Battle of Chickamauga - Day 1
The Battle of Chickamauga, fought September 19–20, 1863, marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia called the Chickamauga Campaign.
The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.
The battle was fought between the Union Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Braxton Bragg, and was named for West Chickamauga Creek, which flows into the Tennessee River about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) northeast of downtown Chattanooga.
After his successful Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans renewed the offensive, aiming to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. The three corps comprising Rosecrans's army set out for Chattanooga by separate routes. In early September, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered in Tennessee and Georgia and forced Bragg's army out of Chattanooga, heading south. The Union troops followed it and brushed with it at Davis's Cross Roads. Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet a part of Rosecrans's army, defeat it, and then move back into the city. On September 17 he headed north, intending to attack the isolated XXI Corps. As Bragg marched north on September 18, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry, which were armed with Spencer repeating rifles.
Fighting began in earnest on the morning of September 19, and Bragg's men strongly assaulted but did not break the Union line. The next day, Bragg continued his assault on the Union line, and in late morning, Rosecrans was informed incorrectly that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosecrans created an actual gap, and Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's men promptly exploited it, driving one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas took over command and began consolidating forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. Although the Confederates launched determined assaults on Thomas and his men, they held until after dark. Union forces then retired to Chattanooga while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights, besieging the city.
In his successful Tullahoma Campaign in the summer of 1863, Rosecrans moved southeast from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, out-maneuvering 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.
River of Death
The campaign and major battle take their name from West Chickamauga Creek. In popular histories, it is often said that Chickamauga is a Cherokee word meaning "river of death". Peter Cozzens, who has written arguably the most definitive book on the battle, This Terrible Sound, wrote that this is the "loose translation". Glenn Tucker presents the translations of "stagnant water" (from the "lower Cherokee tongue"), "good country" (from the Chickasaw) and, "river of death" (dialect of the "upcountry Cherokee"). Tucker claims that the "river of death" came by its name not from early warfare, but from the location that the Cherokee contracted smallpox. James Mooney, in Myths of the Cherokee, wrote that Chickamauga is the more common spelling for Tsïkäma'gï, a name that has "lost any meaning in Cherokee and appears to be of foreign origin."
The Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Rosecrans, consisted of about 60,000 men, composed of the following major organizations:
* XIV Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, 22,781 present for duty with division commanders Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird, Maj. Gen. James S. Negley, Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan, and Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds.
* XX Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Alexander McD. McCook, 13,156 present with division commanders Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, Brig. Gen. Richard W. Johnson, and Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan.
* XXI Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden, 14,660 present with division commanders Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood, Maj. Gen. John M. Palmer, and Brig. Gen. Horatio P. Van Cleve.
* Reserve Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, 7,372 present with one division commanded by Brig. Gen. James B. Steedman and an attached brigade of Col. Daniel McCook.
* Cavalry Corps, commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert B. Mitchell, 10,078 present with division commanders Brig. Gen. George Crook, and Col. Edward M. McCook.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Bragg, with about 65,000 men, was composed of the following major organizations:
* The Right Wing, commanded by Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, contained the division of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, Hill's Corps of Lt. Gen. D.H. Hill (divisions of Maj. Gens. Patrick R. Cleburne and John C. Breckinridge) and the Reserve Corps of Maj. Gen. William H. T. Walker (divisions of Brig. Gen. States Rights Gist and St. John R. Liddell).
* The Left Wing, commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, contained the division of Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, Buckner's Corps of Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner (divisions of Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart and Brig. Gens. William Preston and Bushrod R. Johnson) and Longstreet's Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood (divisions of Maj. Gens. Lafayette McLaws and Hood).
* A cavalry corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, contained the divisions of Brig. Gens. John A. Wharton and William T. Martin.
* A second cavalry corps, commanded by Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, contained the divisions of Brig. Gens. Frank C. Armstrong and John Pegram.
The organization of the Army of Tennessee into Wings was ordered the night of September 19 upon the arrival of Longstreet from Virginia. Prior to this, the corps commanders reported directly to Bragg.
