Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Battle of Chickamauga at 150

Today is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Chickamauga.* Named for the creek which ran through the battlefield, it will become by far the bloodiest battle of the war in the West.** By its conclusion on the 20th, Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee, together with James Longstreet’s Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia, will defeat their Union opponent, General William S. Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Today, the park-like battlefield is very beautiful and serene. 150 years ago,
however, the scenes of carnage and devastation would have been unbearable.  

Following on his success in the Tullahoma Campaign in late June through early July, Rosecrans renewed his offensive to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. Rosecrans split his army into 3 corps, setting each out for Chattanooga by separate routes.

In early September, Rosecrans compelled Bragg to pull his army out of Chattanooga and head south. The Union troops followed the Confederate army and skirmished with it at Davis's Crossroads. But Rosecrans didn't immediately recognize his peril and waited until mid-month to consolidate his forces scattered in the mountainous region of Tennessee and Georgia.

Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to launch an offensive against Rosecrans’s army, cut it off, then move back into the city.

Source: Cartography Services by Hal Jesperson

On the 17th, Bragg headed back toward the town, intending to draw Rosecrans into a decisive battle. As he moved north on the 18th, Bragg's cavalry and infantry opened the battle as the Confederates skirmished with Union cavalry and mounted infantry, which were armed with Spencer repeating rifles.

Fighting began in earnest on the morning of the 19th, on the west side of Chickamauga Creek. While Bragg’s men, including my great grandfather Nathan Oakes, hammered the Union line into the evening, they did not break it.

On the 20th, Bragg continued his assault on the left of the Union line. In the late morning, Rosecrans was informed that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosecrans inadvertently created one, and Gen. Longstreet’s men promptly exploited it, driving one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. Union Gen. George H. Thomas took over command and began consolidating some of the retreating army on Horseshoe Ridge. Although the Rebels launched determined assaults on Thomas's forces, the "Rock of Chickamauga" held his ground until after dark, thus saving Rosecrans's army. Thomas then withdrew from the field, leaving it to the Confederates.

The Union army retreated to Chattanooga while the Rebels occupied the surrounding heights on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, laying siege to the city. This will bring on the beginning of the second phase of the Chattanooga Campaign.

* The name Chickamauga was Cherokee for "River of Death."

** Army of the Cumberland historian, Henry Martin Cist, noted: "All things considered, the battle of Chickamauga for the forces engaged was the hardest fought and the bloodiest battle of the Rebellion."

Sources: CSWSAC Battle SummariesThis Terrible Sound, Peter Cozzens; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist

To view my blog about my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, and the
32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in which he served in the Army of Tennessee,

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