Battle of Chickamauga : Civil War

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Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia: A History

Overview
 

Name: Battle of Chickamauga, aka Chickamauga Campaign

Date(s): September 18-20, 1863

Campaign: Chickamauga Campaign

Location: Catoosa County and Walker County, Georgia

Commanders: Union Major General William S. Rosecrans; Confederate General Braxton Bragg

Forces Engaged: Army of the Cumberland [US]; Army of Tennessee [CS]

Strength of Forces: Union 58,222; Confederate 66,326

Casualties and losses: 34,624

Union: 16,170 (1,657 killed; 9,756 wounded; 4,757 captured/missing)

Confederate: 18,454 (2,312 killed; 14,674 wounded; 1,468 captured/missing)

Result: Confederate Victory

Setting the Stage

Battle of Chickamauga Map
Battle of Chickamauga Map.gif
(Chickamauga Battlefield Map)

The Battle of Chickamauga, also known as the Chickamauga Campaign, fought September 18–20, 1863, marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia (Battle of Chickamauga: Homepage). The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. And during the Civil War, only Gettysburg surpassed the carnage and casualties sustained at Chickamauga. (See Bloodiest and Costliest Civil War Battles.)

The Confederate victory at Chickamauga gave new hope to the South after the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July of that year. Later, at Chattanooga (November 23-25), Union forces under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant blasted this hope and prepared the way for the capture of Atlanta and Sherman's "March to the Sea." Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, oldest and largest of the national military parks, commemorates the heroic soldiers of both North and South in the battles for the control of Chattanooga.
 
The battle was fought between the Union Army of the Cumberland under the command of Maj. Gen. William W. Rosecrans, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of Gen. Braxton Bragg, The battle was named for West Chickamauga Creek, which flows into the Tennessee River about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) northeast of downtown Chattanooga.

(L) General Rosecrans (R) General Bragg
General Braxton Bragg William Rosecrans.gif
Opposing Commanding Generals

Meet the opposing commanding generals at the Battle of Chickamauga*

Rosecrans and Bragg were not strangers, because they had been opposing commanding generals at the hotly contested Battle of Stones River.

General Rosecrans
General Rosecrans.jpg
(Arlington National Cemetery)

William Starke Rosecrans (September 6, 1819 – March 11, 1898) was an inventor, coal-oil company executive, diplomat, politician, and United States Army officer. Unable to afford college, Rosecrans decided to apply for an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He interviewed with Congressman Alexander Harper, who had been reserving his appointment for his own son, but was so impressed by Rosecrans that he nominated him instead. Despite his lack of formal education, Rosecrans excelled academically at West Point, particularly in mathematics, but also in French, drawing, and English grammar. It was at the Academy that he received his nickname, "Rosy," or more often, "Old Rosy." He graduated from West Point in 1842, fifth in his class of 56 cadets, which included notable future generals, such as James Longstreet, D.H. Hill, Don Carlos Buell, and Earl Van Dorn. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the prestigious Corps of Engineers, reflecting his high academic achievement. Although most of the officers in his graduating class fought in the Mexican-American War, the War Department retained Rosecrans at West Point. From 1847 through 1853 he served on engineering assignments in Newport, Rhode Island, Bedford, Massachusetts, and (on temporary assignment to the United States Navy) at the Washington Navy Yard. He applied for a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute in 1851, losing the position to fellow West Pointer Thomas J. Jackson.

General William Rosecrans
General Rosecrans Chickamauga.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

Just days after Fort Sumter surrendered, Rosecrans began service as a volunteer aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the general commanding all Ohio volunteer forces at the beginning of the Civil War. Promoted to the rank of colonel, Rosecrans commanded the 23rd Ohio Infantry regiment, whose members included Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, both future presidents. He was promoted to brigadier general on May 16, 1861, in the regular army. He was the victor at prominent Western Theater battles such as Second Corinth, Stones River, and the Tullahoma Campaign, but his military career was effectively ended following his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. On March 13, 1865, Rosecrans was given a brevet promotion to major general in the regular army in gratitude for his actions at Stones River. He was mustered out of the U.S. volunteer service on January 15, 1866, and resigned from the regular army on March 28, 1867. On February 27, 1889, by act of Congress, he was re-appointed a brigadier general in the regular army and was placed on the retired list on March 1, 1889. Rosecrans had been one of the most well-liked generals in the Union Army. From 1868 to 1869, Rosecrans served as U.S. Minister to Mexico. He refused the Democratic nomination for Governor of Ohio in 1869, and returned to private mining business in Mexico and California for ten years. He was elected as a congressman from California, serving from 1881 to 1885, and was appointed as the Register of the Treasury, serving from 1885 to 1893.

Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Fort Bragg, North Carolina.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Braxton Bragg (March 22, 1817 – September 27, 1876) graduated fifth in a class of fifty from the United States Military Academy in 1837 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. Bragg served in the Second Seminole War in Florida and took part in the occupation of Texas. He won promotions for bravery and distinguished conduct in the Mexican-American War, including a brevet promotion to captain for Battle of Fort Brown (May 1846), to major for the Battle of Monterrey (September 1846), and to lieutenant colonel for the Battle of Buena Vista (February 1847). Bragg was also promoted to captain within the regular army in June 1846. His conduct in Mexico had gained the respect of his commander, Gen. Zachary Taylor (future U.S. president); also, he had rescued the troops of Colonel Jefferson Davis (future Confederate president), earning the latter's friendship. Before the Civil War, Bragg was a colonel in the Louisiana Militia and was promoted to major general of the militia on February 20, 1861. He commanded the forces around New Orleans, Louisiana, until April 16, but his commission was transferred to a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army on March 7, 1861. He commanded forces in Pensacola, Florida, and the Department of West Florida and was promoted to major general on September 12, 1861. His command was extended to Alabama, and then to the Army of Pensacola in October 1861. His tenure was successful and he trained his men to be some of the best disciplined troops in the Confederate Army. Bragg brought his forces to Corinth, Mississippi, and was charged with improving the poor discipline of the Confederate troops already assembled. He commanded a corps at the Battle of Shiloh and attacked the Hornet's Nest with piecemeal frontal assaults. After the Confederate commander, General Albert Sidney Johnston, was killed at Shiloh, General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command. On that day, April 6, 1862, Bragg was promoted to general, one of only seven in the history of the Confederacy, and assigned to command the Army of Mississippi. After the war, Bragg served as the superintendent of the New Orleans waterworks and later became the chief engineer for Alabama, supervising harbor improvements at Mobile, and also served as a railroad inspector in Texas.

Winter of 1863

Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Chickamauga.jpg
(Lithograph by Kurz and Allison, 1890)

After the battle of Stones River, or Murfreesboro, Tenn., December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland, Maj. Gen. Rosecrans, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, Gen. Bragg, remained relatively inactive for several months. During this time the Union forces entrenched themselves at Murfreesboro. General Bragg withdrew his forces southward and established his headquarters at Tullahoma. He placed his army in a defensive position to cover the routes, both rail and road, to Chattanooga

Impatient at the inaction, the War Department in Washington urged Rosecrans to move against Bragg's army. Grant, conducting his Vicksburg campaign, wanted pressure applied against Bragg's army to prevent all or part of it from reinforcing the Confederates in Mississippi. At the same time Andrew Johnson, Military Governor of Tennessee, reminded the authorities in Washington of the plight of the East Tennesseans. During this period, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside gathered a Union force and made plans to invade East Tennessee

Rosecrans hesitated to move. His lack of cavalry was a disadvantage in gathering intelligence and prevented him from countering the Confederate cavalry which harassed him constantly. In June, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, general in chief, U. S. Army, wired Rosecrans asking him, "Is it your intention to make an immediate movement forward? A definite answer, yes or no, is required." Rosecrans telegraphed: "In reply to your inquiry, if immediate means tonight or tomorrow, no. If it means as soon as all things are ready, say five days, yes." On June 24, General Rosecrans put his army of some 60,000 men in motion.

