Memoirs of Henry Villard/Volume 2/Book 6
MEMOIRS OF HENRY VILLARD
IN CIVIL-WAR TIME: CHICKAMAUGA
With Rosencrans at Murfreesboro'.—1863
I LEFT New York on May 3, and went directly to Cincinnati. Here I remained ten days, mainly for the purpose of watching the developments in the case of Vallandigham, the notorious leader of secession sympathizers. General Burnside, now in command of the Department of the Ohio, had arrested him on a charge of treason, and was about to bring him to trial before a court-martial. But as the General requested me not to publish anything in regard to the matter until the trial was over, at which no reporters were permitted to be present, it seemed useless to tarry longer, and I resumed my journey and reached Rosecrans's headquarters at Murfreesboro', Tennessee, five days later.
A short review of the experiences of the Army of the Ohio since I left it in eastern Kentucky, will be in place here. The campaign of Perryville had been brought to a close in October, 1862, by the successful retreat of Bragg's army into Tennessee. General Buell halted the pursuing columns north of the Cumberland River, and, after a few days' rest, turned his army again in a western direction towards Glasgow and Bowling Green. He had hardly issued orders to this effect when he was directed by the President to turn his command over to Major-General W. S. Rosecrans, who assumed charge on October 30. General McCook's and General Gilbert's corps were then concentrated at Bowling Green, and General Crittenden's corps reached Glasgow a few days later.
The strong dissatisfaction with the disappointing performances of General Buell that was generally felt in official circles at Washington, at the capitals of Western States, and by the loyal public, was the principal cause of his removal; but the immediate one was, that he again mani fested his former disinclination to comply with the orders from Washington to move directly into East Tennessee. Subsequent events proved, however, that for once he was right in remonstrating against those orders, on the ground that Bragg was aiming at the capture of Nashville, and that the protection of the Tennessee capital and the control of middle Tennessee were more important than the occupation of the eastern part of the State. General Rosecrans, too, was compelled to decide at once against the movement so long desired by the Government, by positive information of the appearance of Bragg at Murf reesboro, only thirtythree miles from Nashville, and to order the whole army, within a few days after his assumption of the command, to make for that city by forced marches.
Nashville was occupied during the Perryville campaign by the divisions of Generals Negley and Palmer. The place had been well fortified, and was never really in danger from the inferior rebel forces under General Breckinridge that hovered about it during the fall, acting more as a corps of observation than as besiegers, although they made some offensive attempts, and even boldly demanded the surrender of the city. But the advent of the aggressive Bragg within one and a half days march of it formed an immi nent danger, and justified the southward rush of the army for its protection. General McCook's corps reached its destination on November 9, having marched seventy-two miles in three days, and was directly followed by the other corps.
One of the first acts of General Rosecrans was a reorgan ization of the army. Its name was changed to "Army of the Cumberland," and it was divided into the right wing, under Major-General Alexander McD. McCook, composed of the three divisions of Johnson, Davis (the slayer of Nelson), and Sheridan; the centre, under General Thomas, with Rousseau, Negley, and Reynolds for division commanders; and the left wing, under General Crittenden, with the three divisions of Wood, Palmer, and Van Cleve. The new Commander-in-chief devoted himself assiduously to the improvement of the efficiency of his command, filling its thinned ranks with fresh troops, and weeding out incompetent officers. He also worked vigorously in other respects to get it ready for resuming the offensive as early as possible. Officers and men were greatly in need of clothing and foot-wear. The cavalry and artillery and the transportation department required extensive remounting, and an accumulation of quartermaster, commissary, and ordnance stores had also to precede a forward movement. Rosecrans's efforts to supply all these urgent needs were very much impeded by obstruction of communications with the North. The main line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had not been fully repaired since the destruction wrought upon it by the last formidable raid of the rebel cavalry leader Morgan, and hauling had to be done for many miles with army wagons. Nor was it found possible to ensure the regular operation of that sole available rail-line. More or less successful attempts to interrupt it were repeated again and again during November and December by the rebel chieftains Morgan, Wheeler, Wharton, Forrest, and others. Still, the wants of the army were gradually so far satisfied that, towards the end of the year, it could be considered ready to resume active operations.
Accordingly, General Rosecrans, on Christmas day, 1862, issued orders for a general advance the following morning upon Murfreesboro', where Bragg's army had remained stationary, receiving the benefits of rest, replenishment, and reinforcement. The army moved on December 26, in three columns: McCook on the right, Thomas with three of his five divisions in the centre, and Crittenden on the left. They came upon the rebel pickets and outposts within a few miles of Nashville, and, pushing them and their supports steadily before them, on December 29 reached the west bank of Stone's River in the immediate vicinity of Murfreesboro', which lies on the east side of it. General Rosecrans had believed that his antagonist would retreat on his approach, but found him well concentrated, and evidently ready to accept battle, with the two corps of Generals Polk and Hardee, and a division under General Breckinridge. Unknown to each other, both commanders prepared on the 30th to attack the next morning. By an extraordinary coincidence, the plans of battle were exact counterparts. Rosecrans aimed to inflict a great defeat upon the enemy by turning his right, and Bragg was determined to try the Perryville tactics again by a flanking movement with the bulk of his army against our right, which he doubtless knew was commanded by the same general, McCook, upon whom he had tried the same game all but successfully. In this concurrence of the purposes of the two adversaries, he who struck first and heaviest would naturally have the best chance to win, and this advantage unfortunately fell to Bragg.
Thus the great battle of Stone's River, one of the bloodiest of the Civil War, came to be fought on the last day of the year 1862. Bragg, by a general wheel of his centre and left under Polk and Hardee, managed to work around our right, and to hurl upon this flank massive columns with such irresistible impetus that they swept before them, partly dispersed, and partly captured the first of our divisions encountered, and rolled back upon the centre the other two divisions. The centre, being thus exposed to deter mined attacks from the front, flank, and rear, was also compelled to give ground, and succeeded in staying the steady advance of the rebels from a new position only with the help of divisions from our left. For some time during the day there was the gravest peril of a general and crushing defeat of our whole army, and it may still be considered an open question whether the prevention of such a terrible catastrophe was due more to our resistance than to the gradual tiring out of the assailants and their lack of reserves to follow up their success. As it was, the close of that awful day found us with a loss of nearly 10,000 killed and wounded, not far from 4000 prisoners (out of a total of 43,000 effectives), and 30 pieces of artillery, and forced back on a new line forming almost a right angle to the one first held. The enemy's casualties in killed and wounded were even heavier, out of an effective total of 8000 less than ours. The result of the exhaustion of both sides was that the opposing hosts lay confronting one another for the next two days. On the afternoon of the third day, the enemy attempted another assault, upon our left, ending in a severe repulse with heavy loss. Bragg retreated in the night of the fourth day — much to the relief of Rosecrans, who had even thought of a retreat to Nashville immediately after the misfortunes of the first day. What could at best be called a drawn battle by our side was now proclaimed, of course, a Union victory, coupled with the usual assertion that it was won over greatly superior numbers. Indeed, Rosecrans telegraphed to the War Department that he had encountered more than 62,000 rebels. Bragg, to be sure, likewise exaggerated our strength beyond 60,000. But the Official Records leave no doubt of the correctness of the respective strengths above given.
Rosecrans had set out from Nashville for an offensive winter campaign. Had the outcome of his main trial of strength with Bragg been satisfactory, as he confidently expected, he would doubtless have carried out that purpose, unless severe winter weather and, maybe, the course of events in other parts of the theatre of war had prevented it. The shock received by his command on Stone's River was so great, however, that he would have been obliged to lie still for a time at least for general recuperation, but he lapsed into inactivity for months. The severe handling he suffered from Bragg had apparently taken most of the aggressive “starch” out of him, and his confidence in the army was greatly diminished. Indeed, the relative reverse he had undergone transformed him from a buoyant fighter into another cautious and irresolute “cunctator” of the McClellan and Buell type.
The first evidence of this change of spirit was the extensive fortifications he planned and had carried out around Murfreesboro'. They were on such an elaborate scale as to indicate a decided fear of the enemy. Next came the prominence he gave, in his communications to the Government, to the great need of more drill and discipline in his army, although this shortcoming had not been considered serious enough by him before to delay his advance against Bragg. Other strong symptoms of his loss of pluck were his continuous and clamorous demands for more troops, more equipment, and more supplies. His likeness to the prototypes mentioned grew very striking when the one sound excuse for his prolonged lethargy, the protracted very bad weather, could not be pleaded any longer upon the advent of spring, and the Government began to urge upon him the resumption of offensive operations. Like the others, he did not seem to be able to get ready to move. He had no end of excuses. Suggestions to him only led to long deprecatory arguments against them. Orders from Washington produced no other effect than to draw from him remonstrances and protests. He gradually developed even an obstinate obstreperousness and outright resistance to the wishes of his superiors, and resented their interference almost as an insult and outrage. His conduct naturally produced discouragement and distrust of him at the national capital. The dissatisfaction of the Government with his inertia became known to the public, and led to criticism of him in the Eastern papers, while he had many strong champions in the Western press.
This was the state of things when I reached Murfreesboro' in May. On presenting my credentials, General Rosecrans received me with literally profuse cordiality. Referring to my review of his predecessor, he assured me that he deemed it a privilege to have so able and well-known a critic join him. Although I had only a slight acquaintance with him (I had seen him a few times during the siege of Corinth), he invited me at once to his mess, offered to provide sleeping-quarters for me next to his, and to furnish me horses and servants. This excessive hospitality confirmed the impression which prevailed among newspaper men, and which I had brought with me, that he tried to work the press systematically for his personal benefit. I felt that, if I placed myself under obligations to him by accepting the offered favors, he would expect services in return, and my independence as a writer could not be preserved. Accordingly, I declined his offers as politely as I could, and again joined my old friends, General McCook and his staff, who occupied a spacious brick mansion, the former home of the owner of a large plantation adjacent to the town, in which I was given a small but comfortable room. I also secured a serviceable horse and a negro servant.
My very first talk with Rosecrans satisfied me that I need not have made haste to retake the field, as he had no thought of an immediate advance. Fully six weeks were, indeed, to elapse before his army got again in motion, and during that time my work remained very light, as I was subject, of course, to the usual restrictions upon the publication of information regarding intended movements, the strength and condition of the army, and other matters that might have given “aid and comfort to the enemy.” Murfreesboro' was an attractive, solidly built-up town, but offered no social diversions, as most of the ten thousand inhabitants had disappeared. But I found plenty of other means of pleasantly whiling away my abundant leisure. To return to this army was to me almost like returning to one's large family, owing to the great number of friends I had in it. There had been but few changes among the general officers, and in visits to them much of my time was agreeably spent. Then General McCook and his military family were a very jolly set, and provided a good deal of fun. The singing of songs in chorus was a constant amusement. A continuous flow of official and unofficial callers also added to the liveliness of our headquarters. Drills, parades, and reviews likewise afforded diversion. The weather was most propitious for outdoor life, and I took advantage of it by daily horseback exercise.
It was my duty as well as my pleasure to pay frequent visits to the general headquarters, where I always received a hearty welcome from both General Rosecrans and his chief of staff, General James A. Garfield, in whom nobody then foresaw a future President of the United States. I will describe them separately. General Rosecrans was of middle stature, with a broad upper body and rather short, bow legs (owing to which peculiarities he presented a far better appearance when mounted than on foot); a head not large, with short, thin, light-brown hair; a narrow, long face with kindly blue eyes, strong nose and mouth, and scanty full grayish beard. His general expression was very genial. He was a great talker, voluble, earnest, and persuasive — one of the elements of his strength. General Garfield, not much over thirty years old, presented a far more commanding and attractive appearance. Very nearly, if not fully, six feet high, well formed, of erect carriage, with a big head of sandy hair, a strong-featured, broad and frank countenance, set in a full beard and lighted up by large blue eyes and a most pleasing smile, he looked like a distinguished personage. His manners were very gentlemanly and cordial, and altogether he produced and sustained a most agreeable impression.
It was not difficult for me to get on a confidential footing with Rosecrans. In fact, he freely offered his confidence to me of his own accord, and thus enabled me promptly to take a correct measure of the man. He showed at once that his disagreements with the Washington authorities were the uppermost thoughts in his mind, and that it gratified him greatly to express his ill-humor towards them. Indeed, he criticised General Halleck and Secretary Stanton with such freedom — with such a total disregard of official propriety — not once, but repeatedly, that it really embarrassed me to listen to him, although, fortunately, he was content to do the talking without expecting sympathetic echoes from me. He dwelt upon the disregard of some of his wishes by those superiors as a public wrong, and denounced as criminal their efforts to force him into the offensive before he was completely ready. Nor did he hesitate to expatiate upon his plans for future operations, and this with scarcely concealed self-appreciation. He evidently believed that he was destined to play the most prominent part and reach the greatest distinction among all the Union generals. He unfolded to me his conception of the grand strategy by which the triumph of the North could be assured, coupling it with a broad intimation that Halleck and Stanton would have to be got out of the way, leaving me to infer that, after this was done, the next necessary step was to put him in the former's place. Talk of this kind was so regularly repeated by him that I could not help concluding that he was anxious to impress me with his greatness and to have that impression reflected in the Tribune. There was a correspondent attached to his headquarters, W. D. Bickham, who did that sort of work for him very willingly in the columns of the Cincinnati Commercial. But the more “Old Rosey,” as the puffer in question had nicknamed him, tried to make me help in pointing him out as the great and only hope of the country, the less I was inclined to gratify him, and the smaller grew my faith in his fitness to command a large army and lead it to victory. Notwithstanding his transparent vanity and love of approbation, he tried to make me — and, for that matter, everybody else, including his superiors — believe that he disliked publicity and shrank especially from newspaper notoriety.
His principal justification of the inaction of his command was that, as long as he stood still, he held Bragg fast in his front, and prevented the sending of reinforcements from him to General Johnston in his efforts to foil Grant in the capture of Vicksburg. He explained to me at length the strategic theory on which he rested this plea. As appears from the Official Records, he used the same argument with General Halleck, who, however, tripped him up very effectively in replying to it. The simple truth regarding his real motives was, that the display of rebel valor and the lack of resisting stamina in his own troops on Stone's River still exercised a deterrent influence on his mind, and that under it he persisted in his belief in the superior strength of Bragg, and had not pluck enough to again undertake anything against him until he had at his command what in his judgment was a sufficient preponderance, numerically and otherwise.
General Garfield was also talkative, but more reserved and discreet than his chief. He professed to have great admiration for him and implicit faith in his military talents, but, unlike him, believed that the army was fully ready in the first half of May to enter upon a new campaign. He expressed himself freely upon the several ways of conducting operations against Bragg that suggested themselves from the relative positions of the opposed armies. He appeared to have a very clear and sound strategic judgment for one whose experience as commander had been limited to petty warfare, at the head of a small brigade, with raiders and guerrillas in eastern Kentucky. I recognized also his general capacity and great store of information. A distinguished career seemed certain for him, but I am sure that he himself did not dream that the chief magistracy of the nation was awaiting him.
There could be no doubt, however, that the long stay at Murfreesboro' had resulted in the much greater proficiency of the army. As more than one-third of it consisted of newly enlisted officers and men, there was great need of improvement in drill and discipline, and it must be said that the commanding general and the commanders under him had tried their best in that respect. Whenever the weather permitted, the exercises of the troops had been energetically pushed. But I could not learn that anything beyond drills by companies and regiments had been attempted. The explanation of this was that the Army of the Cumberland was as deficient as the Army of the Potomac and that under Grant in generals able to conduct brigade and division drills. But the same deficiency prevailed on the rebel side.
While the main body of the Army of the Cumberland enjoyed entire immunity from rebel disturbance, the enemy resumed his daring coups against a number of our isolated posts and his bold raids in our rear and upon our lines of communication, not long after the battle of Stone's River. His exploits forced Rosecrans to resort to counter-strokes, and from the latter part of January till June the newspapers published almost daily accounts of the more or less important undertakings of this kind on both sides, some of which I will mention. Towards the end of January, the united rebel cavalry under Forrest, Wheeler, and Wharton turned up in middle Tennessee, north of the Cumberland, and on February 3 appeared before Fort Donelson, but were repulsed by the garrison. On March 4, Colonel Colburn was sent from Franklin on a reconnoissance with a Union force of 1900 men, fell into a trap set for him by the rebel General Van Dorn, and was captured with 1400 of his command. On March 20 the rebel raider Morgan suffered a small defeat. A few days later, Forrest made a successful descent upon the Nashville & Columbia Railroad. Early in April our General Reynolds raided the Manchester & McMinnville Railroad, and soon thereafter Colonel Streight with 1600 men started from our side on his daring but disastrous raid into northern Alabama and Georgia, where he was captured with his whole force by Forrest. In May and early June, further raids were undertaken by our General Stanley and the tireless rebel Forrest.
The irritating friction between the Government and General Rosecrans continued steadily after my arrival, and even grew in severity through the month of May. But, early in June, the General found himself driven into a corner by the proof that he had failed to hold Bragg's entire force, a large part of it having actually reinforced Johnston in Mississippi. Ordered by the Government to take advantage of the weakening of his foe by a forward movement, and yet unwilling to comply, he bethought himself of an indirect mode of evading the command from Washington. He summoned his corps and division commanders to a council of war, and succeeded in obtaining from fifteen out of seventeen an endorsement of his opposition to an advance, which vote he triumphantly telegraphed to General Halleck, who answered him cuttingly that “councils of war never fight.” As the Government was loath to override the opinion of the council, General Rosecrans would probably have had his way but for the efforts of his chief of staff. In controversion of the views and verdict of the generals, General Garfield prepared and submitted an exhaustive memorandum. It set forth in detail the actual strength of our army and the estimated one of Bragg's, according to which figures we had fully one-third more effectives. It clearly stated all the arguments for and against an immediate advance. One of the strong points which he made, and which mainly moved the Government in urging Rosecrans to activity, was the imperative political necessity of stopping the growth of the anti-war sentiment in the loyal States (as shown by the spread of “copperheadism”) by Union victories in the field. Although the Commander-in-chief did not yield at once, the deliberate conclusion of his chief of staff that an advance should no longer be delayed, no doubt greatly influenced his early decision to move.
On June 11, General Halleck telegraphed from Washington to General Rosecrans: “I deem it my duty to repeat to you the great dissatisfaction that is felt here at your inactivity. There seems to be no doubt that a part of Bragg's force has gone to Johnston.” It appears that no answer to this was deigned by Rosecrans, whereupon Halleck wired him again on June 16: “Is it your intention to make an immediate movement forward? A definite answer, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, is required.” This peremptory demand elicited the following response: “In reply to your inquiry, if immediate means to-night or to-morrow, No. If it means as soon as all things are ready, say five days, Yes.” This extraordinary telegraphic incident was closed by a despatch dated Murfreesboro', June 24, 2.10 A.M., saying laconically: “Major-General Halleck, General-in-chief: The army begins to move at three o'clock this morning. W. S. Rosecrans, Major-General.”
In this connection I will also quote a telling rebuke from a letter of President Lincoln in reply to a long defence of his course which the General had sent to him:
Executive Mansion, Washington, August 10, 1863.
My dear General Rosecrans:
Yours of the 1st was received two days ago. I think you must have inferred more than General Halleck has intended as to any dissatisfaction of mine with you. I am sure you, as a reasonable man, would not have been wounded could you have heard all my words and seen all my thoughts in regard to you. I have not abated in my kind feeling for and confidence in you. I have seen most of your dispatches to General Halleck — probably all of them. After Grant invested Vicksburg, I was very anxious lest Johnston should overwhelm him from the outside; and when it appeared certain that part of Bragg's force had gone and was going to Johnston, it did seem to me it was exactly the proper time for you to attack Bragg with what force he had left. In all kindness let me say, it so seems to me yet. Finding from your dispatches to General Halleck that your judgment was different, and being very anxious for Grant, I, on one occasion, told General Halleck I thought he should direct you to decide at once to immediately attack Bragg or to stand on the defensive and send part of your force to Grant. He replied he had already so directed in substance. Soon after, dispatches from Grant abated my anxiety for him, and in proportion abated my anxiety about any movement of yours. When afterwards, however, I saw a dispatch of yours arguing that the right time for you to attack Bragg was not before, but would be after, the fall of Vicksburg, it impressed me very strangely; and I think I so stated to the Secretary of War and General Halleck. It seemed no other than the proposition that you could better fight Bragg when Johnston should be at liberty to return and assist him than you could before he could so return to his assistance.
According to the official returns, the aggregate of officers and men present for duty at the opening of the campaign was: Fourteenth Corps, 26,058; Twentieth Corps, 16,047; Twenty-first Corps, 17,023; reserve corps, 20,615; cavalry corps, 12,281 — making a total of infantry, artillery, and cavalry of over 90,000. But, from this total, the staffs and escorts of the army, corps, and division headquarters, and the division of Van Cleve left to garrison the works at Murfreesboro', had to be deducted, so that the available number of actual combatants was under 70,000.
Bragg's army was known to occupy a strong position on the range of much-broken, rocky hills extending north of and parallel to Duck River, a tributary of the Cumberland. His lines extended from Shelbyville to Wartrace at an average distance of something over twenty miles south of ours. His front was about ten miles long, and covered the railroad from Nashville to Chattanooga and the principal ordinary highways in the same direction. The nature of the country gave the enemy great advantages for defence, and, moreover, a line of field-works had been constructed for the better protection of the approaches. A cavalry force covered each of his wings. His effective total was estimated at under 40,000 bayonets and sabres.
Rosecrans's plan of operations was that of an able strategist. A front attack being forbidden by the formidableness of the rebel position, he proposed to turn Bragg's right and assail him on that flank and his rear. To that end, the corps of General Granger was to make a show of an advance in force from Triune upon the enemy's left at Shelbyville, and, at the same time, a forward movement of infantry and cavalry columns in an easterly direction was to have the appearance of a feint to divert attention from Granger. The bulk of the three corps of Thomas, McCook, and Crittenden was to execute the principal movement around the rebel right by hurried marches in a southeasterly direction, with the town of Manchester (on the south bank of the Duck) as the objective-point, on reaching which, the rebel flank, rear, and communications would have been exposed to us.
