Thursday, October 17, 2013

September 20, 1863

September 20, 1863

Battle of Chickamauga

September 19-20, 1863

---Day 2: Overnight, Bragg re-organizes his army into two wings---one under Gen. Polk, and another under Gen. Longstreet, who has just arrived late last night. The orders never find Lt. Gen. D.H. Hill, however, and by morning, he learns from Gen. Polk that Hill’s troops have been made subordinate to Polk’s command, and that Breckenridge’s division in Hill’s Corps is to lead the attack: consequently, there are delays. Bragg has envisioned a series of attacks from right to left, and Breckinridge is to lead off. Hill does not learn of his role in the morning’s attacks until 7:25 AM, when he is lining up his troops and getting them fed, since most of them had not eaten for over 24 hours. Gen. Bragg is furious to find that the attacks have not started yet, and is outraged to find Gen. Polk back of the lines reading a newspaper. Overnight, Gen. Thomas has fortified Kelly’s Field with earthworks and logs, batteries of field guns, and placed eight brigades there, with several more in reserve. Out beyond his flank, he has placed Beatty’s brigade. Although Hill has placed his troops, other sections of the Rebel line are chaotic: Cheatham finds that his division is at right angles with Hill’s, and that it was also partly behind Stewart’s, making at advance moot. Cheatham is pulled out of line, at last, and precious time is lost. Muddled orders, no orders at all, and tangled battle lines plague the Rebel army in the early morning.

Early Confederate attacks on the Union left
maps by Wikipedia

Finally, Breckinridge is sent forward by Hill, followed by Walker’s Reserves and what is left of Liddell’s division. The Orphan brigade of Kentuckians, under Gen. Helm, hits the left end of the Union line, and Breckinridge pushes on with the other two of his brigades under Stovall and Adams, who sweep over Beatty’s position, and find themselves astraddle the La Fayette road, and overlapping the Union flank. Breckinridge re-aligns Adams and Stovall at right angles, now facing south, and they advance on Thomas’ flank and rear. Gen. Helm (Pres. Lincoln’s brother-in-law) is mortally wounded. Yankee reserves under Van Derveer and Stanley stop Adams and Stovall cold, driving them back to their original position. Gen. Cleburne’s division goes forward also, but their attack is partly blunted by one flank of Stewart’s Rebel division in their way, and the fact that Cleburne is attacking a line where much of four Federal divisions are dug in. Cleburne’s men suffer heavy losses. 
Chickamauga battlefield, near Kelly's Field

At Bragg’s command (without consulting Longstreet) Stewart’s gray division charges the Federal line at around 11:00 AM, badly mangles Brannan’s flank and also part of Reynolds’ division, and even captures a section of the La Fayette Road, but are finally driven back. Gen. D.H. Hill recommends to Gen. Polk that a second attack be launched, if fresh troops are applied; the brigade of State Rights Gist (yes, that is his real name) and the division of Liddell, already battle-worn, both go forward, but are finally ineffectual.

Nevertheless, Thomas is alarmed at the fury of the Southern attack, and calls for reinforcements. Rosecrans dispatches Van Cleve’s division and part of Negley's to Thomas, and intends to send more. Brannan is asked to reinforce Thomas also, but Brannan hesitates to move until the order is confirmed by Rosecrans. Rosecrans assumes that Brannan is already in motion; he therefore orders Gen. Thomas Wood to shift his division from the Union right to replace Brannan in the center. Wood marches his troops behind Brannan (who is still in line) and Reynolds.

This opens a gap in the Union line at a most opportune moment for the Confederates. Gen Longstreet, in command of the Left Wing of the army, is carefully laying out the lines of his advance. Ordered to attack by Bragg, Longstreet is reluctant to move against dug-in troops, so he lines up eight brigades in three lines in the column, preparing to strike the Union line precisely where Wood’s division has just vacated it: all three of Bushrod Johnson’s brigades (Fulton, Gregg, McNair), all three of Hood’s brigades (Sheffield, Robertson, and Benning), and two of McLaws’ brigades, commanded by Brig. Gen. Joseph Kershaw, in the third line. Altogether, Longstreet has nearly 11,000 men in column. Direct command of this column is given to Gen. John Bell Hood. This column would be attacking up the Brotherton Road, erupting into the Brotherton field so that they can deploy to bring all their strength to bear. Lined up on their left is Thomas Hindman’s division (brigades Deas, Manigault, Anderson), and behind Hindman is Preston’s division (brigades Gracie, Kelly, Trigg). Longstreet orders the attack forward at 11:10 AM, possibly intending Stewart’s premature advance to coincide with Hood’s.
Longstreet's Assault

Bushrod Johnson’s men emerge from the woods, cross the La Fayette Road, and spread out in line of battle across Brotherton Field, Fulton driving right through, after scattering a skirmish line, and McNair brushing against some of Brannan’s men on his right. 
Battlefield plaque with artist's version of what Hood's attack looked like across Brotherton Field
My photo of Brotherton Field from the same spot, from the Yankee position

