Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Chickamauga Campaign

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By the spring of 186 the American Civil War had become what seemed a permanent hardship for both the Union and the Confederacy. Hopes for quick victory had long since faded and the initial flood of thousands to the colors had ebbed to a trickle. Both the South and the North attempted several schemes to satisfy the war’s appetite for manpower including, finally, conscription, which further lowered morale. The Civil War had become a wearying and expensive burden upon the American people of both sides.

Custom Essays on The Chickamauga Campaign

The American Civil War was fought in two separate theaters. The western theater was at first located along both sides of the Mississippi River. The eastern theater was, for the most part, centered in Virginia, where the Union, in the absence of any formal or well-defined strategy, had apparently made the seizure of Richmond its implicit goal. The Confederacy, numerically and materially inferior to the Union, had adopted what President Jefferson Davis called an “offensive-defensive” approach to the war that attempted to exploit the South’s strategic interior position. Hence, while the North retained the initiative invading Virginia at will, the South moved its forces in reaction to repel each invasion. So the war in the east existed as a series of thrusts and counterthrusts, but no territory permanently changed hands. Success on the battlefield was measured largely in terms of which side suffered the most casualties. Even in September of 186 when Lee took the initiative and invaded Maryland, the ensuing battle of Antietam continued the sequence attack, repel, withdraw.

In the west, it was different war. Here the initial objective was clear�gain control of the Mississippi. The Union had, apparently, belatedly accepted Winfield Scott’s Anaconda strategy, which called for a blockade of the Atlantic coast and control of the Mississippi River. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s successful attacks against Forts Henry and Donelson, the bloody but important victory at Shiloh, and Brigadier General John Pope’s capture of Island No. 10 set the pattern of the war in the west. Each success shifted the next battleground a little deeper into the South’s domain, slowly tightening the boundaries.

Still, by the spring of 186, the war had moved no closer to a decision, neither gaining independence for the Confederacy nor preserving the Union. The summer of 186, though, would change that. Three major campaigns, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and, Chickamauga, would firmly put the war on the road to Appomattox. Gettysburg and Vicksburg were decisive Northern victories with strategic significance.

The Chickamauga Campaign, in contrast, has been billed as a “shattering defeat” for the Union. And yet it was this “shattering defeat” that eventually led to the captures of Chattanooga, the Gateway City to the Deep South, and Atlanta, and opened the way for Sherman’s march to the sea. Of the these major campaigns of 186, only the “shattering defeat” of Chickamauga led ultimately to the end of the war and the defeat of the Confederacy.


The conclusion of the Stones River Campaign in January 186 left Major General William S. Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland in possession of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. General Braxton Bragg, CSA, his erstwhile opponent in the campaign, had positioned the main body of his Army of Tennessee along a line twenty miles to the southeast, stretching from Shelbyville, through Wartrace, to Fairfield. Dispositions for both armies are shown in map 1.

Map 1. Dispositions in the Tullahoma Area of Operations, January � June 186.

Although the dispositions remained essentially unchanged for six months, the Southern cavalry was very busy conducting raids against both Grant’s and Rosecrans’s lines of communication. The loss of the base at Holly Springs proved a major setback for Grant’s operations along the Mississippi, and destruction of railways and depots resulted in the Army of the Cumberland having to subsist on half-rations for several weeks. Rosecrans, as later events proved, was very sensitive to any threats to his supply lines, but did not believe his cavalry assets were capable of defending them against enemy cavalry. As a consequence he bombarded Major General Halleck, the Army’s General-in-Chief, with a steady stream of messages requesting the assignment of more cavalry to the Army of the Cumberland. Over time the issue became a source of irritation to both generals, but in the meantime qualified and appropriately equipped cavalry for Rosecrans was not forthcoming. In a flash of ingenuity, he mounted Colonel John T. Wilder’s infantry brigade on captured horses. The brigade, which had styled itself the “Lightning Brigade,” performed creditable service throughout the campaign.

The Army of the Cumberland, with 60,000 troops, had been reorganized by order of the Department of War into four corps XIV Corps under Major General George H. Thomas; XX Corps under Major General Alexander McD. McCook; XXI Corps under Major General Thomas L. Crittenden; and the Reserve Corps under Major General Gordon Granger.

General Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, with strength of 4,000 men, also comprised four corps. The army headquarters and Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s corps were located at Shelbyville. Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s (soon to be replaced by Lieutenant General Daniel H. Hill) corps was distributed between Wartrace and Fairfield. Brigadier General Nathan B. Forrest’s corps of cavalry covered the army’s left flank from Columbia and Colonel James T. Wheeler’s covered the right flank from its base in McMinnville.

As the days, weeks, and months went by, Rosecrans remained in Murfreesboro gathering supplies, strengthening his bases, and keeping his communications open. It is likely also that he spent a considerable amount of time studying the terrain and the enemy in preparation for his next move against Bragg and Chattanooga.

After a few subtle messages urging Rosecrans to move against Bragg’s positions, Halleck finally lost patience

I deem it my duty to repeat to you the great dissatisfaction that is felt here [Washington] at your inactivity.

And again on 16 June

Is it your intention to make an immediate movement forward? A definite answer, yes or no, is required.

Rosecrans’s unruffled response, “In reply to your inquiry, if immediate means to night or to-morrow, no. If it means as soon as all things are ready, say five days, yes.” was followed about a week later, in a message dated 4 June, by “The army begins to move at o’clock this morning.” In fact, according to Halleck’s official report of operations of the Department of Cumberland, Rosecrans did not begin his movements until the twenty-fifth.


Rosecrans’s plan of attack began with a detailed review of the enemy situation. His first concern was identifying the location of Bragg’s main base of supply at Chattanooga. They also had access to “all the resources of the Duck River Valley and the country southward.” Bragg’s main army occupied a strong position north of the Duck River extending from Shelbyville to Wartrace with cavalry screening on both flanks.

His report included a detailed terrain analysis. He pointed out that the Confederate infantry was covered (and, presumably, concealed) by a range of rough and rocky hills, and he listed and described the six principal routes leading from Murfreesboro toward Tullahoma and the enemy’s lines of communications. The enemy held all of the passes and routes. In additions to the natural obstacles, Bragg’s fortifications also included a “redan line extending from Horse Mountain, on the east, to Duck River on the west, and was covered by a line of abatis. He estimated the enemy’s strength at 0,000 infantry and artillery and 8,000 cavalry.

For someone who claimed a deficiency in cavalry and other means of reconnaissance, Rosecrans had an extraordinary knowledge of the enemy. There was a large presence of Union loyalists in the area and it is possible that some of these were providing Rosecrans’s with information of Bragg’s dispositions, fortifications, and intentions.

Knowing that Bragg intended to defend from his strongly fortified positions, Rosecrans decided to turn his right, or northern flank. The basic plan was to send Granger’s Reserve Corps along with Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell’s cavalry to the west and then to the south as a feint against Bragg’s left flank. Another body of cavalry and infantry would move toward Woodbury, to the east, to look like feints “designed by us to deceive Bragg and conceal our supposed real designs on their left, . . .”

During the evening of the twenty-third Rosecrans gathered his corps commanders and issued his orders.

Granger was to move the Reserve Corps to threaten Middleton, cover the passage of one of the XIV Corps divisions and then bivouac behind XX Corps.

McCook’s XX Corps was to move down the Shelbyville Pike, turn to the left, send two divisions to seize and hold Liberty Gap at the Wartrace Road. A third division was to move to Fosterville and, after covering the passage of the Reserve Corps from the Middleton Road, move to Christiana to rejoin the rest of the Corps.

XIV Corps, Major General Thomas, was to move toward Manchester, seize and hold Hoover’s Gap, and remain there to cover both Hoover’s Gap and Millersburg Road. The corps was to remain within supporting distance of XX Corps.

Crittenden was to leave a division in Murfreesboro and concentrate the rest of XXI Corps on Bradyville and await orders.

One brigade of cavalry was to go with XXI Corps and screen toward McMinnville. The rest of the cavalry, under Major General David S. Stanley, was to join with Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell and attack the enemy cavalry at Middleton.

Map . Rosecrans’s Plan of Operations, 4 June 186.

Earlier, on the morning of the twenty-third, Granger had sent the First Cavalry Division under Mitchell down the Eagleville and Shelbyville pike to “make a furious attack” on the enemy cavalry there and push back the infantry outposts. Granger took the remainder of the Reserve Corps to Salem and remained there.

Major General John M. Palmer, Second Division, XXI Corps, and a brigade of cavalry moved to Bradyville “to seize the head of the defile leading up to the ‘Barrens’ by an obscure road leading to Manchester, by Lumley’s Station.”

All of this occurred approximately according to plan on the twenty-fourth as shown on Map .