The corps commanders were summoned to the army headquarters on the evening of June 23, and this plan was fully explained to them by the General-in-chief. I had received a plain intimation of what was to come from General Garfield during the day, and made my preparations accordingly. As the army was to move with only twelve days rations and as little baggage as possible, I arranged to leave my trunk with the headquarters train of McCook's corps, and to set out with no other impedimenta than toilet things and two changes of underclothing in my saddle-bags. General Garfield had offered to provide for me at the general headquarters during the campaign; but as, in his opinion, McCook's corps was most likely to be the first to collide with the enemy, I concluded to accompany it for a few days at least. Learning that the division of General Johnson was to be in the lead, I gladly accepted an invitation to spend the night at his headquarters and ride with him next day.
The actual orders to move were not issued till after midnight. The division was roused at four and ready to get under way at five, but was not put in motion till eight. I had grown very tired, towards the end, of the monotony of our routine life at Murfreesboro', and heartily welcomed the impending change to the stir and excitement of campaigning. I felt in perfect health and highest spirits, and looked and hoped for a long period of active work. But it was ordained that my new career should be brief — indeed, cut short at its very beginning. The greatest disappointment I experienced in the Civil War was in immediate store for me.
The second division first marched for six miles over the Shelbyville turnpike, and then turned to the left into an ordinary country road leading to the sadly dilapidated town of Old Millersburg and beyond it to “Liberty Gap,” one of the several narrow defiles through the rough hills north of the Duck River. The division was preceded by five companies of mounted infantry, immediately behind which General Johnson and staff and myself followed. Nothing was seen or heard of the enemy until we approached the Gap in the afternoon, which the mounted infantry found strongly guarded by rebels. A lively skirmish ensued, and, the ground being unfavorable for a cavalry attack, the General ordered the leading brigade under General Willich to clear the way. The latter had his command ready for an advance in a short time, and moved forward with a strong line of skirmishers and supporting companies in advance, and one regiment on the right and another on the left of the road, with two regiments and a battery in reserve. The rebel skirmishers fell back before us upon their supports on the high hills forming the entrance to the Gap. A direct attack being hardly practicable, Willich made his regiments feel their way around the flanks of the enemy, and, aided by part of another brigade, finally swept them from their position just before dark, by scaling the heights in a rush, with considerable loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Their camps were also captured. We lost a small number in killed and wounded. Our troops displayed a good deal of dash.
Up to that day, the weather had been all that could be wished for many weeks. But, soon after sunrise, the sky became covered, and by noon it commenced raining, and turned into a steady downpour in the course of the afternoon. It was the beginning of one of the worst rain storms that ever visited that part of the country, and actually continued with hardly any interruption for fully a fortnight. It quickly made the roads almost impassable, and the consequent obstruction of the movements of the army eventually prevented the full success of Rosecrans's strategy. I had no waterproof, but an ordinary army overcoat, which afforded little protection. By nightfall I was literally wet to the skin. General Johnson invited me to share his tent, and had a big fire built under a large “fly” stretched over the entrance to it. Having no change of clothing, as even the extra underwear in my saddle-bags was wet, I had to spend the night in my soaked condition. In a few hours I became very feverish, and felt rheumatic pains all over my body. I suffered intensely, too, all night, from a fearful headache. In the morning, the fever was so high and the rheumatism so acute that I was entirely unable to move. The General sent for the chief surgeon of the division, who came promptly, and, after examining me thoroughly, expressed the opinion that I was suffering from a very severe attack of malarial fever and inflammatory rheumatism. He added that it was altogether out of the question for me to keep on with the army, and that the best thing I could do would be to return to Murfreesboro' or Nashville and go into a hospital. He offered to send me to the former place on an ambulance-train that was soon to start with our wounded of the day before. The thought of having to abandon the field within the first twenty-four hours was most irksome, but as I began to feel confused in my mind and could not stand on my legs, and had to choose between being taken back or left alone in a wild rebel region, I submitted to the inexorable.
An ambulance soon drove up, into which I was lifted on a stretcher. There were already two wounded officers in it, one of whom was able to sit up, so that there was room enough for me to be carried in a lying position. A surgeon accompanied us. The rain continued to come down heavily, and, what with its effect and that of the passage of artillery and trains, the roads had become so bad that our team had to be walked all the forenoon till we struck the turnpike. The ride was very rough, and would have discomforted me greatly had I not been partly out of my senses. It was late in the evening when we arrived at Murfreesboro', where I was transferred to a military hospital that had been established in a large brick building ordinarily used for mercantile purposes. I had a severe attack of bilious nausea on the way, which recurred during the night and made me very weak and unable to take food of any kind. The doctor in charge interested himself specially in my case, and the next day offered to send me North in a hospital railroad car that was about to start with a load of sick and wounded officers and men for Louisville. He told me frankly that it would take me some time to get well, and advised me strongly to avail myself of the opportunity. Accordingly, I was put on the train which started from Murfreesboro' on the second morning and brought us to Louisville the next day. My fever and rheumatic aches increased during that long railroad journey, and I was a very sick man when we reached our destination. The Galt House people had been informed by telegraph, and were on hand at the station to receive and take me to the hotel.
Here I was confined to my bed till July 21, when I was sufficiently improved to take the risk of a transfer by boat to Cincinnati, where I put up at the Burnet House. The all-absorbing event of the day was the extraordinary raid which the rebel guerrilla leader Morgan was making through the southern parts of Indiana and Ohio. It was the most daring venture of the kind since the outbreak of the war. His force, consisting of several thousand mounted men, swam their horses across the Ohio not far from Louisville, and then started upon their plundering career, moving northward at first and then eastward through southeastern Indiana and across the whole State of Ohio, their route lying about half-way between Cincinnati and Columbus. This sudden invasion produced the greatest excitement and consternation in the two States, as well as throughout the Northwest. Great efforts were made to intercept the rebels with militia and troops from the enlistment camps at Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Columbus; but the raiders moved so rapidly, and interrupted communication by rail and telegraph so much, that no concentration of forces was effected in time to stop them. Several bodies of militia and troops had, however, encounters with detachments of the enemy, and killed, wounded, and captured more or less of them. It was only when the raiders were nearing the Ohio in the eastern part of the State that a considerable body of them, with Morgan himself, were finally cornered and captured, the remainder escaping across the river.
Having recovered strength enough to resume work, I devoted myself to supplying the Tribune with news about the raid by telegraph and mail; and, in pursuit of that object, I went to Columbus, the capital of the State, where I prepared a long account of the rebel incursion. From Columbus I went to Yellow Sulphur Springs, near Springfield, Ohio, to drink the waters for a fortnight; but, instead of thus completing my restoration to health, I was suddenly attacked again with bilious intermittent fever, and barely managed to get back to Cincinnati, where I was once more confined to my bed for nearly three weeks. The fever threatened at one time to assume a typhoid character, but, fortunately, did not actually develop into it. I was again convalescent when intelligence was received of the two days fighting at Chickamauga between Rosecrans's and Bragg's armies and of the disastrous result to our side. As I had hoped all along to be able to take the field again before any serious collision between the two armies occurred, I felt great disappointment that I had not witnessed it, but did what I could to utilize for the benefit of the Tribune the information regarding the battle received by the local papers. I remained in Cincinnati till September 29, when at last I started again for the front.
I here break off the narrative of my personal experiences in order to make room for a history of the battle of Chickamauga.
Bragg Dislodged from Chattanooga.—1863
WITHIN a little over a week after I left it, the Army of the Cumberland had compelled Bragg's forces to abandon the fortified line described in the preceding chapter, by the literally “brief and brilliant” so-called Tullahoma campaign. Had the full execution of Rosecrans's strategic programme not been prevented by the extra ordinary inclemency of the unseasonable weather, he would probably have succeeded in working around the enemy's right flank and upon his lines of communication, and inflicting a complete defeat upon him. As it was, he forced the enemy, with a loss of about two thousand in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and some guns, out of middle Tennessee, while his own loss hardly reached five hundred. Bragg, in his official reports to the rebel authorities, admitted that our flanking movements compelled him to fall back first from the Shelbyville-Wartrace line to Tullahoma, and thence to Elk River, and finally to retreat over the mountains to Chattanooga. He claimed that he did this to save his army from “destruction without a battle,” which latter issue, much desired by himself and his command, he had offered to the enemy, but failed to bring him to it. His retreat was fully approved by the commanders under him, as is shown by a direct communication from Lieutenant-General Polk to President Davis, but was nevertheless a great disappointment to the Confederate Government. It had a right to expect different results from an army whose condition, according to the reports of an aide-de-camp of Jefferson Davis who had made a thorough inspection of it but a short time before, was better as to equipment, drill, discipline, and health than that of any other in the rebel service. This condition was naturally changed for the worse by the inevitably demoralizing effect of a retrograde movement.
Our army thus found itself once more in almost the same position it had occupied twelve months before, until Bragg's flanking march into Kentucky had compelled its abandonment. Nor was there any compensation in the military situation for the grievous loss of a whole year's time, for the task before Rosecrans was now identical with that of Buell, viz., the advance upon Chattanooga; and its accomplishment was really rendered more difficult by the greater strength of the opposing forces, and by the diminished resources of the intervening country in consequence of its long occupation by the rebels.
Rosecrans endeavored to push after the enemy as soon as his retreat from Shelbyville and Tullahoma became known; but the continuous rainfall, the heavy roads, and mainly the high stage of the water-courses and the destruction of the bridges, rendered it impossible to interfere with the falling-back of the rebels over the Cumberland Mountains. The Commander-in-chief therefore determined to bring his main bodies to a halt, and carefully prepare for a further advance in the direction of Chattanooga by repairing the railroads to the Tennessee River and accumulating supplies. The army came to rest in a position extending from McMinnville to Winchester, with advanced posts at Pelham and Stevenson. Flying columns, however, were sent out over the enemy's lines of retreat, by which it was fully ascertained that Bragg had passed the Cumberland Mountains by the so-called Tantallon and University roads, and followed Battle Creek to the Tennessee. He crossed it at three points, and marched directly to Chattanooga, burning the railroad bridges and trestles behind him. The strategic importance of Chattanooga warranted the assumption that Bragg would strive to hold it, and imposed the ingly difficult duty upon Rosecrans of wresting it from the enemy.
The most creditable achievement of the Army of the Cumberland in manœuvring Bragg into a retreat was not appreciated in the North as it should have been. The reason was that the news of it reached the loyal public while it was trembling over the issue of the mighty struggle between the armies of Meade and Lee at Gettysburg, and was in feverish expectation of the final outcome of the siege of Vicksburg. The authorities at Washington, in their elation over the defeat of Lee and the fall of the Mississippi stronghold, and in their angry remembrance of Rosecrans's conduct, also failed to award the meed of praise the latter had expected. Secretary Stanton telegraphed on July 7 to him, in announcing the triumphs of Meade and Grant: “You and your noble army now have the chance to give the finishing blow to the Rebellion. Will you neglect the chance?” This deliberate prod provoked a caustic retort from Rosecrans, in which he said: “You do not appear to observe the fact that this noble army has driven the rebels from middle Tennessee, of which my despatches advised you. I beg on behalf of this army that the War Department may not overlook so great an event because it is not written in letters of blood.”
Rosecrans informed Halleck and the War Department in detail of the difficulties in the way of the movement on Chattanooga, but they were not considered by his superiors as great as by himself. Still, he was allowed some weeks to get ready, but when, towards the end of August, there were no signs of renewed activity on his part, the Government began afresh to spur him on. President Lincoln's cherished plan of relieving the loyalists in East Tennessee was again pressed upon him. Halleck combined this with general urging in despatches and letters on July 24 and 25. But, while Rosecrans's delay at Murfreesboro', with the enemy within easy striking distance, was justly found fault with, he made out a much better case for himself in his explanation to the Government. He was two hundred and sixty-four miles from his primary base at Louisville, and eighty-three miles from his secondary at Nashville. All his subsistence, equipments of every sort, ammunition, and most of his forage had to be hauled the total distance by rail. There was between him and the Tennessee fifty to sixty miles of barren, mountainous country, which would have to be passed by means of difficult roads unless the railroad to the river was repaired. There was also the formidable passage of and movement along the banks of the latter, which was from 2000 to 3000 feet wide and enclosed on both sides by precipitous elevations. But all this, in the judgment of his superiors, did not justify further delay. On August 3, Halleck wired him to report the position of all his forces. The reply having furnished proof that they had remained stationary, a peremptory order reached Rosecrans on the next day from the General-in-chief in these words: “Your forces must move forward without further delay. You will daily report the movement of each corps till you cross the Tennessee River.” Rosecrans, in acknowledging receipt, answered: “As I have determined to cross the river as soon as practicable, and have been making all preparations and getting such information as may enable me to do so without being driven back like Hooker, I wish to know if your order is to take away my discretion as to time and manner of moving my troops.” Halleck replied promptly on August 5: “The orders for the advance of your army and that its movements be reported daily are peremptory.” Rosecrans wired another remonstrance, indicating his purpose to move in a few days, and adding, if literal obedience of the order of the General-in-chief was expected, he must insist upon its modification or upon being relieved from command. The upshot of it all was that the Army of the Cumberland was in motion again by the middle of the month.
The opening campaign was to be supported by the simultaneous movement of an army under Major-General Burnside from southeastern Kentucky into eastern Tennessee. Burnside had not long been kept in retirement after leaving the Army of the Potomac, but in March was put in command of the Department of the Ohio, comprising all the States between the Alleghenies, the Ohio, and the Mississippi, as well as Kentucky, with headquarters at Cincinnati. During the spring and until late in the summer, he was occupied with suppressing active manifestations of rebel sympathy in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, fighting the rebel leader J. H. Morgan's new raid in July, and organizing an army for East Tennessee. He started from central Kentucky in the middle of August with about 15,000 men, organized as the Twenty-third Army Corps, and reached Knoxville on September 4 without having encountered the enemy. The Confederate troops in East Tennessee were under command of General Buckner and not much inferior to Burnside's, but withdrew down the Tennessee, fearing a front movement from him and a simultaneous one to their rear by the force detached from the Army of the Cumberland for the feint against Chattanooga hereinafter mentioned.
The Cumberland Mountains divide the waters of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, and extend from eastern Tennessee in a general southwesterly direction to near Athens, Alabama, rising to a height of 1000 to 2000 feet. The chain is cleft in two, for fifty miles from where it abuts on the Tennessee, by the parallel valley of the Sequatchie River, with an average breadth not exceeding four miles. The portion of the Cumberland Mountains between the Sequatchie and the Tennessee bears the specific name of Walden's Ridge. Both the main range and the ridge are masses of rock, rising to a height of 1500 to 2000 feet, with steep sides furrowed by numerous ravines, and wide but broken and timbered crests. The average distance from the line occupied by the army to the Tennessee did not exceed from sixty-five to seventy miles, but the formidable natural barriers and the character of the means of communication made the movement to the river an arduous undertaking. The Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad had been repaired to Bridgeport on the Tennessee, but to transport the army, with its artillery and baggage, ammunition, provision, and forage trains, over its single track with the limited motive-power and rolling-stock available would have required many weeks. The troops had, therefore, to use the ordinary roads over the mountains, which, as a rule, were narrow, extremely rough, and difficult in grade. Their precarious character rendered it further necessary to utilize as many of them as possible.
The configuration of the country and the lines of communication were such that General Rosecrans had the sole choice of approaching Chattanooga either by an eastward movement to the Tennessee and thence down the valley, or of making for the river to the west of the objective-point by way of the Sequatchie and the more direct routes to Bridgeport, Stevenson, and other points on the north bank. As the former course would have had to be made over fewer roads, and would have exposed our lines of communication and possibly invited another rebel invasion of middle Tennessee, the Commander-in-chief determined upon the latter movement. In order to mislead the enemy as to his real purpose, a direct advance was to be undertaken by part of his forces from the Sequatchie over Walden's Ridge to points opposite and above Chattanooga. Accordingly, the three divisions of Crittenden's Twenty-first Army Corps, forming the left, crossed the main ridge of the Cumberland Mountains in three columns, over as many roads, into the Sequatchie Valley. Thence the infantry brigades of Hazen and Wagner, together with Minty's and Wilder's mounted ones, were detached for the diversion against Chattanooga, while the remainder of the corps marched down the Sequatchie. General Thomas's Fourteenth Army Corps, constituting the centre, took the so-called University and Tantallon roads leading to the mouth of Battle Creek and to near Stevenson. Of McCook's Twentieth Army Corps, which was the right, Sheridan's division was already in an advanced position on the river. The other two divisions under Johnson and Davis marched respectively to Bellefonte and Stevenson. The reserve corps under Major-General Granger followed the river as soon as the preceding columns were out of the way. All these movements were so promptly executed that by August 21 the whole army was in the valley of the Tennessee. But the crossing of the river was not commenced till August 29, when it was successfully accomplished over pontoon and trestle bridges, and by boats and rafts, at three different points, by all the troops and their impedimenta in less than a week.
According to the regular tri-monthly returns made to the army headquarters on August 10, the total strength of the Army of the Cumberland was 4735 officers and 75,183 men — cavalry, infantry, and artillery — of which the cavalry corps comprised 9973 officers and men, the Twenty-first Army Corps 14,367 men, the Fourteenth 22,389, the Twentieth 14,222, and the reserve corps 16,936; the remainder consisting of detached bodies serving as escorts, engineers, and in other duties. As the reserve corps took no part in the operations south of the river till some weeks after the other corps, its number should be deducted from the total, thus reducing the aggregate with which Rosecrans at first confronted Bragg to about 64,000. The artillery numbered 216 field guns.
A despatch sent by General Bragg to the Richmond Government on August 24 proves that he learned of Rosecrans's and Burnside's advances only on that day, when the former had already reached the Tennessee. He reported that Rosecrans had four corps with 70,000 men (a rebel estimate for once under the actual number), and Burnside 25,000 men (an overestimate by 10,000). According to his own statements, he himself had less than 30,000 effectives of the two army corps of Lieutenant-Generals L. Polk and D. H. Hill, and the reserve corps under Major-General Walker. Polk's army corps consisted of the divisions of Cheatham and Hindman, Hill's of Cleburne's and Breckinridge's divisions, and Walker's of two small divisions under Brigadier-Generals Gist and Liddell, about Chattanooga, and 8000 under Buckner made up of Preston's and Stewart's divisions in East Tennessee. On these figures he based a strong appeal for reinforcements, which were sent to him at once to the extent of two small divisions from General J. E. Johnston's command in Mississippi. He had the unpleasant duty of announcing, in the above-mentioned despatch, that a Federal force had appeared directly opposite Chattanooga on the day mentioned (this being the advance of the four brigades detached from the Twenty-first Army Corps) and shelled the town. Their sudden appearance was evidently a stunning surprise to him. He was deceived as to their strength, and spoke of them in his report as a “corps” when they hardly numbered 2000 men. Their nearness irritated him so much that, when he was sure that they were isolated from the rest of Rosecrans's army, he formed a plan to capture or destroy them by a coup de main, to be executed by a sudden rush over the river by Hill's corps. Some preparations were made to carry out this plan, but nothing came of it in the end.
Directly in the way of the Army of the Cumberland there rose on the south side of the Tennessee, running in a north easterly direction to the vicinity of Chattanooga, two great mountain ranges, the one nearest to the river being known as Sand Mountain and the other as Lookout Mountain. They are separated by a narrow valley down which Lookout Creek flows into the Tennessee. The sides of Sand Mountain, with a maximum altitude of over 2000 feet, rise so abruptly that no road is practicable along its base except for a few miles; but a few very difficult roads lead over it and into Lookout Valley. Lookout Mountain, a great rocky mass, reaches a height of nearly 2500 feet above the level of the sea, and also declines very steeply on both sides. There were then but three wagon-roads over it — one around its precipitous abutment on the river two miles from Chattanooga, another at a distance of twenty-five miles from the town, and the last forty-two miles from the first. Beyond Lookout Mountain several minor ridges follow the same general course a little east of north. The nearest to it is Missionary Ridge, and, next to this, Pigeon Mountain. Between Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge flows Chattanooga Creek, and between Missionary Ridge and Pigeon Mountain the West Branch of Chickamauga Creek. These are tributaries of the Tennessee, which they enter respectively below and above Chattanooga. The valley of the West Chickamauga bears the name of McLemore's Cove. Pigeon Mountain is separated by Pea Vine Creek from Chickamauga Hills, the next minor ridge. Between this and Taylor's Ridge runs Middle Chickamauga Creek, which, dividing, flows along the western base of the latter ridge as East Chickamauga Creek. This whole region of mountains and valleys was then covered with a dense growth of timber and underbrush, with the exception of clearings here and there for farming purposes. The roads leading over the minor ridges were as steep and rough as those over the higher ones.
The passage over the river being effected, and Bragg's army apparently waiting to be attacked in its position about Chattanooga, Rosecrans had to decide between taking the direct offensive against the enemy and a repetition of his Tullahoma plan — that is, to compel Bragg's withdrawal from Chattanooga by a flanking movement against his communications. The great natural obstacles in the way of the former stamped it as a very rash venture to seek the rebels on their chosen fortified ground, and hence the Commander-in-chief once more resolved upon turning operations. He set his troops in motion from the south bank without delay, with McCook again on the right, Thomas in the centre, Crittenden on the left, and Granger in reserve. The general object was to reach and hold or destroy the main rebel line of supply formed by the Atlanta & Chattanooga and East Tennessee & Georgia Railroads, both north and south of their junction at Dalton, Georgia, and thereby also cut all the enemy's lines of retreat in a southward direction.
On our extreme right, a cavalry division, under command of my friend Colonel Edward M. McCook, led the advance, passed over Raccoon and Lookout Mountains into the valley of the Chattanooga River, and pushed on in a general south westerly direction toward Rome as far as the towns of Alpine and Summerville. The whole Twentieth Army Corps followed in its wake as fast as possible. The Fourteenth Army Corps crossed Sand Mountain and had descended into Lookout Valley by September 6. Continuing up Lookout Mountain, it seized the passes at Johnson's Brook and Cooper's and Stevens's Gaps without resistance, and by the 10th had made its way down Lookout Mountain and over the southern end of Missionary Ridge into McLemore's Cove. It proved an exceedingly difficult march. General Thomas describes the roads as the worst imaginable. The ascents and descents were so long and difficult that teams had to be doubled in hauling over wagons and guns, thereby causing great delay. The Twenty-first Army Corps marched from Shellmound on the Tennessee to Hunting Water Creek, issuing from a narrow valley, up which extended the Nashville & Chattanooga railroad track to a long tunnel, with a wagon-road alongside leading over Raccoon Mountain, as the northern end of Sand Mountain is called. The whole corps followed this road into Lookout Valley, and, by the evening of September 6, General Wood's division, forming the left, was at the junction of the Nashville & Chattanooga with the Trenton branch railroad up the valley, only seven miles from Chattanooga.