Planning the Union advance
Rosecrans faced significant logistical challenges if he chose to move forward. The Cumberland Plateau that separated the armies was a rugged, barren country over 30 miles long with poor roads and little opportunity for foraging. If Bragg attacked him during the advance, Rosecrans would be forced to fight with his back against the mountains and tenuous supply lines. He did not have the luxury of staying put, however, because he was under intense pressure from Washington to move forward in conjunction with Burnside's advance into East Tennessee. By early August, Halleck was frustrated enough with Rosecrans's delay that he ordered him to move forward immediately and to report daily the movement of each corps until he crossed the Tennessee River. Rosecrans was outraged at the tone of "recklessness, conceit and malice" of Halleck's order and insisted that he would be courting disaster if he were not permitted to delay his advance until the least August 17.
Rosecrans knew that he would have difficulty receiving supplies from his base on any advance across the Tennessee River and therefore thought it necessary to accumulate enough supplies and transport wagons that he could cross long distances without a reliable line of communications. His subordinate generals were supportive of this line of reasoning and counseled delay, all except for Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield, Rosecrans's chief of staff, a politician who understood the value of being on the record endorsing the
Lincoln administration's priorities.
The plan for the Union advance was to cross the Cumberland Plateau into the valley of the Tennessee River, pause briefly to accumulate some supplies, and then cross the river itself. An opposed crossing of the wide river was not feasible, so Rosecrans devised a deception to distract Bragg above Chattanooga while the army crossed downstream. Then the Army would advance on a wide front through the mountains. The XXI Corps under Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden would advance against the city from the west, the XIV Corps under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas would cross over Lookout Mountain 20 miles south of the city, while the XX Corps under Maj. Gen. Alexander M. McCook and the Cavalry Corps under Maj. Gen. David S. Stanley would advance even farther to the southeast toward Bragg's railroad supply line leading from Atlanta. If executed correctly, this plan would cause Bragg to evacuate Chattanooga or be trapped in the city without supplies.
Crossing the Tennessee
Rosecrans ordered his army to move on August 16. The difficult road conditions meant a full week passed before they reached the Tennessee River Valley. They encamped while engineers made preparations for crossing the river. Meanwhile, Rosecrans's deception plan was underway. Col. John T. Wilder of the XIV Corps moved his mounted infantry brigade (the Lightning Brigade, which first saw prominence at Hoover's Gap) to the north of Chattanooga. His men pounded on tubs and sawed boards, sending pieces of wood downstream, to make the Confederates think that rafts were being constructed for a crossing north of the city. His artillery, commanded by Capt. Eli Lilly, bombarded the city from Stringer's Ridge for two weeks, an operation sometimes known as the Second Battle of Chattanooga. The deception worked and Bragg was convinced that the Union crossing would be above the city, in conjunction with Burnside's advancing Army of the Ohio from Knoxville.
The first crossing of the Tennessee River was accomplished by the XX Corps at Caperton's Ferry, 4 miles from Stevenson on August 29, where construction began on a 1,250-foot pontoon bridge. The second crossing, of the XIV Corps, was at Shellmound, Tennessee, on August 30. They were quickly followed by most of the XXI Corps. The fourth crossing site was at the mouth of Battle Creek, Tennessee, where the rest of the XIV Corps crossed on August 31. Without permanent bridges, the Army of the Cumberland could not be supplied reliably, so another bridge was constructed at Bridgeport by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's division, spanning 2,700 feet in three days. Virtually all of the Union army, other than elements of the Reserve Corps kept behind to guard the railroad, had safely crossed the river by September 4. They faced more mountainous terrain and road networks that were just as treacherous as the ones they had already traversed.
The Confederate high command was concerned about this development and took steps to reinforce the Army of Tennessee. General Joseph E. Johnston's army dispatched on loan two weak divisions (about 9,000 men) from Mississippi under Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge and Maj. Gen. William H. T. Walker by September 4, and General Robert E. Lee dispatched a corps under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet from the Army of Northern Virginia. Only five brigades (about 5,000 effectives) from two of Longstreet's divisions arrived in time for the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga on September 20.
