150th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga

Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga which began on September 19, 1863. from the 150 Anniversary of Chickamauga website:

On the morning of Sept.19, 1863, General Alex McCook walked outside his tent near the Georgia – Tennessee border and discovered Union Command had made a serious mistake. Confederate General Braxton Bragg had been in a series of retreats since the Battle of Stones River at Murfreesboro and Union Commanding General William S. Rosecrans had continued marching west making the capture of Chattanooga a “high-priority” for the Union forces. It would cut the Confederacy’s most important railroad yard and stop freight shipments on the Tennessee River. In addition, the Federals would also have a staging area from
which campaigns could be launched across the Deep South. 

Union General Rosecrans had pressed west from middle Tennessee and expected Bragg to continue retreating, but the Confederate General finally decided to hold position and dig in at Chattanooga. When Rosecrans crossed the Tennessee River below the city, however, Bragg again retreated 26 miles south of the city to Lafayette, GA where he began concentrating his army. Reinforcements from East Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi arrived and quickly filled his ranks to 66,000 men. 

On Sept. 18, Bragg, wanting to put his men between the Federals and Chattanooga, crossed the west bank of Chickamauga Creek and took up
position. During the night of the 18th, Union General Rosecrans moved his troops forward in a night march and gained the position between Chattanooga and the Confederates. 

On the morning of the 19th, General Nathan B. Forrest drew first blood when he engaged a Union regiment at Jay’s Mill. The fight at the mill was ferocious. It was close-quartered and hand-to-hand, but, around 1 p.m., Forrest fell back to regroup. The battle had attracted divisions in both Union and Southern armies. They marched towards the site and shortly
after 1:30 the Battle of Chickamauga was engaged.

The thick forests of the battlefield made the initial assaults difficult. The Union and Confederate soldiers traded real estate throughout the day. One side advancing and the other retreating as the day gave in to night. When the first day of battle ended, General Bragg’s plan of driving the Union forces back on each other had been defeated. During the night, Confederate forces regrouped and slipped into position. 

The morning of the 20th, the Confederates launched their attack at 9 am. As the day before, it degenerated into a battle for terrain features and real estate. Confederate forces were repulsed on every advance, but
each time tore a little deeper into Union lines. Around 11 a.m., Union General Brannan and General Wood were ordered to positions left of the Confederate front. Wood misunderstood the order and pulled his entire army off the line thinking they were to reinforce General Reynold’s position. 

Confederate General James Longstreet saw the gap in the Union lines and drove three divisions through it pushing the Union army completely off of the battlefield. It was the break the Confederates had been needing. It broke the back of the Union advance and forced them into retreat. Union General George Thomas saw the Confederate surge and fell back to Snodgrass Hill where other Union troops were gathering. He quickly organized them into a defensive unit and from the position poured down fire on pursuing Confederates. 

The task of taking down the Union position that earned Thomas the nickname “the rock of Chickamauga” fell in a large part to the 63rd Tennessee Confederates. The 63rd was up against the new lever-action rifles. It was on of the first times the “experimental” weapons were used in a major battle and they proved to be superior to the single-shot rifles carried by both sides. It was General Thomas’ quick thinking on Snodgrass Hill, however, that is credited with saving the Union Army. 

General N.B. Forrest was finally given command of the 9th Tennessee Infantry to try and remove Thomas from his position. It was the only time the Tennessee cavalry officer was given an infantry command. They
took heavy losses from the Union fire before he could get to Thomas. Covering the retreat of the Union, Thomas and his men began to fall back towards Chattanooga. 

While the battle continued to rage, Gen. Forrest made a couple of quick moves and also captured the field hospitals of the Union’s left wing. Forrest continued operating on the Union’s left flank and first noticed them withdrawing from the battlefield towards Chattanooga.
When the Union began its withdrawal from the battlefield, General Forrest sent a flood of messages warning the battlefield command of the retreat. General Braxton Bragg then made a mistake that nearly caused a revolt among his generals. Bragg didn’t pursue the retreat and continue an attack that would force the Union to withdraw from Chattanooga. The lack of action from his command permitted the Union to fall back into the city and fortify their positions.

Chickamauga National Military Park historian James Ogden says the southern leaders knew the Confederate victory was a hollow effort because of Bragg’s indecision to pursue the Union. The blunder so angered General Forrest that he wired Confederate Command with the news he was resigning his commission.

