Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Webpage: National Park
General Description: 1863 was the turning point of the Civil War against the Confederacy. In July, General Lee was defeated at Gettysburg, PA and the taking of Vicksburg, MS by General Grant. Following the defeat of the Confederates in the East and obtaining full control of the Mississippi River in the West, the next major prize was control of the train transportation hub of Chattanooga, TN. The major objective of General Rosecrans and the Union Army of the Cumberland during the summer of 1863 was to drive General Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee from Chattanooga, opening up the industrial and agricultural base of the Confederacy in Georgia and Alabama. Following the successful Tullahoma Campaign in central Tennessee in July, General Rosecrans consolidated his forces and moved toward Chattanooga in September. This delay allowed General Bragg to build significant defenses around Chattanooga as he waited for General Rosecrans to make his move. General Rosecrans split his army into three parts, with only one part moving south towards Chattanooga making it appear it was their entire force. The other two parts went west of Lookout Mountain with the hopes of crossing the mountains south of Chattanooga and trapping General Bragg in the city. When this move was discovered, General Bragg withdrew from Chattanooga to the south, so the Union took the city without a shot. General Bragg withdrew to LaFayette, Georgia, 26 miles south of Chattanooga. Having received reinforcements from General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia under Lt. General Longstreet, from East Tennessee under Maj General Buckner and from Mississippi, he now had numerical superiority over the Union army south of Chattanooga. After twice trying to destroy isolated units, General Bragg decided to consolidate his forces and drive a wedge between General Rosecran’s army and Chattanooga. On September 18, 1863 the Confederate forces encountered Union cavalry pickets began a bloody day of fighting in the woods west of Chickamauga Creek. The terrain and woods hindered troop movements and the day was basically a series of fierce gun and hand to hand combat scattered throughout the woods as both sides attempted to figure out where the other were. Fighting began at dawn on September 19 beginning at Jay’s Mill and spreading south nearly 4 miles. Fierce fighting, often hand-to-hand, continued along the line all day gradually pushing the Union troops back to LaFayette Road. The Confederate forces failed to mount a coordinated attack throughout the day, failing to take advantage of their numerical advantage. General Bragg ordered the fighting to begin at dawn on September 20, but orders were delayed because the couriers could not locate Lt. General Hill, who was to initiate the attack. Therefore, the Confederate forces did not attach until 9:30 on September 20. General Rosecran, of the Union Army, had now realized the Confederates had superior numbers and so adopted a defensive position building breastworks along a north-south line west of LaFayette Road after dawn and by the time the Confederates attacked these breastworks had become a formidable obstacle to Confederate attacks. The Confederates were unable to break the Union line by noon, however, the Union forces were having communication problems with having to shift units to support their forces all along the line. At 10:50 am Brig General Wood received orders to close up on Reynolds to his left since General Rosecran had been mistakenly told Brannan’s division had pulled out to support another unit further to the south. However, Brannan’s unit was still in place, which meant Wood pulled his division off of the line to go around Brannan. This left a hole in the line. Without knowing this Lt. General Longstreet, made a bold attack at 11:10 with Johnson’s three divisions at exactly the point in the line being vacated by Wood. They easily broke through the Union line and began rolling up the Union troops to the south which totally collapsed. This left General Rosecran’s headquarters completely open and the General along with his staff retreated to Chattanooga. Union troops north of the break were also ordered to fall back towards Chattanooga which they accomplished over night. The only thing that prevented a complete defeat of the Union army was the heroic stand by Maj General Thomas still held their lines along Horseshoe Ridge and took a defensive stand at Snodgrass Hill holding off repeated attacks throughout the rest of the day. This action saved the Union army and earned Thomas the nickname “Rock of Chickamauga”. After dark Thomas retreated towards Chattanooga leaving the major victory to the Confederates. This battle was the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War, following Gettysburg, with over 34,000 Union and Confederate forces either killed, wounded, or captured. While Chickamauga is a resounding Confederate victory by itself, General Bragg failed to follow up on his victory leaving Chattanooga, the real prize and objective, in Union hands.
1) The Chickamauga battlefield is very spread out since it covers a three day battle. I would strongly recommend purchasing the Driving Tour CD as it leads you through all three days of the battle providing a lot of insight and information about why the battle progressed as it did. You will also see all the major locations of the battle.
2) A point was made that the woods are very similar to their condition during the civil war, which were not open fields and farms as many of the battlefields in the east. It was interesting to think about trying to wage an organized battle in these conditions.
3) There are monuments erected all over the battlefield commemorating the location of Union and Confederate divisions throughout the three days of the battle. The ones along Battleline Road were especially helpful in understanding the location of the Union barricades and the extent of the battle line on the third day of the battle.
4) The defensive position that Maj. General Thomas occupied on Snodgrass Hill is also impressive and informative. While the hill does not look that impressive as you approach it, once you get to the top you can understand the difficulty the Confederates faced in trying to overrun Thomas’ position.