Category Archives: Georgia

Andersonville Prison Opens

February 27, 1864 – Confederate officials opened a new prisoner of war camp in Georgia that soon became notorious for its inhumane living conditions.

By this time, the tentative prisoner exchange cartel between the Federals and Confederates had virtually broken down for various reasons, including:

  • Confederates would not recognize black prisoners as legitimate combatants eligible for exchange
  • Federals would not ease the Confederacy’s manpower shortage by returning Confederate prisoners
  • Confederates refused to negotiate with Major General Benjamin F. Butler, the new Federal agent for prisoner exchange, because they deemed Butler a war criminal for his dictatorial rule over New Orleans

Consequently, the number of prisoners began skyrocketing, and prisons in both North and South quickly became overcrowded. The Confederates held tens of thousands of Federal prisoners in Richmond, which was within striking distance of Federal guerrillas seeking to liberate them. Confederates also sought to address the problem of dwindling real estate in which to house this growing number of captives.

Confederate officials decided to set up a new prison camp near Americus, in southwestern Georgia. The climate in this area allowed for holding a large number of prisoners in an outdoor stockade. It was also an area relatively unaffected by the war, far from any potential Federal raiders. Moreover, it boasted plentiful natural resources, with a local professor stating that the water “may be considered as equal in purity to the purest well-water in the world.”

The prison was named Camp Sumter, located near Anderson Station on the Southwestern Railroad, in Sumter County. According to the professor, “there is no recognizable source of disease in the water and soil of Andersonville.” Confederates measured out and built a stockade 750 feet by 750 feet, with walls 15 feet high and a stream running through the compound. When residents refused to donate supplies or slave labor for construction, the foreman impressed their slaves into service.

Andersonville Prison | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, the stockade featured two gates on the west wall, guard towers every 90 feet, and other facilities outside the compound such as a cook house, hospital, and sawmill. The prison was designed to hold 9,000 men. Colonel Alexander Persons of Georgia was appointed commandant of the new prison, which soon became known as Andersonville.

The first 500 prisoners from Belle Isle, Virginia, arrived on the 27th, before the compound was completed. The prison eventually grew to cover 26 acres and house some 30,000 prisoners. The Confederacy, having barely enough food or medicinal supplies for its citizens, had even less for prisoners. Efforts by President Jefferson Davis to procure medicines from the Federals to tend to their soldiers went ignored. Davis’s offer to allow Federal doctors to treat the prisoners within Confederate lines also went unheeded.

Widespread illness, famine, and disease ran rampant as a result. Others suffered from exposure due to a lack of adequate shelter from the elements. Andersonville quickly epitomized the brutality of military confinement.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21491; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 378-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 403; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 13; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 469; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 795-96; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

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The Dalton Demonstration

February 24, 1864 – Skirmishing intensified in northern Georgia, as Major General John M. Palmer sought to unite his Federals at Rocky Face Ridge and drive the Confederates out of Dalton.

Four Federal divisions from Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland moved out on the 22nd toward General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton. The operation consisted of Palmer’s XIV Corps moving southeast from Chattanooga, and Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s division of IV Corps moving southwest from Cleveland.

Maj Gen J.M. Palmer | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Palmer’s mission was to determine Johnston’s strength and prevent him from reinforcing the Confederate forces in either Alabama or eastern Tennessee. The Federal high command hoped that Palmer could push the Confederates away from their formidable positions at both Dalton and Rocky Face Ridge (a steep eminence west of Dalton). This would enable the Federals to “get possession of the place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

Palmer’s Federals marched through Ringgold Gap and approached the plains near Dalton, Rocky Face Ridge, and Tunnel Hill (a northwestern spur of Rocky Face). Skirmishing occurred with Confederate cavalry, who reported to Johnston that a general enemy advance was underway. False rumors soon spread among the Confederates that Thomas’s entire 60,000-man army was approaching, while Johnston had just 20,000 troops to stop them.

The next day, Johnston directed Major General Thomas C. Hindman to lead two divisions in forming defenses at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, and the gap in Rocky Face Ridge. As Palmer’s Federals advanced, they clashed with Hindman’s men at Catoosa Station and Tunnel Hill. The fighting soon intensified, and Palmer brought up reinforcements that threatened Hindman’s flanks. The Confederates fell back to higher, stronger positions on Tunnel Hill.

