Battle Chickamauga: Details


Northern forces were led by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans (Union) (60,000 men) and Southern forces (65,000 men) were led by Gen. Braxton Bragg (Confederate).

North setup - After a successful Union campaign in middle Tennessee the North continued on the offensive, attempting to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. In early September, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered in Tennessee and Georgia and forced Bragg's army out of Chattanooga, heading south. Bragg (Confederate leader) was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet a part of Rosecrans's army, defeat it, and then move back into the city. On September 18, mounted cavalry and infantry from both sides fought.

South setup – Ge. Braxton Bragg (Confederate) consolidated troops and found himself with three subordinates who had little or no respect for him: Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk and Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee.

Union Planning

Rosecrans faced significant logistical challenges if he chose to move forward. The Cumberland Plateau that separated the armies was a rugged, barren country over 30 miles long with poor roads and little opportunity for foraging. If Bragg attacked him during the advance, Rosecrans would be forced to fight with his back against the mountains and tenuous supply lines. He did not have the luxury of staying put, however, because he was under intense pressure from Washington to move forward.

Rosecrans knew that he would have difficulty receiving supplies from his base on any advance across the Tennessee River and therefore thought it necessary to accumulate enough supplies and transport wagons that he could cross long distances without a reliable line of communications.

An opposed crossing of the wide river was not feasible, so Rosecrans devised a deception to distract Bragg above Chattanooga while the army crossed downstream. If executed correctly, this plan would cause Bragg to evacuate Chattanooga or be trapped in the city without supplies.

Union approaching

Rosecrans ordered his army to move on August 16. The difficult road conditions meant a full week passed before they reached the Tennessee River Valley. They encamped while engineers made preparations for crossing the river.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans's deception plan was underway. His men pounded on tubs and sawed boards, sending pieces of wood downstream, to make the Confederates think that rafts were being constructed for a crossing north of the city. The deception worked and Bragg (Confederate) was convinced that the Union crossing would be above the city.

Bridges were constructed and ferries were utilized for crossing the river.

September 18: Opening Engagements

Union troops failed in their attempt to destroy a bridge before Confederates crossed it. With superior fire power (Spencer repeating rifles) Union troops held off approaching Confederates and forced them to take a longer, alternative route that put them behind schedule.

Battle Day 1: September 19

The Battle of Chickamauga opened almost by accident, when Union troops moved toward Jay's Mill In search of water.

Some Confederate Troops arrived the morning of the fight having finished an all-night march from Crawfish Springs, GA.

Union men drove back Confederate advanced cavalrymen and Forrest formed a defensive line of dismounted troopers to stem the tide.

Confederates pushed strongly forward, approached so close to Rosecrans's new headquarters (a tiny cabin) that the staff officers inside had to shout to make themselves heard over the sounds of battle.

By 6 pm darkness was falling. Some Union men advanced to support another Union brigade, but mistakenly fired at them and were subjected to return friendly fire. A Union leader (Col. Baldwin) shot dead from his horse attempting to lead a counterattack.

Confederates strongly assaulted but could not break the Union line.

Although the Confederates launched costly and determined assaults, Thomas and his men held until twilight. Union forces then retired to Chattanooga while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights, besieging the city.

Planning for the Second Day

Confederate - Bragg (Confederate leader) met individually with his subordinates and informed them that he was reorganizing troops into two wings. One wing (led Let. Gen. Polk) was instructed to initiate the assault on the Federal left at daybreak. The courier send with written orders was not able to find Polk’s new subordinate (3rd Let. D.H. Hill) and ended up not telling anyone. At 5 a.m. on September 20, Polk was awakened on the cold and foggy battlefield to find that the attack was not being prepared.

Union - The Confederate army had been receiving reinforcements and now outnumbered the Federals. Rosecrans decided that his army had to remain in place, on the defensive.

Rosecrans (Union leader) ordered a northern leader to expedite his relief some brigades to move north. Some staff officers later recalled that Rosecrans had been extremely angry and berated the officer in front of his staff.

Battle Day 2: September 20

The Confederates resumed their assault. Bragg resumed his assault. In late morning, Rosecrans (Union) was misinformed that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosecrans accidentally created an actual gap, directly in the path of an eight-brigade assault on a narrow front.

At Horseshoe Ridge Union fighters staved off Confederates in "one of the epic defensive stands of the entire war." The 535 men of the regiment expended 43,550 rounds in the engagement.

Lt. Gen. James Longstreet (Confederate) led the eight-brigade assault through the gap Rosecrans (Union) caused. One third of the Union army (including Rosecrans) was driven from the field. Gen. George H. Thomas (Union), assumed command of the remaining Union soldiers when Rosecrans vacated.

Thomas (Union) began withdrawing troops when he was given command. As the Confederates saw the Union soldiers withdrawing, they renewed their attacks. Thomas left Horseshoe Ridge, placing Granger in charge, but Granger departed soon thereafter, leaving no one to coordinate the withdrawal. Three Union regiments were left behind without sufficient ammunition, and ordered to use their bayonets. They held their position until surrounded, when they were forced to surrender.


Thomas (Union) wanted to continue to fight. Although he admitted that the troops were tired and hungry, and nearly out of ammunition, he added "I believe we can whip them tomorrow. I believe we can now crown the whole battle with victory." He urged Rosecrans to rejoin the army and lead it, but Rosecrans, physically exhausted and psychologically a beaten man, remained in Chattanooga.

Privately, Lincoln told a member of his office that Rosecrans seemed "confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head."

Although the Confederates were technically the victors, driving Rosecrans (Union) from the field, Bragg (Confederate) had not achieved his objective of destroying Rosecrans, nor of restoring Confederate control of East Tennessee.

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