Tennessee Civil War Map of Battles
Tennessee Civil War Map of Battles.gif

The Tullahoma Campaign

The Tullahoma Campaign, or Middle Tennessee Campaign, was fought between June 24 and July 3, 1863, during the American Civil War. The Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj. Gen. Rosecrans, outmaneuvered the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Bragg, from a strong defensive position, driving the Confederates from Middle Tennessee and threatening Chattanooga.

The Tullahoma Campaign was arguably Rosecrans's most significant achievement of the war, described by historians as a "brilliant" campaign that achieved significant goals with very few casualties on either side. However, it was overshadowed by contemporaneous Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg and it left his opponent's army essentially intact, which led to Rosecrans's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in September.

The Army of the Cumberland—the Union force—had undergone a reorganization since the Battle of Stones River. It now comprised three corps: The Fourteenth, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas in command; the Twentieth, Maj. Gen. Alexander McD. McCook in command; and the Twenty-first, Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden in command. Maj. Gen. David S. Stanley commanded the Cavalry Corps. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger commanded the Reserve Corps.

Civil War Tullahoma Campaign Map
Tullahoma Campaign Map.jpg
(Tullahoma Campaign Map)

The left wing of General Bragg's defense line was at Shelbyville under Gen. Leonidas Polk and its right wing at Wartrace and Fairfield under Lt. Gen. William Hardee—a line nearly 13 miles long. Two Confederate cavalry corps occupied positions on either flank—that on the right at McMinnville under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, the other on the left at Columbia under Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest. The total strength of the Army of Tennessee was approximately 43,000 men at this time.

The Confederate position was good. The terrain favored a defensive fight. To traverse the Cumberland Plateau the Union Army would have to move along roads that pierced the mountains by way of Hoover's Liberty, and Guy's Gaps. The railroad to Chattanooga and another road passed through Bellbuckle Gap. This latter route and the road by way of Shelbyville were well fortified. Rosecrans resolved to make a feint toward Shelbyville with Granger's Reserve Corps and most of the cavalry while the rest of his army moved toward the Confederate right. After stubborn fights at Hoover's and Liberty Gaps the Confederates withdrew toward Tullahoma. So successful was Rosecrans' flanking movement that Col. John T. Wilder's mounted infantry brigade reached Decherd, on the main line of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, and destroyed the depot and a few hundred yards of track. Although Wilder withdrew when superior Confederate forces appeared, his raid against the railroad was of great importance in forcing Bragg to evacuate Tullahoma.

Rough terrain and bad weather were the worst enemies of the Union Army. Brig. Gen. John Beatty records in his diary that "The road was exceedingly rough, and the rebels had made it impassable, for artillery, by rolling great rocks into it and felling trees across it." He frequently mentions the rain which fell incessantly during the campaign. His entry of July 5 states that "Since we left Murfreesboro (June 24) rain has been falling almost constantly; today it has been coming down in torrents, and the low grounds around us are overflowed." Yet, in spite of mountains and rain and the Confederate Army, Rosecrans, by this series of brilliant flanking maneuvers, forced Bragg to evacuate Tullahoma on July 1 and withdraw toward Chattanooga.

Western Theater Civil War Map
Western Theater Civil War Map.gif
(Civil War and Western Theater Map)

Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee.gif

The Union Army had driven the Confederates out of Middle Tennessee with minimal losses. Union casualties were reported as 569 (83 killed, 473 wounded, and 13 captured or missing). Bragg made no casualty report; his losses, he said, were "trifling." But the Union army captured several hundred Confederates, primarily from Hardee's Corps. As Bragg rode into the Tennessee mountains, he told Bishop Charles Quintard, the chaplain of the 1st Tennessee, that he was "utterly broken down" and that the campaign was "a great disaster".

Rosecrans wrote that "Thus ended a nine days' [Tullahoma] campaign, which drove the enemy from two fortified positions and gave us possession of Middle Tennessee, conducted in one of the most extraordinary rains ever known in Tennessee at that period of the year."

On the Road to Chickamauga

After the Tullahoma Campaign, the two armies adopted their previous policy of remaining stationary. Each began to gather forces and equipment for a future struggle. The Union Army occupied a line from Winchester to McMinnville—the same territory the Confederates had occupied previously—while the Confederate General Bragg established his headquarters at Chattanooga. There the Army of Tennessee strengthened its defensive position and prepared to close the "gate" to further advances of the Army of the Cumberland.

During July and August, Halleck again urged Rosecrans to move against Bragg's forces, but Rosecrans failed to budge. In the latter's judgment, three things were needed to insure a successful campaign. The first was ripe corn which would not be ready until August; the second was the repair of the railroad to the Tennessee River; and the third was support for his flanks. In spite of the constant flow of dispatches from Halleck to Rosecrans, it was not until August 16 that he began his movement southward to cross the river.

Pontoon Bridge across Tennessee River.jpg

(Union troops constructing a pontoon bridge across the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, Ala. Ruins of Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad Bridge shown. Photograph Courtesy Library of Congress.)

Recommended Viewing: The Battle of Chickamauga (DVD) (Special Widescreen Edition). Description: WINNER OF THE 2008 SILVER TELLY AWARD, The Top Prize At The Ceremony! The Battle of Chickamauga proved to be one of the fiercest engagements of the American Civil War. Over a period of two days in September 1863, more than 100,000 men struggled for control of the south's most strategic transportation hub, the city of Chattanooga. Along the hills and valleys surrounding the Chickamauga Creek, over 34,000 casualties would be suffered, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee would achieve their last, great victory. Only one battle would surpass the bloodshed and carnage of bloodyChickamauga  Gettysburg. Continued below…

Shot on location using High Definition cameras, this 70-minute documentary film dramatically recreates the battle by including more than 50 fully animated maps, period photographs, historical documents, and reenactors. This Special Edition DVD also contains over 30 minutes of bonus features, including an in-depth tour of theChickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park's very own Fuller Gun Collection. Absolutely a must have for the Civil War buff. FIVE STARS by americancivilwarhistory.org

Chickamauga Campaign Map
Chickamauga Campaign Map.jpg
(Battle of Chickamauga Map)

(Initial movements in the Chickamauga Campaign, August 15 – September 8, 1863.)

As Rosecrans moved toward the Tennessee River and Chattanooga, another Union army under command of General Burnside entered east Tennessee to threaten Knoxville. General Bragg, supposing that the two armies would join forces to attack him, made urgent appeals for help. Though the shortage of manpower at this time was a major problem of the Confederacy, troops were sent hurrying to Bragg from several directions.

East Tennessee
East Tennessee.gif

Rosecrans' strategy, after viewing several possibilities, was to cross the river below Chattanooga, turn the Confederate left and interrupt his opponent's communications and supply line from Atlanta. This movement if successful would effectively cut all railroad lines to Chattanooga, and Bragg would find himself shut in between Burnside on the north and east and Rosecrans on the west and south. To deceive Bragg as to the point of crossing the Tennessee River, Rosecrans sent Hazen's and Wagner's infantry brigades, Wilder's mounted infantry, and Minty's cavalry, all under the command of Brig. Gen. William B. Hazen, to make a feint at the river north of the town and to annoy the enemy as much as possible.

The ruse was successful, and so thoroughly was Bragg deceived into thinking the attack would come from upstream on the north side of the Tennessee, he left the crossings below Chattanooga practically unguarded. Rosecrans with the bulk of his army then crossed the river in the vicinity of Bridgeport and Caperton's Ferry, Ala., and Shellmound, Tenn. By September 4, the Army of the Cumberland, thus meeting little opposition, was safely across a great barrier and was threatening Bragg from new positions.

When Bragg learned that the Union Army had crossed the Tennessee below Chattanooga and was threatening his supply lines, he decided after much deliberation to abandon his position and retreat southward.

Once the Union Army had crossed the river, Thomas' corps marched toward Trenton, Ga.; McCook's took the road to Alpine, Ga.; and Crittenden moved toward Chattanooga. On the 9th of September, Rosecrans, believing the Confederates to be in full retreat, ordered McCook to press forward toward Alpine, covered by the cavalry, and make attempts to cut Bragg off; Crittenden to garrison Chattanooga with one brigade and pursue Bragg by way of the Ringgold Road with the rest of his force; and Thomas to continue toward Trenton.