Johnston notified President Jefferson Davis of the action, and Davis allowed Johnston to recall Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps, which had been sent to reinforce Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s army in Alabama. Polk no longer needed Hardee’s men now that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the Tennessee was returning to Vicksburg after decimating Meridian. Davis warned Johnston that “the demonstration in your front is probably a mask.”

Meanwhile, Cruft’s Federals continued pushing south along the railroad until Confederates defending the east side of Rocky Face Ridge stopped them about three miles east of Dalton. Johnston had rushed two divisions there to prevent Cruft from coming up behind the Confederates facing Palmer to the west.

Colonel William Grose, commanding Cruft’s lead brigade, reported, “I don’t believe there is much force of the enemy in our front, but too much for our small force. I am of the impression that double our force could have gained the railroad and held it. The enemy used no artillery. We fired five rounds.” Grose opted to wait until the rest of Cruft’s division came up to join him the next day.

To the west, two of Palmer’s divisions under Brigadier Generals Richard W. Johnson and Jefferson C. Davis advanced on Tunnel Hill, which was defended by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate division. Johnson’s Federals provided artillery cover while Davis’s men scaled the hill’s northern slope and drove the Confederate outposts from the summit. Davis reported:

“The enemy’s skirmishers yielded with little resistance. From these hills the enemy’s position was easily reconnoitered, and from the fire of his artillery the position of two strongly posted field batteries was plainly discovered.”

The Confederates withdrew southeast to a defile in Rocky Face Ridge called Buzzard Roost Gap, where they joined the main Confederate defense line. The Federals stopped for the night, but Palmer planned to advance in full force next morning. According to Davis, “It was thought this movement would turn the enemy’s position at Buzzard Roost and enable our forces (Palmer’s and Cruft’s) to unite south of Rocky Face Ridge.” From there, Palmer hoped to drive Johnston’s army out of Dalton and secure the railroad from there to Chattanooga.

Palmer directed Cruft to “push the column toward Dalton and attack any force that might be met.” The next day, Cruft, facing two divisions to his one, opted to wait for reinforcements. The Confederates sent their skirmishers forward, hoping to seize the initiative. Palmer came up with Brigadier General Absalom Baird’s division on Cruft’s right. The Federals finally advanced to attack the north side of Rocky Face Ridge around 11:30 a.m. According to Cruft:

“The lines were pressed steadily on for somewhat over a mile. At this point the enemy occupied a steep wooded ridge in our front in considerable force. It was successfully carried by the Second and Third Brigades without breaking step, the enemy falling back to a ridge beyond. Upon obtaining the crest of the first ridge and commencing the descent the brigade of direction was halted about 1 p.m. by command of Major-General Palmer and the line adjusted thereto.”

Palmer directed an attack by his right, which was easily repulsed. Both sides spent the rest of the day trading artillery fire. On the west side of the ridge, Davis heard firing around 3 p.m. and sought to relieve pressure on Cruft by attacking the Confederates holding Buzzard Roost Gap. Davis reported that his skirmishers were “warmly engaged, the enemy resisting their strong points with great vigor.”

As Davis’s Federals approached the Confederate rifle pits, they were met by fire in their front and artillery fire on their flanks. Davis was forced to order a withdrawal. On the other side of the ridge, Palmer ordered Cruft and Baird to fall back to north of Tunnel Hill.

By the 27th, Thomas, who had been too ill to personally command this expedition, arrived on the scene and directed the Federals to fall back to Chattanooga. The Federals suffered 345 casualties in this operation (43 killed, 267 wounded, and 35 missing or captured), while the Confederates lost 140. The Federals learned that Johnston’s defenses were too strong to confront head-on, especially at Rocky Face Ridge.

This Federal demonstration on Dalton did not serve its original purpose of keeping Johnston from sending reinforcements to Polk, as Sherman’s campaign was already over. It merely compelled Johnston to recall Hardee’s corps and prepare for the overall Federal offensive sure to come in spring.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 376-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 468; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 765

The Proposed Dalton Demonstration

February 12, 1864 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant asked Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, to feign an attack on Dalton to divert Confederate attention from the Federal offensive in Mississippi.

