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Battle of Chickamauga, the second bloodest Civil War Battle

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought on September 19-20, 1863. This battle was the second bloodiest battle of the American Civil War. It pitted the Union Army of Cumberland against the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Fought in dense forests and small open fields just South of Chattanooga, TN. Chickamauga was one of a very few victories for the Army of Tennessee, but, they were slow to take advantage of the defeat of the Army of the Cumberland and the bulk of the Federal army made it safely into the lines at Chattanooga. The battle marked the high point of George Thomas as he became known as the rock of Chickamauga and it ended the promising career of William Rosecrans.

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Chickamauga visitor center
Chickamauga visitor center
Breakthrough.jpg
Breakthrough.jpg
Site of the Longstreet Corp breakthrough
Lincoln.jpg
Lincoln.jpg
A plaque showing how President Abe Lincoln grief over the death of Mary Lincoln's brother.
Lytle.jpg
Lytle.jpg
The spot where Brig Gen. William Lytle was killed. He was killed by a sniper from 800 yards!
Mixup.jpg
Mixup.jpg
A plaque showing the mix up that caused the Union route.
SnowgrassHill.jpg
SnowgrassHill.jpg
The Snodgrass hill from the battle field
UnionRoute (1).jpg
UnionRoute (1).jpg
Site of the Union route
TheCost.jpg
TheCost.jpg
The cost of the Battle of Chickamauga
Tanyard.jpg
Tanyard.jpg
The Tanyard which marks the center of the Union line.
SnowgrassPos.jpg
SnowgrassPos.jpg
A plaque on the Snodgrass Hill
SnowgrassPos (1).jpg
SnowgrassPos (1).jpg
The Snowgrass hill where Thomas and men made a brave stand and delayed the Confederate pursue.
UnionRoute.jpg
UnionRoute.jpg
The field where much of the Union Army was routed when Longstreet Corp made its breakthrough
Wood Division
Wood Division
A plaque on Wood's Division that was moved in error, which caused a gap in the Union line
A plaque on Longstreet Corp
A plaque on Longstreet Corp
General Longstreet led his corp in its breakthrough of the Union line
Hood's Division
Hood's Division
A plaque on Hood's division
Helm's Brigade
Helm's Brigade
A plaque showing the Helm's Brigade
George Thomas
George Thomas
Major General George Thomas who became known as the Rock of Chickamauga.
Longstreet's breakthrough
Longstreet's breakthrough
A plaque at the site of Longstreet's breakthrough
Brotherton house
Brotherton house
The Brotherton house, the site of Longstreet's breakthrough
General William Lytle
General William Lytle
wood's movement
wood's movement
A battle map showing Wood's movement around Brannan's Division.
Longstreet's breakthrough
Longstreet's breakthrough
A battle map showing Longstreet's breakthrough. Note, the position of Thomas and Granger's corps.
Two commands at Chickamauga
Two commands at Chickamauga
The Union Commander Rosecran on the right and the Confederate commander Bragg on the left
Blue Lightning - Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga by Richard A. Baumgartner.gif
Blue Lightning - Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga by Richard A. Baumgartner.gif

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Mary Lincoln's brother was killed

Chickamauga, Ga

Helm's Brigade
2 images

Confederate Brig. Gen. Benjamin Helm was brother of Mary Todd Lincoln, he led a brigade in John Breckenridge's famous Orphan Brigade from State of Kentucky. He was killed on September 20 during the Battle of Chickamauga.  His death was one of the many causes that led to Mary Lincoln going insane later.

Because Kentucky was in the Union, Confederate Brigades from Kentucky were called the "Orphan Brigade" as they were disowned by their home state.

Upon hearing the news of Helm's death, President Abe Lincoln supposely have said that he now knows how King David felt when his army killed his rebellious son Absalom.