Union advance from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga
Union advance from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga.jpg
(Murfreesboro and Chattanooga Map)

In order to understand the importance of the movements of both commanding generals, the geography of the country must be considered. When the Union commanders climbed to the top of the Lookout Mountain range and viewed the country, they began to have misgivings about their divided army. Thomas and McCook, 20 and 40 miles southwest of Chattanooga, respectively, found themselves on a mountain ribbed by ridges and hills, more than 1,000 feet above the valley floor. The few roads which ran over the mountain were narrow, rough, stony, and unusually steep.

Thomas, looking to the east, saw Pigeon Mountain, a spur that juts off Lookout Mountain and veers in a northeastwardly direction. The acute angle of these diverging mountains forms McLemore's Cove. Running into this cove from the northeast and ending there is the southern extremity of Missionary Ridge which begins immediately east of Chattanooga. Here, also, originates Chickamauga Creek which gave the ensuing battle its name.

As the two Union corps moved eastward they found the country sparsely populated. There were a few farms, but most of the land was covered with cedar thickets and tangled undergrowth. The roads connecting farm and village were dry and dusty.

The Union Army was now split into three distinct columns with its flanks more than 40 miles apart. In mountainous terrain, this made it impossible for them to support one another. In the period September 10—12, corps commanders began to receive reports that a large Confederate force was at LaFayette, Ga. It was Bragg's army. He had not retreated as far south as Rosecrans had thought—he had stopped at LaFayette behind Pigeon Mountain. There he concentrated his army and awaited reinforcements.

Wooden Railroad Trestle at Cumberland Georgia.jpg

(Wooden railroad trestle at Cumberland Ravine, Ga., erected by Union Army to replace bridge destroyed by Confederates. Photo Courtesy National Archives.)

Reinforcements for General Bragg

General Bragg had purposely given the impression that his army was disorganized and in full flight before Rosecrans. Actually, however, he was not running away but was quietly preparing for battle and gathering strength as reinforcements began to reach him. Realizing that Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner's Corps could not defend Knoxville from Burnside, and having no troops to spare for reinforcements, Bragg ordered Buckner to rejoin the Army of Tennessee. Buckner's Corps of 8,000 men joined Bragg about the time the latter evacuated Chattanooga. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston from his army in Mississippi sent two divisions (about 9,000 men), under command of Major Generals John C. Breckinridge and W. H. T. Walker. A little later at Bragg's insistence Johnston sent two brigades, under command of Brigadier Generals John Gregg and Evander McNair. These brigades added 2,500 more troops to Bragg's Army. 

About this same time preparations were under way to reinforce General Bragg further with Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's corps from the Army of Northern Virginia. 

The movement of Longstreet's troops from Virginia to reinforce General Bragg in Georgia was an outstanding logistical achievement for the Confederacy. Even though by this time railroads had become an important factor in the strategy of war, no major troop movement involving so many lines over such a long distance had yet been attempted. It also shows the great concern the Southern War Department felt for the approaching battle.

Map reflecting route of Reinforcements for Bragg
Reinforcements for General Bragg.jpg
(Confederate reinforcements for Bragg)

From the Army of Northern Virginia to General Bragg's forces in Georgia was a distance of some 900 miles by railroad lines through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. It was necessary for the troops to take this longer and roundabout route of reaching General Bragg because General Burnside had cut the railroad line by way of Knoxville.

By the summer of 1863 the railroads in the Confederacy were in very poor condition, for it had been extremely difficult to replace rails and rolling stock as the war continued. For the most part, the lines were comparatively short; were not connected at many points; lacked bridges across some of the major rivers; and like railroads everywhere, had different gauges. Sixteen different railroad lines were involved in the transfer as all parallel routes and all types of rolling stock were pressed into service.

In spite of all these difficulties, however, the movement was attended with dispatch and secrecy. Leaving the vicinity of Orange Courthouse, Va., on or about September 9, the advance brigades of Longstreet's Corps were joining General Bragg 9 days later. Mrs. Mary B. Chestnut recorded in her diary what she saw of this troop movement:

"At Kingsville (S.C.) on my way to Camden, I caught a glimpse of Longstreet's Corps going past . . . It was a strange sight. What seemed miles of platform cars, and soldiers rolled in their blankets lying in rows with their heads all covered, fast asleep. In their grey blankets packed in regular order, they looked like swathed mummies. One man nearby was writing on his knee. He used his cap for a desk, and he was seated on a rail."

Information on the details of the movement, of the delays, the hazards encountered, as well as the number of men, animals, and artillery transported is difficult to find. A fair estimate of the number of troops is 15,000.

Only part of the infantry troops, and none of the artillery, arrived in time to participate in the Battle of Chickamauga; Longstreet himself was not present for the first day's fighting but three of his brigades were. The five brigades (about 9,000 men) which took part in the second day of battle became heroes along with their commander when they broke through the Union line.

Longstreet's Soldiers.jpg

(Longstreet's soldiers disembarking from a train below Ringgold, Ga., September 18, 1863. From there they marched into battle at Chickamauga. A. R. Waud wartime sketch. From Battlefields in Dixie Land and Chickamauga National Military Park.)

Recommended Reading: This Terrible Sound: THE BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA (Civil War Trilogy) (Hardcover) (688 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Description: Peter Cozzens is one of those amazing writers that brings you onto the field and allows you to experience the campaign. You advance with Cleburne's Division as it moves through the dusk shrouded woods and your pulse races as you envision Gen. Lytle's command trying to decide whether to save their dying commander or flee as the Rebs pound up that smoke-filled hill. Continued below...

This account of the Battle of Chickamauga is first rate and thrilling. The profusion of regimental and brigade disposition maps are particularly useful for any serious visit to the battlefield. There are some intriguing ideas introduced as well. Forrest's role in the early stages of the battle is fascinating to read and to contemplate. Also revealing are the ammunition problems that plagued the mounted units; a problem that would hinder Forrest's command at Spring Hill a year later.

Maneuver for Position

Bragg was aware of the isolated positions of the Union Army, and he saw an opportunity to strike his opponent in detail, one corps at a time, while they were not in supporting distance of each other. He issued orders to Maj. Gen. T. C. Hindman and Lt. Gen. D. H. Hill to strike Maj. Gen. James S. Negley's division of Thomas' corps, which was in an advanced position at McLemore's Cove, but Hill failed to carry out his order. Bragg ordered Buckner to join Hindman which he did on September 10. Instead of attacking Negley, the two Confederate commanders decided that a different plan was needed for the situation and sent their recommendation to Bragg. While this correspondence passed back and forth, Negley withdrew and rejoined the rest of Thomas' corps. The Confederates had now lost their opportunity to strike and possibly destroy this division.

Two days later a similar situation arose with the same result—loss of the opportunity to strike another corps in detail. This time Bragg ordered Polk to move his and Walker's corps to Lee and Gordon's Mills to strike Union General Crittenden's divided force. Two of Crittenden's divisions had marched toward Ringgold; one had moved to Lee and Gordon's Mills. Polk, instead of attacking, went on the defensive and asked for reinforcements. For the second time in 3 days, subordinate Confederate commanders allowed a Union corps to regroup.

Rosecrans now realized Bragg had concentrated and reinforced his army, and that his own force was in danger of annihilation in its divided condition. Accordingly he ordered General Granger, commanding the Reserve Corps in the vicinity of Bridgeport, Ala., to Chattanooga; General Crittenden to position at Lee and Gordon's Mills on Chickamauga Creek, some 12 miles south of Chattanooga; and General Thomas to move northward toward Crittenden as soon as he was joined by General McCook's Corps, which had been commanded to make haste in joining the other corps.

Georgia Civil War Map of Battles
Georgia Civil War Map of Battles.gif

In the hurried concentration of the Army of the Cumberland, McCook withdrew from Alpine and chose to retrace his way by crossing over Lookout Mountain, thence up Lookout Valley where he had to recross the mountain to join General Thomas. It took McCook approximately 5 days (September 13 to 17) to complete this movement, greatly to the consternation of Rosecrans who had expected McCook to follow the shorter route on top of Lookout Mountain or roads through McLemore's Cove. Some of the troops, however, such as the Second Division, did forced marches in some instances of 25 miles in a day.