On the twenty-fifth the question as to whether the enemy would advance against McCook or mass on the flank of Thomas’s XIV Corps near Fairfield remained open. Accordingly, Rosecrans issued supplementary orders to his corps commanders.

Crittenden was to open communications with Thomas who would then attack the enemy’s right flank and drive them toward Fairfield. The other commanders, McCook, Stanley, and Granger, were to continue their feints. If Thomas was successful in forcing Bragg’s retreat, he was to send a division to cover the road to Wartrace with one division, and send the rest�rapidly�on to Manchester. McCook would then occupy Beech Grove, leave a division to hold Liberty Gap, and ultimately follow Thomas to Manchester. The others were to move on to Manchester as the evolving battle permitted.

Throughout the entire operation, movement was made exceedingly difficulty because of the heavy and incessant rain. The narrow roads throughout the region were poor enough in good weather; the rains made them virtually impassable. These conditions strongly favored the defense who had only to remain in their positions.

By the twenty-seventh, “It was now manifest that the enemy must leave his intrenched position at Shelbyville, and that we must expect him at Tullahoma, only 1 miles distant. . . . While this was progressing, I [Rosecrans] determined to cut, if possible, the railroad in Bragg’s rear.”

Wilder had in the meantime been sent with his mounted Lightning Brigade, supported by another brigade of infantry, to destroy the railroad bridge across the Elk River to sever Bragg’s route of retreat. When they arrived, they found the bridge defended by a brigade of infantry and a battery of artillery and were unable to destroy the bridge. Wilder was able, however, to damage the road at Decherd causing the enemy some difficulties. (Map )

Map . Bragg’s Retreat to Chattanooga.

Most of the actual fighting occurred in the gaps and canyons. The enemy had attempted, unsuccessfully, to retake Liberty Gap from McCook’s division and later, on the twenty-seventh while it was still raining, Stanley’s cavalry supported by Granger’s infantry attacked enemy troops at Guy’s Gap who carried out a delaying operation until the they reached their entrenched positions. A flanking attack and a direct charge finally drove them out.

Bragg’s troops were driven out of Shelbyville and into the Elk River. Shelbyville was taken, according to Rosecrans, with its stores, weapons, and ammunition. Rosecrans directed his troops to continue to Tullahoma where he hoped to cut off Bragg’s retreat. But when they arrived there, on July, they found the enemy had already moved on to Chattanooga.

Thus ended a nine days’ campaign, which drove the enemy from two fortified positions and gave us possession of Middle Tennessee, conducted in one of the most extraordinary rains ever known in Tennessee. . . . These results were far more successful than was anticipated, and could only have been obtained by a surprise as to the direction and force of our movement.

Moreover, it was accomplished at the cost of 84 killed, 474 wounded, and 1 missing, an extremely low number for battle casualties during this period of the war.

While Rosecrans’s report occupies six pages, Bragg’s is contained in a series of brief messages given here in more eloquent form than any narrative could provide

Yesterday the enemy in large force passed my right after skirmishing sharply along my whole front for two days. The line of Shelbyville being too long to be held successfully by my force, I to-day resumed my position in my intrenchments at this place [Tullahoma] to await the full developments.

Finding my communications seriously endangered by movements of the enemy, I last night took up a more defensible position this side of Elk River (which now, by reason of heavy rains, is impassable except at the bridges), losing nothing of importance.

Unable to obtain a general engagement without sacrificing my communications, I have, after a series of skirmishes, withdrawn the army to this river [Tennessee]. It is now coming down the mountains. I hear of no formidable pursuit.

A letter to General Joseph E. Johnston on July is a little less imperious. Here Bragg points out that he was apparently ready for a battle to his front even against a stronger opponent, but Rosecrans did not take up the challenge. Instead, he moved against Bragg’s right flank. Bragg claims he did not have the strength or the means to counter the maneuver “without too much reducing our main body.” So, he withdrew to Tullahoma.

Then, Bragg reports, Rosecrans moved against the bridges over the Elk River, but by moving quickly the Confederates saved their supplies and got across the river just before the arrival of a heavy column of Union troops. These comments, incidentally, do not agree with Rosecrans’s report, especially with respect to supplies captured in Shelbyville.

The rest of Bragg’s report is best given in his own words.

