Chickamauga and the Civil War
There is alot of interesting history surrounding Chickamauga and it's involvement in the Civil War as well as some interesting post war history of the area that relates to the remembrance of the battle that occured in the area. This area in North Georgia and East Tennessee was pivotal ground for the Federals who were making a go at splitting the Confederacy once again. They had succeeded in taking the Mississippi River and were now turning their attention to Georgia and East Tennessee and the vital rail lines and supply depots that lay within this country. We hope you enjoy reading this information and learn something new from it as we did during it's posting.
The Battle of Chickamauga
On the morning of Sept.19, 1863, General Alex McCook walked outside his tent near the Georgia - Tennessee border and discovered Union Command had made a serious mistake. Confederate General Braxton Bragg had been in a series of retreats since the Battle of Stones River at Murfreesboro and Union Commanding General William S. Rosecrans had continued marching west making the capture of Chattanooga a "high-priority" for the Union forces. It would cut the Confederacy’s most important railroad yard and stop freight shipments on the Tennessee River. In addition, the Federals would also have a staging area from
which campaigns could be launched across the Deep South.
Union General Rosecrans had pressed west from middle Tennessee and expected Bragg to continue retreating, but the Confederate General finally decided to hold position and dig in at Chattanooga. When Rosecrans crossed the Tennessee River below the city, however, Bragg again retreated 26 miles south of the city to Lafayette, GA where he began concentrating his army. Reinforcements from East Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi arrived and quickly filled his ranks to 66,000 men.
On Sept. 18, Bragg, wanting to put his men between the Federals and Chattanooga, crossed the west bank of Chickamauga Creek and took up
position. During the night of the 18th, Union General Rosecrans moved his troops forward in a night march and gained the position between Chattanooga and the Confederates.
On the morning of the 19th, General Nathan B. Forrest drew first blood when he engaged a Union regiment at Jay’s Mill. The fight at the mill was ferocious. It was close-quartered and hand-to-hand, but, around 1 p.m., Forrest fell back to regroup. The battle had attracted divisions in both Union and Southern armies. They marched towards the site and shortly
after 1:30 the Battle of Chickamauga was engaged.
The thick forests of the battlefield made the initial assaults difficult. The Union and Confederate soldiers traded real estate throughout the day. One side advancing and the other retreating as the day gave in to night. When the first day of battle ended, General Bragg’s plan of driving the Union forces back on each other had been defeated. During the night, Confederate forces regrouped and slipped into position.
The morning of the 20th, the Confederates launched their attack at 9 am. As the day before, it degenerated into a battle for terrain features and real estate. Confederate forces were repulsed on every advance, but
each time tore a little deeper into Union lines. Around 11 a.m., Union General Brannan and General Wood were ordered to positions left of the Confederate front. Wood misunderstood the order and pulled his entire army off the line thinking they were to reinforce General Reynold’s position.
Confederate General James Longstreet saw the gap in the Union lines and drove three divisions through it pushing the Union army completely off of the battlefield. It was the break the Confederates had been needing. It broke the back of the Union advance and forced them into retreat. Union General George Thomas saw the Confederate surge and fell back to Snodgrass Hill where other Union troops were gathering. He quickly organized them into a defensive unit and from the position poured down fire on pursuing Confederates.
The task of taking down the Union position that earned Thomas the nickname "the rock of Chickamauga" fell in a large part to the 63rd Tennessee Confederates. The 63rd was up against the new lever-action rifles. It was on of the first times the "experimental" weapons were used in a major battle and they proved to be superior to the single-shot rifles carried by both sides. It was General Thomas’ quick thinking on Snodgrass Hill, however, that is credited with saving the Union Army.
General N.B. Forrest was finally given command of the 9th Tennessee Infantry to try and remove Thomas from his position. It was the only time the Tennessee cavalry officer was given an infantry command. They
took heavy losses from the Union fire before he could get to Thomas. Covering the retreat of the Union, Thomas and his men began to fall back towards Chattanooga.