The three infantry corps of Rosecrans's army advanced by separate routes, on the only three roads that were suitable for such movements. On the right flank, McCook's XX Corps moved southwest to Valley Head, Alabama; in the center, Thomas's XIV Corps moved just across the border to Trenton, Georgia; and on the left, Crittenden's XXI Corps moved directly toward Chattanooga around Lookout Mountain. On September 8, after learning that Rosecrans had crossed into his rear, Bragg evacuated Chattanooga and moved his army south along the LaFayette Road toward LaFayette, Georgia. The Union army occupied Chattanooga on September 9. Rosecrans telegraphed Halleck, "Chattanooga is ours without a struggle and East Tennessee is free." Bragg was aware of Rosecrans's dispositions and planned to defeat him by attacking his isolated corps individually. The corps were spread out over 40 miles (65 km), too far apart to support each other.
Rosecrans was convinced that Bragg was demoralized and fleeing to either Dalton, Rome, or Atlanta, Georgia. Instead, Bragg's Army of Tennessee was encamped at LaFayette, some 20 miles (32 km) south of Chattanooga. Confederate soldiers who posed as deserters deliberately added to this impression. Thomas firmly cautioned Rosecrans that a pursuit of Bragg was unwise because the Army of the Cumberland was too widely dispersed and its supply lines were tenuous. Rosecrans, exultant at his success in capturing Chattanooga, discounted Thomas's advice. He ordered McCook to swing across Lookout Mountain at Winston's Gap and use his cavalry to break Bragg's railroad supply line at Resaca, Georgia. Crittenden was to take Chattanooga and then turn south in pursuit of Bragg. Thomas was to continue his advance toward LaFayette.
Davis's Cross Roads
Thomas's lead division, under Maj. Gen. James Negley, intended to cross McLemore's Cove and use Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain to reach LaFayette. Negley was 12 hours ahead of Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird's division, the nearest reinforcements. Braxton Bragg hoped to trap Negley by attacking through the cove from the northeast, forcing the Union division to its destruction at the cul-de-sac at the southwest end of the valley. Early on the morning of September 10, Bragg ordered Polk's division under Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman to march 13 miles southwest into the cove and strike Negley's flank. He also ordered D.H. Hill to send Cleburne's division from LaFayette through Dug Gap to strike Negley's front, making sure the movement was coordinated with Hindman's.
Entering the cove with 4,600 men, Negley's division encountered Confederate skirmishers, but pressed forward to Davis's Cross Roads. Informed that there was a large Confederate force approaching on his left, Negley took up a position in the mouth of the cove and remained there until 3 a.m. on September 11. Hill claimed that Bragg's orders reached him very late and began offering excuses for why he could not advance—Cleburne was sick in bed and the road through Dug Gap was obstructed by felled timber. He advised calling off the operation. Hindman, who had executed Bragg's orders promptly and had advanced to within 4 miles of Negley's division, became overly cautious when he realized that Hill would not be attacking on schedule and ordered his men to stop. Bragg reinforced Hindman with two divisions of Buckner's corps, which were encamped near Lee and Gordon's Mill. When Buckner reached Hindman at 5 p.m. on September 10, the Confederates outnumbered Negley's division 3 to 1, but failed to attack.
Infuriated that his orders were being defied and a golden opportunity was being lost, Bragg issued new orders for Hindman to attack early September 11. Cleburne, who was not sick as Hill had claimed, cleared the felled timber from Dug Gap and prepared to advance when he heard the sound of Hindman's guns. By this time, however, Baird's division had reached Negley's, and Negley had withdrawn his division to a defensive position just east of the crossroads. The two Union divisions then withdrew to Stevens Gap. Hindman's men skirmished with Baird's rear guard, but could not prevent the withdrawal of the Union force.
Realizing that part of his force had narrowly escaped a Confederate trap, Rosecrans abandoned his plans for a pursuit and, as he wrote in his official report—"as a matter of life and death"—began to concentrate his scattered forces. On September 12 he ordered McCook and the cavalry to move northeast to Stevens Gap to join with Thomas, intending for this combined force to continue northeast to link up with Crittenden. The message to McCook took a full day to reach him at Alpine and the route he selected to move northeast required three days of marching 57 miles, retracing his steps over Lookout Mountain.
Crittenden's corps began moving from Ringgold toward Lee and Gordon's Mill. Forrest's cavalry reported the movement across the Confederate front and Bragg saw another offensive opportunity. He ordered Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk to attack Crittenden's lead division, under Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood, at dawn on September 13, with Polk's corps and Walker's corps. Bragg rode to the scene after hearing no sound of battle and found that there were no preparations being made to attack. Once again, Bragg was angry that one of his subordinates did not attack as ordered, but by that morning it was too late—all of Crittenden's corps had passed by and concentrated at Lee and Gordon's Mill.
