left,’ before falling back asleep.
Though Rosecrans’ army had been bloodied, its line was still unbroken, and the decision was made to renew the battle on the 20th on essentially the same ground the troops now occupied. Thomas would be reinforced and charged with holding the left, which crossed the LaFayette Road, the vital link to strategically important Chattanooga, Tenn., 10 miles to the north. Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps would close up on Thomas’ right, while Thomas Crittenden’s XXI Corps would be held in reserve. During the night, the ringing of axes told waiting Confederates their enemy was desperately strengthening his positions.
The Army of the Cumberland had fought bravely, and there was cause for optimism among the Union commanders. Since coming out of winter quarters, Rosecrans had brilliantly maneuvered Bragg and his army out of Tennessee and captured Chattanooga, virtually without firing a shot. In his moment of supreme success, however, Rosecrans made one error: he mistook Bragg’s orderly withdrawal for headlong retreat and rashly divided his force into three wings. As these separate forces moved blindly through mountain passes into the north Georgia countryside in pursuit of a ‘beaten’ foe, each was too distant to lend support to the others in the event of an enemy attack. With the Federal troops spread over a 40-mile-wide front in unfamiliar terrain, Bragg halted his forces at LaFayette, Ga., 25 miles south of Chattanooga.
Bragg realized the magnitude of his opportunity to deal with each wing of the Union army in detail and win a stunning victory for the Confederacy. He ordered his subordinates to launch attacks on the scattered Federal units, but they were slow–even uncooperative–in responding. The relationships between Bragg and his lieutenants had seriously deteriorated after questionable retreats from Perryville, Ky., and Murfreesboro, Tenn. Bragg’s corps and division commanders felt almost to a man that he had squandered victories by his inept handling of troops. The lack of cooperation in the higher echelons of Bragg’s army contributed greatly to the squandering of a chance for one of the most lopsided victories of the war.
In the nick of time, and with substantial help from his enemy, Rosecrans collected his troops in the vicinity of Lee and Gordon’s Mill along the banks of a sluggish little stream the Cherokee Indians had named ‘Chickamauga’ after the savage tribe that had lived there many years earlier. Now, two great armies would prove once again that ‘River of Death’ was an accurate translation. In the vicious but indecisive fighting of September 19, both Rosecrans and Bragg committed more and more troops to a struggle which began as little more than a skirmish near one of the crude bridges that crossed the creek. Though little was accomplished the first day, the stage was set for a second day of reckoning.
The importance of the war in the West was not lost on the Confederate high command. Already three brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia, under Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood, had arrived by rail to reinforce Bragg. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee’s ‘Old Warhorse’ and second in command, was due at any time with the balance of his I Corps. These veteran troops would give Bragg an advantage few Confederate commanders would know during the war–numerically superiority. As the Virginia troops arrived, Bragg’s army swelled to 67,000 men, outnumbering the Federals by 10,000.
While Rosecrans convened his council of war at the Widow Glenn’s, Longstreet was searching for the elusive Bragg. Bragg unaccountably had failed to send a guide to meet him, and after a two-hour wait, Longstreet struck out with his staff toward the sound of gunfire.
As they groped in the darkness, Longstreet and his companions were met with the challenge. ‘Who comes there?’ ‘Friends,’ they responded quickly. When the soldier was asked to what unit he belonged, he replied with numbers for his brigade and division. Since Confederate soldiers used their commanders’ names to designate their outfits, Longstreet knew he had stumbled into a Federal picket. In a voice loud enough for the sentry to hear, the general said calmly, ‘Let us ride down a little and find a better crossing.’ The Union soldier fired, but the group made good its escape.
When Longstreet finally reached the safety of the Confederate lines, he found Bragg asleep in an ambulance. The overall commander was awakened, and the two men spent an hour discussing the plan for the following day. Bragg’s strategy would continue to be what he hoped to achieve on the 19th. He intended to turn the Union left, placing his army between Rosecrans and Chattanooga by cutting the LaFayette Road. Then, the Confederates would drive the Army of the Cumberland into the natural trap of McLemore’s Cove and destroy it, a piece at a time.
Bragg now divided his force into two wings, the left commanded by Longstreet and the right by Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, the ‘fighting bishop’ of the Confederacy. Polk would command the divisions of John C. Breckinridge, who had serves as vice president of the United States under President James Buchanan, and Patrick Cleburne, a hard-fighting Irishman. Also under Polk were the divisions of Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, States Rights Gist and St. John R. Liddell. Breckinridge and Cleburne were under the direct supervision of another lieutenant general, D.H. Hill. Longstreet was given the divisions of Evander Law and Joseph Kershaw of Hood’s corps, A.P. Stewart and William Preston of Simon Bolivar Buckner’s corps, and the divisions of Bushrod Johnson and Thomas Hindman.
Breckinridge and Cleburne were to begin the battle with a assault on Thomas at the first light. The attack was to proceed along the line, with each unit going into action following the one on its right. Bragg’s order subordinating Hill to Polk precipitated some costly confusion among Southern commanders as the time for the planned attack came and went. Somehow, Hill had been lost in the shuffle and never received the order to attack. Bragg found Polk calmly reading a newspaper and waiting for his breakfast two miles behind the lines. Polk had simply assumed that Bragg himself would inform Hill of the battle plan.
When the Confederate tide finally surged forward at 9:45 a.m., Thomas was ready with the divisions of Absalom Baird, Richard Johnson, John Palmer and John Reynolds. Breckinridge’s three brigades hit the extreme left of the Union line, two of them advancing smartly all the way to the LaFayette Road before running into reinforcements under Brig. Gen. John Beatty, whose 42nd and 88th Indiana regiments steadied the Federal line momentarily. A redoubled Rebel effort forced the 42nd back onto the 88th, and several Union regiments were obliged to shift their fire 180 degrees to meet the thrust of enemy troops in their rear. Fresh Federal soldiers appeared and finally pushed Breckinridge back.
Cleburne’s troops followed Breckinridge’s assault and suffered a similar fate. The hard-pressed Rebels pulled back 400 yards to the relative safety of a protecting hill. As he inspected the ammunition supply of his men before ordering them forward again, one of Cleburne’s ablest brigadiers, James Deshler, was killed by an exploding shell that ripped his heart from his chest. Seeking shelter in a grove of tall pines, the Confederates traded round for round but could not carry the breastworks.
Thomas’ hastily constructed breastworks had proven to be of tremendous value, but several of the Union regiments suffered casualties of 30 percent or higher. The brigades of Colonel Joseph Dodge, Brig. Gen. John H. King, Colonel Benjamin Scribner and Brig. Gen. John C. Starkweather had held the extreme left of the Union line since the day before and had been engaged for over an hour when Cleburne’s attacks gained their full fury. For all their seeming futility, the Confederate assaults against Rosecrans’ left did have one positive result. Thomas’ urgent pleas for assistance were causing Rosecrans to thin his right in order to reinforce the left through the thick, confusing tangle of forest.
At the height of the fighting on the left, one of Thomas’ aides, Captain Sanford Kellogg, was heading to Rosecrans with another of Thomas/ almost constant requests for additional troops. Kellogg noticed what appeared to be wide gap between the divisions of Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood on the right and John Reynolds on the left. In actuality, the heavily wooded area between Reynolds and Wood was occupied by Brig. Gen. John Brannan’s division. When Kellogg rode by, Brannan’s force was simply obscured by late-summer foliage.
When Kellogg informed Rosecrans of the phantom gap, the latter reacted accordingly. In his haste to avoid what might be catastrophe for his army, Rosecrans did not confirm the existence of the gap but, instead, issued what might have been the single most disastrous order of the Civil War. ‘Headquarters Department of Cumberland, September 20th–10:45 a.m.,’ the communiqué read. ‘Brigadier-General Wood, Commanding Division: The general commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible and support him.’
Earlier that morning, Wood had received a severe public tongue-lashing from Rosecrans for not moving his troops fast enough. ‘What is the meaning of this, sir? You have disobeyed my specific orders,’ Rosecrans had shouted. ‘By your damnable negligence you are endangering the safety of the entire army, and, by God, I will not tolerate it! Move your division at once as I have instructed, or the consequences will not be pleasant for yourself.’
With Rosecrans’ stinging rebuke still echoing in his ears, Wood was not about to be accused of moving too slowly again, even though this new order confused him. Wood knew there was no gap in the Union line. Brannan had been on his left all along. To comply with the commanding general’s order, Wood was required to pull his two brigades out of line, march around Brannan’s rear, and effect a junction with Reynolds’ right. In carrying out this maneuver, Wood created a gap where none had existed.
Simultaneously, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan’s men were ordered out of line on Wood’s right and sent to bolster the threatened left wing, and Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis’ division was ordered into the line to fill the quarter-mile hole vacated by Wood. Almost three full divisions of the Federal right wing were in motion at the same time, in the face of a heavily concentrated enemy.
Now, completely by chance, in one of those incredible situations on which turn the fortunes of men and nations, Longstreet unleashed a 23,000-man sledgehammer attack directed right at the place where Wood had been moments earlier.