Grant, heading the Military Division of the Mississippi, commanded three armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio faced Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps near Knoxville in eastern Tennessee
  • Thomas’s army at Chattanooga faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton in northern Georgia
  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee faced Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Army of Mississippi outside Meridian

Sherman was in the process of laying waste to central Mississippi while closing in on the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in the state. Grant wanted to support Sherman’s effort by having Thomas prevent Johnston from helping Polk. Grant also wanted Schofield to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee, but he needed Thomas to send troops to support that mission as well.

Major General John G. Foster, who had just been replaced as Army of the Ohio commander by Schofield, traveled to Nashville to confer with Grant about the eastern Tennessee situation. Foster convinced Grant that Longstreet would not threaten Schofield, prompting Grant to announce that “no movement will be made against Longstreet at present.”

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

This allowed Thomas to devote his full attention to Johnston at Dalton. Grant asked Thomas on the 12th, “Should you not be required to go into East Tennessee, could you not make a formidable reconnaissance toward Dalton, and, if successful in driving the enemy out, occupy that place and complete the railroad up to it this winter?” Thomas responded that if he had one more division, “an advance on Dalton would be successful.”

Grant reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he had decided not to send Thomas’s Federals to support Schofield because “if we move against Longstreet with an overwhelming force he will simply fall back toward Virginia until he can be re-enforced or take up an impregnable position.” Instead, “Now that our men are ready for an advance, I have directed it to be made on Dalton, and hope to get possession of that place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

When Thomas still had not moved after five days, Grant reiterated his instructions: “Make your contemplated move as soon as possible.” Thomas replied, “I have had more obstacles to overcome than I had anticipated. I find it absolutely necessary to take artillery, for which I must have horses. I cannot say positively what day I shall start, but certainly by Monday (the 22nd).”

On the 18th, Thomas followed up his reply from the previous day: “I regret to be obliged to report that I do not think I shall be able to take the field, the cold and damp weather having brought on an attack of neuralgia, from which I suffer intensely.” Thomas assigned Major General John M. Palmer, commanding XIV Corps, to lead the demonstration.

Palmer would lead the three divisions from his own corps, plus a division from IV Corps under Brigadier General Charles Cruft, which was 30 miles east of Chattanooga. Palmer’s corps would advance from the northwest toward Dalton while Cruft advanced from the northeast. Palmer directed Cruft to move out on the 22nd, writing him the day before:

“I had supposed that you had received detailed orders for your movements tomorrow… From the lateness of the evening at which I received my own orders, I am not able to give precise directions for further operations, but can only suggest that I hope everything will be done to make the reconnaissance effective.”

Despite the vagueness of the instructions, Palmer and Cruft were to somehow join forces before they reached Dalton, about 35 miles south of Chattanooga. The Federals would move out the next day.

Meanwhile, Johnston continued his new routine of inspections, drills, and rest in the Army of Tennessee while awaiting Federal action. As Sherman’s Federals destroyed Meridian, Johnston resisted calls from Richmond to send reinforcements to Polk. Finally, President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to dispatch Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps. Johnston reluctantly complied.

Hardee’s Confederates began arriving at Montgomery, Alabama, on the 19th, where they learned that Sherman had left Meridian. They did not yet know that Sherman was returning to Vicksburg; they feared he might continue east into Alabama. One of Hardee’s divisions linked with Polk’s army at Demopolis on the 21st. With the Federals poised to advance on Dalton the next day, this left Johnston dangerously vulnerable.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 369; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935

The Battle of Chickamauga: Aftermath

September 21, 1863 – The Federal Army of the Cumberland retreated into Chattanooga after its disastrous defeat at Chickamauga, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee cautiously pursued.

By the morning of the 21st, five Federal divisions under Major General George H. Thomas had fallen back to defensive positions at Rossville Gap, while the rest of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal army withdrew into Chattanooga. Thomas held this line all day, awaiting another Confederate attack.

President Abraham Lincoln, who had received a message describing the defeat late the night before, woke John Hay, his private secretary, early this morning and said, “Well, Rosecrans has been whipped, as I feared. I have feared it for several days. I believe I feel trouble in the air before it comes.” The president grieved not only the defeat but the death of his brother-in-law, Confederate Brigadier General Ben Hardin Helm, who commanded the division that included the “Orphan Brigade.”