In the meantime, the two infantry and two cavalry brigades under Hazen, Wagner, Minty, and Wilder had thoroughly performed their part of a feint against Chattanooga by continuously and ostentatiously demonstrating with all three arms at different points opposite the town for a distance of fifteen miles up the river. On September 8, Colonel Wagner, who had taken position in the narrow bend of the river directly opposite Chattanooga, discovered indications that the enemy was withdrawing from the town, and sent word to that effect to the army headquarters. Towards evening the evacuation had become a certainty, so that Wagner crossed over and took unopposed possession the next morning.
This exhilarating fact was quickly made known to all parts of the army. Rumors from various sources of the rebel purpose to abandon Chattanooga had reached Rosecrans for several days before the actual evacuation. In order to test them, several bold reconnoissances were made by General Thomas along the crest of Lookout Mountain, and by General Crittenden down the Lookout Valley and around the northern slope of the Mountain. But Wagner's announcement of the occupation of the town was received by the General-in-chief before the reconnoissances confirmed the retirement of the rebels from it. General Bragg had acquired, by September 6, a sufficiently clear perception of the object of his adversary's movements to come to a decision regarding his own. He recognized the advance of our right upon his southern communications as a most threatening move, and prudently, though reluctantly, accepted the inevitable consequence of it, namely, that he could not allow Rosecrans to get between him and Rome, and that therefore his withdrawal from Chattanooga was necessary. Anticipating this as a possible contingency, he had ordered Buckner to join him. On September 6, he issued a circular order directing that the troops of his army should move immediately toward Rome in four columns. This general indication was followed only by marching directions from Chattanooga to Lafayette, a small town twenty-five miles a little east of south of Chattanooga, and the point of junction of the main roads thence and from Ringgold to the Coosa Valley and Rome. The corps of Polk and Hill were to march via Rossville; the commands of Buckner and Walker, with the supply trains, over a more easterly route. The troops were to carry six days' rations, and to include only “fighting men.”
The dramatic first words of the order (“In order to meet the enemy and strike him”) may have been intended to counteract the demoralizing effect of retreat upon his troops, or may have reflected the rebel commander's actual purpose. The naming of Rome as the army's destination and the six days' rations would seem to confirm the former theory, while his subsequent bold offensive corroborated the latter. In his report of the Chickamauga campaign, he asserts that he purposely accelerated the evacuation and the first marches in order to deceive Rosecrans into the belief that he was actually retreating as fast as he could, and thus induce his adversary to press his columns on in pursuit and “expose himself in detail,” while he was really concentrating against Rosecrans's centre and determined to avail of the first chance to attack. As the assertion is fully borne out by his subsequent acts, he cannot well be denied proper credit for successfully shifting his command so as to protect his main line of supply, and, this being accomplished, to seek rather than avoid his enemy. That his purpose was to fight is also rendered more than probable by the assurance he had obtained from Richmond of further heavy reinforcement by Longstreet's division of Lee's army.
The withdrawal from Chattanooga was intended to begin on the day the order for it was issued, but was postponed till dark the next day. Hill's corps moved first over the direct road to Lafayette, and was followed by Polk. Walker preceded Buckner over the road to Ringgold. The columns marched so quickly that on the evening of the 8th they were in position in McLemore's Cove, between Lee and Gordon's Mills, twelve miles from Chattanooga, and Lafayette, facing the eastern slope of the Lookout Mountains, where they remained to await and take advantage of Rosecrans's movements. Bragg did not have to wait long for tempting developments.
It was but natural and even justifiable that Rosecrans should feel highly elated at the result of his strategy in forcing Bragg to yield Chattanooga to him without a struggle. It may be freely admitted, too, that, but for the subsequent untoward turn of events, his flanking movement, well conceived as it was, and carried out with extraordinary energy in passing first over the mountainous country to the north of Tennessee, then crossing the river, and next overcoming the difficulties of two rugged ranges, all within three weeks, would have ranked as one of the greatest achievements of the Civil War. He claimed his success as a great triumph in exultant language in his telegraphic report to the Government. He believed at first, as shown by his own despatches and those of Assistant Secretary of War Dana (who was with him from September 11) to the Government, that Bragg was retreating south as fast as he could by way of Rome. He was so far carried away that he boldly boasted of having gained a position from which he could effectually advance on Rome and Atlanta and deliver there the finishing blows of the war. He even felt confident of being able to intercept the enemy's retreat before he reached Rome.
Acting upon these assumptions, he issued orders to all the corps commanders to make vigorous pursuit. General Crittenden had marched his corps around Lookout Mountain to Rossville, five miles from Chattanooga, and then pushed on to Chattanooga with Wood's division on the 9th. He was ordered to recall the remainder of his troops from the north side, leave one brigade in the town, and follow the enemy on the road to Ringgold. General Thomas was directed to push over Pigeon Mountain by way of Dug Gap, and make quickly for Lafayette. Neither he nor his superior was aware that this point was also the objective of Bragg's army. General McCook received, on the evening of the 9th, from general headquarters, the news of the occupation of Chattanooga, together with orders to move rapidly upon Alpine and Summerville, so as to get upon the enemy's line of retreat and strike him in the flank.
Strange as it may seem, for three whole days after the occupation of Chattanooga, neither our General-in-chief nor the commanders of the Fourteenth and Twentieth Army Corps suspected that, instead of trying to elude their pursuit, the rebel army was lying like a crouched lion in their path, ready to spring with all its might upon the first hostile body coming within reach. The advance of Crittenden caught up with rebel cavalry on the way to Ringgold and had some lively skirmishes with them. But though his mounted troops followed the enemy some distance beyond the last-named town, they did not discover him in force. The corps commander accepted their reports to this effect, and informed General Garfield, as chief of staff of the army, on the night of the 11th, that “in his opinion the enemy had fled beyond his reach,” and that “his only hope, or rather his great hope,” was “that General Thomas or General McCook may be able to hit them a side lick.” Yet, when he sent this utterly erroneous conclusion, the bulk of his corps was directly east and therefore in the rear of Bragg, at a distance of not more than eight miles in an air-line from him, or, in other words, with Bragg's army driven in like a huge live wedge between him and the rest of our troops. So absolute was Crittenden's delusion that, a few hours after he had sent his message to the chief of staff, he despatched another report in which he expressed the belief that, what with Thomas in the vicinity cf Lafayette, and Wilder's cavalry on the Ringgold road, “all the enemy north of Lafayette would be effectually bagged.”
General Thomas had been ordered to reach Lafayette and connect with McCook on his right by September 10. He tried his utmost to be there, but, most happily for the Union cause, was two days behind time, owing to the un expected difficulties of the roads. Had he managed to debouch earlier from the passes of Pigeon Mountain in the order in which he marched, with one division after another, he would have fallen prey piecemeal to the enemy. Even as it was, he had a narrow escape from that fate. The division of General Negley was in the lead on the 10th, on the march toward Dug Gap. On nearing it, he discovered that the approach was obstructed by felled timber and defended by rebel pickets. Reconnoissances and the statements of residents showing the rebel presence in strength before him, he decided to stop at the mouth of the gorge leading to the Gap till he was assured of support, in case of need, from the rest of the corps. Baird's division came up with his early on the 11th. During the day it became evident that heavy rebel columns were moving from the north over Pigeon Mountain through Catlett's Gap and from the south through Blue Bird Gap, obviously bent upon an early attack upon our forces from both directions.
This surmise was entirely correct. During the 9th, General Bragg had become aware that a Federal column, estimated by him as from 4000 to 8000 strong, had descended from Lookout Mountain into McLemore's Cove. Seeing his first chance to strike an isolated body, he issued orders from Lee and Gordon's Mills just before midnight on the same day to Hindman & and Cleburne's divisions to move at once against the Federals in the Cove through Dug and Catlett's Gaps. Hill, Cleburne's corps commander, on receiving the order, replied that it could not be carried out, as General Cleburne was sick, four regiments of the division were on detached duty, and the two gaps were so blocked that it would take twenty-four hours to clear them for the passage of troops. Hindman moved promptly at midnight, and reached the western foot of the mountain through Worthen's Gap at daylight, having marched thirteen miles. In view of Hill's reply, Bragg ordered Buckner early on the 10th to follow and report to Hindman with his two divisions, and, to make sure that the intended blow would be quickly and vigorously struck, moved his headquarters near the scene of action in the evening of that day. He also ordered General Polk to move Cheatham's division to the support of Hindman from Lafayette, required Cleburne's division to remove the obstructions at Dug and Catlett's Gaps as speedily as possible and to join Hindman, and finally directed Walker's reserve to move up at once.
Thus Bragg left nothing undone to avail of his opportunity to the utmost. His whole army was, in fact, converging upon Thomas's advance. There can be no doubt that Negley's division would have been doomed on the 10th, when it was advancing alone, with Baird's half a day's march in the rear, but for the obstructions in the Gap, for Hindman was making for the junction of roads known as Widow Davis's Cross-roads, near which Negley had halted on the 10th, and would have struck the latter's rear had he not felt in duty bound to await the approach of Cleburne's division. He stopped four miles from the crossroads. He had moved so promptly that he failed to learn Hill's reply, and was left to discover by his own scouting parties in the blockaded gaps the clue to Cleburne's non-appearance. A message from Hill reached him only late in the day, giving the reasons already mentioned for Cleburne's delay. Toward evening, General Buckner reported to him with his two divisions, thereby giving the rebels three divisions for an attack the next morning against our two. Of this superiority they failed, however, to avail themselves.
Hindman had received another communication from Hill during the afternoon, informing him that the Federals were advancing upon Dug Gap in force, and that he, Hill, thought that, if he was attacked, Hindman had a good chance to assail them from the rear. This Hindman read as directing him to attack after Hill had become engaged. Feeling puzzled as to the proper course to pursue, he assembled his general officers late in the evening for a council of war. During the meeting two communications from General Bragg were received, one urging him to finish his allotted work in the Cove as rapidly as possible in view of the advance of Crittenden's corps in their rear, and a later one impressing upon him that their forces were superior to the Federals and that it was of the highest importance to move vigorously and crush them. Notwithstanding this, the council voted to recommend the abandonment of the attack upon the Federals in front of Hindman, and the substitution for it of a concentrated move upon Crittenden. A letter to this effect was sent to the army commander by a staff officer and reached him shortly before midnight. Bragg questioned the officer as to the character of the information that led Hindman and his generals to ask for a modification of his orders. Finding that it was not positive, he said that it amounted to nothing, and started the officer back at once with an oral message that his plans could not be changed and that his orders must be carried out. Half an hour later, a formal order was despatched, reaching Hindman at 4:20 A.M. on the 11th, containing these words: “General Bragg orders you to attack and force your way through the enemy to this point [Lafayette] at the earliest hour that you can see him in the morning. Cleburne will attack in front the moment your guns are heard.”
Hindman inferred from the order that the general commanding looked upon his position as a perilous one, and expected him no longer to capture the enemy, but to avoid being captured himself. Being thus put on his guard, he moved his command at 7 A.M. slowly and with great caution. At about 11 A.M. he encountered the Federal skirmishers, when he formed his line for attack. He had just driven in the former when he received a despatch from headquarters directing him, if he found the enemy too strong for an attack, to fall back at once on Lafayette through Catlett's Gap, which had been cleared of obstructions, and requiring him to make his decision immediately. He answered that he was not sufficiently informed as to the enemy to decide upon his course, but would retire if necessary. An hour later, a staff officer from headquarters appeared to inquire whether he felt certain that he could make good his retreat through Catlett's Gap. He replied that he had no doubt that he could do so in case he decided to retire, but that he had ordered an advance. Soon afterward another despatch from headquarters arrived, advising him that a Federal force of from 12,000 to 15,000 was forming in front of Dug Gap, that the general commanding was most anxious and wished to hear from him by couriers once an hour, and that despatch was necessary. How great Bragg's anxiety was is also shown by a private note to Hindman, dated 3 P.M., sent with this despatch and saying: “Dear General: Time is precious. The enemy presses from the north. We must unite or both must retire. The enemy is in small force in line of battle in our front, and we only wait for your attack.” This record clearly demonstrates that, while Bragg was on the 9th and 10th and up to the morning of the 11th determined upon an attack, he then became uncertain as to his proper course, and vacillated between advance and retreat. This was doubtless due to the evidence that had reached him that the Federals before him now numbered many more than two days before, and also to the intelligence he had received of the appearance of McCook's advance seven miles from Lafayette, and of Crittenden's movements in the rear. But it was only natural that the commanding general's evident indecision made Hindman hesitate, and, after consultation with the generals under him, determine upon retreat. He had hardly issued his order to fall back upon Catlett's Gap when reports of returning scouts that the enemy was retiring reached him. He at once ordered his line to advance as rapidly as possible in order to intercept the retreating enemy. The pursuit was kept up till dark, when, at Davis's Cross roads, General Bragg, who had appeared upon the field in person, ordered it to cease.
The rebel movements against Negley, of which he became cognizant on the 10th and 11th, as mentioned, were those just described. He did not feel warranted in accepting battle when he was threatened with attack from two directions, and resolved to retrace his steps to a safer position near Stevens's Gap. Setting first his trains in motion, he commenced falling back with his troops in the middle of the afternoon. Skirmishing with Hindman's pursuing columns soon began, but the division was across the West Branch of the Chickamauga when the enemy appeared in heavy force on the opposite bank. Negley tried to check him from the north bank with ten guns, to which he replied with two batteries. The rebel infantry deployed and advanced against Negley's left, and was soon heavily engaged. By skilful manœuvring, the incipient attack was, however, foiled, and the retreat continued in good order, though at first it had to be made step by step and in constant conflict with the enemy; and the base of Lookout Mountain was reached in safety by the two divisions. It was altogether a lucky escape, for our strength did not exceed 9000, while the pursuing enemy numbered, according to the rebel records, over 15,000.
General McCook had made discoveries by his reconnoissances that left him no choice but to take the responsibility of not obeying his orders to advance rapidly to Summerville. The information brought in by his cavalry was so positive as to leave no doubt in his mind that the bulk of the rebel army was not retreating, but concentrating between him and the other corps. He wisely stopped his command for this and the additional reason that he failed to discover any signs of the approach of General Thomas's corps, which, as already stated, was to be at Lafayette and connect with his left on the 10th. McCook unquestionably did right in not running the risk of getting involved in an unequal contest with the enemy without being assured of support. He accordingly remained stationary, except that he cautiously moved his trains back to a safer position. He received an explanation of the delay of the Fourteenth Corps en route late in the evening of the 11th from General Thomas, indicating his purpose to continue his march to Lafayette, which he expected to reach on the 12th.
General Rosecrans clung to the illusion that Bragg was in full retreat and bent upon flight and not upon fight, until the reports of McCook's discoveries and Negley's experiences opened his eyes as to the real situation on the 11th. As late as the 10th, he chided Thomas for not having reached Lafayette more promptly, and later on expressed doubt as to the necessity of Negley's retreat. The awakening was naturally a rude one. There was his army divided in three parts, more than a good day's march even in an air-line from each other, and this distance was practically much increased by the difficult character of the intervening ground and of the means of communication. There were actually several chains of hills between Crittenden and Thomas, and Lookout Mountain between Thomas and McCook. The Commander-in-chief must have confessed to himself that, with the rebel army concentrated against him, as it appeared to be, he had himself created the opportunity for his adversary to overwhelm him in detail. It must have been clear to him, also, that the separation of his army rendered a rapid retrograde movement upon the only available common point — Chattanooga — out of the question. There was, indeed, no other course left to him than the quickest possible concentration of his command in a good position for offence or defence, which would secure him like wise a good line of retreat to Chattanooga. He resolved upon this at once when the truth had dawned upon him that Bragg was before him on both slopes of Pigeon Mountain, and immediately took energetic steps to bring the concentration about. He would hardly have succeeded but for misunderstandings and accidents on the rebel side, already partly related, which came to his rescue and enabled him to accomplish what he himself in his official report called a matter of “life and death.”
At midnight on September 12, General McCook received orders from army headquarters, through General Thomas, to move with the utmost expedition to his support, after taking proper measures for the safety of his trains. The corps was in motion at daylight on the 13th. McCook first intended to march by the direct road to Dougherty's Gap and through it into McLemore's Cove, and expected to be himself with Thomas on the night of the same day. But, when he learned on the way that the road beyond the Gap was not practicable, and received information during the day from headquarters indicating the presence of the enemy in the Cove, he decided to change his route. He asked and received the advice of General Thomas regarding it, and adopted one that required crossing Lookout Mountain into Lookout Valley, a march down it to the road to Stevens's Gap, and then up the Mountain again and through the Gap to the other side. While an air-line from Alpine to Thomas's position would not exceed twenty-five miles, by his roundabout route McCook marched nearly sixty miles. Instead of joining Thomas within a day or two, it was actually five days before he came in touch with him. Having reported his change of route to army headquarters, he was peremptorily ordered to turn back, against which he angrily remonstrated, and was permitted to keep on; but neither General Rosecrans nor his chief of staff, Garfield, was ever fully satisfied that he had not wasted several days' time, and exposed the other two corps to the danger of being attacked singly on the east side of Lookout Mountain while he was following the west side. The point in dispute has never been fully cleared up, but my opinion has always been that McCook acted properly in the light of his information and instructions. It cannot be denied, however, that the loss of three days by him delayed the execution of the concentrating movement correspondingly, and might have proved fatal.
General Hindman states in his official report that, when he reported in person soon after dark on the 11th at Davis's Cross-roads to General Bragg, the latter said to him at once, “We can't stay here,” and immediately ordered the whole force to make a night march to Lafayette, which was done, Buckner's division going by Dug Gap and the remainder of the army by Catlett's Gap. It seems to have puzzled the generals under him that he should have abandoned the advance when the several divisions were at last united for it. Bragg affirmed that, having become satisfied of the failure of Hindman, the new movement was directed by him with a view to falling upon the separate Federal force moving via Ringgold. In pursuance of this new purpose, General Polk's and Walker's corps moved on the following day from Lafayette in the direction of Lee and Gordon's Mills. Bragg received a report during the day from his cavalry under Pegram that a Federal division was marching by itself up the Pea Vine Creek valley. He informed General Polk of this in a note dated 6 P.M., September 12, and added: “This presents you a fine opportunity for striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. This division crushed, and the others are yours. We can then turn again on the force in the Cove. I shall be delighted to hear of your success.” Bragg followed this communication at 8 P.M. with a positive order worded thus by his adjutant-general: “I now give you the orders of the Commanding General, viz., to attack at day-dawn to-morrow. The infantry column to be attacked is reported at three-quarters of a mile beyond Pea Vine Church on the road to Graysville from Lafayette.” At 11 P.M. a disappointing reply came from Polk, stating that he had taken a strong position for defence, and requesting heavy reinforcements. Bragg answered that he must not defer the ordered attack, that he was already stronger than the enemy, that success depended on the rapidity of his movements, and that Buckner's command would be in supporting distance of him the next morning. Bragg reinforced this prod by another at 12:30 A.M. on the 13th, as follows: “The enemy is approaching from the south, and it is highly important that your attack in the morning should be quick and decided. Let no time be lost.” He relates further in his report that, when he reached the front in the morning of the 13th, he found that Polk had not advanced against the enemy, and that “the latter's forces had formed a junction and recrossed the Chickamauga.” His language clearly conveys the impression that, but for Polk's remissness, the intended attack on part of Crittenden's corps would have been made. It appears, however, from Polk's report to army headquarters, dated September 12, 8 P.M., that Bragg did him injustice. Polk reached the ground in good season, but the information he collected after his arrival led him to believe that not one of Crittenden's divisions, but all three, were in front of him and advancing “with steady step upon my position, and will no doubt attack early in the morning”; hence he considered it his duty to ask “most respectfully and urgently” for reinforcements. Polk added: “My troops I cannot get into position in time to attack, myself, at so early an hour as day-dawn. If I find he is not going to attack me, I will attack him without delay.”
The truth was, however, that while Bragg's information, on which he based his order to Polk to attack the one division of Crittenden's corps, was reliable, Polk's assumption that three divisions were before him was also well founded. General Harker's brigade of Wood's division, forming the rear of the corps, had been ordered by Crittenden early on the 11th to make a reconnoissance from Rossville to Lee and Gordon's Mills. Early in the afternoon Wood was ordered to move at once to the support of Harker with his other brigade (his third had been left at Chattanooga), which he did. It was the movement of these two brigades that was reported to Bragg. But when General Rosecrans perceived that his salvation lay in the immediate concentration of his army, he sent, simultaneously with his orders to McCook to join Thomas, directions to Crittenden to move also towards the latter by marching his whole corps “by the most available route,” and as quickly as possible, to the road from Rossville to Lafayette that Wood had followed, and to close up with the latter. Crittenden marched promptly early the next morning, and, on the evening of the 12th, his three divisions were in exactly the positions in which Polk reported them to be to Bragg. But Polk was mistaken in assuming that Crittenden was steadily advancing on him and would attack early in the morning. Crittenden of his own accord did what Polk had done before him, on the morning of the 13th, by taking up a good defensive position, and had no more thought of attacking than the bishop-general opposed to him had before receiving reinforcements. There was, however, this great difference between them, that the rebel commander acted cautiously because of his knowledge of the presence of the enemy in force before him, while the Federal general stood on the defensive from utter ignorance of the rebel whereabouts. Crittenden not only knew nothing of Polk's advance upon him, but had not yet divested his mind of the belief that the enemy was continuing his retreat towards Rome, and persisted in expressing it to the army headquarters, even after reaching Lee and Gordon's Mills. The chief of staff found himself obliged, indeed, to tell him, in a despatch dated September 12, 9:30 P.M.: “There is no longer any doubt that the enemy is in heavy force in the neighborhood of Lafayette, and there is far more probability of his attacking you than that he is running. Get your command well in hand, and be ready for defense or advance as may be necessary.” Yet, just before receiving this emphatic rebuke of his credulity, Crittenden had, in a report dated 9:45 P.M., reiterated his disbelief in these words: “I do not yet believe that there is a strong force of infantry in the vicinity of Lafayette.” This town is twelve miles from Lee and Gordon's Mills, so that, while he would not be persuaded that the enemy was within that long distance, Polk was really no further than two or three miles from him.