While the battle continued to rage, Gen. Forrest made a couple of quick moves and also captured the field hospitals of the Union’s left wing. Forrest continued operating on the Union’s left flank and first noticed them withdrawing from the battlefield towards Chattanooga.
When the Union began its withdrawal from the battlefield, General Forrest sent a flood of messages warning the battlefield command of the retreat. General Braxton Bragg then made a mistake that nearly caused a revolt among his generals. Bragg didn’t pursue the retreat and continue an attack that would force the Union to withdraw from Chattanooga. The lack of action from his command permitted the Union to fall back into the city and fortify their positions.
Chickamauga National Military Park historian James Ogden says the southern leaders knew the Confederate victory was a hollow effort because of Bragg’s indecision to pursue the Union. The blunder so angered General Forrest that he wired Confederate Command with the news he was resigning his commission.
"General Nathan B. Forrest demanded an audience with General Bragg," said Ogden. "He told Bragg that he would never take another order from him and that, if Bragg was any sort of a man, he would box his ears and dare him to resent it. Forrest also added if Bragg ever crossed his path again, it would be at the peril of his own life. Here was a battle that was costly for both sides. Union casualties were around 16,200 and Confederate losses around 18,000. In order to win, the Confederates
needed to pursue, but Bragg had failed to see the tactics of the situation."
Ogden also says the victory was a big morale boost for the Confederacy, but came a little too late for them to capitalize on it.
"Bragg could have really changed the scope of the war if he had followed
through on the attack. The Confederate forces were hardened veterans and could’ve taken Chattanooga. The stories of individual effort and sacrifice on both sides made it one of the greatest battles of the War Between the States."
The 1863 Battle of Chickamauga shook up the front-line military
command on both sides of the War Between the States. While the Union fortified Chattanooga, General Sherman was ordered from Vicksburg to the city, General Joseph Hooker with the 11th and 12th corps was ordered down from the Army of the Potomac, and General U.S. Grant was given general command of Union forces in Chattanooga.
Within days of Grant’s arrival in October, the Union opened a short supply route called "the cracker line".
On Nov. 23, Union General Thomas routed the Confederates from Orchard Knob, the next day, under a heavy shroud of fog, the Union pushed the Confederates out of their defenses around Lookout Mountain, and, on the 25th, General Grant ordered General Thomas
and the Army of the Cumberland to assault the rifle pits at the base of
Thomas’s men quickly accomplished it and, acting without orders, scaled the ridge in one of the war’s great charges and assaulted the Confederate lines. A young Union officer by the name of Arthur MacArthur helped lead the assault. When a standard-bearer would fall in the battle, the
soldier behind would grab the flag and carry it forward until he was wounded. Mac Arthur, seeing it going down again, leaped across the wounded and grabbed it. He carried it forward and planted it in the ground until his wounds forced him to relinquish it. Following a change in the requirements for awarding the Medal of Honor in 1896, MacArthur would receive the Nation’s highest award for his actions during the battle.
While the battles were hard fought and fierce, the Union broke the Confederate lines and sent them into retreat towards Georgia. By December, the Union Army had captured and controlled Chattanooga, where they would launch their last assault on the Confederate South.
Numerous books on the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga are available at local bookstores. Of special note in the battle was General John Bell Hood receiving a wound that would plague him throughout his command and eventually lead the Texan to commit one of the greatest mistakes in military history.
In 1890, Congress authorized the establishment of four National Military Parks. On September 18-20, 1895, the first National Military Park in America was dedicated outside Chattanooga. Since the purpose would be to maintain the park in its historic condition, they noted there had scarcely been any change in the roads, fields, and forests.
The changing terrain of the battlefield still offers unique opportunities for historical and professional military study of the operations of two great armies meeting face to face and is regarded as one of the best of its kind in the world.