Bragg made no effort to prevent this concentration of the Union forces, and during the night of September 17 the three corps were within supporting distance of each other. The Union left was at Lee and Gordon's Mills, and from there the line extended west and south through McLemore's Cove to Stevens Gap through Lookout Mountain

The First Gun at Chickamauga.jpg

("The First Gun at Chickamauga." Confederates open fire on Union cavalry at Reed's Bridge. A. R. Waud wartime sketch. From Brown, The Mountain Campaign in Georgia.)

Chafing over the failure of his subordinate commanders to strike the divided units of Rosecrans' army and wishing to seize the initiative, General Bragg had his troops do an "about face." Turning northward, he planned an all-out attack on General Crittenden who had been following in his rear since the evacuation of Chattanooga and was now at Lee and Gordon's Mills. General Bragg moved his troops northward on the east side of the Chickamauga Creek. His plan was to cross the Chickamauga north of Lee and Gordon's Mills, seize the roads leading to Chattanooga, bear down on Crittenden, and crush this corps or drive it back into the Union center in McLemore's Cove. By turning the Union left in this manner, he hoped to force Rosecrans back into the mountains and to reoccupy Chattanooga.

Maj. Gen. John B. Hood (Longstreet's Corps) and Brig. Gen. Bushrod Johnson's troops were to cross at Reeds Bridge and turn left; Walker's Corps to cross at Alexander's Bridge; Buckner to cross at Tedford's Ford; Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk's Corps to cross at Lee and Gordon's Mills; and Hill's Corps to cover the Confederate left.

Bragg did not seem to suspect that Rosecrans had guessed his intentions, and was hurriedly moving to support Crittenden and deploying his troops so as to protect the roads to Chattanooga.

Battle of Chattanooga and Chickamauga Map
Battle of Chattanooga and Chickamauga Map.jpg
(Chickamauga Battlefield Map)

Battle of Chickamauga: September 18, 1863

On the morning of the 18th the three advanced brigades of Longstreet's Corps from Virginia arrived at Ringgold. One brigade immediately joined Bushrod Johnson's division as it prepared to cross Chickamauga Creek at Reed's Bridge. Union cavalry under Col. Robert H. G. Minty and mounted infantry under command of Col. John T. Wilder, guarding the bridges, offered stout resistance and delayed the crossing of the southern troops for several hours. During the skirmishing, Minty's men dismantled Alexander's Bridge and forced Walker to proceed to Lambert's Ford, a half-mile downstream. The Confederates used other fords and crossings throughout the late afternoon and night as all of Bragg's forces, except three divisions, crossed to the west side of Chickamauga Creek.

The Union forces were not idle, and during the night Rosecrans moved Thomas' corps northeastward above and back of Crittenden, so that Bragg would not outflank the Federal line. Negley's Division remained near Crawfish Springs (now Chickamauga), Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds' Division near Widow Glenn's, and Brigadier Generals Absalom Baird's and John M. Brannan's Divisions covered the roads leading to Reed's and Alexander's Bridges. General McCook's Corps moved to position in McLemore's Cove.

The situation at dawn on the 19th found the two armies facing each other over a stretch of several miles along the banks of the Chickamauga. Rosecrans had been able in a short rime to maneuver the Army of the Cumberland into position so that it interposed between Bragg and Chattanooga. His Reserve Corps under General Granger was at McAfee's Church, near Rossville. Thomas' Fourteenth Army Corps composed the Union's left a few miles south of Granger, and formed a southwesterly line to Crawfish Spring where it joined McCook, forming the right in McLemore's Cove. Crittenden's Twenty-First Army Corps remained concentrated at Lee and Gordon's Mills, somewhat in front of the other two corps, to protect the Union center.

 

TABLE 1.—Union Army at Chickamauga

Army of the Cumberland—MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM S. ROSECRANS

Fourteenth Army Corps——MAJ. GEN. GEORGE H. THOMAS
     1st Division—Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird
     2d Division—Maj. Gen. James S. Negley
     3d Division—Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan
     4th Division—Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds

Twentieth Army Corps—Maj. GEN. ALEXANDER McD. McCOOK
     1st Division—Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis
     2d Division—Brig. Gen. Richard W. Johnson
     3d Division—Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan

Twenty-first Army Corps—MAJ. GEN. THOMAS L. CRITTENDEN
     1st Division—Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood
     2d Division—Maj. Gen. John M. Palmer
     3d Division—Brig. Gen. H. P. Van Cleve

Reserve Corps—MAJ. GEN. GORDON GRANGER
     1st Division—Brig. Gen. James B. Steedman
     2d Division—Col. Daniel McCook

Cavalry Corps—BRIG. GEN. ROBERT B. MITCHELL
     1st Division Col. Edward M. McCook
     2d Division—Brig. Gen. George Crook

TABLE 2.—Confederate Army at Chickamauga

Army of Tennessee—GEN. BRAXTON BRAGG1

Right Wing—LT. GEN. LEONIDAS POLK

     Cheatham's Division—MAJ. GEN. B. F. CHEATHAM

     Hill's Corps—LT. GEN. DANIEL H. HILL
          Cleburne's Division—Maj. Gen. P. R. Cleburne
          Breckinridge's Division—Maj. Gen. J. C. Breckinridge

     Reserve Corps MAJ. GEN. W. H. T. WALKER
          Walker's Division—Brig. Gen. S. R. Gist
          Liddell's Division—Brig. Gen. Sr. John R. Liddell

Left Wing—LT. GEN. JAMES LONGSTREET

     Hindman's Division—Maj. GEN. T. C. HINDMAN

     Buckner's Corps—Maj. GEN. SIMON B. BUCKNER
          Stewart's Division—Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart
          Preston's Division—Brig. Gen. William Preston
          Johnson's Division—Brig. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson

     Longstreet's Corps—MAJ. GEN. JOHN B. HOOD
          McLaw's Division—Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw
          Hood's Division—Maj. Gen. John B. Hood,
                    Brig. Gen. E. McIver Law

     Corps Artillery2—COL. E. PORTER ALEXANDER

     Reserve Artillery, Army of Tennessee—MAJ. FELIX H. ROBERTSON

     Cavalry—MAJ. GEN. JOSEPH WHEELER
          Wharton's Division—Brig. Gen. John A. Wharton
          Martin's Division—Brig. Gen. William T. Martin
          Forrest's Corps—Brig. Gen. N. B. Forrest
          Armstrong's Division— Brig. Gen. Frank C. Armstrong
          Pegram's Division—Brig. Gen. John Pegram

1 General Bragg's army was composed of Polk's, Hill's, Buckner's, Longstreet's (Hood's), and Walker's (Reserve) Corps of infantry, and Wheeler's and Forrest's Corps of cavalry. For the second day's fight the army was divided into two wings, General Polk commanding the right and General Longstreet the left.

2 In transit, did not take part in the battle.

Bragg's Army of Tennessee, except three divisions was concentrated on the west side of the Chickamauga from Reeds Bridge almost to Dalton's Ford, near Lee and Gordon's Mills. The divisions had been shuffled around during the night, and remained so for the first day's battle. Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry held the right flank at Reeds Bridge; then, in succession toward the left (south), were Walker's Corps; Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham's Division (Polk's Corps); Longstreet's Corps (under Maj. Gen. John B. Hood); and Buckner's Corps. On the east side of the stream and forming the right were Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne's Division (Hill's Corps), preparing to cross at Tedford's Ford; Maj. Gen. T. C. Hindman's Division (Polk's Corps) opposite Lee and Gordon's Mills; and Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge's Division (Hill's Corps) forming the extreme left opposite Glass' Mill. Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, stationed at the upper fords of the Chickamauga, held the left flank.

Neither army knew the exact position of the other as they maneuvered for position during the night. The densely wooded area, covered with tangled undergrowth, brambles and cedar thickets, prevented easy movement or good observation, and many of the officers had difficulty keeping in touch with their own commands.

The armies were so close to each other, in some instances only a few hundred yards apart, that it was inevitable a clash would soon take place, but at what point no one could say.