According to the official rebel story, Bragg, on reaching Polk's front on the morning of the 13th, accepted the latter's conclusion that Crittenden's whole corps was united before them, and decided to concentrate all his forces along the West Chickamauga Creek for an offensive flanking movement. This was done between the 13th and the 17th, and on the latter day the rebel line was fully formed and extended up the eastern bank of the Creek from Reed's Bridge to some distance above Lee and Gordon's Mills. General Bushrod R. Johnson, with six brigades, of which five were reinforcements just arrived by rail, formed his right; next came Walker's corps, opposite Alexander's Bridge; then Buckner's, near Tedford's Fork, followed by Polk's opposite Lee and Gordon's Mills, with Hill's on the extreme left. General Wheeler, with two divisions of cavalry, protected the left; General Forrest, with two other mounted divisions, the right and front. Both of these leaders had achieved equal success and renown as cavalry commanders.
On September 16, Bragg issued a characteristic “General Order,” in part to this effect: “The troops will be held ready for an immediate move against the enemy. His demonstration on our flank has been thwarted, and twice has he retired before us when offered battle. We must now force him to the issue. Soldiers, you are largely reinforced. You must now seek the contest. In so doing I know you will be content to suffer privations and encounter hardships.” It cannot be said that Bragg overstated the case in claiming that Rosecrans's flanking movement had been thwarted, and that he had twice declined the offer of battle, for our efforts to concentrate meant, of course, an abandonment of the flanking operations, and the retreat of Negley could be taken as one declination to fight, while Bragg's boast of another was occasioned by Crittenden's next movement away from Polk's front, of which I will speak directly.
On the night of September 17, Bragg issued his “order of battle.” His plan of attack was just the reverse of that in the battle of Stone's River. His line, beginning on the right and with the centre as a pivot, was to execute a “grand wheel” across the Chickamauga and thence up its west bank. Our line was to be rolled up from left to right, forced from the roads to Chattanooga, and driven up McLemore's Cove against Lookout Mountain, and thus destroyed or dispersed. As the order prescribed in detail: Johnson to cross at or near Reed's Bridge and turn to the left up the stream toward Lee and Gordon's Mills; Walker to cross at Alexander's Bridge and join in this move; Buckner to cross at Tedford's Fork and join Walker to the left and press the enemy up the stream from Polk's front; Polk to push his troops to the front of Lee and Gordon's Mills and unite in the attack wherever the enemy may be; Hill to cover the left flank, and, in case the enemy should He developing his main strength at the Mills, to attack him in the flank; Wheeler's cavalry to hold the gaps of Pigeon Mountain and cover the rear. The order closed: “These movements will be executed with the utmost promptness, vigor, and persistence.”
Crittenden had hardly got his corps into a favorable position on the 13th when he received orders, dated 12:20 P.M., to post Wood's division in a strong defensible position at Lee and Gordon's Mills, in which it could resist stoutly any attempt of the enemy to seize the Chattanooga road; to move his other two divisions during the evening and night to a position on Missionary Ridge, so as to cover the roads in both the valley of Chattanooga Creek and Chickamauga Creek; and to send Wilder's cavalry brigade up the former stream to join General Thomas as soon as possible. Another order, dated five minutes later and not very clearly expressed, was understood by Crittenden to require him merely to hold himself in readiness to execute the new movement, so that it was only begun early the next morning on receipt of another order to start promptly. His troops reached the new position on the Ridge in a few hours' march, and he rode in advance of them to reconnoitre. At 12:30 P.M., he reported to the army headquarters as the result that he was confident no considerable force of the enemy was in his front for five miles. He added, that no water had been found on the Ridge, and that hence he could not remain and would have to descend into the valley or return to his former position. He was directed consequently, late in the evening, to move his corps back to a good position for water along the Chickamauga from Owen's Ford to Gower's, which he did the next morning. In this position the corps remained quietly during the 15th and 16th. Crittenden certainly had not the remotest conception that a battle-cloud was gathering near him and about to burst until it was indicated to him by an order, received at 9:30 P.M. on the 16th, to issue to his command three days rations in haversacks, and twenty rounds for the pockets of each man, in addition to full cartridge-boxes.
At the time last named, McCook had not yet connected with Thomas, who remained stationary about Stevens Gap awaiting his approach, and Crittenden communicated with the Fourteenth Corps only by his cavalry. Even when the Twentieth Corps had finally come within supporting distance of the Fourteenth on September 17, the line of the Twenty-first Corps was not in contact with Thomas as the centre. Thus, if Bragg had been able to execute the attack ordered by him for early morning on the 18th, the Army of the Cumberland would have been struck while still divided, and would probably have suffered a much worse fate than actually befell it. Crittenden would doubtless have been overwhelmed, and the rear of Rosecrans and the roads from his position to Chattanooga gained. But, as the rebel commander relates: “The resistance of the enemy's cavalry and the difficulties arising from the bad and narrow country roads caused unexpected delay in the execution of my orders.” In fact, a whole day was lost by him, and the onset upon the Federals, intended for the 18th, did not begin until the following day.
There is no evidence on record that General Rosecrans began to perceive Bragg's real purpose against his left before the night of the 15th to 16th. He was aware on the 14th that the rebels had abandoned the valley between Lookout and Pigeon Mountains, and he had also learned of strong indications of their withdrawal from Lafayette, but nothing was known at the army headquarters of the direction in which the bulk of their forces had subsequently moved. Their drift down the Chickamauga towards our left, however, was sufficiently recognized, by the time named, to produce an order dated September 16, 8:05 A.M., which showed that Rosecrans was then roused to the great gravity of the situation. This, summarily stated, was that the enemy with his whole army was practically half a day's march nearer to Chattanooga than himself, and had to push only a few miles to the eastward to get between him and the town. The order required Thomas to concentrate his corps, provided with three days' rations and extra ammunition, between Gower's and Bird's Mills, so as to command the Chattanooga Road, and “to do it to-day and as secretly as possible.” This meant a movement to the left down the Chickamauga so as to bring his corps close to Crittenden's right. Thomas received the order at 3:30 P.M., but failed to comprehend its urgency probably because he was not informed of the enemy's designs and considered it unwise to leave his position before the arrival of McCook; hence he answered: “General McCook's troops have not yet arrived. I will send Baird's and Negley's divisions to take position to-morrow morning, and Reynolds's and Brannan's the day following.” To this came response from the chief of staff, dated 8:45 P.M.: “The General Commanding fears that the movement will be too late if delayed till the time you mention. The enemy seems to be massing on our left, and the General Commanding desires that our flank movement to the left may be accomplished as soon as possible.” With this exchange of despatches the day went by, and General Thomas did not get under way before the morning of the 17th, but was in the new position by evening, with his left connecting with the Twenty-first Corps at Owen's Ford.
It has already been mentioned that the Twentieth Corps did not effect contact with Thomas until the 17th, when the latter was already in motion down the Chickamauga. General McCook himself, however, was already at the foot of Stevens Gap on the evening of the 16th, when he reported the whereabouts of his divisions to the general headquarters. He was as ignorant as the other corps commanders of the doings of the enemy. Indeed, in a despatch to General Thomas dated September 16, 3:15 P.M., he expressed the opinion that the rebel forces were at Lafayette, “except Loring's division, which went to Charleston,” and that he did not think they would fight there, “as they could find much better places further to their rear.” It may be easily imagined, therefore, how surprised he must have been when he received, soon after, an order from General Rosecrans to issue three days' rations and extra ammunition to his men, and to mass his corps at once between Pond Spring and Gower — that is, to move also to the left, following Thomas, and connect with him at the last-mentioned point, and to send his trains down Chattanooga Creek. He sent corresponding orders to his three divisions, of which Sheridan's reached the foot of Stevens Gap in the evening, and Davis's at noon and Johnson's in the afternoon of the next day. Starting them as soon as possible to his new destination, he soon found himself obstructed by Thomas's troops moving in advance of him on the same road, and asked for a modification of his orders, which he received, with directions to take position to the right and left of Pond Spring. This he did early on the 18th, making connection with Thomas's right.
The Army of the Cumberland was now extricated from the peril involved in the isolation of the several corps which had hung over it for a week. But, although the three corps were at last in supporting distance of each other, the army was not yet secure against being cut off from Chattanooga by the flanking movement of the enemy. Evidence of the rebel preparations for an attack en masse against our left accumulated on the 18th, and made Rosecrans alive to the necessity of another rapid counter-concentration. The very great urgency of the situation made him resolve upon a bold and almost desperate manœuvre in order to meet the apparent overreaching of our extreme left (Wood's division) by the enemy, viz., the withdrawing of Thomas's corps from the centre and moving it during the evening and night by the rear of Crittenden's corps to its left, and simultaneously shifting McCook's corps to the position vacated by Thomas. The great risk lay in breaking and entirely reversing our line in the face of the enemy, whose onslaught might be expected any moment. The shift was accomplished not entirely, but sufficiently, as events proved, to save the Army of the Cumberland from destruction. Thomas was under way by 4 P.M., and kept in motion all night. His columns had a most toilsome task in finding their way in the dark over narrow cross-roads and through the woods; and although the distance traversed was only between four and five miles, the head, Baird's division, reached its destination at “Kelly's Farm” on Crittenden's left only at daylight on the 19th. This was the very position whose valiant defence by Thomas and his troops during the impending battle was destined to prevent the utter rout of all of Rosecrans's forces.
McCook received his orders to move to the position vacated by Thomas shortly after midnight, and marched at early dawn, with Johnson's division in the lead, followed by Davis's and Sheridan's. He himself reported in person between eight and nine to the Commander-in-chief at Crawfish Springs (about a mile southeast of Lee and Gordon's Mills), and was ordered by him to mass his corps about that point and await further instructions, which was done. Crittenden's corps lay still on the 17th, except that he moved Palmer's division to the left in order to make room for one of Thomas's then approaching.
Between 10 A.M. and noon on the 18th, General Wood sent in several reports that the enemy was advancing on both his left and right, and asked for reinforcement by a brigade. But no collision came from this move on the part of the rebels, which was apparently intended simply to secure a new position, but led to a change of Crittenden's line by shifting Van Cleve's division from the right to the left of Wood's, and of Palmer's to replace Van Cleve's. This extension of our left, Crittenden made on his own responsibility. It anticipated to that extent Thomas's night move to the left. It seems almost incredible, but Crittenden says distinctly, in his official report, that he heard of Thomas's march by his rear accidentally the next morning, implying that he had not received any official advice of it.
Thus the hostile hosts became arrayed against each other for the terrible struggle into which they were about to plunge. Rosecrans tried his utmost to get ready for it, but was not, as his new line was still forming when the fighting began. He had been forced to exchange the confident part of victory and pursuit for that of an anxious defensive. He was not only anxious, but was actually apprehensive of failure, as is shown by his orders anticipatory of a possible defeat. And well he might be, in view of the positive information that had reached him, in the last few days, of the heavy reinforcements sent to Bragg from the West as well as from Lee's army. He knew, too, that, although orders had been sent from Washington in the light of those facts to Generals Grant, Hurlbut, and Burnside to send him all the troops they could possibly spare, help from any quarter could not arrive in time. Here these singular circumstances may be recorded: First, General-in-chief Halleck was under the delusion, almost to the middle of the month, that, instead of Bragg being reinforced from Lee, the reverse was the case. His belief was based upon misleading rebel newspaper reports, the surrender of Chattanooga without a fight, and upon Rosecrans's positive reports that Bragg was in full retreat southwardly. Secondly, Burnside, though repeatedly directed from Washington and requested by Rosecrans, after the occupation of Chattanooga, to close up with him, had made no serious efforts to that effect. He excused himself by Rosecrans's advices that Bragg was in full retreat, which seemed to him to render haste unnecessary.
No proof exists that Bragg knew, before the battle, of the desperate effort made by Rosecrans to thwart him by massing his forces on the left, but it is not probable that such knowledge would have made him hesitate to offer battle; for, as is shown in the exhortation addressed to his army, he must have been inspired with faith in success by the reinforcements of his command already received and about to arrive. There is a riddle, however, in this connection which the rebel records fail to clear up. While, according to Bragg's report of the battle, a considerable body had joined him some days before, Longstreet's corps was still on the way to him when he decided to attack on the 18th, and could not reach the field in time to support him. How did it happen that he deliberately did not wait for the advent of the flower of Lee's army, sent to him especially to ensure a victory over Rosecrans? Had he fought on the 18th, Longstreet would have been too late for any share in the action. As it was, he arrived only in time to contribute to the rebel success on the second day. No light has ever been thrown on Bragg's motive.
The battle about to be fought forms no exception to the all but general rule that, in the great actions of the Civil War, the losing as well as the winning side claimed that it had to contend against far superior numbers. Yet, as will be seen from the following comparison, the contestants in this struggle were almost evenly matched, there being but a slight numerical superiority on the Union side. According to the tri-monthly return of the Army of the Cumberland of September 10, the Fourteenth Army Corps had then present for duty 22,781 officers and men, the Twentieth 13,156, and the Twenty-first 14,660, making a total of 50,597 infantry and artillery. This aggregate was reduced by about ten per cent. by the disabled and stragglers lost during the continuous and hard marching between the 10th and the 19th, thus leaving (say) about 45,000 effectives, less about 2000 on escort and other detached duties. There was also the cavalry corps, with 9676 officers and men; but, owing to the broken and thickly wooded character of the scene of action, the mounted troops did only desultory fighting on a part of the front and on the wings, and may well be excluded, therefore, from the number of participants in the main action. The reserve corps under General Granger did not come into action until late on the second day, with the exception of one brigade under Colonel Daniel McCook, whose presence was, however, more than offset by the absence of Wagner's brigade of the Twenty-first Corps, garrisoning Chattanooga, and of one of Davis's brigades of the Twentieth Corps left to guard Stevens Gap. Hence it is right to say that there were about 43,000 combatants, exclusive of cavalry, on the Union side, with 196 pieces of artillery.
Bragg had 35,000 effectives, exclusive of cavalry, when he marched away from Chattanooga, from which five per cent. may be deducted for decrease from sickness and straggling (the rebels having been campaigning only half as long as the Unionists). He admits having been strengthened in time for the battle by two brigades of foot from Mississippi and five brigades of Longstreet's corps, which he, however, describes as weak and not exceeding five thousand effectives. But the seven brigades numbered certainly not less than 8000, bringing the effectives up to something under 42,000. This total is borne out by the aggregates of officers and men engaged given in the reports of the corps and division commanders, which foot up exactly 41,700 infantry and artillery. The rebel cavalry was stronger than the Federal, but its part also was confined to small and scattering fights, excepting the attack, hereafter mentioned, by Forrest's corps at the opening of the battle on the first day. The artillery numbered about the same as the Unionists'.
In another respect than numbers, about equal conditions prevailed on both sides. Neither the Unionists nor the Confederates were in fresh condition. The officers and men in the two armies, from the generals in command down to the privates, were tired out by all but continuous marching by day and night. The former had been steadily on the move for nearly five weeks, the latter since the evacuation of Chattanooga. The last week, neither the one nor the other had had proper rest or regular nourishment. For days before the battle, the bulk of the troops on each side had not had cooked meals. There was much suffering, not only from hunger, but from thirst, owing to the scarcity of water on the ridges between the several streams. The animals, too, had fared very badly as to food and water. The long lack of rain in that region had caused such dryness that the movements of the masses of men and animals took place in suffocating clouds of dust, which greatly in creased their hardships. By the dust rising from the roads, the signal services of the two armies divined their respective movements. The Union forces, having been longer under way by three weeks, were naturally more exhausted than their enemies. As nearly the whole of them were in motion during the entire night of the 18th to the 19th, they were really unfit for a general action. The Confederates were at least lying still during that night, and hence were better prepared for their bloody task.
It is difficult to give a description of the ground fought over on the memorable 19th and 20th of September that will convey a clear idea of it. It lay entirely on Georgia soil just south of the Tennessee boundary. It comprised the part of the valley of the West Chickamauga extending northerly from Lee and Gordon's Mills for a distance of a little over four miles. The course of the stream is so meandering that the width of the valley varies greatly and its form is very irregular. The surface is undulating, and was then generally covered with heavy timber, and largely also with an undergrowth so dense that a clear view ahead could be had only for a hundred to two hundred feet. The timber entirely concealed the movements of the hostile forces from one another. There were, however, a number of farms with clearings and cultivated fields of greater or less extent. General Thomas took position on the largest of these at Kelly's, three and a half miles from Lee and Gordon's Mills and about two miles from the Chickamauga. The road from Lafayette to Chattanooga, the possession of which was the object of the struggle, crossed the whole length of the battle-field due north and south from Kelly's to Lee and Gordon's Mills. The road ran along the eastern foot of Missionary Ridge, but between it and the slope there was first a narrow skirt of timber, stretching from “Widow Glenn's Farm,” one and a half miles north of Lee and Gordon's Mills, for nearly three miles to McDonald's, about three-quarters of a mile north of Kelly's. Beyond this strip, and parallel to it, there was a succession of cultivated clearings. The reason for taking the Unionist position between the State road and the Chickamauga instead of along the stream itself was the winding flow and numerous fords, which rendered it impossible to form any defensive line on the bank notexposed to flank and rear attacks.
The Battle of the First Day.—1863
GENERAL THOMAS had just succeeded in placing his leading divisions under Baird and Brannan in position early on the morning of September 19 when Colonel Daniel McCook, commanding the brigade of the reserve corps that had been serving on the front for some days, reported to him that he had discovered during the night an isolated rebel brigade on the west bank near Reed's Bridge, and that it could be cut off and captured, as he had destroyed that bridge behind it. Thereupon General Thomas ordered General Brannan to try and capture the rebel body. Brannan proceeded to carry out the order at once, and, by nine o'clock, his second brigade had taken one road to Reed's Bridge, and the third brigade another running a short distance to the north from McDonald's house in the same direction, so as to catch the rebels be tween them. The two brigades were followed by the first as support. The second brigade, after advancing three-quarters of a mile and driving the hostile skirmishers before them, was brought to bay and vigorously attacked at about 10 A.M. by a large body. It was part of Forrest's cavalry corps fighting as infantry under his own command. A severe conflict ensued, in which two regimental commanders fell, but, being reinforced by a regiment, the brigade managed to hold its ground for a time. The third brigade, after marching about a mile and a half towards the stream, also struck the dismounted rebels, who opened upon it a heavy fire of musketry and artillery at short range; but it pushed on and pressed them back to within a short distance of the creek. These two collisions ushered in the two days battle. General Thomas certainly had no intention of provoking the conflict, and would of course not have undertaken the venture with Brannan's division had he not been utterly ignorant of the forming of the rebel line for a general attack directly before him.
General Bragg, who was much disappointed that his army did not succeed in crossing the Chickamauga in time to attack on the 18th, insinuates in his report that General Bushrod Johnson, commanding on his right, might have moved quicker, and that he felt relieved when General Hood arrived on the field direct from Richmond with his division, and replaced Johnson as the ranking officer. The rebel right managed to cross the stream by 4 P.M. at Reed's Bridge, after a skirmish for its possession with Minty's cavalry brigade, and at a ford above, and advanced to Jay's Saw-mill, three-quarters of a mile to the west in line of battle, and thence turned southwardly for two and a half miles past Alexander's Bridge to within less than two miles of Lee and Gordon's Mills, where, after dark, the head of their column struck the Federal skirmishers. Hood formed a line facing southwest, and remained in this posi tion all night with his troops resting on their arms. Hood had, unknown to himself and his adversaries, passed along most of the Federal front. Only Walker's Confederate reserve corps got across the Chickamauga on the 18th in addition to Hood. It found Alexander's Bridge defended by Wilder's mounted brigade, which yielded it only after a stubborn fight and dismantled the structure under fire. Walker's command crossed after dark at Byram's Ford below the bridge, and bivouacked for the night a mile to the west of it. There is no doubt that the rebel body seen by Colonel Daniel McCook was part of Hood's command, but it had passed from Thomas's front, and the force which Brannan's brigades encountered belonged to Walker's reserve corps. Hood having cleared the way for their unobstructed passage, Buckner's force and Cheatham's division passed the stream at daylight on the 19th. By nine o'clock, the rebel line was re-formed with Walker on the right, Hood in the centre, and Buckner on the left, about one mile below Lee and Gordon's Mills, with Cheatham's division in reserve. Polk, with another division of his corps, and Hill's whole corps, were kept on the east bank until later in the day.
When Forrest found himself pushed back by Brannan's brigades, he sent for infantry support, and Wilson's brigade of Gist's division of Walker's reserve corps went first to his aid, followed soon by Ector's of the same division. Thus strengthened, Forrest took the offensive against Brannan, and pressed his right so hard that he sent “repeated and earnest requests” to General Thomas for reinforcements. The corps commander at once ordered Baird's division to his relief. Baird formed on Brannan's right and moved vigorously upon the enemy, forcing him back three-quarters of a mile. The enemy having disappeared from his front, he stopped to readjust his line to Brannan's. While so doing, he was suddenly set upon by a large body of rebels, which overwhelmed and drove back in utter confusion first Scribner's brigade, and next the brigade of regular troops under General King, upon and through the centre of Brannan, thereby exposing both of the latter's flanks. It was a complete rout, of which Baird said in his report that “entire destruction seemed inevitable,” “whole battalions were wiped out of existence,” and “the men could only be stopped after they had passed far to the rear.” The rebels captured 23 commissioned officers, more than 400 rank and file, and the two brigade batteries. Battery H of the Fifth U. S. Artillery had more than half of its officers and men killed and wounded, and forty horses killed and twenty wounded. This rout was inflicted by the two brigades of Liddell's division of Walker's reserve corps coming to the succor of Gist's brigades, which had yielded to Baird's onset. At this critical juncture, greater disaster was fortunately averted by the appearance of Johnson's division of McCook's corps, which had been prudently ordered to the support of General Thomas by General Rosecrans when the firing on the left indicated the development of a general engagement. The division formed at once on Thomas's left with Willich's brigade on the right, Baldwin's on the left, and Dodge's in reserve, advanced, and, striking the rebels in the flank, drove them in disorder for a mile towards the Chickamauga. Willich captured five guns in a bayonet charge. Meantime, Brannan had managed to stop and break the onset of Liddell's division by a counter attack with his first and third brigades, in which the German Ninth Ohio Regiment — the same that decided the battle of Mill Spring — recaptured at the point of the bayonet the battery taken from the regulars.