For the next four days, both armies attempted to improve their dispositions. Rosecrans continued to concentrate his forces, intending to withdraw as a single body to Chattanooga. Bragg, learning of McCook's movement at Alpine, feared the Federals might be planning a double envelopment. At a council of war on September 15, Bragg's corps commanders agreed that an offensive in the direction of Chattanooga offered their best option.
By September 17, McCook's corps had reached Stevens Gap and the three Union corps were now much less vulnerable to individual defeat. Yet Bragg decided that he still had an opportunity. Reinforced with two divisions arriving from Virginia under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, and a division from Mississippi under Brig. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson, he decided to move his army northward on the morning of September 18 and advance toward Chattanooga, forcing Rosecrans's army out to fight or to withdraw. If Rosecrans fought, he risked being driven back into McLemore's Cove. The Confederate army was to move beyond the Federal left flank at Lee and Gordon's Mill and then cross West Chickamauga Creek. He specified four crossing points, from north to south: Johnson's division at Reed's Bridge, Walker's Reserve Corps at Alexander's Bridge, Buckner's corps at Thedford's Ford, and Polk's corps at Dalton's Ford. Hill's corps would anchor the army's left flank and the cavalry under Forrest and Wheeler would cover Bragg's right and left flanks, respectively.
Opening engagements: September 18
Bushrod Johnson's division took the wrong road from Ringgold, but eventually headed west on the Reed's Bridge Road. At 7 a.m. his men encountered cavalry pickets from Col. Robert Minty's brigade, guarding the approach to Reed's Bridge. Being outnumbered five to one, Minty's men eventually withdrew across the bridge after being pressured by elements of Forrest's cavalry, but could not destroy the bridge in time to prevent Johnson's men from crossing. At 4:30 p.m., when Johnson had reached Jay's Mill, Maj. Gen. John B. Hood of Longstreet's Corps arrived from the railroad station at Catoosa and took command of the column. He ordered Johnson to use the Jay's Mill Road instead of the Brotherton Road, as Johnson had planned.
At Alexander's Bridge to the south, Col. John T. Wilder's mounted infantry brigade defended the crossing against the approach of Walker's Corps. Armed with Spencer repeating rifles and Capt. Lilly's four guns of the 18th Indiana Battery, Wilder was able to hold off a brigade of Brig. Gen. St. John Liddell's division, which suffered 105 casualties against Wilder's superior firepower. Walker moved his men downstream a mile to Lambert's Ford, an unguarded crossing, and was able to cross around 4:30 p.m., considerably behind schedule. Wilder, concerned about his left flank after Minty's loss of Reed's Bridge, withdrew and establish a new blocking position east of the Lafayette Road, near the Viniard farm.
By dark, Johnson's division had halted in front of Wilder's position. Walker had crossed the creek, but his troops were well scattered along the road behind Johnson. Buckner had been able to push only one brigade across the creek at Thedford's Ford. Polk's troops were facing Crittenden's at Lee and Gordon's Mill and D.H. Hill's corps guarded crossing sites to the south.
Although Bragg had achieved some degree of surprise, he failed to exploit it strongly. Rosecrans, observing the dust raised by the marching Confederates in the morning, anticipated Bragg's plan. He ordered Thomas and McCook to Crittenden's support, and while the Confederates were crossing the creek, Thomas began to arrive in Crittenden's rear area.
Rosecrans's movement of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas's XIV Corps the previous day put the left flank of the Army of the Cumberland farther north than Bragg expected to find when he formulated his plans for an attack on September 20. Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden's XXI Corps was concentrated around Lee and Gordon's Mill, which Bragg assumed was the left flank, but Thomas was arrayed behind him, covering a wide front from Crawfish Springs (division of Maj. Gen. James S. Negley), the Widow Glenn's house (Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds), Kelly field (Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird), to around the McDonald farm (Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan). Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger's Reserve Corps was spread along the northern end of the battlefield from Rossville to McAfee's Church.