The battle of Chickamauga

Chickamauga, GA

Chickamauga visitor center
16 images

After the Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans renewed his offensive, aiming to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. The three army corps comprising Rosecrans,s army split and set out for Chattanooga by separate routes. In early September, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered in Tennessee and Georgia and forced Bragg's army out of Chattanooga, heading south. The Union troops followed it and brushed with it at Davis's Cross Roads. Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet a part of Rosecrans's army, defeat them, and then move back into the city. On the 17th he headed north, intending to meet and beat the XXI Army Corps. As Bragg marched north on the 18th, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry where Layfette Road crosses the Chickamauga creek . Fighting began in earnest on the morning of the 19th, and Bragg's men hammered but did not break the Union line. The next day, Bragg continued his assault on the Union line on the left, and in late morning, Rosecrans was informed that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosencrans created one, and James Longstreet's men promptly exploited it, driving one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. George H. Thomas took over command and began consolidating forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. Although the Rebels launched determined assaults on these forces, they held until after dark. Thomas then led these men from the field leaving it to the Confederates. The Union retired to Chattanooga while the Rebels occupied the surrounding heights.

Longstreet's attack

Chickamauga, GA

Breakthrough.jpg
6 images

In the aftermath of Gettysburg, as the Army of Northern Virginia refitted and rested from its recent defeat. General Robert E. Lee and President Davis decided the fate of the Confederacy lays in the West as Army of Tennesse led by Bragg has been push out of Chattanooga and into northern Georgia. They decided to send Lieutenant General James Longstreet and six divisions by train to reinforce Bragg and the Army of Tennessee in north Georgia, where Federal General Rosecrans was threatening to push past the Confederates Army and into the heart of Georgia, much like what Sherman will eight months later.

By the morning of September 20, Longstreet and  his six divisions were in position on the left flank of the Confederate line that had been established on the first day of the battle of Chickamauga. Longstreet mmediately began preparing to launch an attacks. After a delay in opening the attack, ultimately caused by Bragg, Lt Gen. Leonidas Polk and Daniel Harvey Hill.  Longstreet's plan of attack wave finally moved forward at 11:10 a.m when Longstreet discovered that Bragg had ordered the right of Longstreet's line into action without consulting him. Rather than wasting time with details, he sent word to Hood to move the line forward. Its force was ferocious. Leading the attack across from the Brotherton farmhouse, General Hindman's front brigades encountered an extraordinary bit of luck. Owing to a mix-up in orders, Wood's Federals had left a hole in the Union line. Hindman wasted no time in pouring through this breach, laying waste to everything that came into his path. Within forty minutes, Longstreet's assault column destroyed two Federal Corps, leaving the survivors to run pell mell back to Chattanooga. Only Major General George Thomas' Corp remain on the field and they positioned themselve on the Snodgrass Hill. For some inexplicable reason, Bragg and rest of his command failed to pursue the retreating Union Corps or did they tried to dislodge Thomas from the Snodgrass. So Longstreet order his two divisions to assaults the Snodgrass Hill.As Longstreet began his push against the Federals due to lack of cooperation by Bragg and Polk as Polk's wing remained idle on the Confederate right, leaving Longstreet to assault the strong Federal position alone. Just them the Union reserve division under Granger that were stationed two miles away decided to march to the sound of battle, arriving just in time with 8000 men and fresh supply of ammunition to help out Thomas. As a result, Thomas and his quickly arranged defense were able to admirably hold off repeated Confederate assaults against Snodgrass.  Granger and Thomas were able to hold off Longstreet's attack, thus, giving the Union Army much needed time to retreat. 

Longstreet's memoirs indicate his extreme disappointment that a day so filled with success had failed to achieve results that had seemed so certain. He wrote that, "like magic the Union Army had melted away in our presence."

 

Death of Union General William Lytle

Chickamauga, GA

Lytle.jpg
2 images

William Haines Lytle (November 2, 1826 – September 20, 1863) was a politician in Ohio, renowned poet, and military officer in the United States Army during both the Mexican-American War and American Civil War. Lytle's most famous poem, "Antony and Cleopatra" (published in 1857), was beloved by both North and South in antebellum America

When Longstreet's Corp broke through the Union line, William Lytle was mortally wounded on horseback while sending his men forward to counter the break through. Once his identity was known, respectful Confederates placed a guard around his body, and many recited his poetry over their evening campfires.