General Crittenden, being satisfied from the roar of battle that Thomas was getting heavily engaged, had of his own accord ordered Palmer's division to the assistance of the Fourteenth Corps between eleven o'clock and noon. It reached the front at about the same time as Johnson's, and, forming on the latter's right, advanced upon the enemy in echeloned columns of brigades. It became directly engaged, and, after a hot exchange of fire for an hour, the enemy yielded ground and was pursued for some distance. General Reynolds, with the second and third brigades of the fourth division of the Fourteenth Corps — the first being mounted and detached under command of Colonel Wilder — reached the field behind Johnson's division. His command did not join in the fight as a unit, but served to support and relieve, in parts of brigades, the left of Johnson and the right of Palmer, whose experiences they shared.
At half-past eleven, General Crittenden received a note from General Thomas, saying that, if he could spare another division, it should be sent to him without delay. A very heavy musketry fire then bursting out in the direction in which Palmer was moving, the corps commander sent two of his staff to the latter to ascertain the state of the fight. They soon returned, reporting that they had not been able to reach Palmer, being stopped and fired at by the enemy. This led Crittenden to fear that his second division was being attacked from both front and rear, and to send hastily to the army headquarters for permission to order Van Cleve's to its relief, which was readily granted. Anticipating the approval of the Commander-in-chief, orders to hurry forward were sent simultaneously to Van Cleve, who started at 1 P.M. with two brigades at the double-quick, leaving one to guard the crossing at Lee and Gordon's Mills. He reached the scene of action before 2, formed on Palmer's right, and became at once severely engaged. Before hearing of Van Cleve's movement, General Rosecrans had ordered Davis's division of McCook's corps to the front, where it arrived about the same time as Van Cleve's division. It took position alongside on the extreme right and came likewise at once under fire.
This narrative shows that the beginning of the action was as accidental as the subsequent course of the battle. Rosecrans, not being ready to fight, had not formed a plan for it. Bragg operated under a preconceived programme, which was upset by the incidents related. From the initial collision between small bodies, the conflict grew into a general action by one force after another being sent forward to the support of those already engaged. We have seen how on our side the fight of Brannan's second brigade be came that of the division, and how Baird's, Johnson's, Reynolds's, Palmer's, Van Cleve's, and Davis's brigades were successively drawn into it. Events took a corresponding course on the rebel side. At the opening, Forrest's dismounted cavalry fought alone. His appeal for help brought first one and then another of Walthall's brigades under fire. In response to Walthall's call for support, Liddell's division came to the rescue. When the whole of the rebel reserve corps had thus become involved and found itself hard pressed and forced to fall back, General Bragg at 11 A.M. ordered General Cheatham's division of Polk's corps to its assistance. Moving immediately, it was formed in line of battle with three brigades in front and two in reserve by noon, and then advanced and collided within a few minutes with the Federal line, which was driving Liddell's brigades. Cheatham not only checked the Federal advance, but forced it back about three-quarters of a mile, when he encountered fresh hostile columns which made him yield in turn. Learning this, General Bragg ordered Stewart's division of Buckner's corps to make an attack for his relief. Stewart formed his line promptly, and reached the front in time for the rescue of Wright's brigade, forming Cheatham's left, which was falling back in disorder with the loss of its battery. Stewart became at once hotly engaged. As he gained no ground for some time, while losing heavily, Bragg ordered Hood's corps into action on the left of Stewart. Its strongest division, under Bushrod Johnson, entered the fight shortly before 3 P.M. After it had been engaged for some time without decided result, Robertson's brigade of the division Hood had brought with him from Virginia, and Trigg's brigade of Preston's division of Buckner's corps, were sent to its assistance.
In this wise it happened that, in the latter part of the afternoon, no less than seven Federal divisions, less two detached brigades, and five divisions and two brigades of the enemy, had been drawn into the vortex of the battle. Hence there cannot have been much difference between the numbers of combatants on each side. The action shifted during the day from right to left. It was not continuous, but like the rise and fall of the tide. As the several bodies successively came into the fray, it rose to fierceness at the points of collision, surged and roared for a time as the assailing columns advanced, and subsided into more or less protracted lulls as they fell away from each other. It was offensive at first on our part, but became more and more defensive in the course of the day. Foiled in their early attempts to break the left of our line, the rebels directed their onsets from noon against our centre. Brannan, Baird, and Johnson on the left were let alone after the events already described. But Palmer, Van Cleve, and Davis were kept at the bloody work during the afternoon by their adversaries, Cheatham, Stewart, and Bushrod Johnson and the two supporting brigades. Palmer's division was forced back, after his first success, in considerable confusion and at one time outflanked, but he managed to stop and re-form his troops in a defensive position before dark. Van Cleve fared no better. Advancing on the right of Palmer with his two brigades, he drove the enemy rapidly and captured four guns, when he found himself flanked on the right by strong numbers, and compelled to fall back and leave the captured guns. He rallied his men and made another successful attack, taking four more guns, which were brought off. Assailed in turn, he had to yield again, but returned once more to the charge, when he encountered a fresh rebel mass which pressed his force back in such confusion that he could rally only a portion of them some distance to the rear. Van Cleve's other brigade, which had been left at Lee and Gordon's Mills, had been ordered to his relief, and came into action to his right when he was already discomfited, followed by Davis with Colonel Heg's and General Carlin's brigades.
Stewart and Bushrod Johnson were expected by General Bragg to make up for the repulse on our left by forcing our centre, gaining the Chattanooga road, and thereby cutting our army in two. His expectation was fulfilled, but, happily for us, only for a short time. Stewart, by his final repulse of Van Cleve, opened the way to the coveted highway, and not only reached it, but pushed nearly half a mile beyond it, and claimed to have captured twelve pieces of artillery. But this onset carried him singly so far from the Confederate line and all support that he directly found himself menaced on both flanks, and concluded to seek safety in retreat. As he mildly puts it in his official report: “In consequence of threatening movements on the right and left, my command fell leisurely back about sunset, re-forming on the east side of the Chattanooga road.” Bushrod Johnson, between three and four o'clock, fell upon Barnes's and Davis's brigades, made them, after a stout resistance, give way in partial disorder, and followed them to and beyond the Chattanooga road. At this juncture, two brigades under General Wood, which General Crittenden had asked and obtained permission to send to the succor of Van Cleve in his precarious plight, became also involved. Wood had orders to go in on Van Cleve's right, but, meeting Davis on the way and hearing from him of his distress, and seeing the evidence of it in a stream of fugitives from Heg's brigade that came pouring out of the woods, he directed Colonel Harker's brigade to form in line and push forward in an oblique direction and engage the advancing enemy. The brigade succeeded in checking him after a hot fight in which it lost very heavily. Wood's other brigade, under Colonel Buell, got ready to support Carlin's, holding Davis's right, and was about to advance when the latter brigade was also driven back by the rebels. The fugitive crowd got mixed up with Buell's men and swept them along with it some distance beyond the Chattanooga road, when the enemy was stopped by the fire of Wilder's brigade, which was lying there dismounted, and the concentrated fire of twenty-six guns which General Crittenden had ordered to open. General Sheridan had been directed by Rosecrans to hurry from Lee and Gordon's Mills with two brigades to the relief of our right, and arrived just in time to help check the pursuit of Davis's and Wood's men. Colonel Bradley's brigade of his division formed hastily, and, after a short and severe fight, in which it recaptured a Federal battery, succeeded in driving the enemy back to the east side of the Chattanooga road. Davis's and Wood's commands then re-formed and regained their former position.
General Negley's division had been left to guard the fords on our extreme right, while the other three divisions of the Fourteenth Corps made their night move to the left. It was not molested until noon, when the enemy opened with two batteries upon it, and soon after advanced with an infantry force which was, however, easily repulsed. It was a feint on the rebel part to hold our forces in place. At 3:30 P.M., Negley received orders to move quickly to the support of General Thomas. He reached the front, where Van Cleve had been fighting, shortly before five, and discovered the enemy making a flank movement through a break in our line. He promptly sent two brigades against the rebels, which stopped them, and then, taking the offensive, pushed forward about half a mile in a brisk engagement lasting till after seven. The division did not resume its march to join Thomas, but remained on McCook's line.
Dusk and darkness had come during the last-mentioned incidents. The lull that had prevailed on our left during the afternoon was suddenly broken after dark by a tremendous outburst of musketry and artillery. Bragg was not satisfied with the compensation for the failures of Forrest, Waltham, Liddell, and Cheatham afforded by the partial successes of Stewart and Johnson — partial because they could not hold the Chattanooga road, and because our torn line was re-knitted. Moreover, the developments of the day had made him cognizant of the concentration of the main strength of the Federals on their left. He resolved to try again to break the latter. The new blow was to be struck by a night attack, so as to double its effect by a surprise. The best division of his army — Cleburne's veterans — was to deal it. It had not been engaged, and came therefore comparatively fresh to the task. It had been in position on the rebel left during the forenoon and part of the afternoon on the west bank of the Chickamauga, when it was ordered to cross at Tedford's Fork and march as rapidly as possible along the rear of the rebel lines to the right. It reached there after sunset, formed and moved forward by six o'clock with all three brigades in a front line and each followed by a battery. Cleburne says: “In a few moments I was heavily engaged on my right and centre. The enemy, posted behind hastily constructed breastworks, opened a heavy fire of both small arms and artillery. For half an hour, the firing was the heaviest I ever heard. It was dark, however, and accurate shooting impossible. Each side was aiming at the flashes of the other, and few of the shot from either side took effect. Two of my batteries were run forward within sixty yards of the enemy's line and opened a rapid fire.” Cleburne, according to his own story, drove the enemy for a mile and a half, when, his command having got confused by the advance in the darkness, and his artillery finding it impracticable to move further in the woods, he stopped, readjusted his lines and bivouacked. He claims that he captured three guns, two flags, and between two and three hundred prisoners, and that it was nine o'clock before firing on his front ceased.
Cleburne had struck Johnson's division and the left of Baird's. A terrible roar suddenly arose in front of them. The three brigades of the former and Scribner's of the latter found themselves instantly exposed to a fearful shower of bullets and crashing shot and bursting shell, and immediately thereafter furiously assailed by yelling infantry in front and flank. Johnson's left, formed by the brigade of Willich, had remained unprotected all the afternoon, although its commander repeatedly called attention to its exposure. The first rebel onset swept our first line back upon the reserves with heavy losses, but it then appears to have stood its ground till the enemy stopped fighting. The attack evidently threw our troops into great confusion, and many more of them were taken prisoners than Cleburne brought off, the greater number escaping in the darkness. Our line got so mixed up that Willich's and Scribner's commands fired into Baird's second brigade and made it retreat in disorder.
This night fight — one of the most extraordinary incidents of the war — closed the day's struggle. It had been mostly a hap-hazard contest, from the first to the last, on both sides. Neither the generals-in-chief nor the heads of the corps exercised much command. They confined themselves to ordering one part of their troops after another into action, after which the character of the ground, the dense woods, and the difficulty of communication compelled them to let the immediate commanders do the best they could. As General Longstreet fitly expresses it in his recollections of the war: “The division commanders fought the battle.” The Official War Records afford incontestable proof that the commanders not only of divisions, but of brigades and even regiments, had to shift for themselves. They warrant the assertion that, in no other of the great battles of the rebellion, are there to be found so many complaints from commanding officers, in both armies, of being unsupported in attacks and left exposed on the flanks and obliged to fall back by being actually taken on the sides and in the rear. A number of allegations appear that gaps from a few hundred feet to a mile and a quarter wide existed in the Federal and Confederate lines. For the same reason, but scanty laurels were gathered by commanders in this field for tactical achievements. Yet there are many instances of gallant conduct on record, and among them a remarkable feat of General Willich deserves to be mentioned. Major Williams, commanding the Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry, in his report, after mentioning that at one time the heavy fire of the enemy made his command waver, says: “At this point General Willich came forward, and, standing in front of the regiment amid a shower of bullets, complimented it for its previous impetuous advance, calmed their excitement, instructed them how to advance, fire, and maintain their alignment, then dressed and drilled them for a short time; and his own inimitable coolness of manner restored order and confidence in the regiment so that, when he ordered them to advance, they did so promptly and in good order.” A drill under the hottest fire — certainly an extraordinary example of the coolest courage.
The strife having been actually a series of “little battles,” fought by particular units of the respective armies against each other with fluctuating results, it is not surprising that the division and brigade commanders engaged should, almost without exception on both sides, resort again in their reports to the plea of having encountered largely superior numbers, in extenuation of failure and in exaggeration of success. It is but natural that such fictions should be echoed first in the reports of corps commanders and then of the commanders-in-chief.
General Bragg had, to recapitulate, sought first to break our left and plant his army between us and Chattanooga, and next, when he had failed in this, to cut us in two by piercing our centre. General Rosecrans's chief object was to secure the concentration of his army and thereby his lines of communication with Chattanooga. As both of Bragg's attempts had miscarried, while Rosecrans had his forces fully in hand and commanded the two roads — the Rossville and the Dry Valley — to Chattanooga at the close of the day, the outcome may well be deemed to have been in our favor. It must be admitted at the same time that it was not our tactics but the Confederate to which the result was due, for the course which the action took through the aggressiveness of the enemy promoted, so to speak, and accelerated our concentrating movement. The hostile pressure contracted, as it were, our extended and loose lines, and forced us into a position astride the important roads. But it is also true that the line gained by the Confederates during the day was far better for a further offensive than that occupied by them on the morning of the 19th, since the Chickamauga was no longer between most of their troops and our own, they were within easy striking distance of us and, in front of both our flanks, much nearer to the Chattanooga roads, and, moreover, they were no longer hampered in their movements by ignorance of the ground.
Bragg was fully aware of all this, and had no other thought than to renew the struggle as early the next day as possible, and felt sure of success. Rosecrans likewise knew but too well that another battle was still before him. The condition of the rebels was certainly better for another trial of strength and skill than ours. Their losses had been very severe, and no doubt greater than ours, except in prisoners. Their organizations were also much shaken and loosened by the varying fortunes of the day. Their general physical exhaustion was also great. But they had a reserve force of more than one-third of their army, consisting of the divisions of Hindman, Breckinridge, and Preston, from which only two brigades had been drawn into the action, as has been mentioned. They were reinforced, too, during the night by the arrival of two more brigades from Virginia. Another important accession was Lieutenant-General Longstreet in time to exercise command the next day.
On our side, the loss in killed was relatively small, but disproportionately large in wounded. The hauls of prisoners made by the enemy in his onsets comprised in not a few cases the larger parts of regiments, battalions, and batteries. But the worst we had suffered was the disrupture and scattering and mixing up of so many organizations, which could not fully be reëstablished in the dark. Moreover, our whole army had been engaged, barring Sheridan's two brigades, which, with the reserve corps, constituted the only available fresh troops, and Granger's command, which was at a distance. Our condition was, indeed, such that only the defensive could be thought of, and, accordingly, large details of our men were kept felling timber all night and erecting breastworks of logs for the protection of our lines. General Rosecrans certainly drew a fanciful picture when he said, in his telegraphic summary of the battle to the Government, “The army is in excellent condition and spirits.” That he really felt very anxious for the fate of his army appears plainly from the sentence with which he closed his official account of the events of the 19th, viz., “The battle of the next day must be for thesafety of the army and the possession of Chattanooga.”
The Battle of the Second Day.—1863
BOTH armies bivouacked, or rather lay on their arms, during the night. Excepting the pickets and their supports and the working parties, the rank and file enjoyed some hours of rest. But the commanding officers on either side were not allowed that boon. Rosecrans summoned his corps commanders to his headquarters at the Glenn House between nine and ten o'clock, where they remained till midnight to report the location and condition of their troops and to receive their instructions for the next day. Most of the remainder of the night the tired Union generals devoted to conforming their lines to their orders.
The position in which our army awaited the next attempts of the enemy was as follows: Thomas formed the left on substantially the line he held at nightfall, which was almost at a right angle to that from which he had opened the action in the morning, and extended from the road to Reed's Bridge to the direct road from Lee and Gordon's Mills to Rossville and thence to the so-called Dry Valley road, leading through Missionary Ridge from Crawfish Springs to Rossville. McCook formed the right — his left, Negley's division, filling the place of Johnson's, still on Thomas's line, connecting with Thomas's right; and his right, Sheridan's division, near the Glenn House in front of the gap through which the Dry Valley road runs. Davis's two brigades were the reserve of the corps. As the divisions of Generals Johnson and Palmer remained under Thomas's orders, McCook and Crittenden had only two divisions each to command on the 20th, and the former was soon to be deprived even of Negley's, which, as will appear, was also sent to reinforce the left. Crittenden's corps extended as the general reserve along the eastern slope of Missionary Ridge, with Wood's division on the right and Van Cleve's on the left, and was so posted as to support both Thomas and McCook. In the line thus constituted, Baird's division held the extreme left, Johnson's came next, then Palmer's, Reynolds's, and Brannan's on the slopes of Missionary Ridge, followed by McCook with Negley's (till withdrawn) on the left, Sheridan's on the right, and Davis's in reserve. There is no record of any direction to the reserve corps under General Granger to move up closer to the front on either the first or the second day of the battle, but it was left in a position covering the junction of the roads from Ringgold and Cleveland to Chattanooga at a distance of nearly four miles from our extreme left, until its commander, of his own accord, as will be seen, led it into the action on Sunday afternoon.
A council of war likewise took place during the night at Bragg's headquarters, which did not have the shelter of a building, but were located around a camp-fire. The rebel generals were informed by their commander that the army was to be fought the next day in two parts: the right wing to consist of Hill's corps, Walker's reserve corps and Cheatham's and Breckinridge's divisions, and to be commanded by Lieutenant-General Polk, and the left wing to be composed of Hindman's and Bushrod John son's divisions, Buckner's corps and Longstreet's corps (or so much of it as had arrived), with Major-General Hood in command, to be led by Lieutenant-General Longstreet. Bragg's plan of battle, as communicated to his corps commanders, was to execute with his army a general movement by a wheel upon the extreme left as a pivot — an exact repetition of the Stone's River plan. Polk was to attack at daylight, and the action was to be taken up successively from right to left. General Longstreet reached Bragg's bivouac only at 11 P.M., when General Polk had already returned to his corps. He had arrived by train near Ringgold at 2 P.M., and left thence for the field with two staff officers as soon as horses could be procured. The party missed their way, rode into the Federal lines and were fired at, and came very near being taken prisoners. Thus General Longstreet had the responsibility thrust upon him of leading troops immediately into action of whom he had seen only those of his own corps. He was as unfamiliar with the ground as with the greater part of his command, and spent the night in learning all he could of the latter, and in studying maps.
General Bragg had personally given his verbal order to General Polk to attack with his extreme right at daybreak. A curious chapter of incidents and accidents now occurred that will be related in full, as it had an important bearing upon the impending action. General Polk had started between 10 and 11 P.M. for his headquarters, east of Alexander's bridge, to prepare for executing his orders. On the way he met an aide-de-camp of General Hill, to whom he communicated his orders, with the further message that he desired to see General Hill at his headquarters, and that he would have fires started and orderlies stationed at the bridge to conduct the general to him. At 11:30 P.M., he issued written orders to Generals Hill and Cheatham to attack the enemy simultaneously at daylight, and to General Walker to remain in reserve, and sent them by couriers to the headquarters of these three commanders. The couriers to Cheatham and Walker promptly returned with receipts for the orders. The one sent to Hill searched for him in vain all night, and returned at daylight with the report that he had been unable to find him. Nor did General Hill put in an appearance in compliance with the order sent to him through his aide-de-camp. Thereupon General Polk sent direct orders to General Cleburne and Breckinridge, Hill's division commanders, to attack at once, and rode himself to the front. Here he received at 7 A.M. a message from General Hill that he had gone to Alexander's Bridge, but failed to meet there the orderlies that were to guide him to headquarters, and was, therefore, unable to find them and him, that his divisions were getting breakfast, and would not be ready to move for an hour or more. He also advised General Polk to examine their line and correct some irregularities in it before attacking, and expressed the opinion that, as the Yankees had been felling trees all night, their position had become too strong to be taken by direct assault.
General Polk no doubt had committed a very grave mistake in allowing six hours to elapse between the starting and the return of the courier to General Hill before taking any other action to insure the execution of his superior's order to attack at dawn of day. General Hill's preference of his own judgment as to the proper course for himself to pursue to the peremptory order of his immediate superior must be considered an act of insubordination. Two curious features of this incident, which proved very serious for the two generals, were, first, that Polk established the fact that he had stationed the promised guides for Hill at the bridge by the soldiers themselves detailed for that duty, while Hill and staff testified that they found none there; and that Polk claimed positively that he had sent the verbal order to attack at daylight to Hill through the latter's aide-de-camp, while Hill absolutely denied having ever received it, and the staff officer in question denied having been given such a message. The effect of it all was that the rebel right, instead of attacking at daybreak, as ordered, did not commence the action till 10 A.M. This at least is the hour stated in General Bragg's subsequent formal charges against General Polk for disobedience of orders. Rosecrans, however, asserts that the battle began at 8:30 A.M., and Thomas also mentions an earlier hour. Breckinridge, who opened on the rebel right, makes it 9:30 A.M. In his official report, General Bragg thus speaks of the delay:
Before the dawn of day, myself and staff were ready for the saddle, occupying a position immediately in rear of and accessible to all parts of the line. With increasing anxiety and disappointment I waited until after sunrise without hearing a gun, and at length despatched a staff officer to General Polk to ascertain the cause of the delay and urge him to a prompt and speedy movement. This officer, not finding the General with his troops, and learning where he had spent the night, proceeded across Alexander's Bridge to the east side of the Chickamauga, and there delivered my message. Proceeding in person to the right wing, I found the troops not even prepared for the movement. Messengers were immediately despatched for General Polk, and he shortly after joined me. My orders were renewed and the General urged to their prompt execution, the more important as the ear was saluted throughout the night with the sounds of the axe and falling timber, as the enemy had labored industriously to strengthen his position by hastily constructed barricades and breastworks. A reconnoissance made in the front of our extreme right during this delay crossed the main road to Chattanooga, and proved the important fact that this greatly desired position was open to our possession. The reasons assigned for this unfortunate delay by the wing commander appear in the reports of his subordinates. It is sufficient to say they are entirely unsatisfactory.