We were now back against the mountains, in a country affording us nothing, with a long line of railroad to protect, and half a dozen passes on the right and left by which our rear could be gained. In this position it was perfectly practicable for the enemy to destroy our means of crossing the Tennessee, and thus secure our ultimate destruction without a battle [emphasis mine]. Having failed to bring him to that issue, so much desired by myself and troops, I reluctantly yielded to the necessity imposed by my position and inferior strength, and put the army in motion for the Tennessee River.

And a final message to General Cooper

Since my report from Bridgeport, the whole army has crossed the Tennessee. The pursuit of the enemy was checked and driven back at University Place, on the Cumberland Mountains. Our movement was attended with trifling loss of men and materials.


The Army of Tennessee, as reported by both Bragg and Rosecrans, crossed the Elk River, and moved by way of University and Tantallon, crossing the Tennessee at several locations as shown on map 4. After leaving detachments to guard crossing sites, Bragg moved to Chattanooga and Tyner’s Station where he started construction of fieldworks.

Map 4. Army of Tennessee Crossing Sites over the Tennessee River.

Once he had driven Bragg out of Middle Tennessee, Rosecrans began to prepare for the next stage of his operations. The objective, he stated, was Chattanooga, “one of the great gateways through the mountains to the champaign counties of Georgia and Alabama.”

In his report, Rosecrans once again pays meticulous attention to the details of terrain from northwestern edge of the Cumberland Mountains to Chattanooga. In essence, the area is strongly cross-compartmented by several steep ridges traversed by poor roads and gaps. At the end of the Tullahoma campaign, the Army of the Cumberland was positioned as shown on Map 5.

Map 5. Dispositions of the Armies of the Cumberland and Tennessee after 4 July 186.

From those locations, the army could reach Chattanooga by one of five or six routes. But before he could consider crossing anywhere, Rosecrans believed it necessary to repair the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad and bring forward supplies which could not otherwise be brought overland by way of the impassable roads. When the rails to Stevenson were open, Sheridan’s division posted two brigades to Bridgeport and one to Stevenson to secure the stores which were moved there in sufficient quantities to support most of the army by 8 August.

On 16 August Rosecrans began moving his troops over the Cumberland Mountains. In his plan he assigned routes in many cases down to the division and brigade levels. XXI Corps was to move in three parallel division columns across the Sequatchie Valley. Minty’s cavalry brigade was to screen the left flank. Thomas’s XIV Corps was to advance in two columns along Battle Creek and Crow Creek, respectively. XX Corps, under McCook was to send one division through Salem to Bellefonte and one from Winchester to Stevenson; his third division, under Major General P.H. Sheridan, was already guarding supplies at Stevenson and Bridgeport. The Reserve Corps was to follow the main body. By 0 August all of the Army of the Cumberland had crossed the mountains. “Thus the army passed the first great barrier between it and the objective point, and arrived opposite the enemy on the banks of the Tennessee.”


The next great barrier, the Tennessee River, would prove to be a little more difficult. Bragg had destroyed all of the bridges across the river so pontoons and bridging material had to be brought forward to Stevenson. To conceal for as long as possible his intended crossing sites, Rosecrans directed that the bridging materials be kept hidden until the last moment. Construction of bridges and acquisition of boats and rafts was completed on 4 September and units began to cross. XIV Corps was to move to Trenton, XX Corps was to go to Alpine by way of Winston’s Gap, and Crittenden’s XXI Corps was to move toward Chattanooga. Minty’s cavalry and Wilder’s brigade was to accompany Crittenden and the rest were to move with McCook. Crittenden’s and McCook’s corps had crossed by 6 September and Thomas’s corps, by the eighth.

Bragg, observing that the main body of Rosecrans’s troops had crossed the Tennessee south of Chattanooga and was threatening his communications, he believed it necessary to meet that threat or suffer having his supply lines cut. He did not think he could safely divide his force, so Bragg marched his whole army out of Chattanooga on 8 September and moved toward La Fayette to set up defensive positions facing the center of Rosecrans’s forces.

This movement checked the enemy’s advance, and, as I [Bragg] expected, he took possession of Chattanooga, and looking upon our movement as a retreat, commenced a concentration and pursuit.

On September, after Crittenden’s reconnaissance discovered Bragg’s abandonment of Chattanooga, he entered into and occupied the city as Bragg expected. Rosecrans believed from information he had available that Bragg was in flight to Rome, Georgia. He ordered Crittenden to leave a brigade to hold Chattanooga and with his remaining forces follow Bragg’s retreat “vigorously, anticipating that the main body had retired by Ringgold and Dalton.” Subsequent information made it appear certain that the enemy’s main body was in the vicinity of La Fayette.

