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Chickamauga & Chattanooga - Death Knell of the Confederacy

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In the fall of 1863, in some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a key rail center known as the "Gateway to the Deep South." The Confederates were victorious at nearby Chickamauga, Georgia in September. However, renewed fighting in Chattanooga in November provided Union troops victory and control of the city. After the fighting, one Confederate soldier ominously wrote, "This...is the death-knell of the Confederacy."

Battle of Chickamauga

Through a series of skillful marches, Union Major General William Rosecrans forced Southerners under General Braxton Bragg to withdraw from Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga. Bragg dug in, guarding the Tennessee River crossings northeast of the city. However, early in September, Federals crossed the Tennessee River well below, again forcing Bragg to withdraw southward.

Eluding his Federal pursuers, General Bragg concentrated his forces at LaFayette, Georgia, some 26 miles south of Chattanooga. Here, reinforcements swelled his ranks to more than 66,000 men.


Battle of Chicamauga, Georgia in the Civil War

Battle of Chickamauga

This image available for photographic prints & downloads HERE!



 "This...is the death-knell of the Confederacy.

-- A Confederate soldier after the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.





Twice, General Braxton Bragg unsuccessfully tried to destroy segments of General Rosecrans' army. Then, on September 18, 1863, hoping to wedge his troops between the Federals and posted his army on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek. 


Preliminary Actions

On the morning of September 18, 1863, three advanced brigades of Confederate General James Longstreet's Corps from Virginia arrived at Ringgold, Georgia. One brigade immediately joined Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson's division as it prepared to cross Chickamauga Creek at Reed's Bridge. Union cavalry under Colonel Robert H. G. Minty and mounted infantry under command of Colonel John T. Wilder, guarding the bridges, offered stout resistance and delayed the crossing of the southern troops for several hours. During the skirmishing, Minty's men dismantled Alexander's Bridge and forced Walker to proceed to Lambert's Ford, a half-mile downstream. The Confederates used other fords and crossings throughout the late afternoon and night as all of forces, except three divisions, crossed to the west side of Chickamauga Creek.


The Union forces were not idle, and during the night, General Rosecrans moved Thomas' corps northeastward above and back of Crittenden, so that General Bragg would not outflank the Federal line. Negley's Division remained near Crawfish Springs (now Chickamauga), Major General Joseph J. Reynolds' Division near Widow Glenn's, and Brigadier Generals Absalom Baird's and John M. Brannan's Divisions covered the roads leading to Reed's and Alexander's Bridges. General McCook's Corps moved to position in McLemore's Cove.


The situation at dawn on the 19th found the two armies facing each other over a stretch of several miles along the banks of Chickamauga Creek. Rosecrans had been able in a short rime to maneuver the Army of the Cumberland into position so that it interposed between General Bragg and Chattanooga. His Reserve Corps under General Granger was at McAfee's Church, near Rossville, Georgia. Thomas' Fourteenth Army Corps composed the Union's left a few miles south of Granger, and formed a southwesterly line to Crawfish Spring where it joined McCook, forming the right in McLemore's Cove. Crittenden's 21st Army Corps remained concentrated at Lee and Gordon's Mills, somewhat in front of the other two corps, to protect the Union.


Shooting of the Cannons, Battle of Chickamauga's 149th Anniversary, Dave Alexander, September 2012
Re-enacters fire cannons during the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. Photo by Dave Alexander, September, 2012. This image available for photographic prints & downloads HERE!

First Day Battle

Early in the morning of September 19, Major General George H. Thomas ordered Brigadier General John M. Brannan forward to reconnoiter the
Confederate forces which had crossed Chickamauga Creek. In this manner, Colonel John T. Croxton's brigade of infantry accidentally ran into some of Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest's cavalry, which were dismounted and serving as infantry, at Jay's Mill near Reed's Bridge. And so the battle began.


Union Colonel Croxton drove General Nathan B. Forrest and his men back, but reinforcements hurried in and forced Croxton to give ground. Suddenly, the commanding generals realized that a major conflict was upon them, and they hurriedly sent troops into the fight as first one side and then the other gained the upper hand. Union General Rosecrans by rapid and forced marches, brought up his troops from Crawfish Springs. Confederate General Bragg ordered his left wing divisions to cross to the west side of Chickamauga Creek. By mid-afternoon major fighting had spread along a jagged line some three miles in length. All the Union divisions, with the exception of Union Major General Gordon Granger's reserve force, became involved. The Confederate troops were also largely engaged, except Generals T.C. Hindman and J.C. Breckinridge, who had crossed over during the late afternoon and night.