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Rosecrans sent a disheartening message that morning: “Our loss is heavy and our troops worn down… We have no certainty of holding our position here.” Lincoln ordered Major General Ambrose E. Burnside to lead his Army of the Ohio out of Knoxville to reinforce the Federals at Chattanooga. He then wrote Rosecrans, “Be of good cheer. We have unabated confidence in you, and in your soldiers and officers… save your army by taking strong positions until Burnside joins you, when, I hope, you can turn the tide.”

General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, spent most of the day dispatching scouts to pinpoint the Federals’ location. After determining that two major forces were at Rossville and Chattanooga, Lieutenant General James Longstreet suggested that the Confederates should either move northeast to prevent Burnside from reaching Rosecrans, or attack Rosecrans while he was still demoralized.

Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry ascended Missionary Ridge and observed the Federals below. Forrest was convinced that they were disorganized and vulnerable. He wrote Bragg urging him to quickly send the infantry to finish Rosecrans off, as “Every hour is worth a thousand men.” When Bragg did not respond, Forrest rode to his headquarters to plead his case.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Bragg refused to renew the attack because he had lost 30 percent of his men, including 10 generals. Half his artillery horses were dead, and a forward movement would pull the army too far from the railroad, which was needed to resupply his army. Forrest said, “General Bragg, we can get all the supplies our army needs in Chattanooga.” But Bragg still refused. The Confederate army was almost just as demoralized in victory as the Federal army was in defeat. Forrest stormed off, asking, “What does he fight battles for?”

Around 9 p.m., Thomas addressed a potential threat to his flanks by pulling his forces back into Chattanooga to join the rest of Rosecrans’s army. Lincoln wrote Rosecrans asking him to “relieve my anxiety as to the position and condition of your army.” Rosecrans answered the next morning: “We have fought a most sanguinary battle against vastly superior numbers. Longstreet is here, and probably (Richard) Ewell (from Virginia), and a force is coming from Charleston.” He was right about Longstreet, but rumors about Ewell and troops from Charleston were false.

Rosecrans asserted that while his army had suffered great losses, his men “have inflicted equal injury upon the enemy. The mass of this army is intact and in good spirits. Disaster not as great as I anticipated… Our position is a strong one. Think we can hold out several days, and if re-enforcements come up soon everything will come out right.” He also stated, “We are about 30,000 brave and determined men, but our fate is in the hands of God, in whom I hope.”

Lincoln began realizing that Rosecrans’s situation was not as hopeless as initially feared. He told General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “If he can only maintain his position, without (doing anything) more, the rebellion can only eke out a short and feeble existence, as an animal sometimes may with a thorn in its vitals.”

That day, Major General Ulysses S. Grant received Halleck’s message from the 15th ordering him to send some of Major General William T. Sherman’s men to Chattanooga, adding, “Urge Sherman to act with all possible promptness.” Grant wrote Sherman at Vicksburg, “Please order at once one division of your army corps to proceed to re-enforce Rosecrans, moving from here by brigades as fast as transportation can be had.” Grant added another division along with one from Major General James B. McPherson, and placed all three under Sherman’s direct command.

Bragg decided that rather than directly attacking Rosecrans’s Federals, he would put them under siege. He began arranging for his men to occupy Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, where they could control the flow of supplies into the city and starve the Federals into surrender. Rosecrans risked destruction if he tried pulling his army out of Chattanooga, so he directed his men to build defenses and waited for reinforcements to help him fight his way out.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 137-38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 328-29; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9705; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 759-60, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 353; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 557-59; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 412-13; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 674; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35

The Battle of Chickamauga: Day Two

September 20, 1863 – The terrible battle in northwestern Georgia entered its second day and threatened to result in Federal disaster.

As the day began, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was still situated on a line running from north (left) to south (right). Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the army, placed most of his strength on the left to block the roads leading to Chattanooga. Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps and several supporting divisions held the left near the Kelly house.

General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee held a line roughly parallel to the Federals, with the right (north) wing led by Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk and the left (south) wing led by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Bragg expected Polk to assault the Federal left at dawn, with the rest of the army attacking en echelon from right to left.