Chickamauga Battlefield Map
Chickamauga Battlefield Map.gif
Civil War Chickamauga Map

Recommended Reading: Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns (Great Campaigns of the Civil War). Description: When Vicksburg fell to Union forces under General Grant in July 1863, the balance turned against the Confederacy in the trans-Appalachian theater. The Federal success along the river opened the way for advances into central and eastern Tennessee, which culminated in the bloody battle of Chickamauga and then a struggle for Chattanooga. Continued below...

Chickamauga is usually counted as a Confederate victory, albeit a costly one. That battle—indeed the entire campaign—is marked by muddle and blunders occasionally relieved by strokes of brilliant generalship and high courage. The campaign ended significant Confederate presence in Tennessee and left the Union poised to advance upon Atlanta and the Confederacy on the brink of defeat in the western theater.

Confederate line of battle in chickamauga.jpg

(Artist sketch showing Confederate line of battle in woods at Chickamauga. From Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.)

Battle of Chickamauga: September 19, 1863

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas
Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas.jpg
(Courtesy National Archives)

Early in the morning of September 19, Thomas ordered Brannan forward to reconnoiter the Confederate forces which had crossed the Chickamauga. In this manner, Col. John T. Croxton's brigade of infantry accidentally ran into some of Forrest's cavalry, which were dismounted and serving as infantry, at Jay's Mill near Reed's Bridge. And so the battle began.
 
Croxton drove Forrest back, but reinforcements hurried to the latter forced Croxton to give ground. Suddenly the commanding generals realized that a major conflict was upon them, and they hurriedly sent troops into the fight as first one side and then the other gained the upper hand. Rosecrans, by rapid and forced marches, brought up his troops from Crawfish Springs. Bragg ordered his left wing divisions to cross to the west side of the Chickamauga. By mid-afternoon major fighting had spread along a jagged line some 3 miles in length. All the Union divisions, with the exception of Granger's reserve force, became involved. The Confederate troops were also largely engaged, except Hindman and Breckinridge who crossed over during the late afternoon and night.

Battle of Chickamauga Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

(Left) Map of Union and Confederate Battlefield Positions at Battle of Chickamauga from Dawn to Noon on September 19. Courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust

When the battle ended for the day, little progress could be shown by either side. The fighting had been furious and without much plan. Bragg's troops had reached the LaFayette-Chattanooga Road but were not able to hold the position. Neither side could claim a victory. Bragg had failed to crush the Union left, and Rosecrans remained in possession of the roads to Chattanooga. The losses on both sides were heavy.

As night fell and darkness settled over the battlefield the fighting stopped, but there was little rest for the weary soldiers. Rosecrans brought the Army of the Cumberland into a more compact defensive line; Thomas' Corps, heavily reinforced, formed the left in a bulge east of the LaFayette Road at Kelly's Field.

Chickamauga Battle Map
Civil War Battle of Chickamauga Map.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

(Right) Map of Union and Confederate Battlefield Positions at Battle of Chickamauga from 1 P.M. to Dusk on September 19. Courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust

Throughout the night the Confederates heard the ring of axes as the Union troops cut trees and logs to form breastworks. McCook's Corps in the center faced LaFayette Road; Crittenden's Corps on the right was a little withdrawn west of the road.

During the night, Longstreet arrived with two more brigades ready for action. Bragg then decided to form the Army of Tennessee into two wings for offensive action the next day. He placed General Polk in command of the right wing and General Longstreet the left. The Confederate Army, facing west between Chickamauga Creek and the LaFayette Road formed a line more or less parallel with the road.

Battle of Chickamauga: September 20, 1863

Longstreet and Polk.gif

General Bragg issued orders to his subordinates to resume the battle at daybreak. On the Confederate right Breckinridge's Division was to begin the attack which would be taken up by successive divisions to the left. Sunday morning came. Daylight began to creep over the battlefield. The sun rose, but no attack came. Bragg waited impatiently. Finally, the orders reached Hill at 7:30 a.m. Further delay followed as the troops moved into position. About 9:30 a.m. Breckinridge advanced to attack, followed by Cleburne. The extreme left of the Union line fell back, but the fire from the Union breastworks halted further Confederate advance. Reinforcements hurried to Thomas. In further fighting at this part of the line neither side made any considerable gain, as Rosecrans sought to hold his left against Polk's furious attacks. Almost equally matched, neither Thomas nor Polk could show any appreciable gains throughout the morning. About 11 o'clock a lull occurred as Longstreet's wing prepared to move against the center in Bragg's plan of attack.

Chickamauga Civil War Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

(Right) Map of Union and Confederate Battlefield Positions at Battle of Chickamauga from Dawn to 11:30 A.M. on September 20. Courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust

The Union center at which Longstreet pointed his attack was held by Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood's Division which had replaced Negley's Division in the line when the latter had reinforced Thomas early in the morning. To the immediate left of Wood were the troops of Brannan's Division, and on Brannan's left, Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds' Division.

An hour before noon as the Confederate right wing poised to strike, an irreparable blunder occurred on the Union side. A staff officer riding from Thomas' headquarters near Kelly Field reported to Rosecrans that he had noticed Brannan's Division was out of line and believed "General Reynolds' right was exposed." Rosecrans, without further investigation, immediately ordered Wood to "close up on Reynolds as fast as possible and support him." In order to do this, Wood had to pull his division out of line and march behind Brannan's Division toward Reynolds. Wood's division had left its place in the line, creating a true gap where none had actually existed before, and had started to march northward behind Brannan when Longstreet's column of five divisions accidentally struck into the gap.

Battle and Battlefield of Chickamauga Map
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(Chickamauga Battlefield Positions)

Chickamauga Battlefield Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

(Left) Map of Union and Confederate Battlefield Positions at Battle of Chickamauga from 11:30 A.M. to Noon on September 20. Courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust.

Longstreet's attack hit Wood's and Brannan's Divisions on their exposed flank and drove them from the immediate field of battle. On the other side of the gap the Confederates struck Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis' Division, which was marching up to take Wood's place in the line, and Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's Division in flank. In a very short time the entire Union right flank was in disorder and driven from the field. Wilder's brigade on the extreme right made a valiant stand for a while, employing to good effect the heavy fire power of the Spencer repeating carbine with which it was armed. Nothing, however, seemed to daunt the onrush of the Confederates, and Wilder withdrew for fear of being cut off from escape.

The routed divisions from the Union right withdrew northwestward through McFarland's Gap to Rossville. Generals Rosecrans, Crittenden, and McCook were caught in the breakthrough and fled the field. General Thomas was now in command of the Union forces left there.

The altered conditions of the battlefield now dictated a change in Confederate strategy. The original plan of enveloping the Union left changed to a sweep from the Union right to the left. A pause in the fighting enabled Thomas to form a new line quickly to his rear on Snodgrass Hill, almost at a right angle with the Union left. From this vantage point he met the onslaught of Longstreet's troops with such stubborn and determined resistance on that Sunday afternoon that he earned the name "Rock of Chickamauga."

The Union line on Snodgrass Hill was composed of Brannan's Division with fragments of Wood's, Negley's and Van Cleve's Divisions. Longstreet vigorously assaulted the line again and again and nearly succeeded in enveloping Brannan's right. Confederate success seemed assured as Thomas' troops were hard hit and were short of ammunition, but at this moment unexpected reinforcements reached General Thomas.

General Granger, without orders and following the sound of battle, had hastened to the aid of Thomas. He arrived at Snodgrass Hill at a very opportune moment and just in time to stop the Confederates from enveloping Brannan's right. A fierce engagement took place as Brig. Gen. James B. Steedman's Division of Granger's Corps forced the southern troops from the crest of the hill.

Battle of Chickamauga Scene.jpg

(The Battle of Chickamauga. Scene from diorama in the Museum, Park Headquarters Building.)

Chickamauga Battle Map
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(Click to Enlarge)

(Right) Map of Union and Confederate Battlefield Positions at Battle of Chickamauga from 1 P.M. to Dusk on September 20. Courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust.