By this time Bragg had already received 11,500 seasoned soldiers from General Joe Johnston. Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner with 8,000 troops had also joined the Army of Tennessee, and there was word the Lieutenant General James Longstreet was en route from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia with 1,000 to 15,000 more. Eventually, then, Bragg could expect to have in the vicinity of 70,000 men and actually outnumber Rosecrans’s 60,000.

Bragg’s apparent flight toward Rome was a ruse which he further abetted with rumors and false information given by “deserters” and line crossers. The purpose was to lure Rosecrans’s widely separated corps individually into combat.

During the th it was ascertained that a column, estimated at from 4,000 to 8,000, had crossed Lookout Mountain into the cove [McLemore’s Cove] by way of Steven’s and Cooper’s Gaps.

This column was Thomas’s XIV Corps with Negley’s division in the lead. When Negley was about a mile from Dug Gap he found it to be occupied by a strong enemy force. Baird’s division was sent forward to help. Both divisions fought their way back to a position forward of Stevens Gap. At this point it became clear to Rosecrans that Bragg was not, in fact, falling back but was instead concentrating his forces at La Fayette behind Pigeon Mountain. His own units were disposed as shown on map 6 along a line some 40 miles long from end to the other with the intention of cutting off Bragg’s retreat and hitting on the flank. But Bragg was not in retreat and, as he put it, “It was therefore a matter of life and death to effect the concentration of the army.”

Map 6. Dispositions on 10 September 186.

Bragg apparently did not have the big picture with respect to Rosecrans’s dispositions; he knew there was a body of troops, 4,000 to 5,000 strong near Stevens Gap and possibly another column to the north at Cooper’s Gap of unknown strength. In any event, Bragg did not waste any time getting orders out to Major General Hindman to attack this force near Davis’ crossroads. He also alerted Lieutenant General Hill to take or send Major General Cleburne’s divisions to joint Hindman in the morning.

One can only imagine Bragg’s reaction when Hill replied that his movement and support of Hindman was “impracticable” because Cleburne was ill and, furthermore, his route to Davis’ crossroads through Dug and Catlett’s gaps was blocked by fallen timbers. Possibly angry but still determined to seize this opportunity, Bragg sent orders to Buckner to move his two divisions to support Hindman who was already in position. Buckner joined Hindman at Morgan’s, three or four miles from Davis’ crossroads on the afternoon of the tenth.

Meanwhile, Bragg was looking beyond the immediate opportunity.

Reports fully confirming previous information in regard to the position of the enemy’s forces were received during the 10th, and it became certain he was moving his three columns to form a junction upon us at or near La Fayette.

The corps near Colonel Winston’s [McCook] moved on the mountain toward Alpine, a point 0 miles south of us. The one opposite the cove [Thomas] continued its movement and threw forward its advance to Davis’ Cross-Roads, and Crittenden moved from Chattanooga on the roads to Ringgold and Lee and Gordon’s Mills. To strike these isolated commands in succession was our obvious policy (emphasis added).

Bragg then received a communication from Buckner and Hindman, who had joined, to recommend a change in the plan of attack. Bragg’s report does not reflect the state of his temper when it matter of factly states “After hearing the report of this officer, . . . I verbally direct the major to return to General Hindman and say that my plans could not be changed, and that he would carry out his orders.”

Cleburne, in the meantime, apparently experiencing a miraculous cure, was at Dug Gap where Walker’s Reserve Corps was ordered to move. Cleburne promptly removed all the obstructions in Dug and Catlett’s Gaps. Units were organized and disposed in preparation for the attack against Thomas. At daylight Bragg himself arrived at Dug Gap where he found Cleburne waiting for the opening of Hindman’s guns to move on the flank and rear of the enemy.

Most of the day was spent in this position, waiting in great anxiety for the attack by Hindman’s columns. Several couriers and two staff officers were dispatched at different times urging him to move with promptness and vigor.

About the middle of the afternoon the first gun was heard, when the advance of Cleburne’s division discovered the enemy had taken advantage of our delay and retreated to the mountain passes.