Lieutenant General D.H. Hill’s Confederate corps, now part of Polk’s wing, was to begin the attack. But Hill did not know about any of this until a courier delivered Bragg’s orders to him that morning. Hill read the orders and protested that he could not get his men into assault positions “for an hour or more.” Bragg arrived on the scene and berated both Polk and Hill for the delay.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The attack finally began at 9 a.m., but the Confederates could not break the strong defenses that Thomas’s Federals had built overnight. Frustrated by Polk’s delay, Bragg canceled the echelon attack and instead ordered Longstreet’s left wing to assault the Federal center. Heavy woods, rough terrain, and piecemeal troop deployment resulted in many small, independent battles opening all along the line.

Confederates charged the Federal center some time after 9 a.m., but Federals on either flank helped push them back. Around 10:30 a.m., Rosecrans received word that a gap had formed in his center, between the divisions of Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood and Major General Joseph J. Reynolds. This “gap” was actually held by Brigadier General John M. Brannan’s division, but Rosecrans could not see it through the dense woods.

At 10:55 a.m., Wood received an order from Rosecrans’s headquarters: “The general commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible, and support him. Respectfully, &c. Frank S. Bond, Major and Aide-de-Camp.” This contradicted itself because it directed Wood to move closer to Reynolds’s men on the left but also to move behind Reynolds in support. It also bypassed Wood’s corps commander, Major General Thomas L. Crittenden, in the chain of command.

Wood quickly decided to support Reynolds, thus moving his division out of the Federal line and opening a major gap between the Brotherton and Viniard houses that one of Thomas’s aides called “a chasm in the center.” Longstreet quickly exploited this error by sending 10,000 men through the quarter-mile opening just before noon. The men belonged to the divisions of Major Generals Thomas C. Hindman and John Bell Hood. Longstreet’s aggressiveness earned him the nickname “Old Bull of the Woods.”

The Confederates destroyed the two Federal corps (Major General Alexander McCook’s and Crittenden’s) in the center and on the right, overrunning Rosecrans’s headquarters and sending half the Federal army fleeing in retreat. A Federal general recalled, “All became confusion. No order could be heard above the tempest of battle. With a wild yell the Confederates swept on the far to their left. They seemed everywhere victorious.”

Rosecrans ordered a general retreat to Chattanooga, and Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing on behalf of the War Department, telegraphed at 4 p.m., “My report today is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a day in our history as Bull Run.” Dana described the scene:

“They came through with resistless impulse, composed of brigades formed in divisions. Before them our soldiers turned and fled. It was wholesale panic. Vain were all attempts to rally them… We have lost heavily in killed today. The total of our killed, wounded, and prisoners can hardly be less than 20,000, and may be much more… Enemy not yet arrived before Chattanooga. Preparations making to resist his entrance for a time.”

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

But as the Federal center and right dissolved, the left held firm. Thomas formed a defense line on Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge west of the hill. All units that had not been routed assembled on this line and repelled attacks from four of Longstreet’s divisions; Longstreet later estimated that he attacked the line 25 times without success.

Longstreet prepared to shift his forces and attack Thomas’s rear when Major General Gordon Granger, without orders, moved toward the sound of gunfire and brought up Brigadier General James Steedman’s division from his Reserve Corps to block the maneuver around 2:30 p.m.

Rosecrans dispatched his chief of staff, Brigadier General James A. Garfield, to prepare defenses at Chattanooga. When Garfield told Thomas that Rosecrans called for his “retiring to a position in the rear,” Thomas said, “It will ruin the army to withdraw it now. This position must be held until night.” Garfield informed Rosecrans that Thomas remained “standing like a rock.” Northern newspapers soon nicknamed Thomas “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

Thomas’s Federals making a stand | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As darkness approached and Confederate pressure intensified, Thomas began withdrawing his forces one unit at a time. The movement took two hours. The Federals pulled back through McFarland’s Gap to Rossville, where they held the mountain gaps and blocked any Confederate advance on Chattanooga. Three of Granger’s regiments (the 21st and 89th Ohio, and the 22nd Michigan) remained on the defense line, with orders to defend it with their bayonets after running out of ammunition. They held until the rest of the troops escaped, and then they surrendered.

