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Battle of Chickamauga, GA
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Chickamauga, Ga., Sept. 19-20, 1863. Army of the Cumberland. At the battle of Chickamauga the Union forces, commanded by Maj.-Gen. William S. Rosecrans, were organized as follows: the 14th corps, Maj.-Gen. George H. Thomas, was made up of the four divisions of Baird, Negley, Brannan and Reynolds; the 20th corps, Maj.-Gen. Alexnader D. McCook, consisted of the three divisions of Davis, Johnson and Sheridan; the 21st corps, Maj.-Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden, included the divisions of Wood, Palmer and Van Cleve; the reserve corps, Maj.-Gen. Gordon Granger, was made up of the divisions of Steedman and Daniel McCook; the cavalry corps, Brig.-Gen. Robert B. Mitchell, embraced the divisions of Col. Edward M. McCook and Brig.-Gen. George Crook. The effective strength of the entire Army of the Cumberland was slightly less than 60,000 men of all arms.

The Confederate army, commanded by Gen. Braxton Bragg, was divided into the right and left wings. The right, commanded by Lieut.-Gen. Leonidas Polk, was composed of Cheatham's division of Polk's corps; Lieut.-Gen. D.H. Hill's corps, consisting of Cleburne's and Breckenridge's divisions; the reserve corps, Maj.-Gen. W.H.T. Walker, including the divisions of Walker and Liddell. The left, commanded by Lieut.-Gen. James Longstreet, embraced Hindman's divisions of Polk's corps; Longstreet's corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. John B. Hood, and consisting of the divisions of Hood and McLaws; Buckner's corps, Maj.-Gen. Simon B. Buckner, including the divisions of Stewart, Preston and Bushrod Johnson; Wheeler's cavalry, including the divisions of Wharton and Martin; and Forrest's cavalry, consisting of the divisions of Armstrong and Pegram. The total strength of the army was not far from 72,000 men.

For several days prior to the engagement both armies had been maneuvering for position. Several attempts had been made by Bragg to cut off and destroy detachments of the Union army, but they had failed, either because of the tardiness of his officers in executing his orders, or because the movements were discovered by the Federal commanders in time to thwart the designs. On the 17th McCook's corps was in McLemore's cove, between Stevens' and Dug gaps, with the remainder of the army in easy supporting distance. For the first time since the crossing of the Tennessee river the Federal forces were in position where they could be quickly concentrated. And it was well that such was the case, for Bragg, having failed to strike the army in detail, was comtemplating a movement in force against Rosecrans. The 17th was occupied by him in getting his troops in position along the east bank of the Chickamauga. Wheeler, with his two divisions of cavalry, was to make a feint against the troops at McLemore's cove, while Forrest was to cover the right and front to prevent the Federals from gaining knowledge of Bragg's intentions and preparations. Bushrod Johnson's brigade came up from Ringgold and was assigned to a position at Reed's bridge, on the extreme right of the line. Walker's corps, about 6,000 strong, took position at Alexander's bridge on Johnson's left. Next in order came Buckner's corps, which was stationed near Tedford's ford. Then came Polk's corps, drawn up opposite Lee & Gordon's mills, with Hill on the extreme left. Late in the day two brigades came up from Mississippi and were united with Johnson's, thus forming a division of three brigades at Reed's bridge. That evening Bragg issued his orders for the whole line to move at 6 o'clock the next morning, cross the Chickamauga, and advance on the Federal position. His plan was for Johnson to cross at Reed's bridge, strike the Union left and force it back toward Lee & Gordon's mills, the other portions of the line to cross in succession and continue the assault from right to left, constantly pressing the Federals on the left and rear.

The plan was well conceived, but, as frequently happens in war, a series of unforeseen occurrences prevented its successful execution. When Johnson began his forward movement on the morning of the 18th he was so delayed by the stubborn resistance of Minty's and Wilder's cavalry that it was 3 p.m. before he gained possession of the bridge. In the meantime Hood had arrived on the field and was assigned to command the division, which was further strengthened by the addition of three brigades belonging to Longstreet's corps. As soon as the bridge was gained Hood rushed his troops across and swept southward to the point where Walker was to cross and resume the assault. The Federal cavalry had been engaged throughout the forenoon in kaing an extended reconnaissance along the entire front and had developed the enemy's position. Finding Walker about to cross at Alexander's bridge, Wilder massed his brigade of mounted infantry at that point and, after a sharp skirmish, succeeded in destroying the bridge. This compelled Walker to cross at Byram's ford several hours behind schedule time. It was 5 p.m. before Hood had reached a position where he could menace Wilder's flank, and the latter retired toward Gordon's mills. Night fell with only about one-tenth of Bragg's army across the Chickamauga, and again his plans had failed.