An interesting note on the bullet that hit Lytle, it was from Whitworth .45 caliber percussion rifle, which was made in England and is only used by the Confederate Army as a sniper rifle. The bullets from this rifle is very distinct from other Civil War bullets. The Confederate snipers use it to pickoff the artillery crews from distances of up to 1000 yard. It is also used to pick off important Union Generals such as John Sedwick.

Rosecran's blunder

Chickamauga, GA

wood's movement
3 images

At the height of the fighting on the left, one of Thomas’ aides, Captain Sanford Kellogg, was heading to Rosecrans headquarter when he noticed what appeared to be wide gap between the divisions of Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood on the right and John Reynolds on the left. In actuality, the heavily wooded area between Reynolds and Wood was occupied by Brig. Gen. John Brannan’s division. When Kellogg rode by, Brannan’s force was simply obscured by late-summer foliage.

When Kellogg informed Rosecrans of the phantom gap, the latter reacted accordingly. In his haste, Rosecrans did not confirm the existence of the gap but, instead, issued what might have been the single most disastrous order of the Civil War  ‘Headquarters Department of Cumberland, September 20th–10:45 a.m.,’ the communiqué read. ‘Brigadier-General Wood, Commanding Division: The general commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds
as fast as possible and support him.’  General Thomas Wood read this new order and was confused as he knew there was no gap in the Union line. Brannan had been on his left all along. Instead of asking for clearification from Rosecran, Wood decided to pull his two brigades out of line, march around Brannan’s rear, and effect a junction with Reynolds’ right. In carrying out this maneuver, Wood created a gap where none had existed. Simultaneously, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan’s men were ordered out of line on Wood’s right and sent to bolster the threatened left wing, and Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis’ division ( yes, there was a Union General with the same name as the Confederate President) was ordered into the line to fill the quarter-mile hole vacated by Wood. Almost three full divisions of the Federal right wing were in motion at the same time, in the face of a heavily concentrated enemy.

Now, completely by chance, in one of those incredible situations on which turn the fortunes of men and nations, Longstreet unleashed a 23,000-man sledgehammer attack directed right at the place where Wood had been moments earlier. This attack completely drove the two Union corps from the field ( see map of Longstreet breakthrough).  Now only Thomas corp and Granger's reserve division (located two miles away ) to face the whole Confederate Army.

Granger's quick action

Chickamauga, GA

One September 20, Rosecran ordered Gordon Granger's division to be placed in reserve about 2 miles north of the battlefield, where they were to cover the road to Chattanooga.  After the Longstreet's breakthrough which chased the Union commander Rosecran and much of the Army of Cumberland  from the battlefield, Granger's division are moroned and out of communication with rest of the Army of Cumberland.  Granger standing in church tower can see the Thomas Corp's is now all alone facing the repeated attack from Longstreet's Corp. Without order, Granger decided to march his division to the aid of Thomas, arriving just in time as Thomas' men are starting to run low of ammunitions.

The combined forces of Granger's Division and Thomas' Corp were able to held off the Longstreet's attack until dark, then they made an orderly withdrew to Chattanooga.

Granger's quick action at Chickamauga earned him command of the new IV Corps in Army of Cumberland.  Under his command were the divisions of Thomas Wood and Philip Sheridan.  During the Battle of Chattanooga, these two divisions distinguished themselve in driving the Confederate army from the Missionary Ridge.

Battle's Aftermath, George Thomas

Chattanooga, TN

George Thomas

After routed from the field, the Army of Cumberland withdrew to Chattanooga. Instead of attacking, Bragg and the Confederate Army decided to occupy the two mountains south of Chattanooga, the Missionary Ridge and the Lookout Mountain.

The stand at Snodgrass earned Thomas the title of "Rock of Chickamauga". The War Department decided to replaced Rosecran with Thmoas as the commander of the Army of Cumberland. In November, General Grant and Sherman arrived with Army of Mississippi. General Grant decided to take the Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountian.  The Army of Cumberland redeemed themselve by taking the Missionary Ridge and sending Bragg's men running towards Georgia.  The road to Georgia now lays open for Sherman's March to Atlanta, which the Army of Cumberland and Thomas played an important role.