This was the most terrible battle ever fought in the Western Theater, as both commanders lost nearly 30 percent of their armies in the two-day struggle. The Federals sustained 16,170 total casualties (1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded and 4,757 missing), including seven brigade commanders, from about 58,000 effectives. Rosecrans wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that night, “We have met with a serious disaster; extent not yet ascertained. Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our center, and scattered troops there.”

Garfield met with Thomas at Rossville and reported 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. I believe we can whip them tomorrow. I believe we can now crown the whole battle with victory.” But Rosecrans, exhausted physically and mentally, remained in Chattanooga and conceded defeat.

The Confederates lost 18,454 (2,312 killed, 14,674 wounded and 1,468 missing), including nine division and two brigade commanders, from about 66,000 men. Bragg reported capturing over 8,000 prisoners, 51 guns with 2,381 artillery rounds, and 23,281 small arms with over 135,000 rifle rounds. This was the largest arms seizure on a battlefield during the war.

While this was a major Confederate victory, Thomas saved the Federal army from complete destruction. Also, Bragg did not receive definitive reports on the Federal rout and thus did not order a pursuit. When a Confederate soldier who had escaped capture told Bragg that the Federals were in full retreat, Bragg asked, “Do you know what a retreat looks like?” The solder said, “I ought to, General; I’ve been with you during your whole campaign.”

Although Bragg missed an opportunity to destroy Rosecrans’s army, he had handed the Federals a disastrous defeat, which he hoped would lead to regaining Chattanooga and eventually all of Tennessee. Nevertheless, Hill later wrote:

“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.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 136-38; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 426-27; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 841-42; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 78-79; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 327; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 736, 747-48, 754, 756, 758, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 352; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 319; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 55-73; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 67-69, 220-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 411-12; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 673-74; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-38, 370; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642

The Battle of Chickamauga: Day One

September 19, 1863 – A terrible battle began in northwestern Georgia between General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee and Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland.

By the morning of the 19th, Rosecrans’s Federals held a line running roughly north to south (i.e., left to right), west of the advancing Confederates. Rosecrans still believed that most of Bragg’s army was east of the meandering Chickamauga Creek, but three-fourths of the Confederates had already crossed.

Conversely, Bragg still believed the Federal left flank was at Lee and Gordon’s Mill, but Rosecrans had extended his left with two divisions of Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps and two brigades of Major General Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps. Thus, the Federal line now stretched three and a half miles farther north and covered the path to Chattanooga.

Thomas sent troops forward to find the enemy, and as they groped through the dense, rolling forest, they clashed with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s dismounted Confederate cavalry. Fighting began between Reed’s Bridge and the La Fayette Road, and more units on both sides soon joined the fray.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The skirmish quickly escalated to a full-scale battle, with nearly every Federal and Confederate unit engaged by afternoon. The fight extended along a winding, three-mile front. Both sides surged back and forth throughout the day, as troops had trouble seeing and maneuvering among the thick woods around Chickamauga Creek.

The Confederates launched multiple assaults against the Federals’ left but could not pry them from their positions. After setting up headquarters at Alexander’s Bridge, Bragg deployed his men into the fight piecemeal rather than massing them for one overwhelming attack. Meanwhile, Rosecrans sent reinforcements to Thomas, thus weakening his center and right.

Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, accompanying the Federal army on behalf of the War Department, telegraphed at 4:30 p.m., “I do not yet dare to say our victory is complete, but it seems certain.” However, the Confederates opened gaps in the weak Federal center and right, and used these gaps to advance almost all the way to Rosecrans’s headquarters.

Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner’s Confederate corps attacked the Federal center, held by a division under Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood, Buckner’s childhood friend and West Point classmate. Counterattacks by Wood and Major General Philip Sheridan on the right pushed the Confederates back, as Dana telegraphed at 5:20 p.m.: “Now appears to be undecided contest, but later reports will enable us to understand more clearly.”

Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The fighting continued after sundown, with the troops using sounds and muzzle flashes to guide their aim. Consequently, many soldiers were hit by friendly fire. Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s Confederate division launched one last assault on the Federal left. It was repelled, and both sides disengaged for the night.