When the battle ended for the day, little progress could be shown by General Bragg's troops had reached the LaFayette-Chattanooga Road but were not able to hold the position. Neither side could claim a victory. Bragg had failed to crush the Union left, and General Rosecrans remained in possession of the roads to Chattanooga. The losses on both sides were heavy.


As night fell and darkness settled over the battlefield the fighting stopped, but, there was little rest for the weary soldiers. Rosecrans brought the Army of the Cumberland into a more compact defensive line; Thomas' Corps, heavily reinforced, formed the left in a bulge east of the LaFayette Road at Kelly's Field.


Throughout the night the Confederates heard the ring of axes as the Union troops cut trees and logs to form breastworks. General Alexander McCook's Corps in the center faced LaFayette Road; Major General Thomas L. Crittenden's Corps on the right, was a little withdrawn west of the road.

During the night, Confederate General James Longstreet arrived with two more brigades ready for action. General Bragg then decided to form the Army of Tennessee into two wings for offensive action the next day. He placed Lieutenant General Leonidas in command of the right wing and General Longstreet, the left. The Confederate Army, facing west between Chickamauga Creek and the LaFayette Road formed a line more or less parallel with the road.


Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia in the Civil War

Battle of Chickamauga, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1963. This image available for photographic prints & downloads HERE!


Second Day Battle


Confederae General Braxton BraggOn September 20th, Confederate General Braxton Bragg again tried to drive between the Union force and Chattanooga, but failed to dislodge Major General William Rosecrans' line. Suddenly, a gap opened in the Federal ranks and Confederates smashed through, routing Rosecrans and half his army. General George H. Thomas took command of the remaining Federals and formed a new battle line on Snodgrass Hill. Here, his men held their ground against repeated assaults. After dark, Thomas' forces withdrew from the field to the defenses of Chattanooga. The Confederates pursued and besieged the city. By placing artillery on the heights overlooking the river and blocking the roads and rail lines, the Southerners prevented Federal supplies from entering the city.


Aware of General Rosecrans' plight, Union authorities in Washington ordered reinforcements to his relief. General Joseph Hooker came from Virginia late in October and General William T. Sherman brought reinforcements from Mississippi in mid-November. Thomas replaced Rosecrans as head of Army of the Cumberland and General Ulysses S. Grant assumed overall command.


Within days of Grant's arrival in October, the situation began to change dramatically. Federal troops opened a supply route, nicknamed the "Cracker Line," from Bridgeport, Alabama. On November 23 Thomas' men attacked and routed the Confederates from Orchard Knob, Tennessee. On the 24th, aided by a heavy fog that enshrouded the slopes of Lookout Mountain, Hooker's soldiers pushed the Confederates out of their defenses. On November 25, with most of General Bragg's army now concentrated on Missionary Ridge. General Ulysses S. Grant launched General Sherman's  troops against the Confederate right flank, and sent Hooker's men from Lookout Mountain to attack the Confederate left.


Thomas' soldiers were sent to relieve the pressure on Sherman by assaulting the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. This was swiftly accomplished, but then, without orders, Thomas' men scaled the heights in one of the great charges of the war. The Confederate line collapsed and Bragg's troops fled to the rear, retreating into Georgia. The siege and battle for Chattanooga were over and Union armies now controlled the city and nearly all of The next spring, General Sherman used Chattanooga for his supply base as he started his march to Atlanta and the sea.


Today, the Chickamauga Battlefield features a seven mile self-guiding auto tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking trails and horse trails. The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center contains exhibits and the Fuller Gun Collection which contains over 300 examples of military long arms.


The Siege of Chattanooga

Battle of Chattanooga, TennesseeThomas remained in position at Rossville, Georgia throughout September 21st, but, it was evident that the Confederates could turn his right flank and cut him off from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He suggested to Rosecrans that the Union Army concentrate at Chattanooga. In anticipation of receiving an order to withdraw to the town, Thomas instructed his officers to prepare their commands for the movement. Rosecrans adopted the suggestion and that evening Thomas withdrew the Union forces to Chattanooga. All wagons, ambulances, and surplus artillery had already departed for Chattanooga during the day. By morning of September 22, all Union troops were in position in the town.


