A battle on the Blue and Gray Trail
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.
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 reform his line. Repeated Rebel assaults could not break the thin blue line Thomas constructed. Watching the battle from Rossville, General Gordon Granger advanced his Reserve Corps without orders, resupplying Thomas and protecting his flank (more). For his bravery, Thomas became known 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.
Follow the Blue and Gray Trail
|Return to Index
[American Indians] [Biography] [Parks ] [Attractions ] [Naturally] [Weather] [Railroads] [Rivers]
[Mountains] [Roads] [Feature Articles] [Previous Issues] [Facts] [Food]
[Giving Back] [Voices from the Past] [Poetry Corner] [Photography]
[Lodging] [About Us] [Bookstore ] [Events ] [Letters ] [Help ] [Kudos ] [Randy's Corner]
Other Places: Today in Georgia History : Today in The Civil War : Georgia Attractions : Georgia Hiking : Chattanooga
Golden Ink Internet Solutions