Battle of Chickamauga

 

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The Battle of Chickamauga

Chickamauga, BATTLE OF. Rosecrans, erroneously supposing Confederate General Braxton Bragg had begun a retreat towards Rome when he abandoned CHATTANOOGA and marched southward through the gaps of Missionary Ridge, pushed his forces through the mountain passes, and was surprised to find his antagonist, instead of retreating, concentrating his forces to attack the attenuated line of the Nationals, the extremities of which were then 50 miles apart.

Battle of Chickamauga

Battle of Chickamauga

(From a contemporaneous sketch.)

Rosecrans proceeded at once to concentrate his own forces; and very soon the two armies were confronting each other in battle array on each side of Chickamauga Creek, in the vicinity of Crawfish Spring, each line extending towards the slope of Missionary Ridge. Rosecrans did not know that Robert E. Lee had sent troops from Virginia, under General James Longstreet, to reinforce Bragg, who was then making his way up from Atlanta to swell the Confederate forces to the number of fully 70,000. Johnston, in Mississippi, also sent thousands of prisoners, paroled at Vicksburg and Port Hudson, to still further reinforce Bragg.

In battle order on Chickamauga Creek (Sept. 19, 1863), the Confederate right was commanded by General Polk, and the left by General John Hood until Longstreet should arrive. During the previous night nearly two-thirds of the Confederates had crossed to the west side of the creek, and held the fords from Lee and Gordon's mills far towards Missionary Ridge. Rosecrans's concentrated army did not then number more than 55,000 men.

Gen. George H. Thomas, who was on the extreme left of the National line, on the slopes of Missionary Ridge, by a movement to capture an isolated Confederate brigade, brought on a battle (Sept. 19) at ten o'clock, which raged with great fierceness until dark, when the Nationals seemed to have the advantage. It had been begun by Croxton's brigade of Brannan's division, which struggled sharply with Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry. Thomas sent Baird's division to assist Croxton, when other Confederates became engaged, making the odds against the Nationals, when the latter, having driven the Confederates, were in turn pushed back. The pursuers dashed through the lines of United States regulars and captured a Michigan battery and about 500 men. In the charge all of the horses and most of the men of the batteries were killed.

At that moment a heavy force of Nationals came up and joined in the battle. They now outnumbered and outflanked the Confederates, and, attacking them furiously, drove them back in disorder for a mile and a half on their reserves. The lost battery was recovered, and Brannan and Baird were enabled to reform their shattered columns. There was a lull, but at five o'clock the Confederates renewed the battle, and were pressing the National line heavily, when Hazen, who was in charge of a park of artillery—twenty guns—hastened to put them in position, with such infantry supports as he could gather, and brought them to bear upon the Confederates, at short range, as they dashed into the road in pursuit of the Nationals. The pursuers recoiled in disorder, and thereby the day was saved on the left. Night closed the combat.

There had been some lively artillery work on the National right during the day; and at three o'clock in the afternoon General John Hood threw two of his divisions upon General Davis's division of McCook's corps, pushing it back and capturing a battery. Davis fought with great pertinacity until near sunset, when a brigade of Sheridan's division came to his aid. Then a successful countercharge was made; the Confederates were driven back, the battery was retaken, and a number of Confederates were made prisoners. That night General Hindman came to the Confederates with his division, and James Longstreet arrived with two brigades of McLaws's veterans from Virginia, and took command of the left of Bragg's army.

Preparations were made for a renewal of the struggle in the morning. It was begun (Sept. 20), after a dense fog had risen from the earth, between eight and nine o'clock. The conflict was to have been opened by Polk at daylight on the National left, but he failed. Meanwhile, under cover of the fog, Thomas received reinforcements, until nearly one-half of the Army of the Cumberland present were under his command, and had erected breastworks of logs, rails, and earth. The battle was begun by an attack by General John Breckinridge. The intention was to interpose an overwhelming force between Rosecrans and Chattanooga, which Thomas had prevented the previous day. An exceedingly fierce struggle ensued, with varying fortunes for the combatants. The carnage on both sides was frightful. Attempts to turn the National flank were not successful, for Thomas and his veterans stood like a wall in the way. The conflict for a while was equally severe at the centre; and the blunder of an incompetent staff officer, sent with orders to General Wood, produced disaster on the National right. A gap was left in the National line, when Hood, with Stewart, charged furiously, while Buckner advanced to their support. The charge, in which Davis and Brannan and Sheridan were struck simultaneously, isolated five brigades, which lost forty percent of their number. By this charge the National right wing was so shattered that it began crumbling, and was soon seen flying in disorder towards Chattanooga, leaving thousands behind, killed, wounded, or prisoners.

The tide carried with it the troops led by Rosecrans, Crittenden, and McCook; and the commanding general, unable to join Thomas, and believing the whole army would speedily be hurrying pell-mell to Chattanooga, hastened to that place to provide for rallying them there. Thomas, meanwhile, ignorant of the disaster on the right, was maintaining his position firmly. Sheridan and Davis, who had been driven over to the Dry Valley road, rallying their shattered columns, reformed them by the way, and, with McCook, halted and changed front at Rossville, with a determination to defend the pass at all hazards against the pursuers. Thomas finally withdrew from his breastworks and concentrated his troops, and formed his line on a slope of Missionary Ridge. Wood and Brannan had barely time to dispose their troops properly, when they were furiously attacked, the Confederates throwing in fresh troops continually. General Granger, commanding reserves at Rossville, hastened to the assistance of Thomas with Steedman's division. The latter fought his way to the crest of a hill, and then turning his artillery upon his assailants, drove them down the southern slope of the ridge with great slaughter. They returned to the attack with an overwhelming force, determined to drive the Nationals from the ridge, and pressed Thomas most severely.

Finally, when they were moving along a ridge and in a gorge, to assail his right flank and rear, Granger formed two brigades (Whittaker's and Mitchell's) into a charging party, and hurled them against the Confederates led by Hindman. Steedman led the charging party, with a regimental flag in his hand, and soon won a victory. In the space of twenty minutes the Confederates disappeared, and the Nationals held both the ridge and gorge.

Very soon a greater portion of the Confederate army were swarming around the foot of the ridge, on which stood Thomas with the remnant of seven divisions of the Army of the Cumberland. The Confederates were led by James Longstreet. There seemed no hope for the Nationals. But Thomas stood like a rock, and his men repulsed assault after assault until the sun went down, when he began the withdrawal of his troops to Rossville, for his ammunition was almost exhausted. General Garfield, Rosecrans's chief of staff, had arrived with orders for Thomas to take the command of all the forces, and, with McCook and Crittenden, to take a strong position at Rossville. It was then that Thomas had the first reliable information of disaster on the right. Confederates seeking to obstruct the movement were driven back, with a loss of 200 men made prisoners. So ended the battle of Chickamauga.

The National loss was reported at 16,326, of whom 1,687 were killed. The total loss of officers was 974. It is probable the entire Union loss, including the missing, was 19,000. The Confederate loss was reported at 20,500, of whom 2,673 were killed. Rosecrans took 2,003 prisoners, thirty-six guns, twenty caissons, and 8,450 small-arms, and lost, as prisoners, 7,500. Bragg claimed to have captured over 8,000 prisoners (including the wounded), fifty-one guns, and 15,000 small-arms.

The Confederates were victors on the field. On the evening of the 20th the whole National army withdrew in good order to a position in front of Chattanooga, and on the following day Bragg advanced and took possession of Lookout Mountain and the whole of Missionary Ridge.

 

 

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