The fighting at the two bridges, in connection with the reconnaissance, had so far indicated the Confederate plan of operations as to cause a radical change in the position of the Union troops. At 4 p.m. Thomas concentrated his corps at Crawfish Spring, where he received orders to move northward to the Chattanooga and Lafayette road and take up a position at or near Kelly's farm. He arrived there about daylight on the 19th and stationed his command to cover the roads leading to Reed's and Alexander's bridges. The morning of the 19th, therefore, found the Union army with its right resting at Crawfish Spring, where the left had been on the preceding day, while the left was several miles north, prepared to contest the possession of the road, which Bragg had hoped to occupy without opposition, thus giving him an easy line of march to the Federal rear. The battle was opened on the 19th by Thomas. Col. Daniel McCook, whose brigade had been stationed during the night on the road leading to Reed's bridge, reported the destruction of the bridge about 4 a.m., and that the only force of the enemy he could discover on the west side of the stream was one brigade, which might be cut off. Thomas ordered Brannan to send forward two brigades for this purpose, and to support Baird with the rest of his division. About 10 a.m. Croxton's brigade became engaged with Forrest's cavalry, gradually forcing him back for about half a mile upon two brigades of infantry - Wilson's and Ector's - who raised the "rebel yell" and in turn forced Croxton to retire until Baird came to his support, when the Confederates were again driven for some distance, a number of prisoners being taken. This action of Croxton's brought on the battle of Chickamauga before the Confederate troops were in the positions assigned them. It also gave Bragg the first knowledge of the fact that his right was overlapped by the Union left, and that his flank was in danger of being turned by Thomas. Hurriedly changing his plans he halted Walker, who was marching toward Lee & Gordon's mills, and ordered him to make all possible speed to the relief of the right wing. Croxton's men had almost exhausted their ammunition and were moved to the rear to renew the supply. Baird's and Brannan's divisions were then united and after some severe fighting drove Walker from their front. Baird had halted to readjust his line, when he was struck on the flank by Liddell's divisions, and two brigades - Scribner's and King's - were thrown into disorder and their batteries captured by the enemy. Just at this juncture R.W. Johnson's and Reynolds' divisions arrived and were immediately formed on the right of Baird. As soon as they were in position the line advanced, attacking Liddell on the flank and rear, driving him back for a mail and a half, while Brannan's men met him in front and recaptured the guns taken from Baird's brigades, the recapture being effected by the 9th Ohio at the point of the bayonet. Cheatham's divisions was then rushed to the support of Liddell, but Thomas had also been strongly reinforced and the Confederates were driven back upon their reserves, now posted along the west bank of the Chickamauga between Reed's and Alexander's bridges. This was followed by a lull of about an hour in which Brannan and Baird were posted in a position on the road leading from Reed's bridge to the Lafayette road north of Kelly's and ordered to hold it to the last extremity. About 3 p.m. a furious assault was made on Reynolds' right and Brannan's division was sent to his assistance, Croxton's brigade arriving just in time to check the enemy in an effort to turn Renolds' flank and gain his rear. Again Thomas reformed his line and about 5 o'clock the enemy assaulted first Johnson and then Baird, but both attacks were repulsed with Considerable loss to the assailants. This ended the fighting for the day.

On the evening of the 19th Rosecrans met his corps commanders in council at the house of Mrs. Glenn, and the plans for the next day's battle were arranged. Thomas was to maintain his present position, holding the road to Rossville, with Brannan's divisions in reserve. Davis' division of the 20th corps was to close on Thomas' right, and Sheridan's division was to form the extreme right of the line. Crittenden was to have two divisions in reserve near the junction of Thomas' and McCook's lines, ready to reinforce either as circumstances might require. Davis and Sheridan were to maintain their pickets until they were driven in by the enemy. The erserve corps, under Granger, and the cavalry were to keep open the line of communications to Chattanooga. The Confederate line was also somewhat rearranged. Beginning at the right it was made up of the divisions of Breckenridge, Cleburne, Cheatham and Walker, the last two being in reserve. The left wing began with Stewart's division, which touched Cleburne's left, followed in order by Johnson and Hindman. Hood was in reserve behind Johnson, Preston was in reserve on the extreme left, and Humphrey and Kershaw, who had come up during the night, were also held in reserve. Longstreet arrived about 11 p.m. on the 19th and assumed command of the left wing.