Bragg had narrowly missed breaking the Federal line and getting between Rosecrans and Chattanooga. The Federals still held all the main roads leading to the city, and while casualties were extreme, no advantage was gained by either side. During the fight, Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps continued arriving at Ringgold depot, about 20 miles away. They would be too late to join the fighting on this day.

The night turned cold as men on both sides slept on the ground without blankets. They also could not build fires or else they would be easy targets for sharpshooters. The Federals suffered worse because the Confederates held the Chickamauga, which they used for drinking water. Many soldiers groped through the darkness in search of wounded and missing comrades.

Rosecrans telegraphed Washington, “The army is in excellent condition and spirits, and by the blessing of Providence the defeat of the enemy will be total tomorrow.” President Abraham Lincoln, somehow reminded of Chancellorsville, did not share Rosecrans’s optimism.

Rosecrans held a council of war with his top commanders at the Glenn house. He suffered heavy losses and had few men left that had not yet seen action. But with Dana present, Rosecrans would not consider retreat. The officers agreed to assume the defensive and stand their ground the next day, unless Bragg withdrew, which he had done after Perryville and Stones River.

Thomas said that the left needed reinforcing. Rosecrans responded by placing six divisions on the left under Thomas’s command. McCook’s two divisions of XX Corps were moved north to link with Thomas, and Crittenden’s two divisions of XXI Corps were moved behind the line to support whatever sector was threatened most. Rosecrans directed the troops on the frontline to build log breastworks.

Bragg reported, “Night found us masters of the ground, after a series of very obstinate contests with largely superior numbers.” He held an informal council of war, where he divided his army into two wings:

  • Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk commanded the right (north) wing, which included his corps (less one division) and the corps of both Lieutenant General D.H. Hill and Major General William H.T. Walker
  • Longstreet commanded the left (south) wing, which included his arriving corps, Buckner’s corps, and Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s division of Polk’s corps

Hill, who did not attend the council of war because he got lost in the dark, was not informed of this change. Longstreet also got lost when Bragg did not send anyone to meet him at the train depot. He finally arrived at Bragg’s headquarters around midnight and received his orders.

Bragg expected Polk to renew the assault at dawn, with the rest of the army attacking en echelon from right to left, “to turn the enemy’s left, and by direct attack force him into McLemore’s Cove.” Bragg made no adjustments to his line, even after receiving reports that Rosecrans had strengthened his left.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 136-38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 841-42; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 78-79; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 326; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 722-23, 725-27, 763; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 351; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 45, 49-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 411; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 671-73; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 136-38

The Armies Concentrate in Northern Georgia

September 18, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans began concentrating his Federal Army of the Cumberland, and General Braxton Bragg continued looking for any opportunity to attack.

Generals Bragg and Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

From his La Fayette headquarters, Bragg did not know the exact location of the Federal army, but he did know that Federal forces were on his right (north), front (west), and left (southwest). Bragg and Lieutenant General D.H. Hill expected the Federals to attack from the southwest, but Rosecrans was instead starting to pull his dangerously spread-out army together.

Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps held the Federal right (southwestern) flank at Alpine. Unaware that Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps held McLemore’s Cove in the center, McCook directed his men on a 57-mile countermarch back over Lookout Mountain to join Thomas.

Rosecrans ordered Thomas to close within five miles of Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s XXI Corps, which held the left (northern) flank near Lee and Gordon’s Mill. From Washington, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant to send all available troops in his department from Corinth, Mississippi, to Tuscumbia, Alabama, so they could be ready to reinforce Rosecrans if needed.

Meanwhile, Bragg had been reinforced by troops from General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Mississippi, led by Major General William H.T. Walker. Bragg also had the former Army of East Tennessee, led by Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner. Bragg designated the commands of Walker and Buckner as corps within the Army of Tennessee.

In addition, Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s two Confederate divisions under Major Generals John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws continued moving via railroad to reinforce Bragg’s army. One of Hood’s brigades reached Atlanta, about 100 miles south of Bragg, on the 12th. But the remaining troops were strung out across the Carolinas and Georgia, and would not be available to Bragg for several more days.

On the 15th, Halleck informed Rosecrans that Longstreet would be reinforcing Bragg. He also told Rosecrans that he was pulling troops from Grant to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans notified Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville, that “the enemy, reinforced by Johnston and Longstreet from Virginia, doubtless intend us all the mischief in their power.”

