Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia

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Battle of Chickamauga: Georgia and the Civil War

Union Army Report for Battle of Chickamauga

Battle of Chickamauga
Rosecrans and Bragg.jpg
Commanding generals Rosecrans and Bragg

Chickamauga, Ga., Sept. 19-20, 1863. Army of the Cumberland. At the
battle of Chickamauga the Union forces, commanded by Maj.-Gen. William
S. Rosecrans, were organized as follows: the 14th corps, Maj.-Gen. George
H. Thomas, was made up of the four divisions of Baird, Negley, Brannan
and Reynolds; the 20th corps, Maj.-Gen. Alexander D. McCook, con-
sisted of the three divisions of Davis, Johnson and Sheridan; the 21st corps,
Maj.-Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden, included the divisions of Wood, Pal-
mer and Van Cleve; the reserve corps, Maj.-Gen. Gordon Granger, was
made up of the divisions of Steedman and Daniel McCook; the cavalry
corps, Brig.-Gen. Robert B. Mitchell, embraced the divisions of Col.
Edward M. McCook and Brig.-Gen. George Crook. The effective strength
of the entire Army of the Cumberland was slightly less than 60,000 men
of all arms.
The Confederate army, commanded by Gen. Braxton Bragg, was
divided into the right and left wings. The right, commanded by Lieut-
Gen. Leonidas Polk, was composed of Cheatham's division of Polk's
corps ; Lieut. -Gen. D. H. Hill's corps, consisting of Cleburne's and Breck-
enridge's divisions; the reserve corps, Maj.-Gen. W. H. T. Walker,
including the divisions of Walker and Liddell. The left, commanded
by Lieut.-Gen. James Longstreet, embraced Hindman's division of Polk's
corps; Longstreet's corps, commanded by Maj.-Gen. John B. Hood, and
consisting of the divisions of Hood and McLaws; Buckner's corps, Maj.-
Gen. Simon B. Buckner, including the divisions of Stewart, Preston and
Bushrod Johnson; Wheeler's cavalry, including the divisions of Wharton
and Martin; and Forrest's cavalry, consisting of the divisions of Arm-
strong and Pegram. The total strength of the army was not far from
72,000 men.
For several days prior to the engagement both armies had been
maneuvering for position. Several attempts had been made by Bragg
to cut off and destroy detachments of the Union army, but they had
failed, either because of the tardiness of his officers in executing his
orders, or because the movements were discovered by the Federal com-
manders in time to thwart the designs. On the 17th McCook's corps
was in McLemore's cove, between Stevens' and Dug gaps, with the
remainder of the army in easy supporting distance. For the first time
since the crossing of the Tennessee river the Federal forces were in
position where they could be quickly concentrated. And it was well that
such was the case, for Bragg, having failed to strike the army in detail,
was contemplating a movement in force against Rosecrans. The 17th was
occupied by him in getting his troops in position along the east bank of
the Chickamauga. Wheeler, with his two divisions of cavalry, was to
make a feint against the troops at McLemore's cove, while Forrest was
to cover the right and front to prevent the Federals from gaining knowl-
edge of Bragg's intentions and preparations. Bushrod Johnson's brigade
came up from Ringgold and was assigned to a position at Reed's bridge,
on the extreme right of the line. Walker's corps, about 6,000 strong,
took position at Alexander's bridge on Johnson's left. Next in order
came Buckner's corps, which was stationed near Tedford's ford. Then
came Polk's corps, drawn up opposite Lee & Gordon's mills, with Hill
on the extreme left. Late in the day two brigades came up from Mis-
sissippi and were united with Johnson's, thus forming a division of three
brigades at Reed's bridge. That evening Bragg issued his orders for
the whole line to move at 6 o'clock the next morning, cross the Chicka-
mauga, and advance on the Federal position. His plan was for Johnson
to cross at Reed's bridge, strike the Union left and force it back toward
Lee & Gordon's mills, the other portions of the line to cross in succession
and continue the assault from right to left, constantly pressing the Fed-
erals on the left and rear.