Although Bragg had failed to accomplish his ends on the 18th and 19th, he still adhered to his original plan of successive attacks from right to left, in an effort to force the Union army up the valley. Orders were accordingly issued for Breckenridge's division to attack at dawn on the 20th, his assault to be followed rapidly by the other divisions throughout the entire length of the line, but constantly forcing back the Federal left until the road to Chattanooga was in possession of the Confederates. Before daylight Bragg was in the saddle near the center of his line, anxiously waiting for the sound of Breckenridge's guns. The morning dawned red and sultry, with a dense fog hanging over the battle-field. During the night the Union troops had thrown up temporary breastworks or rails, logs, etc., behind which a line of determined men awaited the onset. Eight o'clock came and still no attack. Bragg then rode to the right and found the troops unprepared for an advance. All the energy possible was exerted to begin the action, but it was 9:30 before Breckenridge moved. Cleburne followed fifteen minutes later and the fight was on.

At 2 a.m. Thomas had received word from Baird that his left did not rest on the road to Reed's bridge, as it was intended to do, and that to reach the road he would have to weaken his line. Thomas immediately sent a request to headquarters for Negley's divisions to be sent to the left to extend the line to the road, and received the assurance that the request would be granted. At 7 a.m. Negley was not in position and Thomas sent one of his staff to hasten him forward and to point out the ground he was to occupy. About the same time Rosecrans rode along the line and personally ordered Negley to lose no time in joining Thomas, at the same time directing McCook to relieve Negley and close up his line more compactly. Upon reaching the left of the line Rosecrans became convinced that the attack would begin on that flank, saw the importance of holding the road, and again rode back to hurry Negley's movements. The division then moved to the left with Beatty's brigade in advance, and Rosecrans directed Crittenden to move Wood's division to the front to fill the gap in the line caused by Negley's removel.

The assault of Breckinridge fell mainly on Beatty's brigade soon after it was in position on the left, and it was driven back in confusion. Several regiments of Johnson's division, with Vanderveer's and Stanley's brigades, hurled themselves into the breach, checked the advance of the enemy and finally drove him entirely from Baird's flank and rear. Immediately following the opening attack the Confederate line advanced, striking Johnson, Palmer and Reynolds in quick succession. But, from behind their improvised fortifications, the Federals met the assaults with a bravery and determination seldom equalled on the field of battle. Fresh troops were hurried forward by Bragg, who now made a desperate effort to drive in the center and turn Thomas' right. Again and again the Confederates advanced in the face of that merciless fire and each time they were repulsed with fearful slaughter. Finding all his efforts in this direction futile, Bragg fell back to his old position.

About 11 a.m. Wood received an order from headquarters to "close up on Reynolds as fast as possible, and support him." In the execution of this order a gap was left in the line, which Davis undertook to close with his reserve brigade. But Longstreet had observed the break in the line and was quick to take advanatage of it. Before Davis could get his reserves into position the divisions of Stewart, Hood, Kershaw, Johnson and Hindman came rushing through the opening, sweeping everything before them, while Preston's divisions pressed forward the the support of the assailants. McCook vainly endeavored the check the impetuous charge of Longstreet's men with the three brigades of Heg, Carlin and Laiboldt, but they were as chaff before the wind. He then ordered Walworth and Lytle to change front and assist in repelling the assault. For a time these two contended against an overwhelming force, temporarily checking the enemy in their immediate front. But the Confederates, constantly increasing in numbers, succeeded in turning the left of these two brigades and they were forced to retire to avoid being surrounded. In this part of the engagement Gen. Lytle was killed and Hood seriously wounded. Wilder and Harrison joined their commands with that of Sheridan to aid in resisting the fierce attack, but a long line of the enemy was advancing on Sheridan's right and he was compelled to withdraw to the Dry Valley road in order to save his command. Subsequently he moved toward Rossville and effected a junction with Thomas' left on the Lafayette road. In his report Rosecrans says: "Thus Davis' two brigades, one of Van Cleve's, and Sheridan's entire division were swept from the field, and the remainder, consisting of the divisions of Baird, Johnson, Reynolds, Brannan, and Wood, two of Negley's brigades and one of Van Cleve's were left to sustain the conflict against the whole power of the rebel army, which, desisting from pursuit on the right, concentrated their whole efforts to destroy them."

This tells the situation. Not only were the troops on the rit driven from the field, but several thousand men were made prisoners, 40 pieces of artillery nd a large number of wagon trins fell into the hands of the enemy. When McCook's forces were compelled to fall back in confusion they were not pursued. Instead, Longstreet reversed the order of battle, and when Stewart's division reached the Lafayette road it became the pivot upon which the left wing turned to the right instead of to the left, with the intention of crushing the forces under Thomas.

