Battle of Chickamauga in the Civil War

But, the battle was not over with this one successful defense. The Confederate line overlapped the Union left and had forced it back until it was stretched across the open field in the rear, and at a right angle with the general line. Then there was a brave fight on both sides in the open ground. It was plainly seen from the position held by the 41st, and it was most eagerly watched. If those men on the flank failed to maintain their ground, the whole line would be taken in the rear while it was assaulted in front. There were some moments of intense anxiety, and then it was seen that the Confederate assault bad spent its force. It was as stubborn a fight as one could wish to see, but the staying quality of the Union troops won. Baird’s and Johnson’s divisions were on the left of Palmer’s.

This doubling up of a flank occurred again that day — the second time, the right flank. This came from a break in the Union line, made not by the enemy, but by order from the commanding general. A division (Wood’s) was withdrawn from its place in line, and at once the enemy entered the gap. The army was cut in two, and most of the right was driven from the field. The general of the army went as far as Chattanooga. The Confederates pushed their advantage toward the Union left until the division next on the right of Palmer’s was bent back to the rear. This, like the flank attack on the left, was in view, from the position of the 41st, and was watched as anxiously. Also, like the other flanking operation, this one failed, thanks to nothing but the steadiness of the Union troops.

But, while these things were taking place in front and oil both flanks another peril began to grow in the consciousness of the men who could not be driven from front or flank. The cartridge boxes were being rapidly emptied, and no ammunition train was near. Everything seemed to have been swept away with the right wing. Then from the woods across the open field in rear, bullets began to whistle toward the backs of the men in the line. These shots were supposed to come from sharpshooters in the trees. A company of the 41st was faced about and delivered a volley into the treetops across the open. This had a good effect, there was one danger the less. But, the question of ammunition pressed. Nobody knew where to find it. The four divisions of the left wing were holding their ground, but they were out of communication with the rest of the army, wherever that might be, and they had no supplies of any kind. The division generals came together, and the question of a commander came up. The three corps of the army were represented in those four divisions, but there was no corps commander present. None of the division generals coveted the responsibility of command, but it was plain that something must be done. There was heavy firing off to the right, and it was guessed that somewhere in that direction Thomas was holding out against the enemy that had swept away the right wing.

Battle of Chickamauga, Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, 1863

Battle of Chickamauga, Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, 1863

Finally, Hazen volunteered to take his brigade across the interval and make communication with whatever Union force might be still in the field. The brigade was withdrawn from the line, marched somewhat to the rear, and then started off through the unexplored woods toward the sound of battle. The movement was made cautiously but rapidly, the brigade constantly in readiness for any fortune that might befall. There were some scattered Confederates in the woods, and a Confederate skirmish line was struck obliquely, but no other force was encountered. The way seemed miles longer than it was, and the relief was great when the leading regiment came upon the left of the position where General George Thomas had stopped the victorious enemy and held him steadfastly. Thomas himself, beloved of all the army, rode up to take Hazen by the hand. The arrival was just in time. A desperate assault was about to come on the left of Thomas’s line. Hazen’s men marched through a cornfield to the crest of a low hill and were there massed in column of regiments. Scarcely was this done when the Confederate storm burst. The slope in front of the brigade was open ground, and in a moment this was covered with heavy masses of the enemy making for the top. Hazen’s regiments were lying flat. The foremost sprang to its feet, delivered its volley and went down again to load, and the next regiment just behind rose to fire and fall flat while the third put in its work; and so on. The slope was strewn with Confederate dead and wounded, but not a man could reach the crest. Along the rest of the line also the defense was successful. Night was falling fast, and the Battle of Chickamauga was over.

By Colonel Robert L. Kimberly

~~

A Confederate victory, the Union retired to Chattanooga, Tennessee while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights. Chickamauga was an extremely costly battle for both armies. The Union suffered an estimated 16,170 casualties (wounded, killed, captured or missing), while the Confederates sustained approximate 18,454.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2020.

Notes and Author: This article was primarily written by Colonel Robert L. Kimberly and was included as a chapter in Albert Bushnell Hart’s book, The Romance of the Civil War, published in 1896. However, the article, as it appears here is not verbatim, as it has been heavily edited and additional information included.

Also See:

Chickamauga & Chattanooga – Death Knell of the Confederacy

The Civil War

Confederate States of America

The Union in the Civil War

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