A line of Federal cannon line up at Dyer Field, but Gregg (commanded by Sugg), Sheffield, and Robertson’s Texans push forward and capture most of the guns. A counterattack by Harker’s Brigade from Wood’s division disrupts the advance, but Gen. Hood sends Kershaw in to attack Harker’s Federals. He then rides to rally his Texans. As he does so, he is shot in the thigh, and is rushed to the hospital. As the ball has splintered the bone, the surgeons amputate Hood’s right leg. 
Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood, CSA

As Hindman strikes J.C. Davis’s Federals, he has initial success. Sheridan keeps his two brigades in position until Brig. Gen. Andrew Lytle is killed, and his brigade dissolves in panic toward the rear. One of Hindman’s brigades, under Manigault, is savaged by a flank attack by Wilder’s mounted infantry, armed with the repeating rifles, thus slowing Hindman’s advance. However, soon, most of Crittenden’s corps, and much of McCook’s, is fleeing up the road toward Chattanooga, in a full rout. The Federal right flank and right center, already weakened by Rosecrans’ bolstering of Thomas’s flank, dissolves and ceases to exist. Because of the topography, there is no open way to the army’s left flank, and so the Union soldier’s flee up the road to Chattanooga, carrying Rosecrans with them, who sends his Chief of Staff Gen. James Garfield, back with orders to Thomas to cover the retreat.

Longstreet’s column is basically wheeling to the right, and disrupting the Union line, one piece at a time. Some of the pieces fall back, and as Thomas rides to the right to see about reinforcements, he sees the Confederate breakthrough, and he begins to patch together a line of troops on a spur of Missionary Ridge called Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge connected to it.

Longstreet’s advance pauses to re-organize and re-align, parts of it having stopped, and others hopelessly intermingled and confused in the tangled woods and the battle smoke, nearly beyond the effective reach of any commander’s influence. Harker’s Federal brigade, in the meantime, withdraws up Snodgrass Ridge and begins to make a stand as Perry and Robertson’s Texans attack the ridge with their brigades near 1:00 PM, but are driven off. 

From the Federal line on Horseshoe Ridge looking downslope where the Confederate attack will come

Thomas sends Brannan, parts of Negley’s division, and what is left of Wood’s to the ridge to dig in, along with Harker’s brigade, and other assorted odds and ends. Thomas’s left—the heavily-fortified crescent that curves around Kelly’s Field, and has resisted attacks all day—he leaves as it is, bolstered with a heavy concentration of infantry and artillery. He then begins to fashion a line with Wood and Hazen’s brigade along Horseshoe Ridge to link the two ends of the blue line.

Gen. Granger, commanding Rosecrans’ Reserves, is only 3 miles away, and hears the noise of battle. Although he is supposed to wait for orders, Granger sends Steedman’s two-brigade division and Col. Daniel McCook’s brigade. Steeman is eventually put on the far Union right on Snodgrass Hill. After several more uncoordinated Confederate assaults, several Rebel divisions are put together (Hindman, Kershaw, and Bushrod Johnson) to attack Snodgrass Hill in unison, and they step off around 3:30 PM. Ground is gained by the Southern attack, as the gray troops fight with bayonet and rifle stocks in a brutal hand-to-hand fight, capturing much of the hill’s slope. 

The heavily-wooded steep slopes of Snodgrass Hill, viewed from the crest

Longstreet, who was behind the lines eating lunch, is approached by Bragg about the progress of the battle, and Longstreet asks for reinforcements to pursue up the Rossville Road after the fleeing Yankees, and thus cut off Thomas’ retreat route. Bragg has his largest division (Cheatham) nearly intact, and part of another, but refuses, denying that there are any troops available. He orders Longstreet to keep attacking. Finally, D.H. Hill, commanding the Rebel right, moves forward: the Confederates on the right finally attack the Kelly Field salient, putting pressure on the whole Federal line, until finally Cleburne’s men take the breastworks and cause a breach in the Union line. At the same time, Longstreet commits his last fresh division, under Gen. Preston, who breaks his division against the impregnable Union positions. 

The defense of Snodgrass Hill

Finally, under cover of falling darkness, Thomas orders Gen. Reynolds to withdraw the troops from the broken salient on the left, followed by Palmer, Baird, and Johnson with the remainders of their divisions; the Rebels capture many from Baird’s division, however, and it is not a clean getaway. Then, unit by unit, the Yankees withdraw up the Rossville Road toward Chattanooga. Steedman, Brannan, and Wood all make a stealthy withdrawal from Snodgrass Hill. Three regiments–the 22nd Michigan, and 21st and 89th Ohio, cover the retreat, but many of them are short on ammunition, and end up as prisoners of the Confederates. 


          Killed            Wounded        Captured/Missing         Total
U.S.    1,657              9,756                     4,757                                16,170
C.S.    2,312             14,674                    1,468                                18,454

This is the second-bloodiest battle of the war, second only to Gettysburg.

Writes Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill of this battle:

There was no more splendid fighting in '61, when the flower of the Southern youth was in the field, than was displayed in those bloody days of September, '63. But it seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga - that brilliant dash which had distinguished him was gone forever. He was too intelligent not to know that the cutting in two of Georgia meant death to all his hopes. He knew that Longstreet's absence was imperiling Lee's safety, and that what had to be done must be done quickly. The delay in striking was exasperating to him; the failure to strike after the success was crushing to all his longings for an independent South. He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope.

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