At 11:30 a.m., the gray-clad legion sallied forth from the forest across LaFayette Road into the fields surrounding the little log cabin of the Brotherton family. Almost immediately it came under fire from Brannan’s men, still posted in the woods across the road. Brannan checked Stewart in his front and poured an unsettling fire into the right flank of the advancing Confederate column. Davis’ Federals, arriving from the other side, hit the Rebels on their left while his artillery began tearing holes in the ranks of the attackers.
Johnson soon realized that the heavy resistance was coming from the flanks and the firing of scattered batteries. His front was virtually clear of opposition, and he smartly ordered his troops forward at the double-quick. As he emerged from the treeline that marked Wood’s former position, Johnson saw Davis’ troops rushing forward to his left, while two of Sheridan’s brigades were on their way north towards Thomas. On Johnson’s right, Wood’s two brigades were still in the act of closing on Reynolds.
While Johnson wheeled to the right to take Wood’s trailing brigade and Brannan from behind, Hindman bowled into Davis and Sheridan, throwing them back into confusion. When Brannan gave way, Brig. Gen. H.P. Van Cleve’s division was left exposed and joined the flight from the field. In a flash of gray lightning, the entire Union right disintegrated.
The onrushing Confederates were driving a wedge far into the Federal rear. They crossed the Glenn-Kelly Road just behind the Brotherton field, rushed through heavy stands of timber, and burst onto the open ground of the cultivated fields of the Dyer farm. One Confederate regiment overran a troublesome Union battery that had been firing from the Dyer peach orchard, capturing all nine of its guns.
Johnson paused to survey the progress of the attack. Everywhere, it seemed, Union soldiers were on the run, fleeing in panic over the countryside and down the Dry Valley Road toward McFarland’s Gap, the only available avenue to reach the safety of Chattanooga. ‘The scene now presented was unspeakably grand,’ the amazed general recalled.
The brave but often reckless Hood caught up with Johnson at the Dyer farm and urged him forward. ‘Go ahead and keep ahead of everything,’ Hood shouted, his left arm still in a sling from a wound received 10 weeks earlier at Gettysburg. Moments later, Hood was hit again. This time, a Minie bullet shattered his right leg. He fell from his horse and into the waiting arms of members of his old Texas Brigade, who carried him to a field hospital, where the leg was amputated. Meanwhile, Longstreet was ecstatic as his troops swept the men in blue before them. ‘They have fought their last man, and he is running,’ he exclaimed.
Only two Federal units offered resistance of greater than company strength once the rout was on. Intrepid Colonel John T. Wilder and his brigade of mounted infantry assailed Hindman’s exposed flank and drove Brig. Gen. Arthur Manigault’s brigade back nearly a mile from the area of the breakthrough. Wilder’s stouthearted troopers from Indiana and Illinois were able to delay a force many times their size by employing the Spencer repeating rifle.
Sheridan’s only remaining brigade, under Brig. Gen. William Lytle, a well-known author and poet, was in the vicinity of the Widow Glenn house when Hindman’s Confederates began streaming through the woods. A commander much admired by his troops, Lytle was famous for his prewar poem, ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ which was popular in the sentimental society of the day and familiar to soldiers on both sides.
Lytle found his brigade found his brigade almost completely surrounded by Rebels. With the prospect of a successful withdrawal slim, he gallantly ordered his men to charge. He told those near him that if they had to die, they would ‘die in their tracks with their harness on.’ As he led his troops forward, he shouted: ‘If I must die, I will die as a gentleman. All right, men, we can die but once. This is the time and place. Let us charge.’ Lytle was shot in the spine during the advance but managed to stay on his horse. Then, he was struck almost simultaneously by three bullets, one of which hit him in the face. As the doomed counterattack collapsed around him, the steadfast Lytle died.
Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana was with the Army of Cumberland at Chickamauga to continue a series of reports to Washington on the progress of the Western war. Exhausted by the rapid succession of events the prior day, Dana had found a restful place that fateful morning and settled down in the grass to sleep. When Bushrod Johnson’s soldiers came crashing trough the Union line, he was suddenly wide awake. ‘I was awakened by the most infernal noise I ever heard,’ he remembered. ‘I sat up on the grass and the first thing I saw was General Rosecrans crossing himself–he was a very devout Catholic. ‘Hello!’ I said to myself, ‘if the general is crossing himself, we are in a desperate situation.”
Just then Rosecrans rode up and offered Dana some advice. ‘If you care to live any longer,’ the general said, ‘get away from here.’ The whistling of bullets grew steadily closer, and Dana now looked upon a terrible sight. ‘I had no sooner collected my thoughts and looked around toward the front, where all this din came from, than I saw our lines break and melt way like leaves before the wind.’ He spurred his horse toward Chattanooga, where he telegraphed the news of the disaster to Washington that night.
With time, the Confederate onslaught gained momentum, sweeping before it not only the Federal rank and file but also Rosecrans himself and two of his corps commanders, Crittenden and McCook. After negotiating the snarl of men, animals and equipment choking the Dry Valley Road, Rosecrans and his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. and future president James A. Garfield, stopped for a moment. Off in the distance, the sounds of battle were barely audible. Rosecrans and Garfield put their ears to the ground but were still unable to satisfy themselves as to the fate of Thomas and the left wing of the Union army.
Originally, Rosecrans had decided to go to Thomas personally and ordered Garfield to Chattanooga to prepare the city’s defenses. Garfield disagreed. He felt that Rosecrans should supervise the placement of Chattanooga’s defenders, while the chief of staff would find out what happened to Thomas. Rosecrans assented and started toward Chattanooga while Garfield moved in the direction of the battlefield. By the time he reached his destination, Rosecrans was distraught. He was unable to walk without assistance and sat with his head in his hands.
Had he known the overall situation, Rosecrans might have been in a better state of mind–if only slightly. Thomas, to the great good fortune of the Union cause, was far from finished. Those troops which had not fled the field had gathered on the slope of a heavily wooded spur that shot eastward from Missionary Ridge. From this strategic location, named Snodgrass Hill after a local family, Thomas might protect both the bulk of the army withdrawing through the ridge at McFarland’s Gap and the original positions of the Union left–if only his patchwork line could hold.
An assortment of Federal troops, from individuals to brigade strength, came together for a last stand. Virtually all command organization was gone, but the weary soldiers fell into line hurriedly to meet an advancing foe flush with victory. The Rebels drew up around the new defensive position, and a momentary lull settled over the field.
Their goal clearly before them, the emboldened Confederates then rose in unison and assailed their enemy with renewed vigor. They pressed to within feet of the Union positions, only to be thrown back again and again, leaving scores of dead and wounded on the ground behind them.
With three of Longstreet’s divisions pressing him nearly to the breaking point, Thomas noticed a cloud of dust and a large body of troops moving toward him. Was it friend or foe?
When the advancing column neared, Thomas had his answer. It was Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger with two brigades of the Union army’s reserve corps under Brig. Gen. James Steedman. These fresh but untried troops brought not only fire support but badly needed ammunition to the defenders of Snodgrass Hill, who had resorted to picking the cartridge boxes of the dead and wounded. For two days, Granger had guarded the Rossville Road north of the battlefield. By Sunday afternoon, he was itching to get into the fight. Finally, when he could stand it no longer, he bellowed, ‘I am going to Thomas, orders or no orders.’
At one point, the marauding Rebels actually seized the crest of Snodgrass Hill, planting their battle flag upon it. But thanks to numerous instances of individual heroism, the stubborn Yankees heaved them back. No single act of bravery was more spectacular than that of Steedman himself, who grabbed the regimental colors of a unit breaking for the rear and shouted: ‘Go back boys, go back. but the flag can’t go with you!’
As daylight began to fade, Thomas rode to the left to supervise the withdrawal of his remaining forces from the field, leaving Granger in command on Snodgrass Hill. Longstreet had committed Preston’s division in an all-out final attempt to carry the position, and the movement toward McFarland’s Gap began while Preston’s assaults were in progress. The protectors of Snodgrass Hill were out of ammunition again, and Granger’s order to fix bayonets and charge flashed along the lines of the 21st and 89th Ohio and the 22nd Michigan, the last three regiments left there. The desperate charge accomplished little save a few extra minutes for the rest of the army. While the last 563 Union soldiers on the hill were rounded up by Preston’s Confederates, the long night march to Chattanooga began for those fortunate enough to escape. By Longstreet’s own estimate, he had ordered 25 separate assaults against Thomas before meeting with success.
The tenacity of the defense of Horseshoe Ridge bought the Army of the Cumberland precious time. It also contributed to Bragg’s unwillingness to believe his forces had won a great victory and might follow it up by smashing into the demoralized Federals at daybreak. Not even the lusty cheers of his soldiers all along the line were enough to convince their commander. Bragg was preoccupied with the staggering loss of 17,804 casualties, 2,389 of them killed, 13,412 wounded and 2,003 missing or taken prisoner. The Union army, after suffering 16,179 casualties, 1,656 dead, 9,749 wounded and 4,774 missing or captured, retired behind Chattanooga’s defenses without further molestation.