Still undiscouraged, Bragg turned to the north where Crittenden was still moving south from Chattanooga. Knowing that Crittenden’s force was divided, he sent Lieutenant General Polk a message, presenting him “a fine opportunity of striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. . . . I I shall be delighted to hear of your success.” Two more messages followed directing his action against Crittenden. At 11 PM that evening Bragg got a dispatch from Polk indicating he had set up a strong defense and requesting reinforcements. This time some of Bragg’s rage seeps through the official verbiage of his report. “He was promptly ordered not to defer his attack, his force being already numerically superior to the enemy, and was reminded that his success depended upon the promptness and rapidity of his movements.”

But this opportunity too was not to be seized. “Again disappointed, immediate measures were taken to place our trains and limited supplies in safe positions, when all our forces were concentrated along the Chickamauga, threatening the enemy in front.”

So he redeployed his forces along the Chickamauga, as shown on map 7, where he remained until the eighteenth.

Map 7. Bragg’s Plans for 18 September 186.

On the evening of 17 September Bragg announced his plan of action to begin at 6 AM the next morning.

Johnson’s column to cross the Chickamauga at or near Reed’s Bridge, turns to the left and sweeps up the Chickamauga toward Lee and Gordon’s Mill.

Walker to cross at Alexander’s Bridge, join with Johnson and push the enemy’s flank and rear.

Buckner to cross the Chickamauga and join in the movement to the left.

Polk to cross the Chickamauga wherever possible and join the battle.

Hill to cover the army’s left flank and attack the flank of any enemy reinforcement.

Wheeler’s cavalry to hold the gaps in Pigeon Mountain and cover the army’s rear and left.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans’s forces were in motion to establish a defensive line generally along the Rossville � La Fayette Road from Rossville in the north to Crawfish Spring in the south. Crittenden’s corps was at Lee and Gordon’s Mills, Thomas’s corps was at Pond Spring, and McCook’s was as Stevens Gap. Minty’s brigade of cavalry and Wilder’s mounted brigade were east of Reed’s Bridge along the Ringgold Road; the remainder of the cavalry, Mitchell’s corps, was covering the army’s right flank along the road from Alpine to McLemore’s Cove


The first three brigades of Longstreet’s corps from the Army of Northern Virginia arrived on the morning of 18 September. Six others in addition to Alexander’s artillery battalion were still on the way.

Bragg’s plans and dispositions were such that he apparently wanted to accomplish two objectives first, get between Rosecrans’s army and Chattanooga; second, drive the army into McLemore’s Cove where he could destroy it.

Rosecrans figured out Bragg’s plan and began to reposition his forces to counter it. So on the morning of the 18th Thomas’s corps began to move to the area between Reed’s Bridge and Alexander’s Bridge. McCook also moved in that direction behind Thomas.

Bushrod Johnson’s confederate column, attempting to cross Reed’s Bridge on the 18th, encountered Minty’s cavalry who successfully prevented its crossing for most of the day. Wilder’s brigade also successfully blocked Walker’s crossing of Alexander’s Bridge, forcing him to move further south to Lambert’s Ford to cross. Hood joined Bushrod Johnson’s column about 4 PM and finally pushed Minty’s cavalry back. Both Minty and Wilder were pushed back beyond the La Fayette Road, and the Confederates began to cross the Chickamauga in force.

Map 8. Situation at Dawn, 1 September 186.

By the morning of the 1th all but three divisions of the Army of Tennessee was across and deployed along the west bank of the creek, map 8. Thomas, hearing that only a single brigade had crossed, sent two brigades forward to conduct a reconnaissance and attack any small force encountered. “The advance brigade, supported by the rest of the divison, soon encountered a strong body of the enemy [Forrest’s dismounted cavalry], attacked it vigorously, and drove it back more than half a mile, where a very strong column of the enemy was found, with the evident intention of turning our left and gaining possession of the La Fayette road between us and Chattanooga.” Then began a progressive series of battles as units were fed into battle from north to south.

At one point Stewart’s division penetrated Rosecrans’s center, but adjustments in the locations of Negley’s and Brannan’s divisions were able to restore the line. The battle raged throughout the day until “The roar of battle hushed in the darkness of night, and out troops, weary with a night of marching and a day of fighting, rested on their arms, having everywhere maintained their positions, developed the enemy, and gained . . . the great object of the battle of the 1th of September.”

Longstreet, with two more brigades, arrived on the twentieth. That evening Bragg summoned his commanders and laid out his plans for the next day. The army was reorganized into two wings Longstreet would command the left wing and Polk, the right.