Chickamauga National Military Park was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service in 1933 and, while close to 1,400 monuments would be built to mark the battlefield contributions of the Union and Confederate veterans from the states represented in the battle, not one has ever been erected to mark the contributions of the Tennesseans who fought and died at Chickamauga.
Unlike other Tennessee National Military Parks, you will notice there is no National Cemetery on the Park’s grounds. All of the soldiers left on the battlefield, with one exception, were buried in other locations.
Before it became a park, the forests of Chickamauga remained untouched, but not for any environmental or historical reason. The gunfire that raged on the battlefield was like a steel curtain that tore into every tree on the site. The bullets imbedded in the trees make cutting them dangerous. Lumber mills in the region never accept any timber from the site of the battle.
Chickamauga National Military Park is open daily and offers a variety of
activities. Chickamauga Battlefield features a self-guided seven-mile
driving tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking, and horse trails. The
visitor center contains exhibits, a well-stocked bookstore, and facilities for doing historical research.
For more information on Park hours and operations, you can call (706) 866-9241.
TRIP TO CHICKAMAUGA
THE CHATTANOOGA DAILY GAZETTE
Thursday Morning, May 11, 1865, Page 3
[Editor’s Note: Less than a month after the end of the war what can only be called the first Civil War re-enactment took place on the Chickamauga Battlefield. Some of the men thought it would make a picnic outing more exciting for the ladies and give themselves a chance to appear as heroes by a rumored attack by“guerillas.” The local newspaper
printed the following account of the event.]
At an early hour yesterday morning a large party of ladies and gentlemen left town for a Pic Nic on the battlefield of Chickamauga. Owing to the numerous prevailing reports of guerrillas being in that section, the originators of the affair deemed it prudent to take an escort with them. Accordingly, twenty-five or thirty mounted men from the Reserve
Artillery led the head of the column, while the rear was by brought up by
infantry from the 18th Ohio. On the road out the officer commanding the mounted men received information which caused him to believe that a small body of guerillas was is the neighborhood.
Arriving at Cave Spring a short time before noon, the party halted for dinner. Credit is due the ladies of the party for the style and character of the eatables which were spread out in great abundance for the party. The gentlemen connected with the Commissary part of the expedition also done their part well. After dinner the party started for Crawfish Spring, and when about two miles from cave Spring, firing was heard in the direction of the advance and in a few moments the men were to be seen tearing back down the road as if driven by a superior force.
The rest of the mounted men and all the party who had arms, dashed forward to reinforce our men and the entire command charged down a lane or by-road. As a non-combatant, having no arms, and being capable
of seeing where the glory came in, now that the war is over and all unemployed officers are due to be mustered out of the service, and having a due regard for the safety of our limbs, not wishing to increase our weight an ounce, declined acceding to the peremptory order
“Charge, Chester, charge,” which we heard somebody give; said order being associated with certain unpleasant reminiscences, and quietly trotted to the top of a hill, from which, we supposed we could overlook the scene of the proposed fight.
On arriving at the top of this hill, we were highly delighted to see that our men had charged into a piece of woods a short distance beyond, from whence the sound of rapid discharges of fire arms gave note that somebody got fooled. While admiring the brilliancy with which the
whole affair had been carried out, a couple of bullets from the opposite
direction whistled through the trees above, and at the same time the infantry skirmishers deployed through an open field on the right.
At this time matters began to look funny and the surgeon of the expedition rode up, saying, “the colonel had sent for him presuming there were some cases needing his aid. Visions of afield hospital, with a surgeon’s amputating table began to rise before our mind, and we concluded to retire while in good order. The firing being over shortly after, the mounted men and the infantry rejoined the main body.
Being the advance, of course, we could not say personally, what occurred along the column of riders, ambulances and wagons. One lady, who had complained at dinner time of being tired and was riding in an ambulance when the first shots were fired, loudly called for "a horse" and mounted for the purpose, we presume, of being “in at the death.”