The plan was well conceived, but, as frequently happens in war, a
series of unforeseen occurrences prevented its successful execution.
When Johnson began his forward movement on the morning of the
l8th he was so delayed by the stubborn resistance of Minty's and Wilder's
cavalry that it was 3 p. m. before he gained possession of the bridge.
In the meantime Hood had arrived on the field and was assigned to
command the division, which was further strengthened by the addition
of three brigades belonging to Longstreet's corps. As soon as the bridge
was gained Hood rushed his troops across and swept southward to the
point where Walker was to cross and resume the assault. The Federal
cavalry had been engaged throughout the forenoon in making an ex-
tended reconnaissance along the entire front and had developed the
enemy's position. Finding Walker about to cross at Alexander's bridge.
Wilder massed his brigade of mounted infantry at that point and, after
a sharp skirmish, succeeded in destroying the bridge. This compelled
Walker to cross at Byram's ford several hours behind schedule time.
It was 5 p. m. before Hood had reached a position where he could
menace Wilder's flank, and the latter retired toward Gordon's miills.
Night fell with only about one-tenth of Bragg's army across the Chicka-
mauga, and again his plans had failed.
The fighting at the two bridges, in connection with the reconnaissance,
had so far indicated the Confederate plan of operations as to cause a
radical change in the position of the Union troops. At 4 p. m. Thomas
concentrated his corps at Crawfish Spring, where he received orders to
move northward to the Chattanooga and Lafayette road and take up a
position at or near Kelly's farm. He arrived there about daylight on
the 19th and stationed his command to cover the roads leading to Reed's
and Alexander's bridges. The morning of the 19th. therefore, found the
Union army with its right resting at Crawfish Spring, where the left
had been on the preceding day, while the left was several miles north,
prepared to contest the possession of the road, which Bragg had hoped
to occupy without opposition, thus giving him an easy line of march
to the Federal rear. The battle was opened on the 19th by Thomas.
Col. Daniel McCook, whose brigade had been stationed during the night
on the road leading to Reed's bridge, reported the destruction of the
bridge about 4 a. m., and that the only force of the enemy he could dis-
cover on the west side of the stream was one brigade, which might be
cut off. Thomas ordered Brannan to send forward two brigades for
this purpose, and to support Baird with the rest of his division. About
10 a. m. Croxton's brigade became engaged with Forrest's cavalry, grad-
ually forcing him back for about half a mile upon two brigades of in-
fantry — Wilson's and Ector's — who raised the "rebel yell" and in turn
forced Croxton to retire until Baird came to his support, when the Con-
federates were again driven for some distance, a number of prisoners
being taken. This action of Croxton's brought on the battle of Chicka-
mauga before the Confederate troops were in the positions assigned
them. It also gave Bragg the first knowledge of the fact that his right
was overlapped by the Union left, and that his flank was in danger of
being turned by Thomas. Hurriedly changing his plans he halted Walker,
who was marching toward Lee & Gordon's mills, and ordered him to
make all possible speed to the relief of the right wing. Croxton's men
had almost exhausted their ammunition and were moved to the rear to
renew the supply. Baird's and Brannan's divisions were then united
and after some severe fighting drove Walker from their front. Baird
had halted to readjust his line, when he was struck on the flank by
Liddell's division, and two brigades — Scribner's and King's — were thrown
into disorder and their batteries captured by the enemy. Just at this
juncture R. W. Johnson's and Reynolds' divisions arrived and were
immediately formed on the right of Baird. As soon as they were in
position the line advanced, attacking Liddell on the flank and rear,
driving him back for a mile and a half, while Brannan's men met him in
front and recaptured the guns taken from Baird's brigades, the recapture
being effected by the 9th Ohio at the point of the bayonet. Cheatham's
division was then rushed to the support of Liddell, but Thomas had
also been strongly reinforced and the Confederates were driven back
upon their reserves, now posted along the west bank of the Chickamauga
between Reed's and Alexander's bridges. This was followed by a lull
of about an hour in which Brannan and Baird were posted in a position
on the road leading from Reed's bridge to the Lafayette road north of
Kelly's and ordered to hold it to the last extremity. About 3 p. m. a
furious assault was made on Reynolds' right and Brannan's division was
sent to his assistance, Croxton's brigade arriving just in time to check
the enemy in an effort to turn Reynolds' flank and gain his rear. Again
Thomas reformed his line and about 5 o'clock the enemy assaulted first
Johnson and then Baird, but both attacks were repulsed with consid-
erable loss to the assailants. This ended the fighting for the day.