If Bragg's contention that the way to the main Chattanooga road from his right — that is, around the left flank of Thomas and to his rear — was open early in the morning, was well-founded, the salvation of the Union army from entire destruction was doubtless due to the delay of the rebel attack. But a search of all the reports of the general officers commanding on the rebel right failed to discover any evidence corroborating Bragg's allegation. General Polk, moreover, in a long letter addressed to President Davis after his suspension from command, combats most strenuously, but not altogether convincingly, the assumption that the outcome of the battle would have been different had the attack been made as early as ordered.
At all events, the gain of those hours enabled General Rosecrans to correct some faults in our lines, which he discovered, as he narrates, on inspecting them with his staff at daybreak. The time was also diligently utilized to further strengthen our line by additional breastworks. General Thomas having received a message at 2 A.M. from General Baird that his left could not be extended as ordered to the road to Reed's Bridge without weakening it too much, immediately requested the army headquarters to send Negley's division so that it could be placed on Baird's left and rear, to which General Rosecrans responded that he would issue the order at once. Finding that Negley had not arrived, he sent an aide-de-camp to urge him forward as rapidly as possible. Negley says in his report that he received the order from the aide at 8 A.M., but makes no reference to any preceding one from army headquarters. It is of record, however, that General Rosecrans issued it at 6:30 A.M., as well as an other to McCook to relieve Negley. The General Commanding was surprised to find, on his return to the right from his inspecting ride, that these orders had not been carried out. As it was hazardous so late in the morning to cause a wide gap in the line by the withdrawal of the whole division at once, Rosecrans ordered Negley to send only his reserve brigade under Beatty immediately to General Thomas, and to withdraw the two others only when actually relieved on the line. This new order prevented Negley's compliance with that of Thomas's brought by the aide. General Crittenden, as nearest to Negley, was directed by the Commander-in-chief to relieve him, and did so by directing Wood's division and a brigade of Van Cleve's to move into the vacated position. There is no evidence that the alleged order was issued from the army headquarters to Negley or received by him, but McCook's report contains a copy of a despatch dated 6:35 A.M. from General Garfield, advising him that Negley's division had been ordered to General Thomas, and directing him to fill the space left by his withdrawal, if practicable. The order reached General McCook so late that, although he rode immediately with General Sheridan to the position vacated by Negley, he found it already occupied by Wood's men. There must have been carelessness or confusion at Rosecrans's headquarters in issuing orders, for General McCook, in returning, met Davis with his two brigades advancing, also by direct order of the General Commanding, to Wood's position. Three divisions had therefore been actually ordered to take the place of one. McCook directed Davis to occupy part of Wood's line with one brigade and hold the other in reserve.
The tardiness in meeting General Thomas's call for help led to a bad beginning of the battle for us, for Beatty's brigade was just moving into line on Baird's left when the enemy opened the action by a furious assault at that point. The brigade had first formed perpendicularly to Baird for the better protection of our flank from a turning movement, but was directly ordered, against the remonstrance of its commander, to advance to a low ridge a quarter of a mile distant. This left a gap between the right of the brigade and Baird's left. The left of the brigade reached the ridge unopposed, but its centre and right met the enemy half way, and were not only stopped, but pressed so heavily that they had to fall back until the rebels were checked and driven to shelter by a shower of grape from the brigade battery.
Such was the beginning of the second day's struggle. The rebel attack extended quickly to nearly the whole of our left, involving the divisions of Baird, Johnson, Palmer, and Reynolds. It was delivered by Breckinridge and Cleburne's divisions of Hill's corps. As explained, instead of attacking at daybreak as ordered by Generals Bragg and Polk, they had delayed in order to enable their men to fight on full stomachs. Breckinridge's line was formed and began to advance on the left at 9:30 A.M. Cleburne on the right moved forward when Breckinridge had already been in motion for some time, with the result that there was no contact between the two divisions and that they fought independently of each other. Breckinridge advanced with Helm's brigade on the left, Stovall's in the centre, and Adams's on the right. Pushing forward some seven hundred yards, Helm came under fire. His left found itself opposite the breastworks protecting Baird's line, and was brought to a halt by the withering fire from behind them, while the rest of the brigade came in conflict with Beatty's men. Helm was mortally wounded while urging on the regiments on his left, which upon his fall retreated in disorder. Meantime Stovall's and Adams's Confederate brigades had steadily moved forward, resisted at first only by lines of skirmishers, until Adams came up with Beatty in the position to which the latter had retired before Helm. Adams succeeded, by a vigorous onset, in pressing back Beatty and taking from him a section of his battery, after killing nearly all the men and animals belonging to it. The Federal brigade was cut in two, and its two right regiments became separated from it for the rest of the day. Adams continued on, and actually reached the Chattanooga road and passed some distance to the west of it. Stovall also reached the road, where he halted. In fact, these two brigades overreached our left, and virtually turned our flank by their movement. Their commander perceived and reported this to General Breckinridge, who rode up and ordered them to change front perpendicularly to their original line and renew the advance, with the left of Adams and the right of Stovall resting on the Chattanooga road. In this position they were directly in the rear of General Baird's division — a most threatening juncture at this early stage of the action.
When Helm recoiled, Baird made no counter-attacks, but, on the withdrawal of the enemy, sent out skirmishers who took many prisoners. He knew the weakness of his left since Beatty's withdrawal from it, and he was trying to strengthen it with regiments from other divisions when the overwhelming attack upon Beatty also forced back his left, and even reached the rear of Johnson, whose left brigade became severely engaged. When Adams and Stovall resumed the offensive in their new formation, Baird had to order his line to face about and meet the attack fronting to the rear. Fortunately, the appearance of abundant succor insured the repulse of the rebels. General Thomas, when he was apprised of Beatty's discomfiture, at once ordered Van Derveer's brigade of Brannan's division, Barnes's brigade of Wood's, Grose's of Palmer's, and Stanley's of Negley's, to the support of the left, with the help of which reinforcements Breckinridge's brigades were beaten back. This phase of the struggle is described by Breckinridge as follows:
The brigades advanced in fine order over a field and entered the woods beyond. Stovall, after a severe and well-contested struggle, was checked and forced to retire. Adams, on the west of the Chattanooga road, met two lines of the enemy who had improved the short time to bring up reinforcements and re-form nearly at a right angle to his main works. The first line was routed, but it was impossible to break the second, aided as it was by artillery; and, after a sanguinary contest, we were forced back in some confusion. Here General Adams was severely wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy.
Breckinridge's division, thus badly defeated in detail (it lost over one-third of its number), fell back to a position a short distance in advance of that from which it had begun its attacks, and continued hors de combat till nearly the end of the day, leaving Baird's front correspondingly unmolested.
Had the imminent peril from Breckinridge's push to the rear of our left not been averted, complete defeat would doubtless have overtaken the Union army then and there. Our escape was plainly due alone to the fact that the rebel division attacked without proper support, Breckinridge complains of this in his report, and apparently with good reason (although his brigades found their way around our flank by chance and not by design), for he had informed his corps commander of his discovery, and requested and obtained consent to the change of his line; but his superior evidently did not appreciate his opportunity, and continued the front attack with the rest of his command.
Cleburne's division was to fare no better than Breckinridge's. It moved forward with Deshler's brigade on the left, Wood's in the centre, and Polk on the right, when Breckinridge was already on the way, and its effort to catch up caused, as Cleburne admits, hurry and confusion. In this condition the division became exposed, its commander says, to the heaviest artillery fire he had ever experienced. A hurricane of shot and shell swept the woods from the unseen enemy in front. The Union guns checked the right of the rebel division within less than two hundred yards of the breastworks. Its centre and left found themselves impeded in their progress by Stewart's division. Wood's brigade got mixed up with Bates's of that division, and Deshler's was entirely stopped for a time. Wood's brigade disentangled itself, and, advancing again, attempted to cross an open field extending to the Chattanooga road. It received a heavy oblique fire from small arms and artillery which drove it back. It lost five hundred men in killed and wounded within a few minutes. Polk's line had also given way, and the two brigades retreated for a quarter of a mile. Cleburne had succeeded in bringing Deshler to the front by a move by the right flank, but he too failed to make headway against the Union fire, and fell back to the position of the other brigades. Deshler himself was killed by a shell that passed clear through his body.
Upon the repulse of Helm's brigade, General Hill sent to General Walker of the reserve corps for a brigade to fill the opening in his line made by the withdrawal of Helm. His request was misunderstood, and, instead of one brigade, the two divisions of the corps came up accompanied by Lieutenant-General Polk. They were ordered to resume the attack abandoned by Breckinridge, but, to quote from Hill's report, “met with a front and flank fire which threw them in confusion and drove them back precipitately.”
Four divisions of the rebel right were thus used up. The fifth, Cheatham's, was spared and kept in reserve. While Breckinridge and the three brigades of Walker were contending against Baird and his supports, Cleburne and Walker's other brigades made futile efforts in front of Johnson's, Palmer's, and Reynolds's divisions. These, like Baird, acted mainly on the defensive, checking the enemy by a very heavy infantry and artillery fire when ever he tried to rush forward. A rain of bullets, shot, and shell was poured forth incessantly from our breastworks, the front infantry ranks doing the firing and the rear ones the loading. All the rebel reports speak of our fire as more fearful than any they had ever before witnessed. Only General Willich, with his usual impetuosity, sallied forth at the head of one of his regiments, and followed the re treating enemy for a mile, inflicting considerable loss on him. General Thomas himself did not think of striking a counterblow after the rebels' offensive had been repelled and disappeared from his front, for Breckinridge's rear attack had much shaken and confused his command, and, moreover, his supply of ammunition had grown short. But the danger to our left had now fully passed, and the rebels did not disturb it again till near the close of the day.
The struggle there had not wholly ceased when an all but fatal turn took place on our right. General Longstreet relates that he arranged the line of the left wing so that Stewart's division formed his right, followed by Bushrod Johnson's, Hood's, Hindman's, and Preston's divisions as the centre and left. Only three brigades of Hood's having arrived, Kershaw's and Humphrey's brigades of McLaws's division were also placed under his command. The divisions were formed with two brigades in the front and the others behind them in supporting distance. When the action on the Confederate right had been raging for some time, without any apparent progress, Longstreet grew anxious, and sent an aide to General Bragg with an inquiry whether he had not better attack. Before the aide returned, Longstreet learned that the Commander-in-chief had already sent orders direct to his division commanders to advance. Thus all of Longstreet's divisions got in motion except Preston's, which remained in reserve on the extreme left. The rebel left was to achieve the success that had been denied to the right, and the stranger lieutenant-general from Virginia, who had not even yet seen most of the general officers and the troops now placed under his orders, snatched the laurels which the old commanders under Bragg had failed to pluck.
What occurred on our right during the fighting along Thomas's front and up to the time that Longstreet moved to the attack, was as follows: Negley's two remaining brigades were relieved from the front line by Wood's division only at 9:30 A.M. Stanley's brigade was sent quickly to the support of the left, and took an active part in the repulse of Breckinridge. Negley's, with Sirwell's, was stopped on the way to the left by an order from General Thomas to mass artillery on the elevations to the left and rear of Baird's position. Negley did not properly comply with the order, but placed the guns so that they protected the extreme right under Brannan instead of the left.
The rebel pressure on Thomas being apparently very great and steadily increasing, General Rosecrans decided to make dispositions to hold the left at all hazards, and to go even to the length of withdrawing his right wholly behind it. The resolve was a risky one, as it involved the abandonment to the enemy of one of the two lines of communication with Chattanooga, viz., the Crawfish Springs and Chattanooga road. But Rosecrans believed that the whole rebel army was being hurled against Thomas, and did not dream that a mightier force than had assailed his left was about to fall upon his right. By a message dated 10:10 A.M., he notified General McCook of his intention, directing him to prepare at once for a withdrawal of the right, and to be ready to send reinforcements to Thomas at a moment's warning. Twenty minutes later, another order was despatched to McCook requiring him to send two brigades of Sheridan's division immediately, and with all despatch, to support Thomas, and to let the third brigade follow as soon as the lines could be drawn in sufficiently. McCook received the two orders within six minutes of each other, and lost no time in executing them. Lytle's and Walworth's brigades were taken from the extreme right and started for the left at the double quick. After General Wood had moved to occupy Negley's position, and when Davis's division was ordered to the front, Van Cleve's was also moved forward twice by the direction of the General Commanding, for the better support of Wood and Davis. Sheridan's third brigade, under Colonel Laiboldt, was held in reserve to Davis.
General Rosecrans states in his report that one of Thomas's aides, who brought him a request for further help, informed him at the same time that Brannan was out of line and Reynolds's right thereby exposed. The aide was mistaken, as Brannan was really in echelon slightly in the rear of Reynolds's right; but the Commander-in-chief acted without further inquiry on the wrong information, and at once sent an aide on the gallop to General Wood with the following order: “September 20, 10:45 A.M.: The General Commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible and support him.” The order was received at about eleven o'clock by Wood, who was then a short distance in the rear of the centre of his command, and he immediately proceeded to carry it out. General McCook was with him at the time, and must have received his own order to move Sheridan's brigade about the same time, shortly before or after. He says in his report that, simultaneously with the movement of Sheridan and much to his surprise, Wood's division left its position in the line. This naturally suggests the question why McCook did not make an effort to prevent the execution of the General-in-chief's order to Wood if he considered it unwise and dangerous. He did nothing, and that unlucky order, to which the disaster to our army was unquestionably due, was literally obeyed. Brannan's division being between Wood and Reynolds, Wood, in order to close up on and support the latter as ordered, had to pass his command in rear of Brannan. Wood's withdrawal left a wide gap in our line, to fill which General Rosecrans gave no order, supposing that Wood was occupying the vacant space created by the assumed change of Brannan's position. Wood had requested McCook to make Davis close up to the left, and an attempt to do so was made, according to McCook, but could not and did not prevent the impending catastrophe.
Wood was diverted from his intended destination. Riding in advance of his brigade to find General Reynolds, he met General Thomas, after searching vainly for the former, told him of his order, and requested instructions as to how to place his command. The corps commander told him that Reynolds was not in need of support, but that Baird was. Wood then asked whether Thomas would take the responsibility of changing his order, to which the latter replied he would. Wood consented accordingly to go to the support of Baird, and asked for a staff officer to conduct him. He rode back with the aide to meet his command, but, on reaching them, “found,” as he says in his report, “the valley south of them swarming with the enemy.”
Thus it happened that General Longstreet advanced to attack our right when almost the whole of it was in motion for changes of position. There is great divergence in the statements of the official reports on both sides as to the time at which his column struck our line, but it seems correct to say that Stewart's division on his right collided first with Brannan's between eleven and half-past, and the other divisions quickly became engaged successively as they swung from the right as on a pivot to the left, and that before noon all were under fire. Stewart's right brigade under Brown moved forward simultaneously with S. A. M. Wood's brigade of Cleburne's division on its left, followed by Clayton's and Bate's brigades. They pushed on for several hundred yards under a destructive fire, when Wood's brigade broke in confusion and exposed Brown's to an enfilading fire. The latter brigade continued on for a short distance, when its right gave way, but its left and centre, followed by Clayton and Bate, pressed on some hundreds of yards beyond the Chattanooga road, driving the Federals before them. Brown's right had recoiled from Reynolds's front. The other parts of Stewart's command came upon Brannan's division, striking it obliquely, and turning first its left, formed by Council's brigade. After a brief resistance this brigade, as its commander says, “broke in confusion and fled to the rear.” The right brigade under Croxton was taken in flank and rear in consequence, and also driven off. Reynolds, learning that the troops to his right were yielding, sent a regiment to their support, but it also was involved in the flight. Stewart, however, found himself confronted by another force. General T. J. Wood, on discovering the rebels, as related, in the large open field behind him, at once sought to meet the emergency as best he could with the available part of his command. Hastening forward, he found that Colonel Harker, a brigade commander, had already been warned by one of Brannan's staff of what had happened, but felt in doubt whether the approaching troops were foes or friends, as it seemed almost incredible that the enemy should suddenly turn up at that point. Riding forward to determine their character and being fired on, Harker went back and formed an east and west line directly in the way of the advancing rebels. This movement appears to have led Stewart to stop and fall back. He explains: “New batteries being opened by the enemy on our front and flank, heavily supported by infantry, it became necessary to retire the command, re-forming on the ground occupied before the advance.” The division was so crippled that it did not take part in the action again until just before its close.
According to Longstreet's account, Hood's division, followed by Bushrod Johnson's, attacked next to Stewart's; but Johnson claims, and no doubt correctly, that he led, followed by Hood's (under Brigadier-General Law, Hood exercising command over both it and Johnson's). The two divisions formed a broad column three lines deep, thus bringing great weight of numbers to bear. The moving mass hit our most vulnerable point. The direction of its advance led it accidentally to the gap in our line made by the withdrawal of T. J. Wood's division. Passing the unoccupied breastworks of rails and logs, they fell a short distance beyond them upon Wood's rear brigade, under Colonel Buell, as it was moving to the left. Colonel Buell thus narrates what befell him:
We had scarcely moved one brigade front when the shock came like an avalanche. My little brigade seemed to be instantly swept off the field. The greater portion of it was cut off from me and driven to the rear. My staff, who were executing orders at the time, were also cut off. The orderly carrying the headquarters flag was captured. Captain Estes succeeded in getting away in hot haste with the brigade battery to a position four hundred yards to the rear, from which he opened on the enemy, but the latter worked around to it and captured it after killing thirty-five of the horses.
Another of T. J. Wood's batteries was also forced back without a chance to fire, but escaped without being able to rejoin the division.
Having made short work of Buell's men, the attacking column directly caused further havoc. The Federal General Van Cleve, after his two advances towards the front, was finally ordered to the line of battle. His two brigades had moved but a short distance when another order reached them to hurry also to the relief of General Thomas. They were hastening in that direction when Buell's men suddenly rushed over them in their pell-mell flight. Some batteries were also driven at full speed through their ranks, breaking them up and wounding several men seriously. This threw the brigades into great confusion, and before order could be restored the rebels were upon them. Bushrod Johnson's column again worked like a wedge, splitting the brigades in two and scattering one to the left and one to the right. The rebel general gives this graphic description of the scenes that followed:
Our lines now emerged from the forest into open ground on the border of long, open fields, over which the enemy was retreating, under cover of several batteries, which were arranged along the crest of a ridge on our right and front, running up to the corner of a stubble-field, and one battery on our left and front posted on an elevation in the edge of the woods, just at the corner of a field near a peach orchard and southwest of Dyer's house. The scene now presented was unspeakably grand. The resolute and impetuous charge, the rush of our heavy columns sweeping out from the shadow and gloom of the forest into the open fields flooded with sunlight, the glitter of arms, the onward dash of artillery and mounted men, the retreat of the foe, the shouts of the hosts of our army, the dust, the smoke, the noise of firearms — of whistling balls and grape-shot and of bursting shell — made up a battle-scene of unsurpassed grandeur. Here General Hood gave me the last order I received from him on the field — “Go ahead, and keep ahead of everything.” How this order was obeyed will be best determined by those who investigate all the details of this battle.
The unusual depth of our columns of attack in this part of the field, and the force and power with which it was thrown upon the enemy's line, had now completely broken and routed their centre, and cast the shattered fragments to the right and left. Everett's battery was here ordered into action on the right of Johnson's brigade, and opened upon the retreating foe while my line continued to advance.
There was now an interval of about 800 yards between Hindman's division, on my left, and my command. Johnson's brigade, on the left, bore but slightly to the right, its left regiment stretching across the road from Dyer's house to Crawfish [Springs] road and passing on both sides of the house. Gregg's brigade, in the centre, moved a little to the right, so as to flank and capture nine pieces of artillery on its right, posted on the ascent to the eminence in the corner of the field north of Dyer's house. McNair's brigade, now somewhat in rear of the two left brigades, moved obliquely to the right and directly upon this eminence. My line was here uncovered by Hood's division, which must have changed its direction to the right.
At the moment Van Cleve was being overborne, General Crittenden was placing the corps artillery in a commanding position on a hill to the rear with several hundred yards of clear fields in front. Turning from the batteries to the troops, he was astounded to see sudden and unaccountable disorder among them. He says: “There was but little firing at this moment near the troops, and I was unable to account for the confusion. In a moment, however, the enemy had driven all before them, and I was cut off from my command, though not one hundred yards in rear and in full view, and also cut off from our army. Returning to the batteries, I found them without the support of a single company of infantry.” All the support that came a little later were from sixty to seventy men, the small remainder of Van Cleve's command brought up by that unfortunate commander himself. Troops were seen advancing over the open ground before the artillery. Our guns held their fire at first, as there was doubt whether they were foes or friends, but opened vigorously upon them when, on coming nearer, the rebel uniforms and flags were recognized. General Crittenden rode off to find additional help. He had hardly left when the batteries were obliged to fly precipitately. The enemy had come close up to them; his severe fire killed many of the horses, and only fifteen of the twenty-six guns got away. General Van Cleve did not succeed in getting more of his men together, but the greater portion of three of his regiments which had been driven to the right soon rallied, and did more or less fighting in the afternoon under other commanders.
All this mischief was done by the right of Hood's column. Its left and Hindman's division wrought still greater havoc. By the marching off of T. J. Wood's and Sheridan's brigades, Davis's division had become an isolated outpost, as it were, in its position a few hundred yards to the west of the Chattanooga road behind rude breastworks — a weak outpost, too, for the losses of the previous day had reduced his force to a little over twelve hundred effectives. Ordered by his corps commander to fill the gap left by Wood, he was just moving his left brigade for that purpose when he found himself enveloped on the front and flanks by the enemy. His men fired a few rounds, but, after a short resistance, were utterly overcome. He called on his support, Laiboldt's brigade of Sheridan's division, for help, but it too was overwhelmed before it could be brought into line. Indeed, Davis's own men fleeing through its ranks made it helpless. In very little time the three brigades were swept away in complete rout. Repeated attempts were made to rally them, but they could not be brought to a stand before they were far out of harm's way.
Sheridan's brigades succumbed to the same assailants, but only after more resistance. The brigades were moving at the double-quick to the left when Davis received the shock, and orders reached Sheridan from McCook to halt and form his command for action. Directly the enemy was upon him, his men being shot down while forming. The odds against him were too great, and he was forced back some hundreds of yards, when his men rallied and drove the rebels back to Laiboldt's position before the attack. They even captured rebel colors and a number of prisoners. But they came upon the strong rebel reserves, and were forced back in turn beyond their starting-point. Sheridan's struggle was altogether with the division of Hindman, who claims to have captured in this attack eleven hundred prisoners (including three colonels), seventeen pieces of artillery, and six flags. General Lytle, one of Sheridan's brigade commanders, lost his life in the contest.
