Conner River right next to town. Artillery

Conner
Hansford

Villeneuve
Period 6

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Battle
of Chickamauga

            In September of 1863, the
Confederate army led by General Bragg had settled down into Chattanooga, with
the Union forces led by general Rosecrans supposedly
stationed across the Tennessee River right next to town. Artillery from the
river was constantly shelling the city and the Confederate army, but besides
that they could do nothing—they would not dare to cross the river in front of
the entire Confederate army. However, this artillery shelling was just a distraction.
General Rosecrans had actually sent his army across the river on another part
of the river, and was now headed towards Chattanooga. This flanking maneuver
pressured General Bragg to move his forces out of the city and to the south.
The Union’s army would chase the Confederates down this way for some time.
Eventually the Confederates would stop their retreat, and once informed of this
Rosecrans stopped his advance as well.

Bragg
waited at his position for a few days for reinforcements, but they never came.
So, he left without them. Bragg had devised a plan to cut across Chickamauga
Creek (ironically translates to “river of death” in Cherokee) and move to be
north of the Union’s army in McLemore’s cove. This would cut off the Union from
their path back to Chattanooga, leaving the confederate army right in the
middle. However, the plan was not executed very effectively. Since the creek
was so steep at its edges, Bragg had to rely on bridges to transport his men
and most importantly his wagons across it. At the bridges, Union forces awaited
them in attempts to resist any Confederate crossers. At bridges defended by
normal infantry brigades, the resistance was fended off by the Confederacy
easily. However, at Alexander’s bridge, John T Wilder and his mounted infantry
brigade were armed with 7-shot repeater rifles and held their bridge for
several hours before pulling back. After finally crossing the river, the
Confederate army camped down for the night while the Union army was on the
move, now having reports that the rebels had crossed the creek. The following
day, the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War would begin, lasting from
September 18–20, 1863.

The
first fighting took place on accident. Bragg had sent reconnaissance cavalry to
the area, and they encountered infantry sent to defend that location under the
command of General Thomas. Both General Rosecrans and General Bragg responded
to the skirmish in a similar fashion, sending their armies northward. The
forces would encounter each other through a “zipper” effect because of this,
extending the fighting downwards more and more as more troops entered the
field. General Rosecrans moved his headquarters closer to the field, but that
didn’t help his command much—one problem that both Rosecrans and Bragg would
encounter throughout the battle was that it was very hard to tell very much
what was going on not only in terms of their own troops but especially the
enemy’s troops. Not only did the smoke discharge from weapons cloud much of the
battlefield (as expected), but the thick woodlands made it extremely hard to
see into the distance. This also meant that the troops in the fighting would
not be able to see the opposing side until they were well within firing range,
meaning that commanders searching for enemy forces may be surprised to suddenly
have a mass of enemies directly next to their flank. This problem lasted the
entire battle. However, on the plus side, this bushland provided cover for
soldiers, so commanders could keep their forces at a higher strength for a
longer duration of time before having to fall back. The fighting throughout the
first day was chaotic and confusing, but was even more confusing as it turned
dark. A Confederate leader by the name of Patrick Cleburne sent his troops in
to attack the Union soldiers just as darkness fell. However, all both sides had
to fire at were the muzzle flashes of the opposing side. Soldiers in the dark
also tended to overcompensate and aim higher than they should, meaning that
most shots fired in this engagement simply went overhead. This engagement
proved to be more disorienting and frightening than harmful for both sides—especially
since friendly fire was a prominent event. At the end of the first day, rough
estimates of casualties range from ~6000-9000 Confederate losses and ~7000 Union
losses.

At
night, General Rosecrans called a council of war with his top commanders to
attempt to determine their battle plan for the following day. They decided that
they had three options: attack, defend, or retreat from the field. After taking
in reports of losses, they determined that attacking was out of the question; their
units had been weakened way too much the previous day to be able to sustain
more heavy offensive moves. Politically, retreating was also undesirable:
reporting a retreat to the president and entire Union at this point in the war
would cause more trouble than it was worth. Therefore, they elected to defend
their position.