Bragg's plan was for an attack on the supposed Union left flank by the corps of Maj. Gens. Simon B. Buckner, John Bell Hood, and W.H.T. Walker, screened by Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry to the north, with Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham's division held in reserve in the center and Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne's division in reserve at Thedford's Ford. Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman's division faced Crittenden at Lee and Gordon's Mill and Breckinridge's faced Negley.
The Battle of Chickamauga opened almost by accident, when pickets from Col. Daniel McCook's brigade of Granger's Reserve Corps moved toward Jay's Mill In search of water. McCook had moved from Rossville on September 18 to aid Col. Robert Minty's brigade. His men established a defensive position several hundred yards northwest of Jay's Mill, about equally distant from where the 1st Georgia Cavalry waited through the night south of the mill. At about the time that McCook sent a regiment to destroy Reed's Bridge (which would survive the second attempt in two days to destroy it), Brig. Gen. Henry Davidson of Forrest's Cavalry Corps sent the 1st Georgia forward and they encountered some of McCook's men near the mill. McCook was ordered by Granger to withdraw back to Rossville and his men were pursued by Davidson's troopers. McCook encountered Thomas at the LaFayette Road, having finished an all-night march from Crawfish Springs. McCook reported to Thomas that a single Confederate infantry brigade was trapped on the west side of Chickamauga Creek. Thomas ordered Brannan's division to attack and destroy it.
Brannan sent three brigades in response to Thomas's order: Col. Ferdinand Van Derveer's brigade moved southeast on the Reed's Bridge Road, with Col. John Croxton's brigade on his right. Col. John Connell's brigade came up behind in reserve. Croxton's men drove back Davidson's advanced cavalrymen and Forrest formed a defensive line of dismounted troopers to stem the tide. Croxton halted his advance because he was unsure of Forrest's strength. Forrest requested reinforcements from Bragg and Walker near Alexander's Bridge and Walker ordered Col. Claudius Wilson's brigade forward about 9 a.m., hitting Croxton's right flank. Forrest protected his own right flank by deploying the brigade of Col. George Dibrell, which ran into Van Derveer's brigade and came to a halt under fire. Forrest sent in Brig. Gen. Matthew Ector's brigade, part of Walker's Reserve Corps, but without Walker's knowledge. Ector's men replaced Debrill's in line, but they were also unable to drive Van Derveer from his position.
Brannan's division was holding its ground against Forrest and his infantry reinforcements, but their ammunition was running low. Thomas sent Baird's division to assist, which advanced with two brigades forward and one in reserve. Brig. Gen. John King's brigade of U.S. Army regulars relieved Croxton. The brigade of Col. Benjamin Scribner took up a position on King's right and Col. John Starkweather's brigade remained in reserve. With superior numbers and firepower, Scribner and King were able to start to push back Wilson and Ector.
Bragg committed the division of Brig. Gen. St. John R. Liddell to the fight, countering Thomas's reinforcements. The brigades of Col. Daniel Govan and Brig. Gen. Edward Walthall advanced along the Alexander's Bridge Road, smashing Baird's right flank. Both Scribner's and Starkweather's brigades retreated in panic, followed by King's regulars, who dashed for the rear through Van Derveer's brigade. Van Derveer's men halted the Confederate advance with a concentrated volley at close range. Liddell's exhausted men began to withdraw and Croxton's brigade, returning to the action, pushed them back beyond the Winfrey field.
The land between Chickamauga Creek and the LaFayette Road was gently rolling but almost completely wooded. ... In the woods no officer above brigadier could see all his command at once, and even the brigadiers often could see nobody's troops but their own and perhaps the enemy's. Chickamauga would be a classic "soldiers battle," but it would test officers at every level of command in ways they had not previously been tested. An additional complication was that each army would be attempting to fight a shifting battle while shifting its own position. ... Each general would have to conduct a battle while shuffling his own units northward toward an enemy of whose position he could get only the vaguest idea. Strange and wonderful opportunities would loom out of the leaves, vines, and gunsmoke, be touched and vaguely sensed, and then fade away again into the figurative fog of confusion that bedeviled men on both sides. In retrospect, victory for either side would look simple when unit positions were reviewed on a neat map, but in Chickamauga's torn and smoky woodlands, nothing was simple.