These rebel successes were achieved in less than an hour, by noon, and with relatively little loss in killed and wounded. General Hood, however, had his hip shattered by a bullet, and was supposed to be mortally wounded, but recovered with the loss of a leg. Bushrod Johnson assumed command in his place. Our eight overwhelmed brigades — one of T. J. Wood's, two of Van Cleve's, two of Davis's, and three of Sheridan's, almost the equivalent of two divisions were not only swept off the field, but carried in such a direction and to such a distance as to withdraw them entirely from the struggle. They were forced both off the Lafayette and Chattanooga road which formed the means of communication between them and our left, and out of the valley of the Chickamauga into the valley of the Chattanooga, so that Missionary Ridge became a barrier between them and the remainder of the army. Buell's, Van Cleve's, and Davis's men got all mixed up, and made off in confused swarms. Sheridan, after being pushed back, re-formed his brigades on a ridge overlooking the scene of his fight; but, when he ascertained that all our troops to his left had disappeared, and that the enemy was between him and General Thomas, he determined to make an attempt to recover connection with the latter by marching his command on the arc of a circle over the hills of the so-called Dry Valley road, and by it to the Crawfish Springs road, and thence over Missionary Ridge to our lines. He was obliged to disencumber himself of twenty-four guns and forty-six caissons which he had found abandoned by other organizations and scattered promiscuously over the ground.
Colonel Wilder, with his brigade of mounted infantry, which had been guarding our right flank while moving to the left in the wake of Sheridan, struck the extreme left of the column assailing the latter, and succeeded in checking and driving it back, capturing two guns. He remained on the ground, and had another successful encounter with the enemy in the course of the afternoon. He took position on the outrunners of Missionary Ridge and held it till 4 P.M., although he was repeatedly advised by superior officers to fall back to the passes of Lookout Mountain. He then retreated unmolested to the Chattanooga Valley, bringing off with him a large number of stragglers, many ammunition wagons, caissons, ambulances, and stray beef cattle. The record of the brigade is worth mentioning as that of almost the only unit of our army fighting by itself and coming off successfully.
The impetus of victory had carried the rebels in the wake of the fugitive Federals up and down and again up the group of hills intervening between the Lafayette and Chattanooga and the Crawfish Springs and Chattanooga roads. They gathered up many spoils on the way — guns, caissons, small arms, piles of knapsacks and tents. With Bushrod Johnson's division still in the lead, they reached the crest commanding the gap through which the last-mentioned road passes into the valley of Chattanooga Creek, and in which they discovered some of our retreating trains. They managed to send some shot and shell among the wagons, producing a panic among the drivers, who abandoned their charge to save themselves. Some more guns moving with the trains also fell into their hands. By thus pushing vigorously after our shattered troops, Johnson made it impossible to rally any of Davis's men before they reached McFarland's Gap and Farm on the Crawfish Springs road, between two and three miles from Rossville. He also prevented Sheridan from rejoining Thomas, as he had planned, and compelled him to march nearly five miles down to Rossville, whence he marched south for four miles over the Lafayette road, but did not reach the front again. Davis succeeded in collecting at McFarland' between twenty-five hundred and three thousand of his own command and of Wood's and Van Cleve's men, whom he led back late in the afternoon by the crossroad towards the battle-front. On arriving near it, he was ordered to fall back to Rossville.
The dispersal of our right had another momentous con sequence. The Commander-in-chief found himself suddenly isolated from every part of the army. He describes his misfortune as follows:
At the moment of the repulse of Davis's division, I was standing in rear of his right, waiting the completion of the closing of McCook's corps to the left. Seeing confusion among Van Cleve's troops, and the distance Davis's men were falling back, and the tide of battle surging towards us, the urgency for Sheridan's troops to intervene became imminent, and I hastened in person to the extreme right to direct Sheridan's movement on the flank of the advancing enemy. It was too late. The crowd of returning troops rolled back and the enemy advanced. Giving the troops directions to rally behind the ridge west of the Dry Valley road, I passed down it, accompanied by General Garfield, Major McMichael, Major Bond and Captain Young of my staff and a few of my escort under a shower of grape, canister and musketry for two or three hundred yards, and attempted to rejoin General Thomas and the troops sent to his support by passing to the rear of the broken portion of our lines, but found the routed troops far towards the left, and, hearing the enemy's advancing musketry and cheers, I became doubtful whether the left had held its ground, and started for Rossville.
In other words, the Commanding General, without an attempt to ascertain the real condition of the left, as in duty and in honor bound, himself magnified the doubt he felt regarding it into the assumption that total defeat had already overtaken the army, and, giving up all thought of further resistance, rode off with a squad of followers, leaving his command to its fate. He put, as we shall see, not only the four miles to Rossville, but the eight to Chattanooga, between himself and his soldiers. This act cost him the loss of his command and irretrievably blotted his record.
General Crittenden became a like victim of the disaster. He tried to find support for his corps batteries, and, when they had been driven off, remained with a small force of about one hundred men on an adjacent hill. After vainly waiting for some time for tidings, the fear seized him that Generals Rosecrans, McCook, Sheridan, and Davis had all fallen into the hands of the enemy. No other course seemed to be open to him than to leave the field and to find his way if possible to Rossville. He does not claim to have been cut off from Thomas, but he no doubt was. Riding over the hills, he reached the Rossville road, which he found filled all the way with soldiers, cannon, caissons, and trains. Before reaching Rossville, he learned that General Rosecrans had not been captured, but had gone to Chattanooga, and he determined to follow him there. He should at least have tried, like Davis and Sheridan, to return to the front when he heard, as he did, that Thomas was still fighting. It is true that he was left entirely without command by the orders of Rosecrans transferring Palmer's division on the first day, and Wood's and Van Cleve's on the second, to Thomas, and therefore he cannot be accused of deserting his command; still, he was riding away from instead of towards his divisions. For this he had to atone grievously.
General McCook was a third victim. He met Davis, while he was being driven back, and exerted himself to rally his troops, but without avail. He followed the division commander, and instructed him regarding his further retreat, and then set out to find General Rosecrans, but failed to discover him. He got the impression that our left was also beaten, and, learning from one of General Crittenden's staff that the latter had gone to Chattanooga, he decided to go there also. Had he remained with Davis to the last, he would have had opportunity, in the course of the afternoon, to fall in again with Sheridan's division and resume command over it. It was a strange fatality, indeed, that thus led the General-in-chief and two of the three corps commanders separately back to Chattanooga, as if fugitives from the battle-field, accompanied by mere squads of followers. All three were in ignorance of each other's fate when they turned their backs upon the scene of the struggle. All three believed that the whole army was utterly beaten and shattered, and the bulk of it destroyed or captured. It is easy to imagine the deep distress of mind which must have harassed them on that unlucky ride.
General Thomas was as ignorant of what had befallen his superior and his fellow corps commanders and their troops as they were of his condition at the time of and after the rout of the right. But he was made to feel the effect of it by the sudden threatening of his right rear before Breckinridge's brigades had been fully beaten back from his left rear. He states in his report that, hearing heavy firing to his right and rear at about 2 P.M. — he must have been mistaken in the hour, or it is misprinted in the Official Records, as a score of witnesses testify that the crisis occurred much earlier — he rode in that direction to ascertain the cause. On the way he met one of his staff, whom he had sent to hurry up Sheridan's brigades, who reported that, in attempting to reach them, he had met a large force moving with a line of skirmishers in front who fired on him and compelled him to return. The aide had also encountered Brigade-Commander Harker when the latter was yet uncertain whether the body in sight was a hostile or a friendly one. Thomas thereupon at once sought Harker to instruct him to fire on the approaching line if he was fired on, and was not long in verifying the portentous discovery that the enemy had gained his right rear, and was already behind Reynolds. The duty now devolved upon him to direct during the afternoon as determined a resistance to the rebel efforts to overcome his right as he had offered in the forenoon on the left. While his failure to hear anything from the Commander-in-chief and from the rest of the army made him apprehend that something serious had occurred beyond his right, hours elapsed before he clearly understood that he was fighting alone for the honor and safety of the army.
Bushrod Johnson's leading column had moved forward all but due west so fast that the division behind it under Law lost sight of it and became diverted in a northwesterly direction. This led it obliquely towards Harker's brigade and part of Buell's, the remnant of the division of General T. J. Wood to which he had returned after discovering the enemy behind him. As the advancing rebels threatened his right flank, Wood retired his command to a narrow and short spur shooting out nearly due east and west at right angles from the main Missionary Ridge. The ridge fell off abruptly to the south, thus forming a strong and commanding position. When Brannan's two brigades were driven off in confusion by Stewart's division, he managed to rally a small number of his men about half a mile to the west on the hills from which the ridge occupied by Wood's troops extended. He and his staff and other officers succeeded also, by strenuous efforts, in gathering up and getting into line some hundreds of stragglers from various organizations. Wood effected connection by his right with Brannan's left, which was barely done when the Confederates delivered the first of the vehement onslaughts upon them which they attempted one after an other in the course of the afternoon.
The heights constituting the southern outrunners of Missionary Ridge were the scene of the new conflict. They extend from a short distance west of the Lafayette road for about a mile to the Crawfish Springs road. They rise to a height of one hundred feet, and have a gentle, but irregular and spurring slope to the south and east, and were then covered with open woods. Their southeastern parts were within the boundaries of a farm belonging to one Snodgrass, and hence locally known as “Snodgrass Hill,” as which it appears in the records of both sides. The struggle now ensuing was for the possession of it, from which the enemy would have commanded the rear of Thomas's line as well as the Lafayette road, the only line of retreat left to us. The lines of Wood and Brannan on these elevations formed a curve having almost the shape of a horseshoe, which gave our troops an enfilading and plunging fire upon the assailing enemy.
The chance-medley of troops hardly aggregated one thousand officers and men, an entirely inadequate number for the defence of the “horseshoe”; but they were gradually succored, after the beginning of the desperate wrestle, by the second brigade and one regiment of the third brigade of Negley's division, and also by Brannan's third brigade under Colonel Van Derveer, who, after taking a decisive part in repelling Breckinridge's division, had been led by the rising roar of battle on Snodgrass Hill to march of his own accord to the relief of his division commander. But even these reinforcements increased the defenders by only about fifteen hundred, and would have left their total less than one-fifth of the number Longstreet could bring against them. These overwhelming odds would doubtless have overpowered them in one of the early rebel onsets, had not, luckily, further aid come in time by the appearance upon the scene of General Granger, with the greater part of the reserve corps. Granger had been charged with guarding the lower crossings of the Chickamauga and the road from Ringgold to Chattanooga. He had heard the heavy firing in the direction of the army from 10:30 A.M., and, after listening to its swelling intensity for some time with growing anxiety, he determined to hurry to the front as quickly as possible without waiting for a call. In this, as General Rosecrans well says of him, he followed “the instinct of a true soldier.” Leaving Colonel McCook's brigade to watch the Ringgold road, he started with General Whitaker's and Colonel Mitchell's brigades, and two additional regiments under the direct command of Major-General Steedman, soon after eleven o'clock. The force represented a total of thirty-seven hundred officers and men. After marching about two miles, he was suddenly fired upon by rebel skirmishers and a section of artillery. It was part of Forrest's cavalry which was guarding the rebel right. Granger stopped long enough to brush them aside, but moved on, after satisfying himself that they were only a small body and ordering up McCook's brigade to keep the Lafayette road open between that point and the front. He reported to General Thomas for orders at 1:30 P.M. (according to Steedman), and naturally received a most grateful welcome. He was directed to go into position on the right of Brannan, which he did with alacrity. As we shall see, he was in the nick of time to prevent an attempt of the enemy to attack the “horseshoe” on the right flank and rear.
General Negley performed a different part at this stage of the battle, which subjected him to much and severe animadversion. He was charged with nothing less than marching off his command from the battle-field shortly after noon without orders. It appears that while he was moving in the forenoon to the relief of Baird's division, General Thomas had ordered him to concentrate all the artillery that could be spared from the line, with strong infantry supports, on a point of Missionary Ridge commanding the ground to the left and rear of Baird. Misunderstanding this order, he had occupied a hill some distance to the north of Snodgrass Hill, and nearly in the rear of Reynolds, with three batteries and Sirwell's brigade, which rendered effective service in checking Breckinridge's movement to our rear. Upon the rout of the right, swarms of runaways came up the ravines and over the ridge to his position, and several batteries from the broken divisions joined those already there. Negley and a number of other officers exerted themselves to rally the retreating troops for the protection of the artillery, but, as a staff officer describes it: “As soon as the detachments formed of them and brought to the front heard the sound of the enemy's muskets, they disappeared like smoke. All these scattered troops were soon gone.” Finding it impossible to stop the fleeing troops, and unable to communicate with General Thomas, Negley deemed it his duty to secure the safety of the artillery, which was threatened with immediate capture by a large force of the enemy, and, accordingly, marched off with the guns and infantry to McFarland's Gap within two miles of Rossville. His retreat led to direct imputations of misconduct on his part by Generals Brannan and Wood in their official reports.
Meanwhile, on the rebel left, after the brushing away of our right and before the assaults on the “horseshoe,” Bushrod Johnson, who had occupied the elevation commanding the defile of the Crawfish Springs and Chattanooga roads and captured our trains, found himself separated from the other Confederate troops both on the right and left, and far in advance of them. He observed, too, the gathering of Federal batteries on Snodgrass Hill, which dominated his position, and therefore decided to halt until he was reinforced. He sent one of his staff to General Longstreet to report his situation, and to ask for infantry and artillery, and at the same time also despatched aides in other directions for help. None appearing for some time, he galloped off himself in search of assistance. After riding some distance to the right and rear, he came upon General Hindman, escorted by his staff officers. They first had to settle the question of rank between them, Johnson having learned only just before their meeting of the disablement of General Hood. Hindman was recognized as the superior in rank by virtue of his seniority, and ordered at once Anderson's and Deas's brigades to the support of Johnson, who then returned to his command.
Pending the arrival of the expected reinforcements, Johnson ordered one of his batteries to open fire upon the rear of the Federal position on the “horseshoe,” which was about six hundred yards to his right. Having vainly waited for some time for the promised brigades, he grew restive and resolved to advance without them. He formed his line facing to the north and almost perpendicular to the Lafayette road, with Johnson's brigade on the left and Gregg's on the right. He was just getting in motion when Deas's and Anderson's brigades reported, followed by the third brigade of Hindman's division under Manigault. This and Deas's were brought into position on the left and Anderson on the right of Johnson, under whose immediate orders all the five brigades fought, although Hindman exercised superior command over them and Kershaw's and Humphrey's brigades, which were brought into connection with the line of attack on the right of Anderson. McNair's brigade, which had got astray, was also brought up in time in the rear of Johnson.
It being reported to Hindman that a force was trying to work around his left, he erroneously assumed that they were the same troops who were driven off by him and Johnson (indeed, neither he nor any other rebel general knew the extent of the havoc they had inflicted), but had been rallied and brought back to the field. Apprehensive of an attack in the rear, he sent to Generals Longstreet and Buckner for help, and, at the same time, ordered a vigorous general attack. The brigades of the centre and left were to wheel to the right until faced east, and then to advance against the enemy's flank. Anderson and Kershaw, as the pivot, were to stand still till the firing commenced to their left, and then also to advance. Hindman felt confident that this movement would drive the remnants of the Federal army upon the rebel right, thereby insuring their capture or destruction. According to him, it did not commence till 3:30 P.M., but in other reports an earlier hour is mentioned. His appeal and Bushrod Johnson's previous one for assistance failed to bring it. General Longstreet, who did not deem it safe to weaken any part of his line, nor prudent to draw so early on his reserve (Preston's division) for that purpose, applied to General Bragg for troops from the right wing. He was answered that the latter had been beaten back so badly that they could be of no service to him, from which the commander of the left deduced that the discomfiture of the rebel right had been just as great as that of the Federal right, and that the fate of the day was depending on him and his command.
Bushrod Johnson's wheeling movement commenced under the protection of artillery fire upon the “horseshoe,” and brought the rebel line within range of our musketry within a few minutes. It advanced determinedly up the slope, firing volley after volley, towards the crest for the defence of which Steedman's division had just hurriedly formed. Steedman boldly delivered a counter-attack upon the approaching enemy. Gallantly seizing a regimental flag, he led his men forward. With defiant shouts they rushed upon the foe, and, after a desperate conflict of twenty minutes, drove him back in confusion and gained a good advanced position. Johnson admits in his report that Deas's and Anderson's brigades and all but two regiments of Manigault's suffered so severely that they did not again participate in the action. He says further that the retreat of his whole line was precipitate, and that it required all the exertions he could make, joined to the “appeals, commands, and physical efforts” of the officers, to prevent the abandonment of the hill from which his troops had started, and of the artillery firing from it. He claims that these batteries checked our attack. The slaughter on both sides was terrible, especially among officers. The feat of Steedman's men was the more creditable as most of them had never been under fire before.
Kershaw's brigade, forming with Anderson's the pivot of the wheel, also came to the attack on the right simultaneously with Johnson's. They had been previously engaged and gained some ground, but found themselves compelled to fall back. Advancing again, they soon became exposed by the repulse of Anderson's brigade on their left. Kershaw claims that he not only stopped the Federals, but drove them with three of his regiments and the Anderson reserve regiments “pell-mell,” and that he “followed them to the top of the hill, the Second South Carolina reaching even the crest.” But he adds that the commander of the last-mentioned regiment, finding that the troops on his left had fallen back to their former position, was reluctantly obliged to retreat also. Longstreet refers to this part of the action as follows: “Kershaw made a most handsome attack upon the heights at the Snodgrass house, simultaneously with Johnson and Hindman, but was not strong enough for the work.”
The rebel attempts to capture the “horseshoe” were directed both against the left and the front of it, and were repelled from the latter only by the firm resistance of Wood's and Brannan's commands. These did not attack in return, but confined themselves strictly to the defensive. Anderson's brigade recoiled from them in a shattered condition, and they foiled Kershaw's onset, which the defenders describe as extremely determined. But our men fought from the shelter afforded by the rampart-like crest, overwhelming the advancing enemy by their continuous volleys.
General Thomas had established his headquarters at the Snodgrass house, from which he directed the course of the action during the remainder of the afternoon. He was made very anxious before the arrival of General Granger, on account of the short ammunition of his men, as, by somebody's unauthorized orders — the name of the guilty party is not mentioned in the reports — the ammunition-trains had been ordered back. There were not more than two or three rounds to the man left when a partial supply was obtained from the train following Steedman's division, giving an average of ten rounds per head. At half-past three Thomas received, for the first time, authentic intelligence of the full extent and consequences of the disaster to our right — four hours after it had happened! — by the arrival of General Garfield, accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Thurston, General McCook's assistant adjutant-general, and two of his own staff.
The chief of staff and his companions had made their way back to the front, following roads part of the way, but cutting right through the woods over Missionary Ridge the greater part, urging their animals to the utmost speed, with the sounds of battle for their guidance. Once they rode right upon a party of the enemy, who fired upon them, and they narrowly escaped death or capture. General Garfield had followed the Commander-in-chief as far as Rossville. During the ride to that point past the retreating soldiery, artillery, and trains of every sort, grave and quickly growing doubts rose in his mind and pricked his conscience (I heard the story from his own lips in Chattanooga, within a fortnight after the battle) regarding the official and personal propriety of his chief's and his own conduct in turning their backs upon the battle-field, and going a long distance from it without any knowledge of the fate of the greater portion of the army, and without any earnest effort to ascertain it. He expressed this feeling to his superior, with the suggestion that they proceed no further than Rossville and try to learn something definite about Thomas, and he offered to go himself in search of reliable information. General Rosecrans at first objected to both recommendations, but finally yielded to the chief of staff's urgent plea for permission to set out in quest of Thomas. Garfield's success in reaching the front proved that communication with Thomas was possible. As General Wood expresses it pointedly in his report: “He showed thereby that the road was open to all who might choose to follow it where duty called.” But still stronger proof lay in the fact that the two aides of Thomas, who came with Garfield, led back with them one of the missing ammunition-trains which they had overtaken far to the rear. Garfield's ride has been commemorated perhaps more than it deserved in both prose and poetry.
His tale of Rosecrans's escape and the sorry plight of the rest of the army was hardly apt to inspire General Thomas with greater confidence in his ability to save the fortunes of the day. But that stern character was not daunted by it, and resolved to hold his ground to the last. Shortly after Garfield's appearance, instructions from General Rose crans, dated Chattanooga, 4:15 P.M., reached Thomas over the field telegraph (thus demonstrating how easy it really was to communicate with the front), instructing him “to assume command of all the forces, and with Crittenden and McCook take a strong position and assume a threatening attitude at Rossville. Send all the unorganized force to this place for reorganization.” This was virtually an order to leave the field to the enemy and retreat. Neither General Thomas nor the chief of staff thought such a course necessary. The latter, in his first report of Thomas's condition to Roseerans, dated 3:45 P.M., indicated this and even said: “I think we may in the main retrieve our morning disaster.” But the order was not modified, and so Thomas had to obey it. He determined, however, to hold the position until nightfall. The fresh supply of ammunition was distributed as quickly as possible. Our line was strengthened by moving in Hazen's brigade, which was the only one left with full cartridge-boxes, from Palmer's front between Reynolds's right and Wood's left. The expectation that the enemy would renew his attacks was fulfilled directly.