Midafternoon found Longstreet once again attempting to wrest the hill from Thomas' troops, using McLaw's, Hindman's, and Bushrod Johnson's Divisions, and again he was repulsed. Later in the afternoon, Longstreet asked Bragg for reinforcements but was told none were available and that the right wing "had been beaten back so badly that they could be of no service" to him. Longstreet determined to make one more effort. He formed a column of such troops as were available and again assaulted the hill. The fight was desperate and lasted until nightfall. The Union troops repulsed some of the Confederate charges with the bayonet as their ammunition was nearly exhausted. Finally, Longstreet pushed Steedman back to the next ridge and occupied the ground to the right of Brannan.

The left of the Union line around Kelly Field spent a relatively quiet afternoon compared to their comrades on Snodgrass Hill. However, a bout 4 p.m., the divisions of Hill's corps and part of Walker's again assaulted the Union positions there. By 6 p.m., Cheatham's Division had joined the attack. This attack succeeded in enveloping the Union left, and the road to Rossville, through Rossville Gap, was cut off for the moment.

In the meantime, Thomas received orders from Rosecrans to "Assume command of all the forces, and with Crittenden and McCook take a strong position and assume a threatening attitude at Rossville." Although Thomas received these orders with little delay, it was late afternoon before he sent instructions to Reynolds to begin the withdrawal and move into position to cover the retirement of the other troops on the left. In executing this movement, Reynolds was forced to drive off the Confederate troops who had begun to envelop the Union left. The Union army withdrew in relatively good order. The troops holding Kelly Field moved out first, followed by those who had stubbornly resisted Longstreet's attacks upon Snodgrass Hill.

Headquarters Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger.jpg

(Headquarters, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, Reserve Corps, Army of the Cumberland, at Rossville Gap. The house was built by John Ross, Cherokee Indian Chief who lived in it until 1832. Ross gave his name to the village in the gap. From Elson, The Civil War Through the Camera.)

While the retreat from the battlelines may have been in "good order," General Beatty's description of the march to Rossville amply describes the scene: "The march to Rossville was a melancholy one. All along the road, for miles, wounded men were lying. They had crawled or hobbled slowly away from the fury of the battle, become exhausted, and lain down by the roadside to die." Beatty reached Rossville between "ten and eleven" and reported, "At this hour of the night (eleven to twelve o'clock) the army is simply a mob. There appears to be neither organization nor discipline. The various commands are mixed up in what seems to be inextricable confusion."

Nevertheless, Thomas placed his forces at Rossville Gap and along Missionary Ridge in preparation against further attacks. The morning of the 21st found the Union Army of the Cumberland more or less reorganized. With the exception of some skirmishing, the Union forces were not molested.

The losses on both sides were appalling and the percentages surprisingly equal. The following tabulation of casualties at the Battle of Chickamauga is based on Thomas L. Livermore's Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America, 1861—65:

Army Total
Strength
Total
Casualties
Killed Wounded Missing Percent
Casualties
Union 58,222 16,170 1,657 9,756 4,757 28
Confederate 66,326 18,454 2,312 14,674 1,468 28

Wartime view Chickamauga Battlefield.jpg

(Wartime view photograph, Lee and Gordon's Mills, Chickamauga Battlefield. Courtesy National Archives.)

Aftermath

Chickamauga Battlefield Map
Chickamauga Battlefield Map.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

Thomas withdrew the remainder of his units to positions around Rossville Gap after darkness fell. His personal determination to maintain the Union position until ordered to withdraw, while his commander and peers fled, earned him the nickname Rock of Chickamauga, derived from a portion of a message that Garfield sent to Rosecrans, "Thomas is standing like a rock." Garfield met Thomas in Rossville that night and wired to Rosecrans that "our men not only held their ground, but in many points drove the enemy splendidly. Longstreet's Virginians have got their bellies full." Although he admitted that the troops were tired and hungry and nearly out of ammunition, he added "I believe we can whip them tomorrow. I believe we can now crown the whole battle with victory." He urged Rosecrans to rejoin the army and lead it, but Rosecrans, physically exhausted and psychologically a beaten man, remained in Chattanooga. President Lincoln attempted to prop up the morale of his general, telegraphing "Be of good cheer. ... We have unabated confidence in you and your soldiers and officers. In the main, you must be the judge as to what is to be done. If I was to suggest, I would say save your army by taking strong positions until Burnside joins you." Privately, Lincoln told John Hay that Rosecrans seemed "confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head."

The Army of Tennessee camped for the night, unaware that the Union army had slipped from their grasp. Bragg was not able to mount the kind of pursuit that would have been necessary to cause Rosecrans significant further damage. Many of his troops had arrived hurriedly at Chickamauga by rail, without wagons to transport them and many of the artillery horses had been injured or killed during the battle. Furthermore, the Tennessee River was now an obstacle to the Confederates and Bragg had no pontoon bridges to effect a crossing. Bragg's army paused at Chickamauga to reorganize and gather equipment lost by the Union army. Although Rosecrans had been able to save most of his trains, large quantities of ammunition and arms had been left behind. Army of Tennessee historian Thomas L. Connelly has criticized Bragg's performance, claiming that for over four hours on the afternoon of September 20, he missed several good opportunities to prevent the Federal escape, such as by a pursuit up the Dry Valley Road to McFarland's Gap, or by moving a division, such as Cheatham's, around Polk to the north to seize the Rossville Gap or McFarland's Gap via the Reed's Bridge Road. 

Battle of Chickamauga
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(Historical Marker)

The battle was damaging to both sides in proportions roughly equal to the size of the armies: Union losses were 16,170 (1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded, and 4,757 captured or missing); Confederate 18,454 (2,312 killed, 14,674 wounded, and 1,468 captured or missing). These were the highest losses of any battle in the Western Theater during the war and, after Gettysburg, the second highest of the war overall. Although the Confederates were technically the victors, driving Rosecrans from the field, Bragg had not achieved his objective of destroying Rosecrans, nor of restoring Confederate control of East Tennessee.

 

On September 21, Rosecrans's army withdrew to the city of Chattanooga and took advantage of previous Confederate works to erect strong defensive positions. However, the supply lines into Chattanooga were at risk and the Confederates soon occupied the surrounding heights and laid siege upon the Union forces. Unable to break the siege, Rosecrans was relieved of his command of the Army of the Cumberland on October 19, replaced by Thomas. McCook and Crittenden lost their commands on September 28 as the XX Corps and the XXI Corps were consolidated into a new IV Corps commanded by Granger; neither officer would ever command in the field again. On the Confederate side, Bragg began to wage a battle against the subordinates he resented for failing him in the campaign—Hindman for his lack of action in McLemore's Cove, and Polk for his late attack on September 20. On September 29, Bragg suspended both officers from their commands. In early October, an attempted mutiny of Bragg's subordinates resulted in D.H. Hill being relieved from his command. Longstreet was dispatched with his corps to the Knoxville Campaign against Ambrose Burnside, seriously weakening Bragg's army at Chattanooga.

 

"It seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga. ... He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope. That 'barren victory' sealed the fate of the Confederacy."—Confederate Lt. Gen. D.H. Hill

Chickamauga & Chattanooga
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(National Military Park)

The Chickamauga Campaign was followed by the Battles for Chattanooga, sometimes called the Chattanooga Campaign, including the reopening of supply lines and the Battles of Lookout Mountain (November 23) and Missionary Ridge, (November 25). Relief forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant broke Bragg's grip on the city, sent the Army of Tennessee into retreat, and opened the gateway to the Deep South for Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

 

Much of the central Chickamauga battlefield is preserved by the National Park Service as part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. See also Georgia Civil War History.

