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War between the States
Battle of Chickamauga Creek


Late June, 1863, - Early September, 1863

After the Battle of Murfreesboro Union General William Rosecrans and Confederate General Braxton Bragg maneuver for position on the road to Chattanooga. Rosecrans begins moving in the second half of June, 1863. Feigning a move to the left, the Federals are behind Bragg on the right before he knows it. Faking an attack, Old Rosy, as his men called him, moves off on another flanking move leaving Bragg so confused that he has no choice but to retreat. 17 consecutive days of rain does nothing to slow down this Union tactician who has the Confederate troops surrounded and out-numbered in Chattanooga on July 4.

General Thomas Crittenden

On top of Lookout Mountain, Bragg's superior defensive position is a problem. Rosecrans regroups west of Chattanooga and moves toward the city from Bridgeport, Alabama, in early September. However, Rosecrans does not want to challenge Bragg's control of the mountain. Again, Old Rosy looks to flank Bragg. Moving through gaps in the ridge south of Lookout Mountain Rosecrans forces Bragg to withdraw from Chattanooga and protect his supply line. On September 9th Union troops under the command of General Thomas L. Crittenden occupy the city without a fight and Bragg regroups near the town of LaFayette, Georgia. In a serious tactical error, Rosecrans decides to continue the chase instead of regrouping in Chattanooga.

Unaware that Bragg is concentrating his men in LaFayette, and being resupplied and reinforced, Rosecrans continues to move towards his objective, the Western and Atlantic Railroad. Twice Bragg orders an attack on General George Thomas' corps, once as he crosses Steven's Gap and again as he marches into McLemore's Cove, but because of communications problems and lack of discipline no attacks occurred. With Union troops widely spread in mountainous territory, Rosecrans realizes that his skirmishers are running into major resistance, not the rear-guard action he expects. He orders his troops to meet at Chickamauga Creek, 12 miles south of Chattanooga, and some distance away from the main force of Confederates. Or so he thought. Bragg attacks the Union troops on September 19 and what ensues is the bloodiest two days in American History.

The Confederate Army stretched from a point near Reed's Bridge on the north to Lee and Gordons Mill on the south, roughly following Chickamauga Creek. The Union Army began to move north on the west side of the creek towards Chattanooga to regroup after encountering stiffer than expected rebel resistance. On the evening of September 18, 1863, Braxton Bragg ordered Army of Tennessee forces to take the crossings over Chickamauga Creek. Bushrod Johnson captured Reed's Bridge and advanced on LaFayette Road. During the night Union forces moving to destroy the bridge ran into Johnson's men. Thinking this was a rear guard action, General George Thomas ordered a division to attack the troops that had crossed the river. The Union division ran headlong into rear elements of advancing Rebels at Jay's Mill.

The scene of the battle was one where neither Bragg nor William Rosecrans wanted to fight. The thick forest limited visibility to 150 feet, less than the range of a rifle. Cannon were useless, except in the occasional field that broke the heavy forest. Battle lines did not exist and enlisted men made tactical decisions. Often the fighting was hand-to-hand. Both generals realized that neither would come out a clear winner under these conditions. Yet, just as at Gettysburg, the field on which the men fought was not the choice of generals but the choice of fate.

With the advent of battle in such a hostile environment the generals could do little but send in men to reinforce the soldiers doing battle. The brunt of the fighting on September 19, the first day of battle, was borne by Union General George Thomas and Confederate General Leonidas Polk. By the end of the day, the rebels had little to show for their efforts. Union soldiers still held LaFayette Road, although Thomas had to withdraw to a high point near Kelly's farm.

Ordered to make camp, the rebels could hear the Federals cutting trees and building breastworks. As part of a larger plan, Bragg ordered Daniel Harvey Hill's corps to attack the Union line at dawn. Hill, who missed the meeting, did not receive the orders until that morning when a furious Bragg delivered them in person. Ordered to begin the attack immediately, Hill delayed until 9:00am. As the attack began, Hill's men pierced the Union line, moving on Thomas' flank. The men had driven into the rear before being repulsed by reinforcements.

Chickamauga Battlefield

Site of Widow Glenn's House(Rosecrans' Headquarters)
Col. Wilder's Lightning Brigade attacked
Longstreet's advancing rebels.


Veteran commander James Longstreet, who arrived during the night, ordered John Bell Hood to cover his flank during an attack in support of Hill's drive. Hood stumbled into a small breach in the Union line created by the gross mismanagement of Union generals. As rebel troops advanced the Federal line crumbled on both sides. Caught unsuspectingly by oncoming graybacks, Rosecrans and two senior officers disgracefully fled the battlefield. Only General Thomas remained.

Enlisted Union soldiers ran in any direction that they didn't see gray. Issuing orders from horseback directly to retreating soldiers, General Thomas withdrew his men to Snodgrass Hill. To protect the men as they withdrew, Col. John Wilder ordered his Lightning Brigade to attack. The cavalry, armed with Spencer repeating rifles, slowed Longstreet's advance long enough for Thomas To protect the men as they withdrew, Col. John Wilder ordered his Lightning Brigade to attack. The cavalry, armed with Spencer repeating rifles, slowed Longstreet's advance long enough for Thomas to reform his line. Repeated rebel assaults could not break the thin blue line Thomas constructed. Watching the battle from a nearby hill General Gordon Grainger, without orders, advanced his reserves, resupplying Thomas and protecting his flank. For his bravery, Thomas became known by his men as "The Rock of Chickamauga."

His career destroyed, Old Rosy issued a telegram from Chattanooga to his superiors in Washington saying, "We have met with a serious disaster...we have no certainly of holding our position here." A second wire to the beleaguered Thomas instructed him to withdraw to Chattanooga.

An interesting footnote: Rosecrans' Chief of Staff left the battlefield with the General and decided to accompany Rosecrans until he was safe. When they reached Rossville Gap, Rosecrans continued on to his headquarters in Chattanooga while his Chief of Staff headed back to the fighting. Twenty-five years later that man, General James A. Garfield, was elected President of the United States.


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