History has been less than kind to Bragg, not without cause. True enough, over a quarter of his effective force was lost at Chickamauga. Nevertheless, at no other time in four years of fighting was there a greater opportunity to follow up a stunning battlefield triumph with the pursuit of such a beaten foe. Had Bragg attacked and destroyed Rosecrans on September 21, there would have been little to stop an advance all the way to the Ohio River. Bragg, however, was true to form. As at Perryville and Murfreesboro before, he quickly allowed victory to become hollow.
Rosecrans, on the other hand, had seen one mistaken order wreck his military reputation and almost destroy his army. His nearly flawless campaign of the spring and summer had ended with the Army of the Cumberland holed up in Chattanooga and the enemy tightening the noose by occupying the high ground of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Lincoln lost faith in ‘old Rosey’s’ ability to command, saying he appeared’stunned and confused, like a duck hit on the head.’
Chickamauga, the costliest two-day battle of the entire war, proved a spawning ground of lost Confederate opportunity. While Bragg laid siege to Chattanooga with an army inadequate to do the job, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the hero of Vicksburg, was given overall command in the West and set about changing the state of affairs. Reinforcements poured in from east and west. During the November campaign to raise the siege, the Army of the Cumberland evened the score with the rebels in an epic charge up Missionary Ridge. And when Union soldiers next set foot on the battlefield of Chickamauga, they were on their way to Atlanta.
This article was written by Mike Haskew and originally appeared in America’s Civil War magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to America’s Civil War magazine today!
Only Gettysburg was bloodier than the Battle of Chickamauga that ended in northwest Georgia on this day in 1863.
Three months earlier, the Union Army had begun a strategy to capture Chattanooga, a major railroad hub and gateway to the Deep South. General William Rosecrans' U.S. Army of the Cumberland, and General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee, collided at Chickamauga Creek, 12 miles south of Chattanooga. For three days, 120,000 soldiers fought. The combined casualty count was 34,000 men -- the greatest Union defeat in the Western Theater.
The largest battle fought on Georgia soil, Chickamauga was a tactical Confederate victory, but a strategic defeat.
U.S. General George Thomas earned the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga" by holding off the Confederates long enough for the Union Army to retreat to Chattanooga, their objective all along.
Two months later Ulysses S. Grant decisively defeated Bragg's Confederates at Chattanooga. That opened the door to Atlanta and Sherman's march to the sea.
Ironically, ultimate Confederate defeat began with the Confederate victory at Chickamauga on September 20, 1863, Today in Georgia History.
What You Need to Know:
Battle of Chickamauga was Longstreet’s return to form after Gettysburg. His aggressive performance earned him the nickname, “Old Bull of the Woods.” At Chickamauga the Confederates for once outnumbered the Federals, 65,000 to 62,000 men. They also took the worse casualties: more than 18,000 to more than 16,000. Though a Confederate victory, it was a victory that, because of poor generalship by Braxton Bragg, achieved little, except to reassure the Southern people that all was not lost in Tennessee.
The Battle of Chickamauga marked the end of Union Maj. Gen. William Rosencran’s offensive into southwestern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia and the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theatre. More died here than in any other battle, save Gettysburg. After the battle Union forces retired to Chattanooga while Confederates besieged the city by occupying the surrounding heights.
Battle of Chickamauga - History
By Cowan Brew
It was nearly 11 on the morning of September 20, 1863, and the woods around slow-moving Chickamauga Creek in northwest Georgia were ominously quiet. It was much different from the day before, when savage fighting had erupted all along the LaFayette Road leading northward to Chattanooga, Tennessee, 10 miles away. For nearly 13 hours the Union and Confederate armies had torn into each other with a fury that was rare, even on Civil War battlefields. The hard-pressed Federals, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans of Ohio, had been pushed back to the road—their only lifeline to Chattanooga—and nearly overrun several times by the gray-clad Confederates in General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. They clung to the roadway like a drowning man clings to a life raft in rough seas.
On a hillside at the extreme southern end of the battlefield, two other Ohio-born generals, one wearing Union blue, the other Confederate gray, moved into place for a life-altering confrontation. The two had met before, on another western battlefield, almost exactly one year earlier. William Haines Lytle, the Union general, was the scion of a prominent Cincinnati family. Almost startlingly handsome, with blue eyes, light brown hair, and a neatly trimmed beard, Lytle had achieved national fame as the author of a popular drawing room poem, Antony and Cleopatra. Thousands of men in both armies knew the poem by heart. A career politician, many expected Lytle to seek high office once the war was over. The White House itself did not seem beyond his reach.
His Confederate counterpart, Bushrod Rust Johnson, had no such distinguished pedigree. The son of humble, peace-loving Quakers from Belmont County in eastern Ohio, Johnson had defied family wishes by enrolling in the United States Military Academy at West Point. His motivation seems to have been financial rather than patriotic he was working as a low-paid schoolteacher at the time. Among Johnson’s fellow cadets in the Class of 1840 were William Tecumseh Sherman and George H. Thomas. Rosecrans, now commanding the Union army in the woods opposite him, had been a couple of years ahead of Johnson at West Point.
The previous October, Lytle and Johnson had met briefly on the battlefield at Perrysville, Kentucky. Lytle had been struck behind the ear by a piece of shrapnel, knocked senseless, and was sitting atop a large rock still holding his unnoticed sword in his hand when Johnson’s adjutant, Captain W.T. Blakemore, happened by. Lytle offered Blakemore his sword, but the captain told him suavely, “One who could command such men should never suffer such indignity.” Instead, he escorted Lytle to Johnson’s tent, where the fellow Ohioan took one look at Lytle’s blood-smeared face and vacant expression and sent him back to the brigade surgeon for emergency aid. The next day, Lytle was taken to Harrodsburg and paroled. Soon Lytle and Johnson would meet again, and this time there would be no chance for mercy.
General Bushrod Johnson.
For Lytle, Johnson, and the thousands of other Union and Confederate soldiers, the long road to Chickamauga had begun two and a half months earlier, when Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland had finally broken camp near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and commenced a long-awaited advance on Chattanooga, an invaluable railhead for three crisscrossing railroads that linked the major Confederate armies to each other and to vital ports on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Still a comparatively young town, only 25 years old, Chattanooga stood as the gateway to the most valuable prize in the Deep South: Atlanta. Until the Union Army captured Chattanooga, the heartland of the Confederacy would remain untouched.
President Abraham Lincoln and his brain trust knew this, but Rosecrans seemed oddly unconcerned. Both the president and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had expended countless hours and dozens of telegrams attempting to impress that fact on Rosecrans. But the general had almost come to grief outside Murfreesboro at the Battle of Stones River at the beginning of the year. There, the implacable Bragg had launched a surprise winter attack that came within a whisker of winning the day and liberating the entire Volunteer State from Union control. Rosecrans did not intend to let that happen again. He remained stubbornly in camp for the next six months while Lincoln and others implored him to move south. “I will attend to it,” Rosecrans told them but did nothing until the end of June, when he finally began his long-delayed advance.
When Rosecrans finally broke camp, he quickly proved the rightness of Lincoln’s patience and trust in his recalcitrant general by smoothly maneuvering Bragg’s army out of Middle Tennessee and down to Chattanooga. There, protected on three sides by mountains and ridges and on the fourth by a wild and notoriously dangerous river, Bragg hunkered down to await Rosecrans’s no doubt suicidal assault. But “Old Rosy,” as well liked by his men as Bragg was despised by his own, did not intend to send them marching blithely into the mouth of Bragg’s guns. Instead, he distracted his opponent by shelling the town from the northeast while he swung the bulk of his army behind Lookout Mountain and fell upon his target from the southwest.
By the time Bragg realized what was going on, Rosecrans had three full corps across the river and clambering up the opposite heights. Bragg had no intention of being trapped inside Chattanooga like his fellow Confederate general, John C. Pemberton, had allowed himself to be trapped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, a few weeks earlier. Instead, Bragg evacuated the town completely on July 4 and retreated into the nearly impenetrable hills of northwest Georgia.
General William Lytle was wounded and captured.
Rosecrans might have rested on his laurels, having completed the near bloodless capture of his prize target. More than one of his subordinate generals, including his second in command, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, had urged him to do just that. But Thomas had an army-wide reputation for stodginess, and Rosecrans had been hearing endless complaints for months about his own lack of initiative. Determined to prove Washington wrong, he ordered “a general pursuit of the enemy by the whole army.”
The order would prove easier to give than to obey. To pursue Bragg, Rosecrans had to divide his army into three wings to enable it to pass through three different gaps in the mountains below Chattanooga. Meanwhile, Bragg had recovered his nerve—if indeed he had ever lost it—and prepared a gigantic ambush of Rosecrans and his entire army. He sent selected “deserters” into the Union lines to tell their captors that the Confederates were hastening southward in abject retreat. It sounded plausible to Rosecrans given what he had seen of Bragg over the past several weeks. Like a bloodhound with a strong scent, the Union commander pressed forward against his leash.
But Bragg had always possessed an underrated sense of strategy—it was in the tactical handling of his army that he had fallen short at the previous year’s battles at Perryville, Kentucky, and Stones River. Consolidating his own forces east of the mountain passes, Bragg laid plans to destroy the overextended Federals one wing at a time. Unfortunately for the Confederates, Bragg’s generals lacked their commander’s strong sense of strategy and any innate confidence in his leadership. At the site of Bragg’s first planned ambush, McLemore’s Cove, bungling, timid generalship allowed the Federals to escape the carefully laid trap and, even worse, alerted Rosecrans of the enemy’s true intentions. Immediately he ordered his own widely dispersed wings to converge upon each other in the vicinity of Crawfish Springs, 12 miles south of Chattanooga. With any luck, they might come together again before the Confederate tornado descended on them and smashed them to bits.