Lieutenant General Polk was ordered to assail the enemy on our extreme right at day dawn on the 0th, and to take up the attack in succession rapidly to the left. The left wing was to await the attack by the right, take it up promptly when made, and the whole line was then to be pushed vigorously and persistently against the enemy throughout its extent.

The next morning Bragg was mounted and “occupying a position immediately in rear of and accessible to all parts of the line.” Polk was not in place and his troops were not ready to attack to Bragg’s great chagrin. When the assault finally began at 10 o’clock, the troops were fed piecemeal against prepared positions and driven back with heavy losses. Bragg’s narrative continues in a confusing manner discussing the assault by Polk.

About 4 p.m. this general assault was made and the attack was continued from right to left until the enemy gave way at different points, and finally, about dark, yielded us his line. . . .

The enemy though driven from his line, still confronted us, and desultory firing was heard until 8 p.m.

He gives no indication that he was aware that Longstreet had broken through and that all but Thomas’s corps�including Rosecrans�had abandoned the field and fled to Chattanooga.

Rosecrans, too, met with his commanders the evening before to discuss plans for the next day. Thomas was to stay where he was. McCook was to remain in his location until his pickets were driven in and then he was to close on Thomas with his right flank refused (that is, bent back to the right). Crittenden was to have two divisions in reserve behind the junction between Thomas and McCook. In the morning Rosecrans inspected the positions and made adjustments. Rosecrans’s narrative at this point is confusing and spends considerable time discussing dissatisfaction with various unit positions. The upshot was that all of the units should be closed to the left, toward Thomas.

Rosecrans was still in the act of adjusting his lines as the battle began. In the course of the day, Thomas who was taking the brunt of Polk’s assault was asking for reinforcements. Informed that Brannan’s division was out of line and Reynolds’s right flank was open, Rosecrans sent orders to Wood, who was to Brannan’s immediate right, to close up on Reynolds. Wood followed the directions literally, figure 1.

Figure 1. Wood’s Movement to Reynolds’s Right.

When the error was discovered, Davis was ordered to close his division on Wood’s division. Rosecrans describes the ensuing events

By this unfortunate mistake a gap was opened in the line of battle, of which the enemy took instant advantage, and striking Davis in flank and rear, as well as in front, threw his whole division in confusion.

The same attack shattered the right brigade of Wood before it had cleared the space. The right of Brannan was thrown back, and two of his batteries, then in movement to a new position, were taken in flank and thrown back through two brigade of Van Cleve, then on the march to the left, throwing his division into confusion from which it never recovered until it reached Rossville. . . . the enemy poured in through this breach.

The Army of the Cumberland fell back in disorder except for Thomas’s XIV Corps. Longstreet continued his assault pushing Brannan and Reynolds to the right and bending Thomas’s line as shown in map .

Map . Situation at 00 P.M., 0 September 186.

Thomas’s corps, supported by two divisions from Granger’s Reserve Corps, stood fast for the rest of the day. Longstreet continued his assault on Thomas’s left with two divisions and a battery of artillery against Brannan and Reynolds and Polk remained along the front of Thomas’s line of troops as he had for most of the day. Longstreet made a last charge at sunset where they were met with bayonets and driven back not to return.

At nightfall the enemy had been repulsed along the whole line, and sunk into quietude without attempting to renew the combat.

General Thomas, considering the excessive labors of the troops, the scarcity of ammunition, food, and water, and having orders from the general commanding to use his discretion, determined to retire on Rossville, where they arrived in good order, took post before morning, receiving supplies from Chattanooga, and offering the enemy battle during all the next day and repulsing his reconnaissance.

Bragg did not order a pursuit because he believed it would have been unrewarding and because his troops were “weak and exhausted.”

Thus ended the Battle of Chickamauga, a Federal defeat because the Army of the Cumberland had abandoned the battlefield. Federal casualties were 1,657 killed, ,756 wounded, and 4,757 captured or missing, for a total of 16,170. Confederate casualties totaled 18,454.


Who won the Battle Chickamauga? Using one standard of success traditionally observed since the intramural wars of the ancient Greeks, when victors erected trophies on the sites of their victories, the Army of Tennessee won the Battle of Chickamauga. When the battle was over, Bragg was in possession of the battlefield. And so it is reported in most histories of the Civil War. Some have even labeled it a “shattering defeat” for the Union. Other factors, though, when viewed objectively, would seem to make the defeat a little less “shattering.” Bragg’s army suffered more casualties, but this measure of victory though more important than mere possession of the battlefield is not convincing either. There were two objectives, however, that Bragg, though he recognized and attempted to achieve them, failed to accomplish. He did not regain Chattanooga and he did not destroy Rosecrans’s army. Although it happens that Rosecrans’s occupation of Chattanooga was not a pleasant experience�his army was besieged and starving�it was nonetheless denied to Bragg.

