THE CHICKAMAUGA CAMPAIGN

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THE CHICKAMAUGA CAMPAIGN HISTORY

CHICKAMAUGA CAMPAIGN

Introduction

      The Chickamauga Campaign was a series of battles fought in northwestern Georgia from August 21 to September 20, 1863, between the Union Army of the Cumberland and Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Summary

       The initial battle fought during the Chickamauga Campaign were Second Battle of Chattanooga (August 21 to September 8, 1863) in which Rosecrans’ ordered a brigade to shell Chattanooga and skirmish with the main Confederate force in the city to divert attention away from the flanking column sent southwest of the city. Next, Bragg attempted to attack an isolated Union corps at the Battle of Davis's Cross Roads (September 10 to 11, 1863) before Rosecrans could concentrate the rest of his army but was unable to successfully complete the attack. The climax of the campaign, and final battle, was the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19 to 20, 1863). The final battle of the campaign, the Confederates were able to drive a significant portion of the Union army off the field. However, a defensive line organized on the Union left and Bragg's slowness to order a pursuit prevent the Confederates from obtaining a decisive victory.

Background

       In his successful Tullahoma Campaign in the summer of 1863, Rosecrans moved southeast from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, outmaneuvering Bragg and forcing him to abandon Middle Tennessee and withdraw to the city of Chattanooga, suffering only 569 Union casualties along the way. General-in-chief Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck and President Abraham Lincoln were insistent that Rosecrans move quickly to take Chattanooga. Seizing the city would open the door for the Union to advance toward Atlanta and the heartland of the South. Chattanooga was a vital rail hub (with lines going north toward Nashville and Knoxville and south toward Atlanta), and an important manufacturing center for the production of iron and coke, located on the navigable Tennessee River. Situated between Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Raccoon Mountain, and Stringer's Ridge, Chattanooga occupied an important, defensible position.

      Although Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee contained about 52,000 men at the end of July, the Confederate government merged the Department of East Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, into Bragg's Department of Tennessee, which added 17,800 men to Bragg's army, but also extended his command responsibilities northward to the Knoxville area. This brought a third subordinate into Bragg's command who had little or no respect for the commanding general. Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk and Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee had already made their animosity well known. Buckner's attitude was colored by Bragg's unsuccessful invasion of Buckner's native Kentucky in 1862, as well as by the loss of his command through the merger. A positive aspect for Bragg was Hardee's request to be transferred to Mississippi in July, but he was replaced by Lt. Gen. D.H. Hill, a general who did not get along with Robert E. Lee in Virginia. The Confederate War Department asked Bragg in early August if he could assume the offensive against Rosecrans if he were given reinforcements for Mississippi. He demurred, concerned about daunting geographical obstacles and logistical challenges, preferring to wait for Rosecrans to solve those same problems and attack him. He was also concerned about a sizable Union force under Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside that was threatening Knoxville. Bragg withdrew his forces from advanced positions around Bridgeport, which left Rosecrans free to maneuver on the northern side of the Tennessee River. He concentrated his two infantry corps around Chattanooga and relied upon cavalry to cover his flanks, extending from northern Alabama to near Knoxville.