On the evening of the 19th Rosecrans met his corps commanders in
council at the house of Mrs. Glenn, and the plans for the next day's
battle were arranged. Thomas was to maintain his present position,
holding the road to Rossville, with Brannan's division in reserve. Davis'
division of the 20th corps was to close on Thomas' right, and Sheridan's
division was to form the extreme right of the line. Crittenden was to
have two divisions in reserve near the junction of Thomas' and McCook's
lines, ready to reinforce either as circumstances might require. Davis
and Sheridan were to maintain their pickets until they were driven in
by the enemy. The reserve corps, under Granger, and the cavalry were
to keep open the line of communications to Chattanooga. The Con-
federate line was also somewhat rearranged. Beginning at the right it
was made up of the divisions of Breckenridge, Cleburne, Cheatham and
Walker, the last two being in reserve. The left wing began with Stewart's
division, which touched Cleburne' left, followed in order by Johnson and
Hindman. Hood was in reserve behind Johnson, Preston was in reserve
on the extreme left, and Humphrey and Kershaw, who had come up
during the night, were also held in reserve. Longstreet arrived about 
11 p. m. on the 19th and assumed command of the left wing.
Although Bragg had failed to accomplish his ends on the 18th and
19th, he still adhered to his original plan of successive attacks from
right to left, in an effort to force the Union army up the valley. Orders
were accordingly issued for Breckenridge's division to attack at dawn on
the 20th, his assault to be followed rapidly by the other divisions through-
out the entire length of the line, but constantly forcing back the Federal
left until the road to Chattanooga was in possession of the Confederates.
Before daylight Bragg was in the saddle near the center of his line,
anxiously waiting for the sound of Breckenridge's guns. The morning
dawned red and sultry, with a dense fog hanging over the battle-field.
During the night the Union troops had thrown up temporary breast-
works of rails, logs, etc., behind which a line of determined men awaited
the onset. Eight o'clock came and still no attack. Bragg then rode to
the right and found the troops unprepared for an advance. All the
energy possible was exerted to begin the action, but it was 9:30 before
Breckenridge moved. Cleburne followed fifteen minutes later and the
fight was on.

At 2 a. m. Thomas had received word from Baird that his left did
not rest on the road to Reed's bridge, as it was intended to do, and
that to reach the road he would have to weaken his line. Thomas imme-
diately sent a request to headquarters for Negley's division to be sent
to the left to extend the line to the road, and received the assurance
that the request would be granted. At 7 a. m. Negley was not in position
and Thomas sent one of his staff to hasten him forward and to point
out the ground he was to occupy. About the same time Rosecrans
rode along the line and personally ordered Negley to lose no time in
joining Thomas, at the same time directing McCook to relieve Negley
and close up his line more compactly. Upon reaching the left of the line
Rosecrans became convinced that the attack would begin on that flank,
saw the importance of holding the road, and again rode back to hurry
Negley's movements. The division then moved to the left with Beatty's
brigade in advance, and Rosecrans directed Crittenden to move Wood's
division to the front to fill the gap in the line caused by Negley's removal.
The assault of Breckenridge fell mainly on Beatty's brigade soon
after it was in position on the left, and it was driven back in confusion.
Several regiments of Johnson's division, with Vanderveer's and Stan-
ley's brigades, hurled themselves into the breach, checked the advance
of the enemy and finally drove him entirely from Baird's flank and rear.