*General Rosecrans, General Bragg, and Chickamauga

General Braxton Bragg
General Braxton Bragg.jpg
(March 22, 1817 - September 27, 1876)

BRAGG AND CHICKAMAUGA

After William S. Rosecrans had consolidated his gains and secured his hold on Chattanooga, he began moving his army into northern Georgia against Bragg's army. Bragg began to suffer from inattention to his orders on the part of his subordinates. On September 10, Major Generals Thomas C. Hindman and D.H. Hill refused to attack the outnumbered Federal column, under the command of Brigadier General James S. Negley, as ordered. On September 13, Bragg ordered Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk (an ordained priest and later killed during Atlanta Campaign) to attack Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden's corps, but Polk ignored the orders and demanded more troops, insisting that it was he who was about to be attacked. Rosecrans used the time lost in these delays to collect his scattered forces. Finally, on September 19 and September 20, 1863, Bragg, reinforced by two divisions from Mississippi, one division and several brigades from the Department of East Tennessee, and two divisions under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet from Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, pursued Rosecrans in northeastern Georgia and at high cost defeated him at the Battle of Chickamauga, the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater during the war. After the battle, Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Bragg laid siege to the city. He chose to use the victory to rid himself of his enemies within the army and managed to get Polk and D.H. Hill transferred. Bragg blamed Polk for the numerous occasions on which he disobeyed instructions. Hill, one of the many generals who were allies of Polk, spoke critically against Bragg. Jefferson Davis, consequently, removed him from command and canceled his endorsement of Hill's promotion to lieutenant general. Situations heated to a boil in the Confederate high command in the aftermath of Chickamauga. Some of Bragg's subordinate generals were frustrated at what they perceived to be his lack of willingness to exploit the victory by driving the Union Army from Chattanooga and then pursuing and destroying it. Polk in particular was outraged at being relieved of command. The dissidents, including many of the division and corps commanders, met in secret and prepared a petition to the president. Although the author of the petition is not known, historians suspect it was Simon Buckner, whose signature was first on the list. James Longstreet wrote to the Secretary of War with the prediction that "nothing but the hand of God can save us or help us as long as we have our present commander." Nathan Bedford Forrest, dissatisfied after a long association with Bragg, and bitter about his failure to pursue the defeated Union forces after Chickamauga, refused to serve under him again. He told Bragg to his face, "You have played the part of a damned scoundrel. ... If you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life!" With the Army of Tennessee literally on the verge of mutiny, Jefferson Davis reluctantly traveled to Chattanooga to personally assess the situation and to try to stem the tide of dissent in the army. Although Bragg offered to resign to resolve the crisis, Davis eventually decided to leave Bragg in command and denounced the other generals and termed their complaints "shafts of malice".

General William S. Roscrans
General William S. Roscrans.jpg
(September 6, 1819 - March 11, 1898)

ROSCRANS AND CHICKAMAUGA

Rosecrans did not immediately pursue Bragg and "give the finishing blow to the rebellion" as Stanton had urged. He paused to regroup and study the logistically difficult choices of pursuit into the mountainous regions to the west and south of Chattanooga. When he was ready to move, he once again maneuvered in a way to disadvantage Bragg. The Confederates abandoned Chattanooga and withdrew into the mountains of northwestern Georgia. Rosecrans threw aside his previous caution under the assumption that Bragg would continue to retreat and began to pursue with his army over three routes that left his corps commanders dangerously far apart. At the Battle of Davis's Cross Roads on September 11, Bragg came close to ambushing and destroying one of Rosecrans's isolated corps. Realizing the threat at last, Rosecrans issued urgent orders to concentrate his army and the two opponents faced each other across West Chickamauga Creek.  

The Battle of Chickamauga began on September 19 with Bragg attacking the not fully concentrated Union army, but he was unable to break through Rosecrans's defensive positions. On the second day of battle, however, disaster befell Rosecrans in the form of his poorly worded order in response to a poorly understood situation. The order was directed to Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood, "to close up and support [General Joseph J.] Reynolds's [division]," planning to fill an assumed gap in the line. However, Wood's subsequent movement actually opened up a new, division-sized gap in the line. By coincidence, a massive assault by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet had been planned to strike that very area and the Confederates exploited the gap to full effect, shattering Rosecrans's right flank. The majority of units on the Union right fell back in disorder toward Chattanooga, and Rosecrans, Garfield, and two of the corps commanders, although attempting to rally retreating units, soon joined them in the rush to safety. Rosecrans decided to proceed in haste to Chattanooga in order to organize his returning men and the city defenses. He sent Garfield to Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas with orders to take command of the forces remaining at Chickamauga and withdraw. The Union army managed to escape complete disaster because of the stout defense organized by Thomas on Horseshoe Ridge, heroism that earned him the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga." The army withdrew that night to fortified positions in Chattanooga. Bragg had not succeeded in his objective to destroy the Army of the Cumberland, but the Battle of Chickamauga was nonetheless the worst Union defeat in the Western Theater. Thomas urged Rosecrans to rejoin the army and lead it, but Rosecrans, physically exhausted and psychologically a beaten man, remained in Chattanooga. President Lincoln attempted to prop up the morale of his general, telegraphing "Be of good cheer. ... We have unabated confidence in you and your soldiers and officers. In the main, you must be the judge as to what is to be done. If I was to suggest, I would say save your army by taking strong positions until Burnside joins you." Privately, Lincoln told John Hay that Rosecrans seemed "confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head."

Although Rosecrans's men were protected by strong defensive positions, the supply lines into Chattanooga tenuous and subjected to Confederate cavalry raids. Bragg's army occupied the heights surrounding the city and laid siege upon the Union forces. Rosecrans, demoralized by his defeat, proved unable to break the siege without reinforcements. Only hours after the defeat at Chickamauga, Secretary Stanton ordered Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker to travel to Chattanooga with 15,000 men in two corps from the Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was ordered to send 20,000 men under his chief subordinate Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, from Vicksburg, Mississippi. On September 29, Stanton ordered Grant to go to Chattanooga himself, as commander of the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi. Grant was given the option of replacing the demoralized Rosecrans with Thomas. Although Grant did not have good personal relations with either general, he selected Thomas to command the Army of the Cumberland. Grant traveled over the treacherous mountain supply line roads and arrived in Chattanooga on October 23. On his journey he encountered Rosecrans in Stevenson, Alabama, and received a briefing on the state of the Chattanooga forces, but gave no hint to Rosecrans that he had made the decision to relieve him. Grant executed a plan originally devised by Rosecrans to open the "Cracker Line" and resupply the army and, in a series of battles for Chattanooga (November 23–25, 1863), routed Bragg's army and sent it retreating into Georgia.

(Sources and related reading below.)

Recommended Reading: THE MAPS OF CHICKAMAUGA: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, Including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 - September 23, 1863 (Hardcover). Description: Third in a new series of campaign studies that take a different approach toward military history, The Maps of Chickamauga explores this largely misunderstood battle through the use of 120 full-color maps, graphically illustrating the complex tangle of combat's ebb and flow that makes the titanic bloodshed of Chickamauga one of the most confusing actions of the American Civil War. Track individual regiments through their engagements at fifteen to twenty-minute intervals or explore each army in motion as brigades and divisions maneuver and deploy to face the enemy. The Maps of Chickamauga allows readers to fully grasp the action at any level of interest. Continued below…

The maps lay out the troops and terrain as they were in September of 1863. Opening and closing chapters describe each army's approach to the battlefield and the retreat and pursuit to Chattanooga in the aftermath of the bloody combat. In between, sections are devoted to the fighting of September 18, 19, and 20, following the battle as it unfolds from a series of limited collisions between isolated columns into the bloody action of the last two days. Situation maps reflect the posture of each army on an hourly basis, while tactical maps reveal the intricacies of regimental and battery movements. The text accompanying each map explains the action in succinct detail, supported by a host of primary sources. Eyewitness accounts vividly underscore the human aspect of the actions detailed in the maps as brigades and regiments collide. Meticulously researched and footnoted by David Powell with cartography by David Freidrichs, The Maps of Chickamauga relies on the participants' own words to recreate the course of battle. The Maps of Chickamauga is an ideal companion for battlefield bushwhacking or simply armchair touring. Full color brings the movements to life, allowing readers to grasp the surging give and take of regimental combat in the woods and fields of North Georgia.

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Editor's Choice: CIVIL WAR IN WEST SLIP CASES: From Stones River to Chattanooga [BOX SET], by Peter Cozzens (1528 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Description: This trilogy very competently fills in much needed analysis and detail on the critical Civil War battles of Stones River, Chickamauga and Chattanooga"Cozzens' comprehensive study of these three great battles has set a new standard in Civil War studies....the research, detail and accuracy are first-rate." Mr. Cozzens' has delivered a very valuable, enjoyable work deserving of attention. The art work by Keith Rocco is also a nice touch, effecting, without sentimentality...historical art which contributes to the whole.