Chickamauga Campaign and Battle of Chickamauga

      Rosecrans' successful Tullahoma Campaign turned Bragg out of his positions in Tenn. North of Chattanooga and opened the way for the capture of that vital communications hub. The town was too well fortified to be taken by frontal assault, so Rosecrans planned another strategic envelopment. He decided to operate west of the town, rather than to the east, so as to make the best use of the rail lines to Stevenson for supplying his forces. Bragg expected his opponent to shift his line of operations to the other side of Chattanooga, where he would be in a better position to secure the assistance of Burnside's forces in East Tennessee.
       The Confederate authorities considered another offensive into Tenn., but decided they lacked the means. They then ordered a reorganization of Bragg's forces in order to assure the defense of Chattanooga. Buckner was put under Bragg's command, and Longstreet was ordered from the Army of Northern Virginia with the divisions of McLaws and Hood to reinforce Bragg.
       After much unsuccessful urging, the authorities in Washington, on 5 August, sent Rosecrans and Burnside orders to advance and gain possession of the upper Tennessee Valley. On 15 August, Rosecrans issued orders for an advance to the Tennessee River, and Burnside ordered an advance on Knoxville and Kingston. Rosecrans' forces reached their initial objectives on 21 August and spent the rest of the month preparing to cross.
       Bragg began concentrating his forces around Chattanooga when he learned from Wheeler's cavalry that the Federals were starting to cross the river. About 1 September, he was reinforced by two divisions from the Army of the Mississippi (
Breckinridge and W.H.T. Walker). Wheeler and Forrest remained in command of the cavalry carps. On the morning of the 18th, three brigades of Longstreet's corps arrived, under Hood's command. Longstreet himself arrived the next night with two more brigades. The six brigades of the eastern troops and E.P. Alexander's artillery did not arrive in time for the battle.
       Rosecrans crossed the river without opposition, completing the operation 4 September. Assuming from incorrect reports that Bragg was evacuating Chattanooga, Rosecrans advanced through the mountainous terrain on a 40-mile front to cut off Bragg's retreat. By 6 September, his three corps were in the valley of Lookout Creek, with the most advanced division in Steven's Gap. Burnside occupied Knoxville and Kingston this same day. It was also on 6 September that Bragg decided to abandon Chattanooga, concentrate at LaFayette, and defeat the Federals as they emerged from the mountain passes. Hill moved the night of the 7th to LaFayette; Polk started the next morning for Lee and Gordon's Mill; Walker joined Hill near LaFayette; and Buckner took up a position generally between the two wings.
       There followed a complex sequence of maneuvers in which the failures of Bragg's subordinates deprived the Confederates of their opportunity for defeating isolated Federal units in detail. The first failure was on the 10th when faulty coordination between the divisions of Hindman (Polk) and Cleburne (Hill) enabled Negley's isolated division at Dug Gap to be reinforced before the Confederates could attack it. Rosecrans now believed the entire enemy army was around LaFayette and started concentrating his own forces. Crittenden, who had taken Chattanooga and then moved to Ringgold, started westward on 12 September to Lee and Gordon's Mill. Walker was ordered from LaFayette to reinforce Polk and to attack Crittenden. The forces of both commanders now began to shift north. Rosecrans order McCook to withdraw from Alpine and move west of Lookout Mountain to join Thomas at Steven's Gap. Both commanders shifted troops as bits of enemy information were reported. Bragg, having missed repeated opportunities for destroying isolated Federal forces, now was content to await his reinforcements from Mississippi and Virginia.
       Bragg ordered a dawn attack for 18 September against Crittenden's corps on the Federal north flank. This well-conceived plan was frustrated by Federal mounted brigades. Bushrod Johnson's division finally succeeded in forcing a crossing against Minty's cavalry at Reed's Bridge late in the afternoon. Wilder's cavalry inflicted heavy losses on Liddell's division (Walker's corps), succeeding finally in dismantling Alexander's bridge and forcing the Confederates to cross at Lambert's Ford. Polk was to attack Crittenden frontally at Lee and Gordon's Mill after the enveloping force of Forrest, Buckner, W.H.T. Walker, and Bushrod Johnson crossed the creek; the failure of the envelopment meant that Polk could not attack. As a result, Crittenden's corps was not engaged at all during the day.

The First Day (19 September 1863)

       During the night preceding the battle both sides were shifting troops. "Neither army knew the exact position of the other....It is probable that division commanders on either side hardly knew where their own commands were, in the thick woods, let alone the other troops of their own army, or the troops of the hostile army. The lines were at this time about six miles long."
       On the morning of the 19th, Thomas ordered Brannan's division, then posted on the road two miles north of the Lee and Gordon's Mill, to reconnoiter toward Chickamauga Creek. Brannan encountered and drove back Forrest's dismounted cavalry, which called on the nearest Confederate infantry for help. This brought on an all-day battle. Every division of the XIV, XX, and XXI Corps was committed. Of the Confederate forces, only the divisions of Breckinridge and Hindman, on the south flank, were not engaged. Neither side gained any decided advantage.

The Second Day (20 September 1863)