Immediately following the opening attack the Confederate line ad-
vanced, striking Johnson, Palmer and Reynolds in quick succession.
But, from behind their improvised fortifications, the Federals met the
assaults with a bravery and determination seldom equalled on the field
of battle. Fresh troops were hurried forward by Bragg, who now
made a desperate effort to drive in the center and turn Thomas' right.
Again and again the Confederates advanced in the face of that merci-
less fire and each time they were repulsed with fearful slaughter.
Finding all his efforts in this direction futile, Bragg fell back to his
old position.
About 11 a. m. Wood received an order from headquarters to "close
up on Reynolds as fast as possible, and support him." In the execution
of this order a gap was left in the line, which Davis undertook to close
with his reserve brigade. But Longstreet had observed the break in the
line and was quick to take advantage of it. Before Davis could get his
reserves into position the divisions of Stewart, Hood, Kershaw, Johnson
and Hindman came rushing through the opening, sweeping everything
before them, while Preston's division pressed forward to the support of
the assailants. McCook vainly endeavored to check the impetuous
charge of Longstreet's men with the three brigades of Heg, Carlin and
Laiboldt, but they were as chaff before the wind. He then ordered
Walworth and Lytle to change front and assist in repelling the assault.
For a time these two contended against an overwhelming force, tem-
porarily checking the enemy in their immediate front. But the Con-
federates, constantly increasing in numbers, succeeded in turning the left
of these two brigades and they were forced to retire to avoid being sur-
rounded. In this part of the engagement Gen. Lytle was killed and
Hood seriously wounded. Wilder and Harrison joined their commands
with that of Sheridan to aid in resisting the fierce attack, but a long line
of the enemy was advancing on Sheridan's right and he was compelled
to withdraw to the Dry Valley road in order to save his command.
Subsequently he moved toward Rossville and effected a junction with
Thomas' left on the Lafayette road. In his report Rosecrans says :
"Thus Davis' two brigades, one of Van Cleve's, and Sheridan's entire
division were swept from the field, and the remainder, consisting of the
divisions of Baird, Johnson, Reynolds, Brannan, and Wood, two of Neg-
ley's brigades and one of Van Cleve's, were left to sustain the conflict
against the whole power of the rebel army, which, desisting from pursuit
on the right, concentrated their whole efforts to destroy them."
This tells the situation. Not only were the troops on the right
driven from the field, but several thousand men were made prisoners,
40 pieces of artillery and a large number of wagon trains fell into the
hands of the enemy. When McCook's forces were compelled to fall
back in confusion they were not pursued. Instead, Longstreet reversed
the order of battle, and when Stewart's division reached the Lafayette
road it became the pivot upon which the left wing turned to the right
instead of to the left, with the intention of crushing the forces under
At 11 a. m. Granger and his chief of staff were seated on the top of
a hay-rick at Rossville. Through his glass Granger could see the clouds
of smoke, constantly increasing in volume, while the sounds of the battle
grew louder every moment. Scanning the road to the south he saw
that no attack was likely to be made on his position, and rightly sur-
mising that the whole Confederate strength was being massed against
Thomas, he said to his chief: "I am going to Thomas, orders or no
orders." Sliding off the hay-rick he hurriedly directed Dan McCook
to station his brigade at McAfee Church, to cover the Ringgold and
Lafayette roads, then went to Steedman and ordered him to take his
command "over there." pointing of toward "Horseshoe Ridge." where
Thomas was making his last stand. Along the crest of this ridge
Thomas had placed Wood's and Brannan's divisions, while on the spurs
to the rear was posted his artillery. If Wood had inadvertently brought
about the disaster by the withdrawal of his division, causing the gap in
the line, he now retrieved himself. From 1 p. m. until nightfall he
bravely held his portion of the ridge, repulsing several obstinate and
determined attacks of the enemy. One of these attacks was made by
Burshrod Johnson, who reformed his line on a ridge running nearly at
right angles to the one on which Brannan and Wood were posted.