With the help of some spirited skirmishing by the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, the three wings made it safely through the gaps and drew within supporting distance of one another on the night of September 17. Bragg, disappointed but not demoralized, sent his scouts along the eastern bank of Chickamauga Creek to find a place where he might cross and attack the Federals en masse. Two wooden bridges spanned the deep, slow-moving creek a mile and a half apart, on either side of Jay’s Mill. Reed’s Bridge to the north of the mill and Alexander’s Bridge to the south were both ideal crossing points. Once across the swirling, black-water creek, Bragg intended to fall on the enemy’s left flank somewhere in the vicinity of Lee and Gordon’s Mill.
Fortunately for Rosecrans, who always seemed to have more luck than Bragg, two sharp-eyed Union colonels, Robert Minty and John T. Wilder, were already watching the bridges for enemy movement. When the first Confederate skirmishers came thrashing through the underbrush toward the creek, the Federals peppered them with gunfire and canister. Wilder’s men, armed with new seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles, were particularly effective. Bushrod Johnson, directing the attempted crossing at Reed’s Bridge, was convinced that “the whole Yankee army was in our front, on our right and rear, while our army was still on the east side of the Chickamauga.” The delay cost the Confederates several valuable hours.
Confederate troops load and fire into the thick underbrush around Chickamauga Creek, which gave the battle its name.
Johnson was relieved, in more than one sense of the word, when Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood rode up to him with a signed order from Bragg giving Hood overall command of the Confederate right. Hood had just arrived with the first batch of reinforcements from General Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia. In all, some 12,000 of Lee’s battle-hardened infantrymen in Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s I Corps were en route to Georgia by train from Virginia. Longstreet, a Georgian himself, was not yet on the scene, so Hood assumed command in the interim. Hood, new to the ground, halted the Confederate advance for the night.
The Federals, still badly strung out, did not have the luxury of resting. Rosecrans issued a flurry of orders, all with the same intent—keep moving northward to Chattanooga. The prize he had thrown away so cavalierly a few days earlier now seemed like the veritable promised land itself to Old Rosy and his footsore, bone-tired soldiers. Having failed to listen to Thomas’s well-reasoned advice before, Rosecrans now placed full confidence in his generalship, ordering Thomas to anchor his XIV Corps on the LaFayette Road leading to Chattanooga. Under no circumstances, said Rosecrans, was Thomas to allow the Rebels to get around his left flank. The survival of the entire army depended on Thomas holding the road open.
Thomas’s corps reached its designated location, the Kelly House, and set up camp. Not long afterward, Colonel Dan McCook, the younger brother of the army’s XX Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook, informed Thomas that a lone Confederate brigade had gotten across Reed’s Bridge. Immediately, Thomas sent Colonel John Croxton’s brigade in search of the intruders. Croxton, a Yale-educated Kentuckian, soon sent back word that he would be happy to bring back the enemy brigade if Thomas would only be good enough to tell him which of the four or five enemy brigades now attacking him Thomas wanted Croxton to bring back.
Croxton’s chief worry was an all too familiar adversary: Confederate cavalry legend Nathan Bedford Forrest. Having spearheaded Johnson’s crossing at Reed’s Bridge the day before, Forrest had dismounted his men and placed them in the woods around Jay’s Mill. Pacing about like a panther, his face lit by a characteristic fiery glow, Forrest ignored the bullets clipping the leaves around him. “Hold on, boys, the infantry is coming,” he reassured his men. “They’ll soon be here to relieve you.”
As the fighting around the mill intensified, Thomas sent new brigades into the woods to support Croxton. Without realizing it, Thomas had unintentionally seized the battlefield initiative from Bragg and the Confederates. Expecting no Union resistance, Bragg had been calmly making plans to “attack the enemy wherever I can find him.” Now it seemed the enemy had found him first.
At this point, Bragg still had the numbers on his side. He could have easily cut through the Union line and isolated Thomas’s corps from the rest of the Federal forces—something Rosecrans had repeatedly warned Thomas not to risk. Instead, Bragg froze. As was always the case with the gloomy faced career soldier from North Carolina, once a battle got under way, he readily abandoned his careful (and usually well-reasoned) plans and allowed events, real or imagined, to control his actions. Despite much evidence that the Union left, under Thomas, was still somewhere northwest of Jay’s Mill, Bragg continued to believe that the enemy flank was farther south, at Lee and Gordon’s Mill. As the day wore on, he sent his troops forward in piecemeal fashion, thus limiting their impact. Instead of one devastating hammer blow that might have split the enemy line fatally in two, Bragg began a series of short and largely ineffective jabs.
For the next nine hours, the fighting intensified along the north-south axis of the battlefield. The heavily wooded, ravine-broken terrain was so rough that neither side could see the other. Towering trees blocked the sunlight, and clinging thorns and vines tore at the soldiers’ coats. Company by company, regiment by regiment, brigade by brigade, the two armies groped toward each other in the underbrush while an angry, constant buzzing of bullets and shrapnel whirred over their heads and, all too often, into their bodies.
The battle moved irresistibly southward as Rosecrans kept feeding divisions into the fray. From Thomas’s right around Reed’s Bridge Road, the blue ranks extended past Alexander’s Bridge Road into a cornfield just east of the Kelly House and the LaFayette Road. All afternoon the fighting continued, while the opposing commanders reacted in characteristic ways. Rosecrans was buoyant and almost giddy, convinced that he was “driving the Rebels in the center handsomely” and hopeful that by nightfall “we will drive them across the Chickamauga.” Bragg entertained no such confidence. He interpreted every new development, said one of his aides, “as through a glass darkly.” When Maj. Gen. A.P. Stewart rushed to headquarters and asked for more explicit orders before attacking with his corps, Bragg told him simply that he “must be governed by circumstances.” It was not exactly ringing leadership.
Still, almost despite their commander, the Confederates came close to breaking the Union line on two occasions at twilight. Stewart’s attack on the Union center near the Brotherton cabin found a soft spot in the enemy defenses, and only the timely arrival of Brig. Gen. William Hazen’s brigade and the massed fire of 20 cannons from a narrow ridge behind Hazen stopped the Confederate advance. Meanwhile, on the far right, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s hard-fighting division almost turned Thomas’s left before running out of ammunition and daylight. Both attacks gave the promise of victory the next day.
By the time firing died down on the 19th, some 15,000 casualties already littered the battlefield. The night turned cold, and several flash fires caused by forbidden campfires and scorched kindling broke out in the parched woods, fatally burning dozens of wounded men who were unable to crawl away. Shivering in their light jackets, the shaken survivors of the day’s fighting were kept awake by the bone-chilling cold and the blood-curdling cries of wounded soldiers. One Indiana sergeant, Thomas McGee, remembered the sounds as a wavelike sobbing, a “storm of groans and cries for help that come on the black night air. To this day, that dying, wailing petition is still ringing in our ears.” Another Hoosier, Private Alva Griest, called it simply “a terrible sound.” Stretcher bearers on both sides were foiled by understandably nervous pickets, who shot at anything they heard moving in the dark.
At his headquarters near the Union right, a log cabin belonging to local widow Eliza Glenn, Rosecrans held a late-night strategy session. He was uncomfortably aware that although he had fought Bragg to a standstill that day the initiative still lay with the Confederates, as the two twilight assaults had indicated. “We were greatly outnumbered, and the battle the next day must be for the safety of the army and the possession of Chattanooga,” he recalled after the fact. Whenever he asked for advice from his assembled officers, a drowsy Thomas would respond, “I would strengthen the right.” He couldn’t tell Rosecrans where, exactly, such reinforcement could be found. All Rosecrans could do was order him to “defend your position with the utmost stubbornness. In case our army should be overwhelmed it will retire on Rossville and Chattanooga. Send your trains back to the latter place.” It was not an order designed to inspire confidence.
Bragg, typically, held no strategy session. After the Confederate defeats at Perryville and Stones River, he was under no illusions about the confidence—or lack thereof—that his subordinate generals placed in him. Instead, Bragg climbed into an ambulance and fell asleep. He was still sleeping when James Longstreet arrived on the battlefield at 11 pm, having endured a bone-rattling train ride from Virginia and a near-fatal encounter with Union pickets in the dark. Longstreet was more than a little irked that Bragg had neglected to send anyone to meet him at the train station in Ringgold, forcing him and his staff to ride unguided to the battlefield. It was a less than welcoming reception for the celebrated commander of Robert E. Lee’s I Corps in the much more successful Army of Northern Virginia.
Longstreet hid his annoyance long enough for Bragg to outline his plans for the next day’s fighting. For inexplicable reasons, Bragg had decided to divide his already jumbled and confused forces into two new wings. Longstreet would command the Confederate left, while Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk would command the right. Polk was to initiate the fighting at dawn, with each brigade to attack successively, north to south, as soon as the brigade to its right had set off.