When Sherman begun his March to the Sea, Thomas and the Army of Cumberland was send to track the Confederate Army that got chased out of Atlanta.  Thomas met the Confederate Army in Nashville, TN and defeated them after two day battle.  This battle effectively removed the Confederate Army of Tennessee from rest of the war.

An interest note on George Thomas as he was a Virginian. At the start of the Civil War he was in US Army and decided to remain with US Army and fight for the Union. Legend has it that his parent kept a sword at home, it was to be used on Thomas when he visits them.

Blue Lightning : Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga by Richard A. Baumgartner

Blue Lightning - Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga by Richard A. Baumgartner.gif

Review on book, by Indiana Magazine of History:

Blue Lightning: Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga. By Richard A. Baumgartner. (Huntington, W. Va.: Blue Acorn Press, 1997. Pp. iii, 244. Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $30.00.)

In June of 1863, while fighting in their first real battle in Hoover's Gap, Tennessee, a brigade of Indiana and Illinois men advanced so rapidly and fought so aggressively they earned the nickname Lightning Brigade. Richard A. Baumgartner has written the history of this Civil War brigade during the time Colonel John T. Wilder was its commander, from December, 1862, through the Battle of Chickamauga in September, 1863. During this time the brigade helped the Union's Army of the Cumberland drive the Confederate army out of middle Tennessee and then out of Chattanooga. At the Battle of Chickamauga, Wilder's brigade managed by its tenacious fighting to slow the Confederate advance at several crucial times, thus helping the Union army avoid destruction.

The Lightning Brigade was different from most Civil War units in two ways. The men were mounted infantry, thus were pioneers in developing the new idea of fighting as infantry but using horses to move about rapidly. They had better weapons than most of their opponents since they were equipped with Spencer breech-loading repeating rifles.

The book should appeal to those interested in the military history of Indiana's Civil War soldiers. The brigade included two Indiana mounted infantry regiments, the 17th and the 72nd; three regiments from Illinois, the 92nd, 98th, and 123rd; and the 18th Indiana Battery of Light Artillery commanded by the young Captain Eli Lilly. Wilder, who before the war owned a foundry in Greensburg, Indiana, is described as an innovative, aggressive, and effective commanding officer. The book includes numerous photographs of men who were in the brigade. There is a list of those who were casualties in the Chickamauga campaign. Throughout the text the author includes biographical information about many of the men.

A good feature of the book is that the author quotes very extensively from brigade members' letters and diaries. The men describe skirmishing, scouting, and camp life as well as the ferocity of battle, especially at Chickamauga. There are lively, often humorous accounts of the difficulties that ensued when these men, originally infantrymen, became mounted infantry and had to learn how to ride and deal with horses and mules. The men acquired their mounts by simply taking them from civilians in the vicinity who were presumed to be "disloyal inhabitants" (p. 19). Since they spent so much time on foraging expeditions, their letters describe many encounters with civilians in Tennessee.

Baumgartner's descriptions of military actions are not always easy to follow. This is partly because of the nature of the book. The author is focusing on the actions of many individual men in one brigade in the midst of very complicated moving and fighting of two large armies. Readers need to have some basic knowledge of the military events treated here, particularly the Battle of Chickamauga. The maps in the book do not show sufficient details; most do not indicate position or movements of various military units. Readers would have found it helpful if the author had summarized in an appendix the details about the brigade's organization and officers, explained how it fit into the Army of the Cumberland, and noted the times when various units of the brigade, such as the 92nd Illinois, were temporarily detached for special assignments.

SHARON HANNUM SEAGER is professor of history, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, where she teaches courses on the Civil War, the South, and women in American history.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.

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Location:
City: Fort Oglethorpe 1
Country: United States of America 1
State: Geogia 1
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Category: Civil War Battlefield 1
Name: Chickamauga Battle Field 1

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