The situation in which the men in blue found themselves in Chattanooga was not pleasant. The Tennessee River walled them in on the north, although a pontoon bridge and two ferries offered escape possibilities. Lookout Mountain blocked the way on the west, and Missionary Ridge to the east and south, now held by the Confederates, completed the circle.


Confederate troops began to take up siege positions around Chattanooga. In these positions the Confederates dominated the Union lines. Bragg's men controlled all the railroads leading into the town; Confederate batteries and sharp shooters commanded the Tennessee River, and river traffic ceased; they controlled the roads on the south side of the river and kept under fire the one road north of the river leading to Bridgeport, the nearest Union supply base. Only the road over Walden's Ridge and down through the Sequatchie Valley to Bridgeport was open to General Rosecrans.


Reinforcements for the Besieged Army

Union Army on the moveAs early as September 13, General in Chief Halleck ordered reinforcements sent to Rosecrans. His dispatches on September 13, 14, and 15 to Major Generals Hurlbut at Memphis and Grant and Sherman at Vicksburg, Mississippi directed the troop movements. These dispatches, however, were delayed for several days en route from Cairo to Memphis and, in the meantime, the Battle of Chickamauga was fought. Grant received the orders on the 22nd and immediately instructed four divisions under Sherman to march to Chattanooga.



One division of the Seventeenth Corps, already in transit from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Helena, Arkansas, was ordered to proceed on to Memphis. General Sherman quickly brought three divisions of his Fifteenth Army Corps from the vicinity of the Big Black River into Vicksburg, where they embarked as fast as water transportation could be provided. By October 3, all of the movement of 17,000 men was under way.

The route of travel was by boat to Memphis, then by railroad and overland marches to Chattanooga. From Memphis the troops followed closely the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, which Sherman was ordered to repair as he advanced. By November 15, the troops were at Bridgeport, Alabama, having traveled a distance of 675 miles.


When the War Department in Washington received word that the Army of the Cumberland was besieged in Chattanooga, it considered the situation so critical that President Abraham Lincoln was called out of bed late at night to attend a council meeting. This meeting occurred on the night of September 23, and was described:


"Rosecrans dispatch, Mr. Stanton sent one of the President's secretaries who was standing by to the Soldier's Home, where the President was sleeping. A little startled by the unwonted summons,—for this was "the first time" he said, Stanton had ever sent for him,—the President mounted his horse and rode in through the moonlight to the War Department to preside over an improvised council to consider the subject of reinforcing Rosecrans.

There were present General Halleck, Stanton, Seward and Chase of the Cabinet; P. H. Watson and James A. Hardie of the War Department, and General D. C. McCallum, Superintendent of Military Transportation. After a brief debate, it was resolved to detach the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps from the Army of the Potomac, General Hooker to be placed in command of both . . ."

Soldiers of the Army of the PotomacThe movement of the Eleventh and Twelfth Army Corps from the Army of the Potomac to Tennessee eclipsed all other such troop movements by rail up to that time. It represented a high degree of cooperation between the railroads and the government and was a singular triumph of skill and planning. It also shows the great importance the War Department attached to the Chattanooga Campaign.

The troops began to entrain at Manassas Junction and Bealton Station, Virginia, on September 25, and 5 days later on September 30 the first trains arrived at Bridgeport, Alabama The route traveled was by way of Washington, D. C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Bellaire and Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Bridgeport, Alabama. Several major railroad lines, including the Baltimore and Ohio, Central Ohio, Louisville and Nashville, and Nashville and Chattanooga were involved.


Not all of the troops, however, made such good time as the first trains, and for the majority of the infantry the trip consumed about nine days. The movement of the artillery, horses, mules, baggage, and impediments was somewhat slower, but by the middle of October, all were in the vicinity of Bridgeport ready to help break the siege. These two corps under Major General Joseph Hooker, comprising 20,000 troops and more than 3,000 horses and mules, traveled 1,157 miles. Differences in the railroad gauges hampered the movement, but most of the changes in gauge occurred at river crossings which had no bridges and the troops had to detrain at these points anyway.

Confederate cavalry raids, bent on destroying the railroad bridges and otherwise interfering with the reinforcing effort, imposed a more serious difficulty, but, except for delaying the latter part of the movement a few days, the raids were ineffective.




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