General Longstreet had kept his reserve division under Preston inactive notwithstanding the repeated requests from his sub-commanders for assistance. But, upon the failure of the general assault upon the Federal position, he decided to respond to a further pressing demand from Hindman. Indeed, having satisfied himself by personal observation that to gain the Snodgrass heights would make him complete master of the field, he resolved upon a supreme effort to take them, and sent orders to General Buckner to move Preston to the attack. The latter first led Gracie's and Kelly's brigades forward, his third one under Trigg being kept back to meet an apprehended cavalry attack against the left and rear. In support of the advance, Buckner ordered the reserve artillery of his corps to a commanding position, from which the eleven pieces opened a heavy, continuous fire upon the hills. Preston's men passed through the discomfited lines of Anderson and Kershaw. The two brigades were to form beyond them for a joint attack, but Gracie in the lead followed directions from Kershaw to push on, and directly received a withering musketry fire from the “horseshoe.” Still, he moved on to the base of the hills and then made a rush up the nearest spur. The Second Alabama actually gained the height. There the brigade was checked by our infantry fire, suffering terrible losses. The Second Alabama went in with 239 officers and men and lost 169. Its flag was pierced eighty-three times. Gracie contended against Granger's command. Kelly's brigade followed in about ten minutes, and, bearing more to the right, attacked Brannan and Wood. He became at once as hotly engaged as Gracie, and also gained a lodgment on the outrunners of the hills. But both he and Gracie found themselves so severely pressed that they sent word to the division commander that they could not maintain themselves with out reinforcements. Trigg's brigade was thereupon hurried up, one of its regiments going to the support of Gracie and the remainder making a fresh attack to the left of Kelly. At the same time, by order of General Longstreet, Stewart's division resumed action after hours of passivity, and advanced to the right of Kelly.
As Longstreet himself admits that Preston's attack was not a success, the claim of all the commanders of the defenders of the “horseshoe” that they maintained their position even against these last rebel onsets, deserves credit. The truth was, doubtless, that the enemy won some elevated ground held by our skirmishers in front and on the flanks, but did not actually penetrate our main line. But our leaders agree that the onslaughts upon them were made with extraordinary energy and bravery. General Wood states that the attack last referred to brought on the most terrific musketry duel, the fierce, continued roar of which inspired a sentiment of grandeur in which the awful and sublime were intermingled. Our front line advanced to the crest of the ridge, anc delivered their fire by volleys at the command, and then retired a few paces to reload, while the rear line took its turn in firing, thus keeping up a rain of missiles upon the enemy. Colonel Harker says that he never before witnessed so grand an example of effective musketry. General Granger speaks of our line being continually enveloped in smoke and fire. His men, in the end, got out of ammunition and had only their bayonets with which to repel the foe. Our troops were encouraged and cheered by the presence of Generals Thomas and Garfield under fire. The latter remained till the close of the action with Harker's brigade, his own former command, sustaining the spirits of rank and file by animating words and acts.
Before five o'clock, General Thomas notified the division commanders through a staff officer to prepare to withdraw their commands from the field as soon as they received formal orders to that effect. These preparations meant the drawing in of the picket lines and their reserves, and could be carried out on our left only where the enemy had abstained from offensive movements since the forenoon. Not long before, General Bragg had concluded to second indirectly the final effort of Longstreet by a new general attack with his left, and sent orders to General Polk to press forward at once with his whole line. There was considerable delay in distributing corresponding orders to the corps and division commanders under Polk, and it was near dusk before they were carried out. The line of attack was formed with Liddell's division on the right, and next Gist's, Breckinridge's, Cleburne's, and Cheatham's respectively. It so happened that, in the meantime, further orders to begin the withdrawal had been sent to the division commanders Reynolds, Palmer, Johnson and Baird, and their execution was just commencing when Polk's columns advanced. Reynolds withdrew first, and General Thomas left Wood's rear to direct Reynolds to a proper position to cover the retirement of the other troops from the left. On the way he received warning that a rebel column was advancing perpendicularly upon Reynolds, and reached the latter in time to prevent his surprise and the loss of the line of retreat. Turchin's brigade threw itself upon the approaching rebels, and routed and drove them beyond Baird's left, with the loss of over two hundred prisoners. It was Liddell's division that received this staggering blow. Reynolds's division was then so posted to the east of the Chattanooga road as to form a curtain, as it were, behind which the retirement might be effected, it was hoped, without molestation; but it turned out otherwise.
Palmer was to move away first, Johnson next, and Baird last. The rebel attack struck them, however, before they could get out of reach. As in the morning, Baird was involved first and worst. He describes the onset as more violent than that of the morning. Three batteries opened upon him, while the rebel infantry pushed on towards him. He held fast to his position for a time, as it seemed to him safer to remain than to fall back with the enemy upon him; then, seeing the troops of Palmer and Johnson moving off, he attempted to follow suit. But he was pressed so closely that many of his men were struck down, while a large portion of the remainder became disordered, and saved themselves in separate squads, or, in the confusion, ran into the enemy's lines. Johnson asserts that he was appealed to personally by Baird, and that he sent Willich to his support, and that the latter's brigade charged the enemy “and drove them back with terrible slaughter.” Strange to say, Baird makes no mention whatever of this alleged incident. Johnson further relates that, as his front was already attacked when he received the order to withdraw, he sent a staff officer to tell General Thomas that he supposed the general was under the impression, when he gave the order, that all was quiet on his front, whereas he was so fearfully assailed that a retreat might prove disastrous. Before the staff officer's return, however, the withdrawal of Palmer, followed by a hostile body, exposed Johnson's flank so that he felt obliged to retire also, barely saving his command from complete destruction. He gives credit to his reserve brigade under Willich for having saved the troops from annihilation and capture by being able to “engage the enemy in four different directions,” but makes the disgraceful confession that he neglected to send an order to withdraw to the gallant brigadier, who, however, took good care of himself and others.
Palmer also suffered in his retreat. He supposed that he was to retire only some distance to another position in the rear of the centre and there to re-form for further resistance. His men had moved but a few hundred yards when the rebels rushed over the abandoned breastworks, and, in a few moments, opened upon them with artillery from right and left and small arms from the rear. It was almost impossible under such severe fire to preserve the formations. Grose's brigade became disordered, but the remainder got off in better shape, and the loss of the division was not great. Palmer halted and formed his command beyond range so as to constitute a rallying-point for the large crowds of stragglers which came up with him. His order did not direct him to what point to fall back, but, after waiting until night had set in, he started of his own accord for Rossville.
It was Stewart's division which, in advancing, had come upon and passed over the breastworks abandoned by Reynolds and then chased Palmer and made captures from him. His men joined the divisions of the Confederate right in making hill and dale ring with the frantic yells of joy over the apparent ease with which they had now carried the position against which they had vainly butted with heavy loss in the morning. The rebels did not discover, indeed, that Thomas was in retreat, but all thought that they had driven him off to another position. As dusk had set in, and the different parts of Polk's command had become much mixed up in pressing after our troops, and there was danger of their mistaking each other for enemies after dark, they were brought to a halt all along their line.
The rebel offensive in front of Brannan, Wood, and Granger by the command of Hindman and Buckner also ceased as the shades of evening descended upon the field. But the defenders of the “horseshoe” were made to hold their position until after the left had been withdrawn. Thomas sent orders to retire to the three generals simultaneously, but they do not agree as to the time at which they did so. Brannan says he withdrew “soon after sun set,” while both Wood and Granger give seven o'clock as the hour when they received the order. Fortunately, moonlight facilitated the retreat towards Rossville. It was effected by Brannan and Wood without disturbance from the enemy, but Granger fared worse. By a most censurable negligence, three regiments of Whitaker's brigade did not receive notice to withdraw, and found themselves suddenly enveloped by the two rebel brigades of Trigg and Kelly, and were compelled to surrender almost bodily with all their field officers and flags.
Our several columns reached the vicinity of Rossville before ten o'clock, with the exception of Generals Reynolds and Willich, whom General Thomas had directed to protect the rear with their commands, and who remained in position in the field till the last of the other bodies had passed, and did not get into bivouac before midnight. General Thomas, accompanied by Generals Garfield and Granger, had ridden in advance (in compliance with the Commander-in-chief's order to assume a “threatening attitude”), to select as good a position commanding the approaches to the town as could be found in the night and in the early morning. This the troops occupied as they arrived.
The enemy remained in entire ignorance of our retreat during the night. None of the rebel commanders was aware, indeed, of the extent of their success before the next day. General Bragg telegraphed cautiously in the evening to Richmond that, “after two days' hard fighting, we have driven the enemy, after a desperate resistance, from several positions and now hold the field, but he still confronts us. The losses are heavy on both sides, especially in our officers. We have taken over twenty pieces of artillery and some 2500 prisoners.” The secession Governor Isham G. Harris, one of the bitterest rebels (he died in 1897, a United States Senator), who was with Bragg, wired at the same time to a newspaper: “After two days' fighting, we succeeded in driving the enemy from his positions. The engagement not yet decisive.” General Bragg was even led to believe, from alleged indications of movements in his front, that his foes were making dispositions for a renewal of the conflict in the morning. He was not at all anxious for this, “with his troops exhausted,” to quote from his report, “by two days' battle, and with very limited supplies of provisions and almost destitute of water”; and the news of our disappearance must have been most welcome to him. He heard it first, while riding early in the morning towards Polk's headquarters, from General Liddell, whose pickets had discovered at dawn and reported that there were no signs of the Federals. He immediately gave orders to send out skirmishers along the whole line and move all the cavalry to the front. The rebel left still believed in the presence of our army when Bragg's aides reached it with these orders. The reconnoitring of the cavalry soon brought confirmation of the contrary. It was only then that Bragg dared to claim a “complete victory” in a second despatch to the rebel War Department. But he felt too weak for immediate pursuit. Having an aggregate loss of nearly fifty per cent. of his effective strength, including a very large percentage of officers, and considering the disorganization of the remainder, he felt that it would be reckless and disastrous to follow the enemy immediately and attack him in the entrenchments at Chattanooga, to which he supposed we had at once fallen back. His judgment was doubtless correct. His army certainly needed at least a short respite for rest and reorganization and replenishment of supplies. But his decision to remain quiet was, as will be seen, the beginning, so to speak, of his downfall.
General Rosecrans continued his mournful ride from Rossville to Chattanooga in gloomiest despondency, as I learned afterwards from his companions, for he was still under the impression that the whole army had been overwhelmed. He reached the town about 4 P.M., and established his headquarters in the building occupied by General Wagner, the post commander. Within half an hour of his arrival, both General McCook and General Crittenden rode into the place separately and reported to the Commander-in-chief for orders. McCook, accompanied by General Morton, Chief-Engineer, and three aides-de-camp, had been conducted by a guide over by-roads without meeting any of our troops until he struck the main road within less than two miles of Chattanooga. Here he met a force under command of General Spears on its way to Rossville by order of General Rosecrans to render what assistance it could to the army. The whereabouts of the Commanding General in town being thus ascertained, McCook galloped on. Crittenden had stopped a short time at Rossville to make inquiries regarding his command and General Rosecrans. He failed to get any reliable information regarding the former, but, learning from some staff officers of Rosecrans's presence in Chattanooga, he pushed on as fast as possible.
The two corps commanders had not been long with the General-in-chief when the first report from General Garfield was received. It was the first intelligence that had reached General Rosecrans that Thomas had not succumbed, but was still holding the enemy at bay. The chief of staff said in the same message: “Granger thinks we can defeat them badly to-morrow if all our forces come in. I think you had better come to Rossville to-night" Notwithstanding this appeal, General Rosecrans not only did not himself act on this suggestion to return to the front, but remained in Chattanooga, and did not even send Generals McCook and Crittenden back. He told them to get some rest, which they both did.
Immediately after hearing from General Garfield, the Commanding General sent the first telegraphic report of the day's events to Washington. He wired: “We have met with a serious disaster. Extent not yet ascertained. Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our centre and scattered troops there. Thomas, who had seven divisions, remained intact at last news.” This was a sorry sequel to his report of the first day's battle, which had closed with these words: “By the blessing of Providence, the defeat of the enemy will be total to-morrow.” Far worse tidings had already reached the national authorities in the frantic, terror-stricken messages to the Secretary of War of Charles A. Dana, whom Mr. Stanton had chosen as one of his assistants, in reward really for the “vigorous editorial championship” of the Secretary after Dana had quarrelled with Horace Greeley and resigned as managing editor of the Tribune. Dana was sent on a roving mission to visit the different armies in the West, and report confidentially to the Secretary upon their condition, as well as his own opinions of their commanders and the leading generals under them. His part was something like that of the committees which the Convention in the first French Revolution kept at the headquarters of the armies in the field. He had joined Rosecrans on the 11th of September, and was with him in the battle, but became separated from him on the 20th, when the rebels broke our right. He fled back to Chattanooga, reaching there earlier than Rosecrans, and telegraphed at once under the impression of the rout of McCook's and Crittenden's troops, and without any knowledge of Thomas's successful resistance in the afternoon, and on the assumption that the whole army was defeated when he left the field. His report commenced, “My report to-day is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a name as Bull Run,” and contained these passages: “Our troops turned and fled. It was wholesale panic. Vain were all attempts to rally them.” “Our wounded are all left behind, some 6000 in number. We have lost heavily in killed to-day. The total of our killed, wounded, and prisoners can hardly be less than 20,000, and may be much more.” “Enemy not yet arrived before Chattanooga.” The official reporter of the War Department went to sleep directly after this performance and did not learn of Garfield's report until 8 P.M., when he was obliged, in a second despatch, to modify the alarming fictions born of his fright, as follows: “My report proves to have given too dark a picture. Having been myself swept bodily off the battle-field by the panic-stricken rabble of Davis's and Sheridan's divisions, my own impressions were naturally colored by the aspect of that of the field.” What a confession! Then he gives a pretty correct account of the course of the action, but adds: “The latest report from Thomas is that he was driving back the enemy.” He also overestimated the strength of the enemy at 70,000.
At 8:40 P.M., Garfield sent another summary of the events of the afternoon to General Rosecrans from Rossville, in which he expressed more favorable and hopeful views of the result than the facts warranted, using such language as this: “Longstreet's Virginians have got their bellies full.” “I believe we can whip them to-morrow and crown the battle with victory.” “Granger regards them as thoroughly whipped to-night.” He added: “I hope you will not budge an inch from this position, but come up early in the morning, and, if the rebs try it on, accommodate them.” Rosecrans answered that he liked his suggestions, but did not respond to his second appeal to come to Rossville any more than to the first. Nor was a third more successful which Garfield made five hours later in these words: “I hope you will get here as soon as possible to organize the army and victory before the storm sets in.” The General Commanding thought more of saving the remnants of the army than of achieving a victory.
It appears from the records that Generals McCook and Crittenden were ready again for orders at General Rosecrans's headquarters between 11 and 12 P.M. They were finally directed to proceed to Rossville and report to General Thomas. The two generals say in their reports that they started together at 12 P.M., but, according to Captain John J. McCook of Crittenden's staff, they did not get under way till 2 A.M. General Rousseau, who had just reached Chattanooga on his return from an official visit to the North, accompanied them. The two corps commanders found in line what had been gathered of their several divisions and resumed command over them.
The chief of staff's sanguine expectations for the next day were not fulfilled. In the morning, after studying the ground about Rossville by daylight, he and General Thomas became satisfied that it was not a good one for defence, being exposed on the right to an easy flanking movement, and they united in a recommendation to the General Commanding to concentrate the army at Chattanooga; he assented to it by an order received at 6 P.M. by General Thomas. The movement commenced at 9 P.M. and was successfully carried out, and by 7 A.M. the next day, September 22, the troops were all in the positions in front of Chattanooga staked off for them by engineer officers. McCook was once more on the right, Thomas in the centre, and Crittenden on the left. The retreat was not disturbed in the least by the enemy. Rifle-pits were at once dug and breastworks thrown up, and the entrenchments subsequently improved from day to day until they were sufficiently strong for all defensive purposes.
In the forenoon of the 22d, Rosecrans telegraphed to General Halleck: “Our position is a strong one. Think we can hold out for several days.” In the afternoon of the same day, he answered President Lincoln, in reply to an anxious inquiry from him about the position and condition of his army: “We are now in Chattanooga in line of battle, the enemy threatening our whole front. Have pushed to our picket line. Whether they will attack us to-day uncertain. We are about 30,000 brave and determined men, but our fate is in the hands of God, in whom I hope.” On the 23d, his confidence was so much restored that he wired to the White House: “We hold this point, and can not be dislodged except by very superior numbers and after a great battle.”
Bragg's troops only shifted their bivouacs slightly on the 21st, so as to be nearer to water in Chickamauga Creek, buried the dead, and gathered the wounded of both sides, and collected the spoils of the field in guns, small arms, accoutrements, tents, ambulances, ammunition, and quartermaster' and commissary supplies. On the 22d they were moved some miles further down the valley, but it was only on the morning of the next day that they appeared in force on the heights along our front, after some lively skirmishes with our outposts, so that Rosecrans was mistaken in reporting their presence the day before.
The rebel Commander-in-chief addressed a congratulatory order to his army on the 22d, opening thus:
It has pleased Almighty God to reward the valor and endurance of our troops by giving to our arms a complete victory over the enemy's superior numbers . . . . . . . Soldiers, after two days of severe battle you have stormed the barricades and breastworks of the enemy, and driven before you in confusion and disorder an army largely superior in numbers.
Our own Commanding General was, of course, in duty bound to let off a counterblast. He did this in a high-flown proclamation, dated October 2, in which he told his soldiers, among other boastful flatteries:
You have made a grand and successful campaign. You have driven the rebels from Middle Tennessee. . . . You fought the combined armies of Bragg, of Johnston and the tried veterans of Longstreet's corps, and for two days held them at bay, giving them blow for blow with heavy interest. When the day closed, you held the field, from which you withdrew in the face of overpowering numbers to occupy the point for which you set out — Chattanooga. You have accomplished the great work of the campaign. You hold the key of East Tennessee and North Georgia. . . . You hold in your hands the substantial fruits of a victory, and deserve and will receive the honor and plaudits of a grateful nation.
As between the rival claims to victory of the two generals-in-chief, the balance of truth no doubt inclines in favor of Bragg. For even the one basis of Rosecrans's boasts, the possession of Chattanooga, became directly a doubtful advantage and threatened to prove a fatal trap for him. He could not prevent the immediate close investment of the town, and, before the end of the month, the enemy held him in so tight a grip that the confidence expressed in the despatch of the 23d to the President in his ability to successfully defend the place was very much shaken. He certainly would never have extricated himself from the rebel toils with his reduced force, and, but for the reinforcements which were hurried to his relief from the East, West, and South, would have been compelled to choose between starvation and surrender or retreat.
Historic justice must, indeed, award the palm to General Bragg, although his performance fell short of his chief object of interposing his army between ours and Chattanooga. At the close of the first day, it is true, the battle might be considered a drawn one, but the issue of the second warrants no other verdict than that the Army of the Cumberland suffered a complete defeat. The incontestable facts were that fully one-third of it was overwhelmed in one attack and driven off in great disorder, and that the remainder had to abandon the whole field, with its dead and severely wounded and numerous trophies, to the enemy. Nor can it be denied that the rebel triumph was due to superior generalship. Bragg had, indeed, failed to turn our left on the 19th, but he struck us so hard that he kept us on the defensive on both days. Rosecrans had no plan of battle beyond the protection of his lines to Chattanooga. Bragg adopted a bold one for the 20th, justified by the situation and the rules of the art of war, and substantially carried it out. He was favored by the accident of hitting our right just when most of it was out of position and in motion. But the strength of his assailing columns and vigor of their onset would doubtless have been too much for our wing if it had been in line. General Longstreet is, however, justly entitled to a share of the laurels. The début of Lee's tried corps commander upon this new theatre was certainly a brilliant one. It will be difficult, indeed, to find another instance on record of a general assuming command at midnight over entirely strange troops and successfully fighting a great action with them the very next day. Most singular was the final outcome of the battle of Chickamauga in that it proved fatal in its consequence to both the victorious and the vanquished commanders-in-chief.
According to the official lists, our casualties on the two days were 140 officers, including one brigadier-general (Lytle) and 1517 enlisted men killed, 609 officers and 9147 enlisted men wounded, and 248 officers and 4503 enlisted men captured, making a total loss of 16,164. The proportion of nearly one officer to every sixteen enlisted men is very large. On the Confederate side, a number of organizations appear to have failed to make returns, so that complete lists were never available. The closest estimates show a total rebel loss of nearly 18,000. As 2000 prisoners fell into our hands, the aggregate of their killed and wounded must have been almost equal to our total loss, and fully one-third larger than ours in killed and wounded. This was the natural result of the constant offensive of the enemy on both days. Three Confederate generals were killed and four wounded. There is a great discrepancy between the returns of the respective chiefs of ordnance as to the loss of artillery on our side. Rosecrans's chief admits the loss of only thirty-six pieces, while Bragg's claims fifty-two.
The battle of Chickamauga will live in memory as one of the bloodiest ever fought. The killed and wounded on the two days reached fully twenty-five per cent. in the Union and thirty-three per cent. in the Confederate army of the number engaged. But the percentage of the losses of particular organizations was much higher on both sides. In a number of regiments and brigades it ranged from forty to fifty per cent. and over, with even higher percentages of officers, so that regiments were commanded by captains and first lieutenants, and brigades by majors. By far the greatest relative losses were suffered during the closing struggle on the second day. Among the assailants as well as the defenders of Snodgrass Hill, almost all the casualties occurred in the two hours, and in some brigades in the last hour, before dark. Of the Confederates, Bushrod Johnson's and Cleburne's divisions, and of the Unionists Steedman's, shed the most blood.
As I was not an eye-witness of the struggle described in the foregoing, it may be asked why I undertook to write its history. The answer is a simple one. In order properly to introduce the story of the events at and about Chattanooga, which will be related in the next chapter, it was necessary to review the Chickamauga campaign. For this purpose, I examined both the Official War Records and other works relating to it, and, in so doing, was struck by the imperfections of all the existing narratives of the memorable battle. I found them incomplete, incoherent, and contradictory in a greater degree than those of almost any other of the great actions of the Civil War. These very defects excited a desire on my part to draw from the available material a truer picture of the extraordinary contest. I was not long in finding out that, owing to the complicated movements of the two armies preceding the culminating collision, to the extension of the fighting over two days, and to the insufficiency of the sources of information, I had undertaken a most difficult task. But its very difficulties stimulated my determination to overcome them. It involved months of arduous labor. I am obliged to confess, however, that their result is not as satisfactory as I could wish it to be as regards fulness and accuracy. Yet I can affirm that its shortcomings are not due to any want of conscientious endeavor on my part, but to the impossibility of making up a consecutive, complete and absolutely clear and true account from the material at my command. I have done the best I could with it, however, and I believe I can justly claim that my story is fuller and more correct than any of the existing publications upon the subject, and that it will be readily intelligible to the general reader.
- Bragg subsequently preferred charges against Hindman and relieved him from command for “disobedience of the lawful command of his superior officer.” Hindman asked for a court of inquiry, but the difficulty was settled in the end by the intervention of the President of the Confederacy.