The acting Quartermaster because suddenly reminded that the General Order required all Quartermasters to remain with their trains in time of action and, wanting to get his ambulances out of the road, in a hurry, attempted to give two orders at once. Several gentlemen who were riding
in the rear of the column, also distinguished themselves, but great credit must really be given the ladies of the party, all of whom were for the first time under fire, for the coolness which they manifested under the trying
After this little episode the cavalcade proceeded to Crawfish Spring, thence to Lee and Gordon's Mill, on the Chickamauga and back to town, lunching there in the evening at a fine spring on the roadside. The day was one of unalloyed pleasure, and as no accidents resulted from the encounter with the guerrillas, the affair was not marred by the smallest thing which could excite regret.
“Sham Battle” at Snodgrass Hill
The Chattanooga Times
September 11, 1898
[Editor’s Note: During the Spanish American War Park Superintendent arranged for a Kentucky Regiment to perform a re-enactment of the Battle of Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga. The local newspaper printed the following account of this event.]
The sham battle by the 2ndKentucky yesterday morning was one of the
prettiest and one of the most interesting sights that has ever been witnessed at Chickamauga Park. The battle was for the purpose of representing the famous fight that occurred on Snodgrass Hill in 1863, and a number of persons who were in that engagement and who witnessed the sham battle yesterday say it was a most correct representation.
Cos. I, M. K. D, and G represented the federal forces and occupied a position on the crest of Snodgrass Hill. The boys were dressed in blue and were stationed on the exact point occupied by the federals. The attacking force, representing the Confederates, consisting of Cos. H, L, E, C, F, and B, and occupied the position of the Confederates. These boys were dressed in kaki trousers to distinguish them from the federals. The Confederates came out of the woods at the foot of the hill and went into position in sight of the enemy.
The federal line was already formed, and it was only a short time until the Confederates were arranged in battle formation. The federals opened the engagement by firing two volleys. At this, the Confederates advanced a short distance and returned the fire. The firing then became general, the federals firing in volleys and the Confederates replying with two
or three volleys and then firing at will. This firing was kept up for several minutes until the air was dense with smoke and it was impossible to see the combatants.
During the firing, the Confederates had advanced some distance, and when the smoke cleared away, the federals found them much nearer.
At this they were ordered to lie on the ground, and in this position
began another heavy fire. The Confederates opened up a terrific fire at the same time and then began the repetition of the famous charge up the hill. Issuing from the dense smoke and mingled with the din and roar of the fight, could be heard the rebel yell as the Confederates wildly charged the Union line.
A large number of spectators witnessed the fight, and as the charge was made they were seized with the excitement and ran nearer the soldiers to see the result. The volleys and rapid firing of the guns made a terrific din and could be heard for miles. The battle was a great success, and the Kentuckians were complimented on the excellent manner in which they executed the maneuvers. Maj. Helburn was in command of the federal forces, and Maj. Owens was in command of the Confederate.
Battle re-enactment at Snodgrass Hill.
F. O. Smith, J. C. Boner, and M.D. Griffy, delegates to the G. A. R. reunion, witnessed the fight, and pronounced it a great success. The battle was arranged by Gen. A. P. Stewart for the purpose of obtaining a photograph to go in a history he is writing on the Battle of Chickamauga.
An Old Reb in Blue
The following is a very pretty incident connected with the sham
A. J. Erwin, who resides near the park, is a Confederate veteran and participated in the famous charge. He was near the scent when
the sham fight began yesterday, and seeing again that terrible charge he simply became wild with excitement and stated that he wanted to be in the fight and go over the same ground with a gun once again.
The boys accordingly dressed him in a uniform and he was given a gun and a number of blanks. He at once joined in the fight, and although he is nearly 65 years of age he executed the different maneuvers as though he was young again and facing real bullets. Although he fought on the side of the Confederates in the Civil War he went in the Union lines yesterday, just for a change, fighting just as fiercely as though in the Confederate line.