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Battle of Chickamauga Sections
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 Chickamauga Home <<<
  Author's Note
  Introduction
  The Battle - Part 1
  The Battle - Part 2
  Aftermath
  Bibliography
  Confederate OB
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Battle of Chickamauga
The Battle of Chickamauga
by Richard A. Byrd

Author's Note
I began the effort to write a synopsis of the Battle of Chickamauga for Military History Online with great enthusiasm, mixed with more than a tinge of reluctance. It represents the first formal writing I've done relating to military history. The final product would not have been possible if not for the work of many people, who certainly know the subject in much greater detail than I do. Although a complete list of sources I've used appears at the end of the text, I must say a few words of thanks to Peter Cozzens, whose excellent and detailed work, "This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga", was instrumental in my study of the battle. After several re-readings of the entire work, I carried the book around with me for months, examining bits of the text in stolen minutes, gleaning a deeper understanding of different facets of this extremely complex battle. It was also by my side as I composed this write-up of Chickamauga, and it was an invaluable resource, especially in tracking the complicated movements of the Confederate command on the night of September 19th, 1863, and on the morning of the following day. Someone once commented correctly that Cozzens gives a "tree by tree" account of the battle, and all students of military history and of the American Civil War are indebted to him for his scholarly approach and his highly readable style. It has often been rightly pointed out that his work is to Chickamauga what Edwin Coddington's "The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command", is to that great battle. Anyone wishing a detailed view of the Chickamauga campaign is highly encouraged to add Mr. Cozzen's work to their library.
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The Battle - Part 1
Following the fighting at Reed's Bridge the day before, Thomas was notified that a lone Confederate brigade had crossed and made camp on the west side of Chickamauga Creek, in the vicinity of the bridge. Thomas ordered Brannan, on the left of the XIV Corps position, to send troops to crush the isolated Confederates. Brannan dispatched the very capable Colonel John T. Croxton and his brigade for the task, ordering him forward in the direction of Reed's Bridge. Very soon, as Croxton moved along to the east, he became engaged with Nathan Bedford Forrest's rebel cavalry brigade. For a short time, Croxton managed well, and he put up an admirable scrap, but he was soon driven back when Walker's Corps slammed into the Federals with a fierce advance. Croxton and his men were completely surprised at the fierceness of the attack. In the midst of the sudden and intense fighting, he stole a moment and penned a dryly humorous note to Thomas. "Which rebel brigade was it…" he asked, that he was "…supposed to capture?" Brannan managed to deploy the rest of his division toward the bridge to assist Croxton, and soon, all of the badly outnumbered Federal troops were engaged against Walker. The stage was set. Bragg's force of 68,000 Confederates would now be engaged against Rosecrans 58,000 Federals in the bloodiest and most desperate two days of the entire war. The Battle of Chickamauga had begun.
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The Battle - Part 2
September 20, 1863, dawned cold and foggy along the banks of the Chickamauga. A thick frost blanketed the ground. Smoke from the previous day's battle mingled with fog hanging heavily amid the trees. Polk arose, fully expecting at any second to hear the boom of cannon which was to open Hill's attack, but all was strangely silent. Only then did Polk learn that Fisher had been unable to locate Hill. He was outraged. Polk ordered Captain Frank Wheless to ride forth and inform Cleburne and Breckenridge that they were to attack immediately. On the way, he was to inform Cheatham to advance along with Cleburne and Breckenridge. As Wheless rode across Alexander's Bridge and into the fog, Polk sat down to eat his breakfast. When Wheless found Cheatham, he discovered that he was as perplexed as Polk as to why the attack had not begun. Bragg too, waited anxiously, but in vain, for the sound of battle. He sent Major Pollack Lee of his staff to locate Polk immediately and find out why the attack was being delayed. Soon, Lee returned and told Bragg that he had found Polk casually eating his breakfast. The news that Polk was eating when he should have been attacking enraged Bragg, and the commanding general decided to ride forward and have a word with him personally. No doubt it appeared to Bragg that his subordinates once again had succeeded in defying his orders.
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Aftermath
As darkness fell on September 20, 1863, 34,624 men had fallen at Chickamauga; 18,454 Confederates, and 16,170 Federals. That night, many of the Federal wounded who were conscious, desperately tried to crawl their way to reach the line of retreat in order to evade capture. The road to Rossville was jammed solid with an endless column of Union troops, horses, and equipment making their bitter procession northward. The moon was bright that evening, and off to the side of the road, some witnessed men stopping to bend over and aid a wounded comrade. Some also halted and wept over corpses, others actually struggling to carry the dead and wounded along with them. Most of these injured men had no one to help them though, and many who made it this far simply collapsed and died alone by the roadside. By midnight, the retreat column had passed. Those who were still alive faced tremendous horror as they realized that there was no one to help them, no one coming for them, and in a few minutes, perhaps a few hours, they too would be dead. Beatty saw a man with his bowels hanging out, screaming for Jesus to come and take mercy on his soul. He wrote: "What multitudes of thought were then crossing into the narrow half hour which he had yet to live - what regrets, what hopes, what fears! The sky was darkening, earth fading, wealth, power, fame, the prizes most esteemed by men, were as nothing". Back on the battlefield, William Gale was atop his horse that evening. He wrote, "For two hours I rode around and among our men… most of the time in dense forest of pine and oak.
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* * *

Copyright © 2001 Richard A. Byrd.

Written by Richard A. Byrd.

Published online: 04/09/2001.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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