Patrick Cleburne’s bark-tough Confederates advance at twilight on the first night of the battle. Encroaching darkness halted the fighting when men on both sides could only fire at muzzle flashes and sounds.
It was a confusing plan, depending on a newly arrived general (Longstreet) leading forces he had never met, while Polk, an Episcopal bishop before the war with little military training or aptitude, took over the crucial role of attack initiator. The change left various Confederate generals to wander about the field all night trying to locate their new troops and sending couriers back and forth in the darkness in a vain attempt to determine their roles in the next day’s attack. Bragg simply went back to bed, assuming that everyone understood the perplexing new plan as well as he did.
Predictably, things went wrong from the start. The next morning, Bragg waited confidently for the resumption of firing. Nothing happened. Polk, having received no written orders from Bragg, was casually lounging on the front porch of a farmhouse three miles behind the lines, waiting for his breakfast. Meanwhile, his subordinate commanders, Lt. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill and Maj. Gens. John C. Breckinridge and Patrick Cleburne, sat around a campfire wondering what Polk was waiting for. It never occurred to Bragg to ride a mile to the front and see what was—or wasn’t—happening.
The heaven-sent delay allowed Rosecrans’s pioneer companies to continue strengthening the Union lines. They had worked all through the night felling trees and building breastworks, and canny veteran infantrymen had helped, scooping out foxholes with their canteens and constructing firing blinds with clear lines of sight trained on the dark woods lowering to the east. When the Confederate brigades stepped out of the tree line, they would be waiting for them.
Nearly four hours behind schedule, the Confederate attack resumed at 9:45 am. A “perfect tornado of bullets” greeted them, Kentucky Lieutenant W.W. Herr remembered. Herr’s commander, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm, Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law, fell in the first wave leading an attack on the Union breastworks. Dozens of futile attacks followed, doing nothing except to alarm Thomas, who frantically sent couriers galloping south to implore Rosecrans to send him reinforcements. And Rosecrans, himself uneasy and overly excited, delivered an impromptu tongue lashing to one of his division commanders, Brig. Gen. Thomas Wood, who was not moving quickly enough in his eyes. The brief outburst would soon prove to have disastrous consequences for the entire army.
The Battle of Chickamauga was essentially a battle for control of the LaFayette Road to Chattanooga. If the Confederates could turn the Union left, they would trap the entire enemy army in the thick woods of northwest Georgia. “Strengthen the left,” Thomas endlessly advised.
Receiving yet another panicky demand from Thomas for reinforcements, Rosecrans decided to transfer Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s division from the far right of the Union line to Thomas’s left. At the same time, he ordered the just chastised Wood to move his men back into line to fill an erroneously reported gap left by Sheridan’s movement. Wood was quick to obey the order, even though he knew there was no gap in the line. Either through blind obedience or simple spite, he immediately stopped his division from following Sheridan and headed back to close the nonexistent gap. “Gentlemen, I hold the fatal order of the day in my hand and would not part with it for five thousand dollars,” Wood reportedly told aides.
At almost the exact moment that Wood was pulling out of line, Longstreet simultaneously unleashed his 11,000-man attack column, which he had massed just east of the Brotherton cabin. Bushrod Johnson, who had known Longstreet at West Point and in the peacetime army, was selected to lead the assault. It would be the highlight of his life.
“Our line now emerged from the forest into open ground on the border of long open fields, over which the enemy were retreated,” Johnson reported. “The scene now presented was unspeakably grand. The resolute and impetuous charge, the rush of our heavy columns sweeping out from the shadow and gloom of the forest into the open fields flooded with sunlight, the glitter of arms, the onward dash of artillery and mounted men, the retreat of the foe, the shouts of the hosts of our army, the dust, the smoke, the noise of fire-arms—of whistling balls and grapeshot and bursting shell—made up a battle scene of unsurpassed grandeur.”
For Union General William Lytle, his fellow Ohioan and brief acquaintance, the scene was more awful than grand. Seated on his horse on a nearby rise, ever afterwards to be known as Lytle Hill, the spruce little general watched in horror as the Union right dissolved with almost miraculous suddenness. Hordes of gray-coated demons, screaming themselves hoarse above the unremitting sound of musket and cannon fire, were now headed straight for him. Pulling on a pair of dark kid gloves, Lytle said, perhaps to himself, “If I must die, I will die as a gentleman.” Then, turning to his men in the 1st Brigade, he shouted, “All right men. We can die but once. This is the time and place. Let us charge. If we can whip them today we will eat our Christmas dinner at home.”
Lytle’s counterattack, doomed from the start, fell apart as quickly as it began. The two sides came together at the base of the hill, fighting with bayonets, muskets swung like clubs, and even rocks picked up from the ground. Lytle, astride his charger, was an easy target. One bullet crashed into his spine almost simultaneously, three more stuck him in the body and face, knocking out several teeth and exiting through his neck. He died, choking out his last words, “Brave, brave, brave boys.”
Unaware of his old adversary’s fate, Bushrod Johnson rode exultantly behind his own men, spurring them on. John Bell Hood, veteran of many of Robert E. Lee’s battles in Virginia, gave him simple but dynamic advice: “Go ahead and keep ahead of everything.” A moment later, Hood fell to the ground, his right leg shattered by a bullet near the hip. His arm was still in a sling from a serious wound suffered 10 weeks earlier at Gettysburg.
Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s troops disembark from various railroad cars after arriving at Ringgold Station from Virginia on the afternoon September 19 to reinforce Bragg.
With Longstreet’s breakthrough at the Brotherton cabin, the battle was effectively over, and both sides knew it. Rosecrans, stunned by the disaster, watched the Confederates pouring toward him on the hill where the Widow Glenn’s cabin was located. Turning to Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana, a recent unwelcome visitor from the War Department who had come to observe—some said spy—on him, Rosecrans gave some terse, if well-chosen advice. “If you care to live any longer,” said the general, “get away from here.”
Rosecrans was not long in following his own advice, spurring his horse northward down the Dry Valley Road in the rear of the battlefield. At his side rode his chief of staff, Maj. Gen. James A. Garfield, yet another Ohioan. The two rode in silence for several miles, stopping from time to time to put their ears down Indian-style to the ground to listen for the direction of the heaviest firing. At a fork in the road between the battlefield and Rossville Gap, they came literally to the turning point of their lives.
Rosecrans wanted to go back and organize a last-ditch defense with Thomas. Garfield, a political general with no pre-war experience, convinced him to go instead to Rossville and prepare for the defense of Chattanooga while Garfield rode over to Thomas to find out what was happening. It was a spur of the moment decision that altered both their lives. Rosecrans would lose his command and his career for giving the appearance of abandoning his army at the height of its crisis. Garfield, cantering across the field alone, rode up to Thomas a few minutes later to give him the unnecessary news that the Union right had given way. Seventeen years later, canny campaign managers would turn “Garfield’s Ride” into a stirring moment of high drama and heroism, propelling the rider straight into the White House where an assassin’s bullet soon propelled him back out again.
Thomas, reinforced by the remnants of the Union right, fell back to a strong defensive position on Snodgrass Hill, the highpoint of Horseshoe Ridge. There, he held off repeated Confederate assaults, winning for himself the somewhat ironic title, “The Rock of Chickamauga,” which failed to take into account the fact that his incessant demands for more and more reinforcements had led Rosecrans to inadvertently create a gap in his own lines to provide those reinforcements.
At dusk, Thomas withdrew from the field, leaving behind a wrecked tableau and more than 34,000 casualties—the highest two-day total of the entire war—including the body of William Lytle, which was returned under flag of truce that night to Union lines. Standing atop Snodgrass Hill, the exultant Confederates poured cheer after cheer into the night air. It was, said Indiana soldier and future writer Ambrose Bierce, “the ugliest sound that any mortal ever heard—even a mortal exhausted and unnerved by two days of hard fighting, without sleep, without rest, without food and without hope.”
The Union firing line at Snodgrass Hill pours lead into oncoming Confederates. Men in the rear passed reloaded muskets forward to keep up the fire. At dusk on September 20, the last Federal troops retreated from Chickamauga.
Trudging back into Chattanooga, which they had abandoned all too readily 11 days earlier, the defeated Federals attempted to process the catastrophe. “We have met with a serious disaster, extent not yet ascertained,” Rosecrans wired Washington. Dana had already beaten him to the punch. “My report today is of deplorable importance,” he informed his superiors. “Chickamauga is as fatal a name in our history as Bull Run. Our soldiers turned and fled. It was wholesale panic.”
Dana’s report, motivated at least partly by vindictiveness over Rosecrans’s brusque treatment of him personally, was considerably exaggerated, but not unexpected. “Well, Rosecrans has been whipped as I feared,” said Abraham Lincoln. “I have feared it for several days. I believe I feel trouble in the air before it comes.” Secretary of War Edwin Stanton chimed in: “I know the reasons well enough. Rosecrans ran away from his fighting men and did not stop for thirteen miles. [Alexander] McCook and [Thomas] Crittenden made pretty good time away from the fight to Chattanooga, but Rosecrans beat them both.”