Bragg held a council of war with his corps commanders (Buckner, Walker, and Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and D.H. Hill), where it was decided to cross Chickamauga Creek and move around Rosecrans’s left. This would cut the Federals off from their supply base at Chattanooga and force them to either fight or flee.

However, Bragg did not issue orders to move until a day later, and the orders only involved moving some units while keeping others on the defensive. No crossing of the Chickamauga was mentioned, nor were Longstreet’s reinforcements, which were now on their way to Ringgold.

Major General Gordon Granger, commanding the Federal reserve corps at Chattanooga, reported that at least two Confederate divisions had moved through Ringgold. Rosecrans set up headquarters at Lee and Gordon’s Mill, which became the new Federal left flank under Crittenden. He hurriedly began concentrating his forces along Chickamauga Creek, about 12 miles south of Chattanooga, to meet the threat. However, McCook was still trying to cross Lookout Mountain, and Thomas refused to close with Crittenden until McCook arrived to link with him.

McCook finally arrived at McLemore’s Cove on the 17th, after a grueling four-day march. He had been isolated from the rest of the Federal army during that time, but Bragg failed to capitalize on it. Thomas moved up to link with Crittenden’s right, and the Federal army was no longer in danger of being destroyed piecemeal. Rosecrans directed Granger to guard the road to Chattanooga at Rossville. That night, Rosecrans extended Crittenden’s left flank to guard against the flank attack that Bragg had planned.

Bragg’s army held a line running north (right) near Ringgold to south (left) near La Fayette. Most of the forces were south, under Hill. Polk held the north, with Buckner and Walker in between. Bragg ordered Buckner and Walker to shift right and reinforce Polk, and then he ordered this new force to cross Chickamauga Creek the next day.

Trains conveying Longstreet’s Confederates began arriving at Catoosa Station, near Ringgold. When Colonel Robert Minty of the Federal cavalry reported this to Crittenden, the general insisted, “Longstreet is in Virginia. The Rebel army is retreating, and are trying to get away some of their abandoned stores; they have nothing but dismounted cavalry in your front.” Unbeknownst to Crittenden, Federal troopers briefly skirmished with some of Hood’s Confederates in Ringgold.

By the 18th, Walker and Buckner were crossing the West Chickamauga Creek. The division of Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson, reinforced by Longstreet and Walker, was ordered to “sweep up the Chickamauga, toward Lee and Gordon’s Mills.” Federal cavalry challenged Johnson’s crossing at Reed’s Bridge, using their repeating carbines to hold the Confederates at bay.

Brigadier General John T. Wilder’s Federals crossed Alexander’s Bridge, upstream from Reed’s, and clashed with Walker’s vanguard. Wilder fell back across the bridge and destroyed it; the Federal actions at Reed’s and Alexander’s bridges delayed the advance of over 20,000 Confederates for several hours. Meanwhile, Buckner crossed and waited for Walker and Johnson to come up on his right.

Confederates under Hood and Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest arrived and pushed across the Chickamauga to join the others as the sun set. That night, Bragg ordered Polk’s corps to cross, with Hill’s corps shifting right to take Polk’s place. Just 9,000 Confederates were across the Chickamauga by sundown, but they continued crossing through the night until just three divisions remained at Ringgold. Bragg directed, “The movement will be executed with the utmost promptness, vigor and persistence.”

The steady arrival of Longstreet’s men would eventually give Bragg about 66,000 troops, and he would outnumber Rosecrans’s 58,000 Federals. Bragg ordered Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to hold Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain against a possible flank attack on the Confederates’ extreme left. By day’s end, all the Federals had concentrated to the north, and Wheeler was called up to take Hill’s place on the line near La Fayette.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans could see the dust clouds formed by marching Confederates to his left. He responded by moving Thomas around Crittenden to the north to extend the left flank. Thomas took up a line directly in the path of Bragg’s intended march the next day. The armies formed along the creek the local Cherokee called Chickamauga, which loosely translated to “River of Death.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 78-79; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18864; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 325-26; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 350-51; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 556-57; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 42-45; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 67-69, 220-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 408-10; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 671; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 136-38