Monday, October 7, 2013

September 19, 1863

September 19, 1863

Battle of Chickamauga

September 19-20, 1863


---Day 1: The battle opens when Gen. Thomas (U.S. XIV Corps), on information that the Rebels are beginning to cross west of the Chickamauga River in force, sends Gen. Brannan with two of his brigades driving east along the road to Reed's Bridge, and another brigade down the road to Alexander's Bridge, in order to pin down the few Confederate forces that had already crossed. Croxton's brigade, with Van Derveer's brigade in support, runs into Gen. Forrest's cavalry under Davidson, and drives it back. Forrest forms a line of dismounted troopers, and calls upon Col. Wilson's small infantry brigade of Georgians from Walker's Reserve Corps to cover his left flank. Forrest posts Dibrell's cavalry brigade out to cover his right.

The Battle of Chickamauga opens
Maps by Wikipedia

Dibrell strikes Van Derveer's brigade of Federals, but is unable to drive them. Brannan has sent forward some artillery, and the Federals at first make a good stand. Forrest recruits some more infantry, Ector's brigade (made up actually mostly of Texas dismounted cavalry, and units from North Carolina and Mississippi), to advance and help Dibrell, but Van Derveer still holds. On Forrest's left, the Rebels drive Croxton back, capturing the battery with him.  The fighting is confused and mostly on the brigade level, due to low visibility in the woods heavy with summer foliage.  Black powder smoke soon obscures what little visibility there is, and the advancing Southern troops have only small trails in the forest for maneuvering.
Trail in the Chickamauga Battlefield woods

By this time, Thomas realizes that the Rebels have more force in the heavy woods near the river than he had expected, and so sends Gen. Baird's division to shore up Brannan's right. Gen. King's brigade of U.S. Regulars, supported by Scribner's brigade (3 Ohio regiments, and one each from Indiana and Wisconsin), move forward and strike Wilson's graybacks, driving them back toward the river. By this time, Bragg is aware of events west of the River, and sends forward Brig. Gen. St. John Liddell's small division (about 2,000 troops present for duty that day) of two brigades under Govan and Walthall, whose troops arrive just in time to hit Baird's right flank, driving Scribner's and Starkweather's brigades into disorderly retreat. Soon, the whole Union line begins to unravel, as King falls back, followed by Croxton. Liddell's men capture two batteries of artillery and continue up the Alexander's Bridge road until they strike Van Derveer, who responds with well-placed volleys in their front, as Croxton's Yankees rally and move forward again, striking Liddell's left.

By this time, Rosecrans has hurried a division of troops under Johnson (from McCook's Corps) north and throws them into line in time to stop Liddell. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham, with the largest division in the Army of Tennessee---five brigades, totaling over 7,000 men---arrives just then and deploys his troops in two lines, three brigades in the front and two in support. Cheatham advances at about 11:00 AM, deploying on Liddell's left flank. As he advances, Croxton's Federals break and withdraw, but two fresh brigades (Willich and Baldwin) from Johnson's division take Croxton's place and shake out into line of battle. Jackson's and Maney's brigades of Confederates both are broken before the assault of Johnson's troops. By this time, Thomas has reformed his line, and brought Palmer's Division from Crittenden's Corps and Van Cleve's from his own to put into the line. As these troops advance, Cheatham's Rebels cannot hold their position and they begin to retreat.

Confederate troops advance in the heavy woods of Chickamauga
Artist: Alfred Waud

After 2:00 PM, Another Confederate advance is underway, as Bragg begins to feed in more units. Alexander Stewart's Division advances against Van Cleve, in what appears to now be the Union center. Stewart smashes Palmer's right flank, and smashes into Van Cleve. Soon after, at 2:30 PM, Gen. John Bell Hood, of the Army of Northern Virginia, pushes forward six brigades---three from his own (Robertson, Law, and Benning), and the three brigades of Bushrod Johnson's division (McNair, Gregg, and Fulton). With four brigades in front, and two in support, Hood smashes into Van Cleve and various detached brigades from Reynolds and Baird's divisions, and drives them back. Hood and Stewart have captured a large amount of Union artillery, as well as prisoners, the La Fayette Road (the main Union escape route to Chattanooga), and are in possession of the Brock and Brotherton fields---which have become crucial points of control, being some of the few cleared lots that allow artillery to be deployed. But there is no follow-up, and soon, Rosecrans has brought up fresh troops. This is a turning point in the battle: had Bragg put more troops there, this advance could have exploited the gap now opened between Thomas and the rest of the Union army.The three Confederate divisions are soon facing six Federal divisions: in addition to Palmer and Van Cleve, Negley, Wood, Sheridan, and Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the C.S. President) line up to close the gap. 

As Davis advances from the Union right, Bushrod Johnson counterattacks with some success, pushing into the Viniard farm, with Hood in support. Col John Wilder's Federal troops (the famous Lightning Brigade) shred Gregg's brigade as it advances, and as Robertson's and Benning's Rebels pour into the Viniard pocket, they too are savaged by Wilder's fast-firing men with their Spencer repeater rifles. But Davis is soon supplemented by the timely arrival of Sheridan with two of his brigades. The Rebel attacks grind to a halt. Meanwhile, Bragg has marched Cleburne's crack division from the extreme Confederate left six miles to the Confederate right, and as darkness is falling, Cleburne strikes Johnson's division and part of Baird's, who return fire in a furious firefight that leaves one Union and two Confederate brigade commanders dead or severely wounded.

As Gen. D.H. Hill writes, the battle was disjointed and fragmented, mostly due to the heavily wooded terrain and lack of visibility. Nor did Gen. Bragg have a clear picture of what was ahead of him, and he fed in troops piecemeal and uncoordinated: "It was desultory fighting from right to left, without concert, and at inopportune times. It was the sparring of the amateur boxer, and not the crushing blows of the trained pugilist."

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