 

Recommended Reading: Chickamauga 1863: The River Of Death (Campaign). Description: By the autumn of 1863 the Confederacy was in dire straits. In a colossal gamble, Confederate President Jefferson Davis stripped forces from all the major Confederate armies to reinforce the Army of Tennessee in a last ditch attempt to crush the Union. On 19th September the Confederates attacked the Union army along Chickamauga creek south of Chattanooga. Continued below…

On the second day of bloody fighting the entire Union right collapsed and the army retreated headlong for Chattanooga, all except General George H. Thomas' Corps who fought on doggedly until nightfall delaying the confederate advance, saving the Union and earning his fame as the "Rock of Chickamauga". About the Author: James R. Arnold is a US-born freelance writer who has contributed to numerous military publications. James spent his formative years in Europe and used the opportunity to study the sites of historic battlefields. He has more than 15 published books to his credit, many of them focusing on the Napoleonic campaigns and American Civil War.

 

Recommended Reading: Chickamauga and Chattanooga: The Battles That Doomed the Confederacy (Paperback). From Booklist: This slim, eminently readable book by an established novelist and historian covers the two major battles of the Tennessee campaign in the fall of 1863. The Confederacy then had its last clear chance to reverse the course of the war. Continued below...

But its army proceeded to throw away what might have been a decisive victory at Chickamauga and was then driven from Tennessee at Chattanooga (the best-known episode of which is the Battle of Missionary Ridge). Bowers gives us almost straight narrative history, providing little background and less analysis but many memorable pen portraits of specific units and commanders (he adds notably to the well-deserved scorn heaped on Braxton Bragg).
 

Recommended Viewing: Shadow in the Valley: The Battle of Chickamauga (DVD). Description: An impressive and epic commemoration of the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, tells the story of the pivotal 1863 battle in the western theater from the common soldier's point of view. This battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater, and fought with the second highest number of casualties in the war after Gettysburg. Generals Rosecrans and Bragg locked in a fight to the death. Continued below…

Our one of a kind, high-definition re-enactment footage is the background to an epic spectacle. Featuring nearly 5,000 re-enactors, no other docu-drama or film has placed you on the battlefield at Chickamauga quite like this. From multi-award winning filmmaker Kevin R. Hershberger (Wicked Spring), our cameras were embedded with the soldiers on the field of battle for five large-scale re-enactments between September 19-21, 2008; each taking place on a portion of the original battlefield. About the Director: Filmmaker Kevin R. Hershberger graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and served as a Military Intelligence Officer in the United States Army for eight years. Kevin next wrote and directed the multi-award-winning feature film, Wicked Spring (2001) -- An epic character study of lost soldiers during the American Civil War, released worldwide by Ardustry Home Entertainment in December 2003. The release has been a phenomenal success so far with nearly 100,000 DVDs sold. As director, producer and screenwriter, Kevin completed his second feature film, No Retreat From Destiny in 2006. Kevin worked as '2nd Unit Director' for Eleventh Day Entertainment's new documentary For Love of Liberty the story of African-American soldiers from the Revolution to Iraq. Kevin wrote his first screenplay while at VMI and most of his 15 scripts, thus far, deal with his passion for American history. Kevin's films have won 57 film festival and international industry awards, including six for directing.

 

Recommended Reading: Rock of Chickamauga: The Life of General George H. Thomas. Reader's Review: Cleaves' book is an excellent read for the person who wishes to learn more about one of the best (North or South) and overlooked generals of the Civil War. While many books focus on Lee, Jackson, Grant, and Sherman, Cleaves succeeds in bringing to light the very important accomplishments by General Thomas. Continued below…

Included in the book are Thomas' many military victories: the complete defeat of a Confederate army at the battles of Mill Springs and Nashville, repulse of Hood's attacks at Atlanta, and of course, perhaps his most stunning achievement - holding the Confederate Army at bay on Snodgrass Hill while the rest of the Union Army retreated from Chickamauga. Throughout the book, Cleaves describes Thomas as a man who willingly subordinated his desires for the best of the nation, something lacking in most "leaders" today. Several times Cleaves describes Thomas as a calm, confident, and not easily shaken man in whom soldiers took great comfort in knowing he was in charge. “[A] great read…refreshing change from the status-quo.”

Sources: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park; Cleaves, Freeman, Rock of Chickamauga: The Life of General George H. Thomas, University of Oklahoma Press, 1948; Connelly, Thomas L., Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee 1862–1865, Louisiana State University Press, 1971; Connolly, James A., Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland: The Letters and Diary of Major James A. Connolly, Paul M. Angle, ed., Indiana University Press, 1996; Cozzens, Peter, This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga, University of Illinois Press, 1992; Editors of Time-Life Books, Echoes of Glory: Illustrated Atlas of the Civil War, Time-Life Books, 1992; Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001; Esposito, Vincent J., West Point Atlas of American Wars, Frederick A. Praeger, 1959. Reprinted by Henry Holt & Co., 1995; Frisby, Derek W., "Tullahoma Campaign", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000; Hunter, Alf G., ed., History of the 82nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, its Organization, Campaigns and Battles, Wh. B. Burford, 1893; Kennedy, Frances H., Ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998; Lamers, William M., The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, U.S.A., Louisiana State University Press, 1961; McWhiney, Grady, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Volume I, Columbia University Press, 1969 (additional material, University of Alabama Press, 1991); Robertson, William G., "The Chickamauga Campaign: The Fall of Chattanooga", Blue & Gray Magazine, Fall 2006; Robertson, William G., "The Chickamauga Campaign: McLemore's Cove", Blue & Gray Magazine, Spring 2007; Robertson, William G., "The Chickamauga Campaign: The Armies Collide", Blue & Gray Magazine, Fall 2007; Robertson, William G., "The Chickamauga Campaign: The Battle of Chickamauga, Day 1", Blue & Gray Magazine, Spring 2008; Robertson, William G., "The Chickamauga Campaign: The Battle of Chickamauga, Day 2", Blue & Gray Magazine, Summer 2008; Starr, Stephen Z., The Union Cavalry in the Civil War, Volume III: The War in the West 1861–1865, Louisiana State University Press, 1981; Sullivan, James R., CHICKAMAUGA and CHATTANOOGA BATTLEFIELDS (Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia-Tennessee): National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 25, Washington, D.C., 1956 (Reprinted 1961): Tucker, Glenn, Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1961 (reprinted by Morningside Bookshop, 1972); Turchin, John Basil, Chickamauga, Fergus Publishing Co., 1888; U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901; Woodworth, Steven E., Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, University of Nebraska Press, 1998; Cozzens, Peter, No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River, University of Illinois Press, 1990; Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed.; Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford Univ. Press, 2001; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville, Random House, 1958; Hallock, Judith Lee, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Volume 2, University of Alabama Press, 1991; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988; McWhiney, Grady, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Volume 1—Field Command, Columbia University Press, 1969; Powell, Dave, "Battle of Chickamauga", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000; Sword, Wiley, Shiloh: Bloody April, Morningside Books, 1974; Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959; Woodworth, Steven E., Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West, University Press of Kansas, 1990; Cozzens, Peter, The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga, University of Illinois Press, 1994; Cozzens, Peter, This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga, University of Illinois Press, 1992; Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001; Esposito, Vincent J., West Point Atlas of American Wars, Frederick A. Praeger, 1959. Reprinted by Henry Holt & Co., 1995; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian, Random House, 1958; Gordon, Leslie J., "The Failed Relationship of William S. Rosecrans and Grant", Grant's Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg, Steven E. Woodworth, ed., University Press of Kansas, 2001; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885–86; Korn, Jerry, and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge, Time-Life Books, 1985; Lamers, William M., The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, U.S.A, Louisiana State University Press, 1999; Meehan, Thomas, "William and Sylvester Rosecrans", The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, Robert Appleton Company, 1912; Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964; The Union Army; A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, 1861–65 — Records of the Regiments in the Union Army — Cyclopedia of Battles — Memoirs of Commanders and Soldiers, Federal Publishing Company (Madison, Wisconsin), 1908 (reprinted by Broadfoot Publishing, 1997); National Archives; Library of Congress.

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