The fact that Rosecrans still held Chattanooga did not seem to register on anyone, not even the general himself. Only Nathan Bedford Forrest, an untutored genius of warfare, realized the true significance. Standing atop Missionary Ridge overlooking the town, Forrest sent message after message to Bragg, who was still loitering around the battlefield at Chickamauga, begging him to renew the attack while the Federals were still disorganized. Bragg, typically, refused. “What does he fight battles for?” Forrest wondered aloud. It was a question that would be asked and answered in the weeks to come.
The Union learned a bitter lesson, Lincoln lost his brother in law, but the Union remains and eventually overcome of the obstacles and prevailed
156th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga Living History & Youth Programs
Living historian presentations provide a unique opportunity for visitors and volunteers to experience the Battle of Chickamauga. During the weekends of September 14-15 and September 21-22, the park will host several living history organizations conducting programs on the experiences of various groups of soldiers who participated in the Battle of Chickamauga. In addition, during the weekend of September 14-15, the park will host special hands on programs designed for young people.
Living history programs this year will feature mounted soldiers in addition to artillery programs.
Living History Programs
“Bite the Bullet”: Myths & Realities of Civil War Medicine
11 am, 1 pm, and 2:30 pm (Friday, September 13, and Saturday, September 14)
Location: Snodgrass Cabin (Tour Stop 8)
During the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union Army turned George Snodgrass’s farm into a hospital. Join local historian Dr. Anthony Hodges to learn about how surgeons, doctors, and stewards waged their own battle to keep men alive.
Lightning Strikes at Chickamauga: Wilder’s Brigade
10 am, Noon, 2 pm, and 4 pm (Saturday, September 14) & 10 am, Noon, and 2 pm (Sunday, September 15)
Locations: Saturday, September 14 - Wilder Brigade Monument (Tour Stop 6). Sunday, September 15 - along Glenn-Viniard Road. Look for the Special Program signs
Colonel John Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade” were some of the most elite troops to take the field at Chickamauga. Armed with the latest in weapons technology, the deadly Spencer repeating rifle, they commanded the south end of the battlefield throughout the engagement. Programs will feature mounted living historians and Spencer rifle demonstrations.
10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm (Saturday September 14, and Sunday, September 15)
Location: Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
At the Battle of Chickamauga, the technology of the past at times clashed with the technology of the future. While Colonel John Wilder’s men entered the battlefield with modern repeating rifles, many soldiers fought with cannon - technology that had gone largely unchanged for hundreds of years. Learn about the role artillery played at the Battle of Chickamauga with these firing demonstrations.
The Veterans Return to Chickamauga
10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm (Saturday September 21) and
10:30 am, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm (Sunday, September 22)
Location: Battleline Road near the King Monument
In 1889, veterans from both armies returned to Chickamauga Battlefield for a reunion that ultimately led to the creation of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. This weekend, living historians will stage their own reunion and portray Civil War veterans and their efforts to create the park.
Hands on History
Ongoing programs throughout the day (Saturday, September 14, and
Sunday, September 15)
Location: Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
On Saturday September 14, and on Sunday September 15, meet a park ranger for a series of hands-on activities for young people to earn a unique Junior Ranger badge available during the battle anniversary.
This oil painting depicts the charge of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry, and the death of Colonel Hans C. Heg at the Battle of Chickamauga. View the original source document: WHI 2538
Monument for the 15th Wisconsin Infantry at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. View the original source document: WHI 91962
Date(s): September 18-20, 1863
Location: Chickamauga, Georgia (Google Map)
Campaign: Chickamauga Campaign (August-September 1863)
Outcome: Confederate victory
The defeat at Chickamauga, Georgia, in the fall of 1863 left Union troops pinned inside Chattanooga, Tennessee, and temporarily halted the Union advance into the heart of the Confederacy.
In early August 1863, Union forces were ordered to advance into the upper Tennessee River Valley and take Chattanooga, Tennessee. After capturing it in early September, Union generals pushed further south. They encountered their enemy 10 miles outside the city, across the state line in Georgia. For three days, 58,000 Union troops faced off against 66,000 Confederates in the war's second-bloodiest battle (after the Battle of Gettysburg).
The opposing lines were six miles long. Much of the fighting occurred in woods so thick that at times neither side knew the precise location of the other. Sometimes commanders could not find their own troops. Strategic maneuvers were difficult and surprise encounters were common. Over the course of three days, Union generals' misinformation combined with bad judgment enabled the Confederates to push them back into Chattanooga.
The 1st, 10th, 15th, 21st, and 24th Wisconsin Infantry regiments along with the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, and the 3rd, 5th, and 8th Wisconsin Light Artillery batteries were engaged in some of the fiercest fighting.
The chaplain of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry reported that 80 percent of its men were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. The 15th Wisconsin Infantry, composed almost entirely of Norwegian immigrants, was led on the field by Colonel Hans C. Heg, who was killed in action. The 21st Wisconsin Infantry found itself surrounded. Lieutenant Colonel Harrison C. Hobart was among those captured and sent to Libby Prison. He led more than 100 prisoners in a daring tunnel escape the following February.
Links to Learn More
Read About the Experiences of Wisconsin Troops
View Battle Maps
View Related Images
View Original Documents
[Source: Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields (Washington, 1993) Estabrook, C. Records and Sketches of Military Organizations (Madison, 1914) Love, W. Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion (Madison, 1866).
Battle of Chickamauga - History
The Battle of Chickamauga was a conflict that took place in Georgia during the American Civil War. Federal and Confederate forces engaged over two days on September 19 and 20 in 1863 at Catoosa County and Walker County, Georgia.
The battle was the last conflict in the Union army’s offensive initiative, named the Chickamauga Campaign, against the rebels in northwestern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee.
On the Federal side, the battle was fought by the Army of the Cumberland, under the command of Major General William Rosecrans, while the Confederate Army of Tennessee was led by General Braxton Bragg.
During the summer of 1863, Rosecrans and his army had waged a successful campaign against the Confederate forces under Braxton in central Tennessee, and the rebel army had retreated to Chattanooga. Rosecrans was instructed by both the President, Abraham Lincoln and the supreme commander, Major General Henry W. Halleck, to carry on the offensive and take Chattanooga, which was an important strategic city, from the Confederates.
For his part, Bragg had persuaded the Confederate leaders to augment his army with troops from other areas with the intention of not just defending Chattanooga, but also to launch a counterattack against the Union army. This move increased his army from 52,000 men to just under 70,000, outnumbering Rosecrans army by about 10,000 men.
Rosecrans recognized that he would have some difficulties in complying with the President’s instruction. An offensive move would mean his forces had to cross the Cumberland Plateau, difficult terrain with poor quality roads. Furthermore, his supply lines would be hindered by the mountains to the rear.
Rosecrans wanted to delay the offensive until all the required supplies were in place, so that he would not have to worry about getting them while on the move. He wanted to delay the move until August 17, but Halleck insisted that he advance without delaying any longer. However, Rosecrans did not begin moving forward until August 16.
The Campaign Plan
Rosecrans’ plan was to move forward to the Tennessee River, and then to accumulate more supplies before attempting to ford it. He felt that it would be impossible to cross the river if the opposing army held the other side, so his plan was to create a diversion that would draw Bragg’s forces into skirmishes north of Chattanooga and use these as a distraction while his main army forded the river at different locations several miles downstream.
Once across the river, the plan was to attack the city from the west, the south and the southeast. The attack from the southeast would give the Union army control over the railway line that connected Chattanooga with Atlanta. This railway was a vital supply line for the Confederates, and taking it would mean that Bragg’s army would either have to retreat from Chattanooga or try to defend the city without having a supply source.
It took the Union army until August 23 to reach the river. Rosecrans began to implement his deception, and sent some of his army to the north of Chattanooga. The deception seems to have worked, and Bragg thought that the crossing would be attempted north of Chattanooga.
On August 29, the first Union troops succeeded in crossing the Tennessee River at Caperton’s Ferry. The following day, a second and third crossing took place at Shellmound. On August 31, a fourth crossing took place at Battle Creek, and by September 4, all of the Union soldiers who would take part in the attack on Chattanooga had successfully crossed the river.
When Bragg realized that he could not hold the city, he withdrew to Lafayette in Georgia, and the Union army entered Chattanooga on September 9. Because of his plan to attack on several fronts, Rosecrans’ forces were widely scattered. Even so, he still thought that Bragg’s men were in disarray and initially ordered some of his troops to pursue the retreating Confederates. He later decided against this tactic and opted instead to consolidate his troops.
Bragg was also consolidating his troops and by September 15 had decided that the best option for his army was to launch an offensive to retake Chattanooga. He began to move his troops to Chickamauga Creek.
The Battle of Chickamauga
The battle began on September 19 and took place on several fronts in many different locations. The Union army quickly gained the initiative in the various encounters, and when reinforcements arrived, the Confederates were forced into retreat in several areas. However, as the day progressed, the Confederates did manage to halt the Federal offensive and Bragg felt that his side was in the better position and had inflicted significant damage on the Union forces.
Bragg planned to launch a fresh attack on the Federal soldiers at dawn on September 20, but a breakdown in communications meant that the dawn offensive could not take place. The arrival of reinforcements meant that the Confederates greatly outnumbered the Union troops, and Rosecrans realized that he was not in a position to launch an offensive.