Believing that Rosecrans was attempting to move the center of the battle farther north than Bragg planned, Bragg began rushing heavy reinforcements from all parts of his line to his right, starting with Cheatham's division of Polk's Corps, with five brigades the largest in the Army of Tennessee. At 11 a.m., Cheatham's men approached Liddell's halted division and formed on its left. Three brigades under Brig. Gens. Marcus Wright, Preston Smith, and John Jackson formed the front line and Brig. Gens. Otho Strahl and George Maney commanded the brigades in the second line. Their advance greatly overlapped Croxton's brigade and had no difficulty pushing it back. As Croxton withdrew, his brigade was replaced by Brig. Gen. Richard Johnson's division of McCook's XX Corps near the LaFayette Road. Johnson's lead brigades, under Col. Philemon Baldwin and Brig. Gen. August Willich engaged Jackson's brigade, protecting Croxton's withdrawal. Although outnumbered, Jackson held under the pressure until his ammunition ran low and he called for reinforcements. Cheatham sent in Maney's small brigade to replace Jackson, but they were no match for the two larger Federal brigades and Maney was forced to withdraw as both of his flanks were crushed.
Additional Union reinforcements arrived shortly after Johnson. Maj. Gen. John Palmer's division of Crittenden's corps marched from Lee and Gordon's Mill and advanced into the fight with three brigades in line—the brigades of Brig. Gen. William Hazen, Brig. Gen. Charles Cruft, and Col. William Grose—against the Confederate brigades of Wright and Smith. Smith's brigade bore the brunt of the attack in the Brock field and was replaced by Strahl's brigade, which also had to withdraw under the pressure. Two more Union brigades followed Palmer's division, from Brig. Gen. Horatio Van Cleve's division of the XXI corps, who formed on the left flank of Wright's brigade. The attack of Brig. Gen. Samuel Beatty's brigade was the tipping point that caused Wright's brigade to join the retreat with Cheatham's other units.
For a third time, Bragg ordered a fresh division to move in, this time Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's (Buckner's corps) from its position at Thedford Ford around noon. Stewart encountered Wright's retreating brigade at the Brock farm and decided to attack Van Cleve's position on his left, a decision he made under his own authority. With his brigades deployed in column, Brig. Gen. Henry Clayton's was the first to hit three Federal brigades around the Brotherton Farm. Firing until their ammunition was gone, Clayton's men were replaced with Brig. Gen. John Brown's brigade. Brown drove Beatty's and Dick's men from the woods east of the LaFayette Road and paused to regroup. Stewart committed his last brigade, under Brig. Gen. William Bate, around 3:30 p.m. and routed Van Cleve's division. Hazen's brigade was caught up in the retreat as they were replenishing their ammunition. Col. James Sheffield's brigade from Hood's division drove back Grose's and Cruft's brigades. Brig. Gen. John Turchin's brigade (Reynolds's division) counterattacked and briefly held off Sheffield, but the Confederates had caused a major penetration in the Federal line in the area of the Brotherton and Dyer fields. Stewart did not have sufficient forces to maintain that position, and was forced to order Bate to withdraw east of the Lafayette Road.
At around 2 p.m, the division of Brig. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson (Hood's corps) encountered the advance of Union Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis's two brigade division of the XX corps, marching north from Crawfish Springs. Johnson's men attack Col. Hans Heg's brigade on Davis's left and forced it across the LaFayette Road. Hood ordered Johnson to continue the attack by crossing the LaFayette Road with two brigades in line and one in reserve. The two brigades drifted apart during the attack. On the right, Col. John Fulton's brigade routed King's brigade and linked up with Bate at Brotherton field. On the left, Brig. Gen. John Gregg's brigade attacked Col. John T. Wilder's Union brigade in its reserve position at the Viniard Farm. Gregg was seriously wounded and his brigade advance halted. Brig. Gen. Evander McNair's brigade, called up from the rear, also lost their cohesion during the advance.