       During the night the two opposing forces further rearranged their dispositions in the difficult terrain. Rosecrans prepared defensive positions, and Bragg planned an attack. Longstreet had arrived during the night; he was given command of the left wing of Bragg's army, and Polk was given command of the other.
       Bragg's units were to attack successively from north to south. Breckinridge attacked on the north at 9 o'clock Sunday morning. Thomas, commanding the Federal left wing, called for Negley's division, which was supposed to be in reserve. Due to an error, however, Negley was in the line. Wood, whose division was in reserve where Negley's was supposed to be, moved up to relieve Negley, while the latter sent one brigade and then another to reinforce Thomas. For two hours, the Federal left had successfully held off heavy attacks.
       Rosecrans' misunderstanding as to the true location of his units then led to a fatal error. He was trying to strengthen the defenses on his right while Thomas held the other flank. Thinking that Wood was on Reynolds' (right) flank, he ordered Wood "to close up and support Reynolds." Actually, Brannan was on Wood's left, and following his instructions, Wood pulled out of the line, passed behind Brannan, and fell in on Reynolds' flank. The divisions of Sheridan and J.C. Davis were closing to fill this gap at abut 11:30 when Longstreet attacked. By a strange coincidence, Longstreet hit the precise point left open by the Federal error. Sheridan's and Davis' divisions were shattered by superior force, and the Federal right was driven back on its left flank.
       Rosecrans, McCook, and Crittenden, unable to rally the troops around them, fled to Chattanooga, thinking the entire army was being destroyed. Thomas remained on the field, turning Wood and Brannan to block Longstreet on the south. Bragg was unable to exploit Longstreet's success. Three brigades of Granger's Reserve Corps ("Army of the Kentucky") were near McAffee's Church with orders to remain there and protect the flank. In a splendid example of battlefield initiative, Granger violated his orders and "at the moment of greatest need reported to Gen. Thomas with two brigades" (Whittaker and Mitchell from Steedman's division). Van Horne says "the opportune aid o these two brigades saved the army from defeat and rout" (Van Horne, I, 353). Thomas held the field until dark and then, on orders from Rosecrans, withdrew to Rossville Gap. Rosecrans withdrew his army into the defenses of Chattanooga. Bragg followed, occupied Missionary Ridge and laid siege to the town.

Epilogue

       Although Bragg had won a decided tactical victory, his piecemeal method of attack and lack of a general reserve deprived him of the success that an outstanding general might have achieved under the circumstances--particularly the rare bit of luck occasioned by Longstreet's attack finding a gap. Failure to pursue the shattered Federals deprived Bragg of the fruits of his victory. The work of Thomas--the "Rock of Chickamauga"--the steadfastness of the troops on his wing, and initiative of Granger, all helped make this a Pyretic victory for the South.
       An evaluation of the statistics shows that the Union had 19.6 percent killed and wounded and Confederates 25.9 percent. Using Livermore's "hit by 1,000" system of comparing the combat effectiveness, Rosecrans' troops killed or wounded 292 Confederates for every 1,000 Federal soldiers engaged; Bragg's forces, on the other hand, killed or wounded 172 Federals for every 1,000 of their own troops engaged. The battle, fought in a densely wooded area which permitted little or no tactical control of units, was one of the bloodiest of the war.
       Chickamauga was a maker and breaker of reputations. Thomas's performance elevated him to top command, and Granger was also marked for higher responsibility. Rosecrans, Alexander McCook, Crittenden, and Negley were relieved: the last three were charged with misconduct but acquitted. The fractious Bragg (who’s personality defect was largely responsible for the poor cooperation of his subordinates) relieved Polk, D.H. Hill, and Hindman for unsatisfactory performance during the campaign. See also
Battle of Chickamauga Homepage.

(Sources and related reading below.)

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. 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". Continued below…

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.

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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.

 
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.
 

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 bloody ChickamaugaGettysburg. 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 the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park's very own Fuller Gun Collection. Absolutely a must have for the Civil War buff. FIVE STARS by americancivilwarhistory.org

 

Recommended Reading: Historic Photos of Chickamauga and Chattanooga (Historic Photos) (Hardcover). Description: The campaign from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Chickamauga, Georgia, followed by the siege of Chattanooga, is one of the most dramatic stories of the entire Civil War. Union Major General William S. Rosecrans led a brilliant advance into Georgia, taking Chattanooga with the loss of only six men. Near Chickamauga Creek, Confederate General Braxton Bragg routed Rosecrans army, then laid siege to it from the heights around Chattanooga. Continued below…

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, recently given command of virtually all Federal armies in the Western Theater, arrived to break the siege. A climatic Union charge routed Bragg s demoralized army. Historic Photos of Chickamauga Chattanooga tells this story and much more, for it includes the important struggle to preserve America’s Civil War battlefields, which began with Chickamauga. Striking black-and-white images of aging veterans, reuniting to preserve their history, join photos of the rugged terrain over which they fought in 1863. This is a compelling American story told in photographs, with text by a noted historian.

 

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. 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).

Sources: Mark M. Boatner III, Mark M. The Civil War Dictionary; Cozzens, Peter. This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga University of Illinois Press, 1992. ISBN 0-252-02236-X; Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5; Hallock, Judith Lee, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Volume II, University of Alabama Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8173-0543-2; Kennedy, Frances H., Ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, ISBN 0-395-74012-6; Korn, Jerry, and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge, Time-Life Books, 1985, ISBN 0-8094-4816-5; Lamers, William M., The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, U.S.A., Louisiana State University Press, 1961, ISBN 0-8071-2396-X; Tucker, Glenn. Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1961; Woodworth, Steven E., Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8032-9813-7.

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