The delay in the Confederate attack allowed the Union army to better prepare for the anticipated action, and Bragg later stated that this delay was the main reason his troops did not inflict a severe defeat on the Union army.
Because the Confederate Army had the advantage, Rosecrans had no choice but to concentrate his defense within Chattanooga, he advised his scattered army to retreat in the face of sustained Confederate attacks. Rosecrans instructed his men to begin a general retreat to Chattanooga, signifying the end of the battle of Chickamauga and a victory for the Confederate.
Results & Aftermath
Casualties on both sides in the battle were high. The Federal army had 1,657 fatal casualties, 9,756 wounded and a further 4,757 missing or taken prisoner. On the Confederate side, there were 2,312 fatalities, 14,674 wounded, and 1,464 missing or taken prisoner. The number of casualties was the second highest in the entire Civil War, exceeded only by casualties at Gettysburg.
Bragg slowness to attack turned a tactical victory for the South into a strategic defeat, as Federal forces were allowed to escape to Chattanooga. After the Battle of Chickamauga, Bragg laid siege to Chattanooga, but it was strongly fortified and the Federal troops were able to maintain control. Despite not being able to receive supplies, the Union troops managed to hold on in Chattanooga until Major General Ulysses S. Grant arrived with a relieving force that broke Bragg’s siege in late November.
The Battes for Chickamauga
The first detailed accounts of the Battle of Chickamauga appeared in newspapers published shortly after the conclusion of the action. Inaccurate in many details, these hasty efforts nevertheless represented the first attempt to analyze the battle. In 1883 the story of Chickamauga assumed its modern form with the publication of The Army of the Cumberland by Henry Cist. A partisan staff officer of Rosecrans, Cist argued vigorously that the Federal defeat was primarily due to the incompetence of staff Major Frank Bond and the malevolence of Brigadier General Thomas Wood. Embellished over the years, Cist's analysis remains today the prevailing account of Chickamauga's pivotal events.
A decade later, Henry Boynton, another Rosecrans partisan and veteran of the battle, became the dominant member of the Chickamauga Park Commission. Like Rosecrans, Boynton maintained that Chickamauga had to be fought to secure Chattanooga, and thus was a Federal victory. While carefully locating many Federal markers, Boynton also skewed the interpretation of the field in favor of certain units, especially his own. The 1890 publication of Chickamauga battle reports in Volume XXX of the War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies notwithstanding, Cist's and Boynton's highly opinionated version of the battle was enshrined in the public mind by 1900.
|HENRY VAN NESS BOYNTON|
Cist and Boynton had their detractors, notably maligned participants like Wood and veterans whose units had been slighted, but their objections were ignored. In 1911, Archibald Gracie son of a Confederate participant, published The Truth About Chickamauga. Initially conceived as an effort to tell the Confederate side of the story, Gracie's work ultimately became an attack upon Boynton's placement of Federal units on Snodgrass Hill. Too narrow in scope and too technical in nature to have much of an impact on Chickamauga historiography, Gracie's book failed to produce a successful reinterpretation of the battle.
Since Gracie's time, many biographers have addressed Chickamauga as part of larger studies, often relying upon the Cist-Boynton versions in the process. Especially notable in this regard was William Lamers's 1961 biography of Rosecrans, The Edge of Glory. In the same year popular author Glenn Tucker published the first single-volume account of the Chickamauga Campaign in modern times. Filled with personal vignettes, Tucker's book relied heavily upon Cist's and Boynton's work but tempered some of their more partisan judgments. For the next thirty years, Tucker's Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West was the standard account of the battle.
Although scholarship has greatly improved since Tucker's day, many myths remain to be exorcised from the Chickamauga story. In 1971 Thomas Connelly resurrected the reputation of the Army of Tennessee in Autumn of Glory but continued the traditional bashing of Braxton Bragg. Fortunately, recent work by Judith Hallock and Steven Woodworth has finally begun to give Bragg his due. Some improvement has also been made on the Federal side, with the publication in 1992 of Peter Cozzens's This Terrible Sound, a full account of Chickamauga that has superseded Tucker's work. Still, as Cozzens's massive study proves, the Cist-Boynton version of events remains alive and well today.
Unlike their commander, other soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland remained on the battlefield. Around the Kelly Field Thomas's four divisions still held their breastworks. On the ridge bending westward from the Snodgrass House a less organized but equally determined stand was made by men from many commands. First to reach the elevation later known as Snodgrass Hill or Horseshoe Ridge was Negley with Colonel William Sirwell's brigade. Negley had been on his way to join Thomas in late morning when a staff officer had brought him a verbal order to gather artillery on the ridge. Thomas wanted the artillery to cover his left flank, but the message was garbled or Negley, ill with diarrhea, misunderstood it. By the time Negley and Sirwell collected more than forty guns, the Confederate breakthrough had occurred. Soon hundreds of soldiers came pouring through the woods, many without organization or commanders. Mostly from Brannan's and Van Cleve's divisions, many demoralized men could not be rallied. Others decided to make a final stand on the ridge.
Arriving with the mob was Brannan, who attempted to bring order from the chaos. Asking Negley for assistance, Brannan received Sirwell's largest regiment, the Twenty-first Ohio. Armed with the five-shot Colt revolving rifle, the regiment anchored the right of the rallying fragments. Doubting that Brannan's rabble could stand for long, Negley decided to remove the artillery to McFarland's Gap. Not long after Negley departed, Stanley's brigade arrived, having been forced westward by Govan's attack. Although Stanley was soon wounded, his men occupied the section of ridge immediately south of the Snodgrass House. They were joined on their left by Harker's brigade, driven from the Dyer Field by Kershaw. In such fashion a new Federal line formed, not by conscious design but by the determination of hundreds of men to be driven no further. First to test that line was Kershaw's brigade. Several times Kershaw's regiments ascended the ridge, only to be beaten back by the concentrated fire of the defiant Federals. On Kershaw's right, Humphreys's brigade also approached the Federal line, but Humphreys deemed the Federal position too strong and held his men back.
|GORDON GRANGER'S TIMELY ARRIVAL WITH PART OF THE UNION RESERVE CORPS, AS SHOWN IN THIS PAINTING RY HENRY A. OGDEN, PROVED AN IMMENSE RELIEF TO GENERAL THOMAS. (COURTESY MICHAEL J. MCAFEE COLLECTION)|
While Kershaw and Humphreys battled Brannan's and Wood's men on the eastern end of Horseshoe Ridge, Bushrod Johnson was ascending the western end without opposition. After easily driving across the Dyer Field, Johnson had gained a ridge overlooking the Federal trains fleeing westward on the Dry Valley Road. For a time he contented himself with using his artillery to stampede the teamsters while his infantry rested. A little before 2:00 P.M. he turned his division northward toward Horseshoe Ridge. Climbing a spur on the western end of the wooded ridge, Johnson sensed that he was positioned on the flank of Federal troops facing Kershaw and Humphreys. Momentarily lacking McNair's (now Colonel David Coleman's) brigade, which was still reorganizing east of the Dyer Field, Johnson deployed Fulton's and Sugg's brigades before sending them toward the sounds of firing. As they reached the top of the main ridge they were surprised to meet a fresh Federal force climbing the opposite side.
At evening, Polk's wing renews its assault on the Kelly Farm defenses. The Union line at this end of the field is also pulling back, and the Confederates capture only a few hundred Federals.
The force that met Johnson consisted of two brigades of Brigadier General James Steedman's division of Granger's Reserve Corps. Originally posted at McAfee's Church east of Rossville, Granger and Steedman had listened all morning to the sounds of battle three miles to the south. At last, unable to restrain himself further, Granger ordered Steedman's two brigades and Colonel Daniel McCook's brigade to march to Thomas's aid. As they neared Thomas's flank they were harassed by some of Forrest's dismounted troopers. Deflected westward from the LaFayette Road by Forrest's artillery, Granger's men headed for the rear of the Federal position on Horseshoe Ridge. Leaving McCook's brigade north of the McDonald House to cover the rear, Granger and Steedman continued southwestward until they reached Thomas's beleaguered men. Ordered to prolong Brannan's line to the west, Granger sent Steedman's division into action on the run. With Brigadier General Walter Whitaker's brigade on the left and Colonel John Mitchell's brigade on the right, Steedman stormed up the hill into the teeth of Johnson's advance.
|For the remainder of the afternoon the battle lines swayed back and forth across the top of the ridge as repeated Confederate assaults were repulsed, only to be renewed with greater effort.|
The shock of Steedman's attack caused Johnson's men to recoil down the hill. Following the retreating Confederates too closely, Steedman's men found themselves exposed and withdrew to the crest of the ridge. For the remainder of the afternoon the battle lines swayed back and forth across the top of the ridge as repeated Confederate assaults were repulsed, only to be renewed with greater effort. When Coleman's brigade finally appeared, Johnson threw it into his subsequent attack. In addition, his pleas for assistance resulted in Hindman's division being sent to add weight to his efforts. Deas's and Manigault's brigades formed on Fulton's left and participated in one charge but were so exhausted from their earlier exertions that they were useless thereafter. Similarly, Anderson's Brigade filled the gap between Johnson and Kershaw and made its own unsuccessful assault against the hill. Obviously, Johnson's and Hindman's men no longer had the offensive punch needed to carry the commanding Federal position, especially after Van Derveer's brigade arrived from Kelly Field to strengthen the defense.