Union Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood's division was ordered to march north from Lee and Gordon's Mill around 3 p.m. His brigade under Col. George P. Buell was posted north of the Viniard house while Col. Charles Harker's brigade continued up the LaFayette Road. Harker's brigade arrived in the rear of Fulton's and McNair's Confederate regiments, firing into their backs. Although the Confederates retreated to the woods east of the road, Harker realized he was isolated and quickly withdrew. At the Viniard house, Buell's men were attacked by part of Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law's division of Hood's corps. The brigades of Brig. Gens. Jerome B. Robertson and Henry L. Benning pushed southwest toward the Viniard field, pushing back Brig. Gen. William Carlin's brigade (Davis's division) and fiercely struck Buell's brigade, pushing them back behind Wilder's line. Hood's and Johnson's men, pushing strongly forward, approached so close to new Rosecrans's headquarters at the tiny cabin of Widow Eliza Glenn that the staff officers inside had to shout to make themselves heard over the sounds of battle. There was a significant risk of a Federal rout in this part of the line. Wilder's men eventually held back the Confederate advance, fighting from behind a drainage ditch.
The Federals launched several unsuccessful counterattacks late in the afternoon to regain the ground around the Viniard house. Col. Heg was mortally wounded during one of these advances. Late in the day, Rosecrans deployed almost his last reserve, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's division of McCook's corps. Marching north from Lee and Gordon's Mill, Sheridan took the brigades of Cols. Luther Bradley and Bernard Laiboldt. Bradley's brigade was in the lead and it was able to push the heavily outnumbered brigades of Robertson and Benning out of Viniard field. Bradley was wounded during the attack.
By 6 p.m., darkness was falling, and Braxton Bragg had not abandoned his idea of pushing the Federal army to the south. He ordered Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne's division (Hill's corps) to join Polk on the army's right flank. This area of the battlefield had been quiet for several hours as the fighting moved progressively southward. George Thomas had been consolidating his lines, withdrawing slightly to the west to what he considered a superior defensive position. Richard Johnson's division and Absalom Baird's brigade were in the rear of Thomas's westward migration, covering the withdrawal. At sunset Cleburne launched an attack with three brigades in line—from left to right, Brig. Gens. James Deshler, Sterling Wood, and Lucius Polk. The attack degenerated into chaos in the limited visibility of twilight and smoke from burning underbrush. Some of Absalom Baird's men advanced to support Baldwin's Union brigade, but mistakenly fired at them and were subjected to return friendly fire. Baldwin was shot dead from his horse attempting to lead a counterattack. Deshler's brigade missed their objective entirely and Deshler was shot in the chest while examining ammunition boxes. Brig. Gen. Preston Smith led his brigade forward to support Deshler and mistakenly rode into the lines of Col. Joseph B. Dodge's brigade (Johnson's division), where he was shot down. By 9 p.m Cleburne's men retained possession of the Winfrey field and Johnson and Baird had been driven back inside Thomas's new defensive line.
Casualties for the first day of battle are difficult to calculate because losses are usually reported for the entire battle. Historian Peter Cozzens wrote that "an estimate of between 6,000 and 9,000 Confederates and perhaps 7,000 Federals seems reasonable.
Other Names: None
Location: Catoosa County and Walker County
Campaign: Chickamauga Campaign (1863)
Date(s): September 18-20, 1863
Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans and Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas [US]; Gen. Braxton Bragg and Lt. Gen. James Longstreet [CS]
Forces Engaged: The Army of the Cumberland [US]; Army of Tennessee [CS]
Estimated Casualties: 34,624 total (US 16,170; CS 18,454)
Description: After the Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans renewed his offensive, aiming to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. The three army corps comprising Rosecrans’ s army split and set out for Chattanooga by separate routes. In early September, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered in Tennessee and Georgia and forced Bragg’s army out of Chattanooga, heading south. The Union troops followed it and brushed with it at Davis’ Cross Roads. Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet a part of Rosecrans’s army, defeat them, and then move back into the city. On the 17th he headed north, intending to meet and beat the XXI Army Corps. As Bragg marched north on the 18th, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry which were armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Fighting began in earnest on the morning of the 19th, and Bragg’s men hammered but did not break the Union line. The next day, Bragg continued his assault on the Union line on the left, and in late morning, Rosecrans was informed that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosencrans created one, and James Longstreet’s men promptly exploited it, driving one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. George H. Thomas took over command and began consolidating forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. Although the Rebels launched determined assaults on these forces, they held until after dark. Thomas then led these men from the field leaving it to the Confederates. The Union retired to Chattanooga while the Rebels occupied the surrounding heights.
Result(s): Confederate victory
CWSAC Reference #: GA004
Preservation Priority: I.2 (Class A)