Longstreet reinforced Johnson with the divisions of Hindman and Ker-
shaw, the object being a movement in force against the Federal right
and rear. Just at this critical moment Granger and Steedman arrived
and reported to Thomas, who ordered them into position on Brannan's
right. Granger then ordered a charge on the Confederate lines. Steed-
man seized the colors of a regiment and led the way. Inspired by the
example of their commander the men hurled themselves upon the enemy
and after twenty minutes of hot fighting drove him from the ridge,
which was held by Steedman until 6 p. m., when he fell back under orders.
The arrival of Granger's troops was a great advantage to Thomas in
another way. By some mistake the latter's ammunition train had been
ordered back to Chattanooga at the time the Union right was routed,
and the supply was running low, when the arrival of Granger with about
100,000 rounds put new courage into the men as it was distributed
among them. To add to the supply the troops went among the dead
and gathered all they could from the cartridge boxes of their fallen
comrades and foes alike. Toward the close of the day the order was
given to husband the ammunition and use the bayonet as much as pos-
sible. Some of the late charges of the Confederates were repulsed with
the "cold steel" alone. The gallant stand of Thomas, and the general-
ship he displayed in holding Horseshoe ridge in the face of superior
numbers, won for him the significant sobriquet of the "Rock of Chicka-
When Longstreet broke the Union line at noon Rosecrans himself
was caught in the rout. Believing that his army was doomed to certain
defeat, he went to Chattanooga to provide for the security of his bridges
and, as he says in his report, "to make preliminary dispositions either to
forward ammunition and supplies, should we hold our ground, or to with-
draw the troops into good position." The first official intelligence that
Thomas had of the unfortunate occurrence on the right was about 4 p. m.,
when Gen. Garfield, Rosecrans' chief of staff, arrived from Rossville.
Notwithstanding the disheartening news, Thomas decided to hold his
position until nightfall, if possible. The remaining ammunition was dis-
tributed and instructions given to his division commanders to be ready
to move promptly when orders to that effect were issued. At 5:30 Rey-
nolds received the order to begin the movement. Thomas himself went
forward to point out the ground he wanted Reynolds to occupy and
form a line to cover the withdrawal of the other troops. While passing
through a strip of timber bordering the Lafayette road Thomas met two
soldiers, who had been in search of water, and who informed him that a
large body of the enemy was drawn up in line in the woods just in front,
advancing toward the Union lines. Reynolds was ordered to change the
head of his column to the left, with his right resting on the road, and
charge the enemy. At the same time the artillery opened a converging
fire from both right and left, while Turchin made a dashing charge with
his brigade, utterly routing the Confederates and driving them clear
beyond Baird's position on the left, capturing over 200 prisoners. Robin-
son's and Willich's brigades were then posted in positions to cover the
retirement of the troops, the former on the road leading through the
ridge, and the latter on the ridge to the right. Wood. Brannan and
Granger fell back without molestation, but Baird, Johnson and Palmer
were attacked as they were drawing back to their lines. This attack was
made by L. E. Polk's division, but by this time it had become too dark
to move with certainty, and in advancing the Confederate line was
changed so that it formed an acute angle, the troops firing into each
other. The withdrawal from the field was accomplished with such pre-
cision and quietness that it was not discovered by Bragg until after sun-
rise the following morning. Thomas took up a position in the vicinity
of Rossville and remained there during the 21st. retiring to Chattanooga
that night. Bragg's army had been so severely punished in the two days'
fighting that he was disinclined to continue the conflict. Some desul-
tory skirmishing occurred on the 21st, but no general movement was
The Union losses in the battle of Chickamauga, according to the offi-
cial reports, were 1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded, and 4,757 missing. The
Confederate losses, as given in "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War,"
amounted to 2,389 killed, 13,412 wounded, and 2,003 missing.

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Source: The Union Army, vol. 5


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