|As Bragg dolefully rode away, Longstreet returned to the Dyer Field. There he finally began to impose some central direction upon the disjointed Confederate assaults fuvitilely smashing themselves against the ridge.|
For some time the developing fight for Horseshoe Ridge did not gain Longstreet's attention. After the initial breakthrough he visited his right flank at the Poe Field, ordered Buckner to deploy more artillery, then sat down to a convivial lunch with his staff. Summoned by Bragg, he asked for reinforcements even though he had not yet committed his own reserve, Preston's division. Depressed that another victory was slipping from his grasp, Bragg claimed that Polk's right wing was too badly hurt to provide assistance. As Bragg dolefully rode away, Longstreet returned to the Dyer Field. There he finally began to impose some central direction upon the disjointed Confederate assaults futilely smashing themselves against the ridge. Missing since Hood had been carried from the field, that central direction could possibly have swept the haggard Federal defenders from their fiery Gibraltar before nightfall. Now Longstreet would have to race the sun as well as defeat the enemy. With only one last unit to deploy, he called Preston's division forward.
|THE DIORAMA AT THE CHICKAMAUGA AND CHATTANOOGA NMP VISITOR CENTER DEPICTS THE NINTH OHIO INFANTRY CHARGING THE BRIGADE OF JOSEPH KERSHAW'S SOUTH CAROLINIANS ON THE SLOPES OF SNODGRASS HILL SEPTEMBER 20, 1863. (NPS)|
|SKETCH OF HORSES AND CAISSONS ON THE FIELD AFTER THE BATTLE. (SOLDIER IN OUR CIVIL WAR)|
Around 4:30 P.M. Brigadier General Archibald Gracie's brigade reached the foot of Horseshoe Ridge. Taken under fire instantly, Gracie's troops began the first of several attempts to seize the eastern end of the ridge. On their left, Colonel John Kelly's brigade joined the assaults, with similar lack of success. By the time Colonel Robert Trigg's brigade arrived on Kelly's left, Gracie's and Kelly's men had lost their momentum. Gracie had gained the edge of the first knoll southwest of the Snodgrass House but could go no further, while Kelly was still at the foot of the ridge. With Trigg's fresh regiments at hand, Preston decided to make one last effort before darkness enveloped the field. Sensing a slackening of Federal fire on his left, he sent Trigg up a ravine in hopes of flanking the troops facing Kelly. Without opposition, the brigade crossed the ridge, then turned eastward. In the gloom Trigg's and Kelly's brigades encircled remnants of three Federal regiments. Except for the wounded and the dead, these regiments were the last Federals on Horseshoe Ridge. Where had the remainder of the Army of the Cumberland gone?
Around 4:30 P.M., in response to an order from Rosecrans, Thomas ordered a general retreat, beginning with the four divisions holding Kelly Field. Reynolds's division began the delicate movement, with Turchin's brigade in the lead. Finding skirmishers of Liddell's division blocking the way, Turchin led a wild charge which brushed them aside and cleared the McFarland's Gap Road. After Reynolds, it was Palmer's turn to go. Having already sent Hazen's brigade to Horseshoe Ridge, Palmer extracted his remaining two brigades with increasing difficulty. Seeing the retreat, the Confederates redoubled their attacks against the Federal position. As Johnson's and Baird's units struggled to disengage, Stewart's, Cleburne's, and even some of Cheatham's men closed in around them. Johnson's three brigades escaped relatively intact, but Baird lost heavily, especially in prisoners. Leaping the works, the Confederate infantrymen raised a victory shout that was heard far to the east, where Bragg was sitting disconsolately on a log.
|UNION WOUNDED FROM CHICKAMAUGA ARRIVING AT STEVENSON, ALABAMA, ON SEPTEMBER 23, 1863. SKETCH BY J.F.C. HILLEN PROM FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER.|
Before leaving Horseshoe Ridge, Thomas placed Granger in charge of the defense, but Granger remained only a little longer than Thomas. When he departed, no one coordinated the Federal withdrawal from the ridge. As sunset approached, Steedman disengaged his division and quietly withdrew to the north without being noticed by Bushrod Johnson or Hindman. Similarly, Brannan and Wood managed the withdrawal of their troops without reference to Steedman's departure. Left behind in the center of the position were three regiments, all of which had been temporarily attached to either Steedman or Brannan. The Twenty-second Michigan and the Eighty-ninth Ohio regiments had entered the fight with Whitaker's brigade and had been ordered to remain in place by one of Steedman's staff officers. The Twenty-first Ohio regiment had been given to Brannan by Negley early in the afternoon. It too was told by persons seemingly in authority to hold its position with the bayonet. Decimated by casualties and out of ammunition, the three regiments heroically held their position until surrounded and captured by Preston's Division.
|. the Army of the Cumberland appeared to be evacuating Chattanooga. Bragg therefore ordered a pause to reorganize his shattered units and gather the spoils of war, which lay everywhere on the field.|
As darkness shrouded the battlefield of Chickamauga, few on either side were aware that the struggle had ended. During the night Thomas withdrew his intact units to positions around Rossville Gap and across Chattanooga Valley. Behind this new line broken units reconstituted themselves. Unaware that the Army of the Cumberland was gone, the Army of Tennessee bivouacked where they lay, expecting to renew the contest on the following day. Only gradually did the Confederate commanders realize that they held the field alone. Immediate pursuit was tempting, but practical considerations ruled it out. Bragg's army had lost more than 17,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. Many of the troops that had arrived by rail had brought no transportation with them, and the battle had seriously depleted the number of serviceable artillery horses. There was no pontoon train available for crossing the Tennessee River. Besides, the Army of the Cumberland appeared to be evacuating Chattanooga. Bragg therefore ordered a pause to reorganize his shattered units and gather the spoils of war, which lay everywhere on the field.
Holding Missionary Ridge only long enough to regain its composure, the Army of the Cumberland soon withdrew into Chattanooga. Rosecrans's command was badly hurt, having lost more than 16,000 men killed, wounded, and missing in the battle. Many of the wounded had been left to the Confederates, either on the battlefield or at field hospitals that could not be evacuated. Although the army had saved most of its trains, large quantities of arms, ammunition, and materiel had been left behind. Nevertheless, most of the men were not demoralized and still retained confidence in Rosecrans. Using old Confederate works as a foundation, engineers quickly designed a strong defensive line. Digging with great energy, the Army of the Cumberland soon felt secure from a frontal attack. Its supply situation was much more tenuous because the Confederates controlled the easiest routes to the Stevenson supply base. Still, as long as Chattanooga remained in Federal hands, both Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland could truthfully claim that the objective of the campaign had been attained. Similarly, for Bragg and the Army of Tennessee, as long as they were denied possession of Chattanooga the great victory of Chickamauga would remain incomplete. Clearly, the iron hand of war had not yet finished its work in the shadow of Lookout Mountain.
Battle of Chickamauga
During the American Civil War, the Battle of Chickamauga took place from September 18 to September 20, 1863.
The battle pitted the Union's Army of the Cumberland, commanded by General William Rosecrans of Ohio, against the Confederate's Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Braxton Bragg. The Union army numbered approximately sixty thousand men, while the Confederates had forty-three thousand soldiers.
The campaign that culminated in the Battle of Chickamauga began in June 1863. Following Bragg's defeat at the Battle of Stone's River in January 1863, the Confederates withdrew to the Tennessee River, just north of the city of Chattanooga, an important railroad center in southern Tennessee. Bragg believed that Rosecrans would next advance upon Chattanooga, hoping to seize the city. Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland did advance southward. But rather than attacking Bragg's men at the Tennessee River, the Union force flanked the Confederates by crossing the river further south.
Bragg's army retreated to Chickamauga Creek, where the Confederates waited to attack the Union soldiers. Thanks to reinforcements from Virginia, Mississippi, and Tennessee, Bragg's army now approached sixty-six thousand men. On September 19, 1864, the Union soldiers encountered the Confederate force, and the Battle of Chickamauga began. The Confederates fared well the first day of the battle, slowly driving the Union soldiers backwards in sometimes-fierce hand-to-hand combat. The battle continued on September 20, when the Confederates renewed the attack. A large number of Union troops, approximately one third of the army under Rosecrans's command, broke under an attack from General James Longstreet's Virginians. Union General George Thomas rallied part of the Union line against the Southern advance. These men stalled the Confederate attack, giving the retreating Union soldiers enough time to escape. Thomas retreated with his men that evening under the cover of darkness. In the battle, the Union lost 16,170 men to the Confederate’s 18,454 men killed, wounded or captured.
The Army of the Cumberland regrouped at Chattanooga. Confederate forces seized the heights, including Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, surrounding the city. Confederate artillery prevented supply trains or reinforcements from reaching Rosecrans's army, while it also prohibited the Union soldiers from retreating. The Union soldiers were in a dire situation. They had to surrender, starve, or attack a larger, well-fortified force. The stage was set for the Battle of Chattanooga.