It is also important to observe Rosecrans’s actions, when he was led to believe that Bragg was in flight to Rome, Georgia around the th of September. He directed Crittenden to leave a brigade in Chattanooga, but his main focus was upon pursuing Bragg, presumably to destroy his army. Bragg, at the end of the battle, did not pursue (a blunder, in the opinions of at least Longstreet and Forrest).

There are several salient errors in the operations of both sides. Before launching into heavy criticism of commanders who had immense responsibilities and spans of control, however, it is worth considering several factors in mitigation. Both Rosecrans and Bragg with sixty and seventy thousand men respectively under their commands have to be respected for the fact that by today’s standards they controlled the entire battle and campaign directly. They had no staffs of any consequence and they virtually operated from a campfire. Indeed, one criticism that comes easily from a close examination of the battle is that both commanders, but most especially Rosecrans, got involved directly with lower levels of command. Neither allowed their corps commanders to run their own battles. This is certainly understandable in Bragg’s case when he had the likes of Polk who not only failed to take the initiative, but also several times had actually obstructed Bragg’s orders. Rosecrans, however, with subordinates like Thomas and Granger who had demonstrated abilities to respond well to battlefield events in the most stressful situations, should have taken better advantage of these talents.

As someone who has experienced the fog of war at first hand, even in this age of electronic communications and rapid mobility, it is impressive to observe how well commanders functioned on the Civil War battlefield. This was especially true for Chickamauga where the dense undergrowth and rugged terrain often reduced visibility to just a few yards. Although tactics were far less complicated than they are today, even to keep men in line and moving in what must have been the most lethal environment known to man was no small feat.

Of interest to students of warfare are the strong influences of Napoleon and Jomini. Almost all of the commanders on both sides were graduates at West Point where they had studied Napoleon’s campaigns and Jomini’s The Art of War under the tutelage of Dennis Hart Mahan. The Tullahoma Campaign is an almost perfect abstraction of maneuver on the battlefield. The only casualties occurred during fighting to gain access to mountain passes and gaps. Otherwise, the campaign was a choreography of maneuver. Rosecrans was trying to maneuver on Bragg’s rear and Bragg recognizing the tactic for what it was, maneuvered away. Hence, Bragg was “maneuvered” out of Middle Tennessee almost without bloodshed.

It is interesting also to observe the validation of much of what Clausewitz had to say about warfare. Ironically, Clausewitz was unknown to most professional American soldiers. So while Jomini advocated objectives of maneuver and position, Clausewitz advocated destruction of the enemy.

Since in the engagement everything is concentrated on the destruction of the enemy, or rather of his armed forces, which is inherent in its very concept, it follows that the destruction of the enemy’s forces is always the means by which the purpose of the engagement is achieved.

Jomini does not mention the words “luck,” “chance,” or “fortune.” Clausewitz, on the other hand claims that chance is always present in warfare

It is now quite clear how greatly the objective nature of war makes it a matter of assessing probabilities. Only one more element is needed to make war a gamble�chance the very last thing that war lacks. No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance. And through the element of chance, guesswork and luck come to play a great part in war.

There is no better demonstration of this principle than Longstreet’s being at the right place at the right time. The gap created by Wood’s displacement was the event that turned the battle around for Bragg’s army. Neither Longstreet nor Bragg appeared to be aware of the situation that allowed Longstreet’s troops to break through the line.

There is also a strong temptation to mention one other military philosopher with respect to the Tullahoma Campaign

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

Finally, the significance of Tullahoma and Chickamauga, southern victory or not, was the deeper, permanent intrusion by the Union into the Confederacy. No other major battles fought in Virginia, Maryland, or Pennsylvania to this time resulted in similar permanent lodgments in the South. After Vicksburg and Chickamauga, Tennessee was lost to the Confederacy. Union armies were now closer to Atlanta, bases could be established, and lines of communication could be used that eventually allowed Sherman to march east and north and turn the Confederacy’s strategic rear and flank. There is, one might claim, a direct line leading from the “shattering defeat” of Chickamauga to the Courthouse at Appomattox.


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