At 11 a.m. Granger and his chief of staff were seated on the top of a hay-rick at Rossville. Through his glass Granger could see the clouds of smoke, constantly increasing in volume, while the sounds of the battle grew louder every moment. Scanning the road to the south he saw that no attack was likely to be made on his position, and rightly surmising that the whole Confederate strength was being massed against Thomas, he said to his chief: "I am going to Thomas, orders or no orders." Sliding off the hay-rick he hurriedly directed Dan McCook to station his brigade at McAfee Church, to cover the Ringgold and Lafayette roads, then went to Steedman and ordered him to take his command "over there," pointing toward "Horseshoe Ridge," where Thomas was making his last stand. Along the crest of this ridge Thomas had placed Wood's and Brannan's divisions, while on the spurs to the rear was posted his artillery. If Wood had inadvertently brought about the disaster by the withdrawal of his division, cusing the gap on the line, he now retrieved himself. From 1 p.m. until nightfall he bravely held his portion of the ridge, repulsingseveral obstinate and determined attacks of the enemy. One of these attacks was made by Bushrod Johnson, who reformed his line on a ridge running nearly at right angles to the one on which Brannan and Wood were posted. Longstreet reinforced Johnson with the divisions of Hindman and Kershaw, the object being a movement in force against the Federal rigt and rear. Just at this critical moment Granger and Steedman arrived and reported to Thomas, who ordered them into position on Brannan's rigt. GRanger then ordered a charge on the Confederate lines. Steedman seized the colors of a regiment and led the way. Inspired by the example of their commander the men hurled themselves upon the enemy and afe twenty minutes of hot figting drove him from the ridge, which was held by Stedman until 6 p.m., when he fell back under orders. The arrival of Granger's troops was a great advantage to Thomas in another way. By some mistake the latter's ammunition train had been ordered back to Chattanooga at the time the Union right was routed, and the supply was running low, when the arrival of Gager with about 100,000 rounds put new courage into the men as it was distributed among them. To add to the supply the troops went among the dead and gathered all they could from the cartridge boxes of their fallen comrades and foes alike. Toward the close of the day the order was given to husband the ammunition and use the bayonet as much as possible. Some of the late charges of the Confederates were repulsed with the "cold steel" alone. THe gallant stand of Thomas, and the general-ship he displayed in holding Horseshoe ridge in the face of superior numbers, won for him the significant sobriquet of the "Rock of Chickamauga."

When Longstreet broke the Union line at noon Rosecrans himself was caught in the rout. Believing that his army was doomed to certain defeat, he went to Chattanooga to provide for the security of his bridges and, as he says in his report, "to make preliminary dispositions either to forward ammunition and supplies, should we hold our ground, or to withdraw the troops into good position." The first official intelligence that Thomas had of the unfortunate occurrence on the right was about 4 p.m., when Gen. Garfield, Rosecrans' chief of staff, arrived from Rossville. Notwithstanding the disheartening news, Thomas decided to hold his position until nightfall, if possible. The remaining ammunition was distributed and instructons given to his division commanders to be ready to move promptly when orders to that effect were issued. At 5:30 Reynolds received the order to begin the movement. Thomas himself went forward to point out the ground he wanted Reynolds to occupy and form a line to cover the withdrawal of the other troops. While passing through a strip of timber bordering the Lafayette road Thomas met two soldiers, who had been in search of water, and who informed him that a large body of the enemy was drawn up in line in the woods just in front, advancing toward the Union lines. Reynolds was ordered to change the head of his column to the left, with his right resting on the road, and charge the enemy. At the same time the artllery opened a converging fre from both right and left, while Turchin made a dashing charge with his brigade, utterly routing the Confederates and driving them clear beyond Baird's position on the left, captuing over 200 prisoners. Robinson's and Willich's brigades were then posted in positions to cover the retirement of the troops, the former on the road leading through the ridge, and the latter on the ridge to the right. Wood, Brannan and Granger fell back without molestation, but Baird, Johnson and Palmer were attacked as they were drawing back to their lines. This attack was made by L.E. Polk's division, but by this time it had become too dark to ove with certainty, and in advancing the Confederate line was changed so that it formed an acute angle, the troops firing into each other. The withdrawal from the field was accomplished with such precision and quietness that it was not discovered by Bragg until after sunrise the following morning. Thomas took up a position in the vicinity of Rossville and remained there during the 21st, retiring to Chattanooga that night. Bragg's army had been so severly punished in the two days' fighting that he was disinclined to continue the conflict. Some desultory skirmishing occurred on the 21st, but no general movement was undertaken.

The Union losses in the battle of Chickamauga, according to the official reports, were 1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded, and 4,757 missing. The Confederate losses, as given in "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War," amounted to 2,389 killed, 13,412 wounded, and 2,003 missing.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 5, Cyclopedia of Battles A - Helena , 1908


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