“General Nathan B. Forrest demanded an audience with General Bragg,” said Ogden. “He told Bragg that he would never take another order from him and that, if Bragg was any sort of a man, he would box his ears and dare him to resent it. Forrest also added if Bragg ever crossed his path again, it would be at the peril of his own life. Here was a battle that was costly for both sides. Union casualties were around 16,200 and Confederate losses around 18,000. In order to win, the Confederates
needed to pursue, but Bragg had failed to see the tactics of the situation.” 

Ogden also says the victory was a big morale boost for the Confederacy, but came a little too late for them to capitalize on it.

“Bragg could have really changed the scope of the war if he had followed
  through on the attack. The Confederate forces were hardened veterans and could’ve taken Chattanooga. The stories of individual effort and sacrifice on both sides made it one of the greatest battles of the War Between the States.”

The 1863 Battle of Chickamauga shook up the front-line military
command on both sides of the War Between the States. While the Union fortified Chattanooga, General Sherman was ordered from Vicksburg to the city, General Joseph Hooker with the 11th and 12th corps was ordered down from the Army of the Potomac, and General U.S. Grant was given general command of Union forces in Chattanooga.

Within days of Grant’s arrival in October, the Union opened a short supply route called “the cracker line”. 

On Nov. 23, Union General Thomas routed the Confederates from Orchard Knob, the next day, under a heavy shroud of fog, the Union pushed the Confederates out of their defenses around Lookout Mountain, and, on the 25th, General Grant ordered General Thomas
and the Army of the Cumberland to assault the rifle pits at the base of
Missionary Ridge. 

Thomas’s men quickly accomplished it and, acting without orders, scaled the ridge in one of the war’s great charges and assaulted the Confederate lines. A young Union officer by the name of Arthur MacArthur helped lead the assault. When a standard-bearer would fall in the battle, the
soldier behind would grab the flag and carry it forward until he was wounded.  Mac Arthur, seeing it going down again, leaped across the wounded and grabbed it. He carried it forward and planted it in the ground until his wounds forced him to relinquish it. Following a change in the requirements for awarding the Medal of Honor in 1896, MacArthur would receive the Nation’s highest award for his actions during the battle. 

While the battles were hard fought and fierce, the Union broke the Confederate lines and sent them into retreat towards Georgia. By December, the Union Army had captured and controlled Chattanooga, where they would launch their last assault on the Confederate South. 

Numerous books on the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga are available at local bookstores. Of special note in the battle was General John Bell Hood receiving a wound that would plague him throughout his command and eventually lead the Texan to commit one of the greatest mistakes in military history. 

In 1890, Congress authorized the establishment of four National Military Parks. On September 18-20, 1895, the first National Military Park in America was dedicated outside Chattanooga. Since the purpose would be to maintain the park in its historic condition, they noted there had scarcely been any change in the roads, fields, and forests. 

The changing terrain of the battlefield still offers unique opportunities for historical and professional military study of the operations of two great armies meeting face to face and is regarded as one of the best of its kind in the world. 

Chickamauga National Military Park was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service in 1933 and, while close to 1,400 monuments would be built to mark the battlefield contributions of the Union and Confederate veterans from the states represented in the battle, not one has ever been erected to mark the contributions of the Tennesseans who fought and died at Chickamauga.

Unlike other Tennessee National Military Parks, you will notice there is no National Cemetery on the Park’s grounds. All of the soldiers left on the battlefield, with one exception, were buried in other locations.
 
Before it became a park, the forests of Chickamauga remained untouched, but not for any environmental or historical reason. The gunfire that raged on the battlefield was like a steel curtain that tore into every tree on the site. The bullets imbedded in the trees make cutting them dangerous. Lumber mills in the region never accept any timber from the site of the battle. 

Chickamauga National Military Park is open daily and offers a variety of
activities.  Chickamauga Battlefield features a self-guided seven-mile
driving tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking, and horse trails. The
visitor center contains exhibits, a well-stocked bookstore, and facilities for doing historical research. 

For more information on Park hours and operations, you can call (706) 866-9241.

 

 

About aldermanlacy

I am just an average blue collar American who works hard and tries to be a good dad. I have a passion for history, music and freedom.

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