The
defensive positions Rosecrans planned out went as followed: General Thomas
would defend the left flank in a horseshoe formation, with the intent of
bearing the main assault. Thomas was the appropriate man picked for the job,
known for his impressive defensive skills. General McCook would protect Thomas’s
right flank, forming the center of the defense. Finally, General Crittenden
would remain in reserve and would be directed to the area under most heavy
assault later in the day. The ensuing night would drop below freezing,
providing terrible conditions for the soldiers. To add on to the fact, fires
were not allowed. Rumors indicate that even lighting a pipe drew gunfire that
night. General Thomas had to march some men through the night in order to
establish his defensive position on the left flank, making his men fatigued and
lowering morale. Bragg overnight planned to turn the Union army left via
pressure so that he could establish the position he desired of being in between
the Federal army and Chattanooga. However, Rosecrans’s defense planned for
exactly that, and Thomas’s horseshoe defense on the left would be a formidable opponent
standing in Bragg’s way. Unfortunately, Bragg’s plan relied on Lieutenant Hill
to initiate the Confederate attack at the crack of dawn. However, the messenger
that was supposed to deliver Hill’s orders to him never found where Hill had
camped down—meaning that his dawn attack never happened. This delay in the
Confederate attack allowed the Union more time to prepare and build defenses.
This delay has been credited by many historians as the reason why the Union
army was not completely wiped out at the battle of Chickamauga.

James
Longstreet during the early hours of the attack decided to arrange the
divisions under his command into one large attack column, intent on breaking
through the Union defense (as opposed to sending one division at a time to
attack alone). As Longstreet was doing this, General Rosecrans received a false
report that a gap existed in his defense—a classic misinterpretation of reports
through the chain of command. Rosecrans had been shifting troops so much early
in the morning to reinforce General Thomas’s defense that he entirely believed
that a gap such as the one reported could have accidentally been formed. It’s
also worthy to note that he had gone two days without sleep at this point. So,
without checking the validity of this report, Rosecrans ordered general Woods
to move his men left down the defenses to fill the gap—however, all this did
was layer Woods’s men over other divisions, and created a real gap in the Union
defense. This gap was made immediately as General Longstreet ordered his
massive column to attack the Union defense—and they charged right through the
gap Rosecrans had accidentally made by moving Woods and his men. This broke the
Union right flank, sending them routing. Rosecrans and his officers attempted
to keep their men from fleeing, but they failed. Instead, they packed up headquarters
and fled up the hill behind them. Some Union soldiers sacrificed themselves in
counterattacks against this massive Confederate assault, allowing the majority of
the Union right flank brigades to flee to the nearby Snodgrass Hill and
Horseshoe Ridge.

It
was at this time that General Thomas, famed for his defensive skills, was
informed of the collapse of their right flank. The left flank was still holding
strong under his command, and the frequency and severity of attacks were
lessening. Because of this, he elected to move his command to the collapsing right
flank to lend his aide. Soldier reports state he acted like a father figure to
the soldiers, organizing the situation. He rode to each remaining brigade,
telling them: “You will hold this ground.” Right as Thomas’s men were running
out of ammunition and he was ordering them to fix bayonets, General Granger
arrived with three fresh reserve divisions and supplies of ammunition. Thomas
would continue to hold this position until nightfall as other Union forces were
ordered to retreat. His defensive capabilities in this battle earned him the
nickname among his men “The Rock of Chickamauga”. Bragg did not order a pursuit
of the Federal army, as his was too disorganized that most of his men didn’t
even understand for some time they had won the battle.

At
the end of the day, Chickamauga was a Confederate victory. General Rosecrans
was extremely mentally distraught after the battle, being described behind his
back by President Lincoln as being “stunned like a duck hit on the head”.
However, the Confederates suffered 18,454 casualties as opposed to the Union’s
16,170 (of those, ~4757 were captured in the retreat). So strategically, the
Confederacy won. However, statistically the Union won—but they suffered a huge
blow to morale.