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The battle of Chickamauga-letter from Captain W. N. Polk.

To the Editor of the Southern Historical Society Papers:
Sir,--Will you kindly give a place to the following account of the Chickamauga campaign. It is an extract from a work shortly to be given to the public, “The life of Leonidas Polk,” and as such may possess some historical interest. The occasion of my request is an address upon the Campaign and Battle of Chickamauga, made by Colonel Archer Anderson, in your city, and recently published in your journal. This battle is one about which there has been from the first a great deal of controversy. The close of the war and the dire necessities pressing upon all Confederates, buried such questions for a time, and perhaps it is a mistake to revive them now; but history is being written, and articles such as Colonel Anderson's will exercise no light influence upon the compilers. The paragraphs to which we ask special attention are those that cover the movements of Generals Crittenden and Polk on September 12th and 13th, and those describing the formation of General Bragg's line of battle on September 20th, together with such as dwell upon the efforts made to correct the errors of that formation. [2]

Extract from forthcoming memoir of General Polk.

In tracing the part taken by General Polk in the battle of Chickamauga, and which of necessity embraces a survey of the battle itself, we are deprived of an official report of the part taken by his corps, as he was transferred to a distant command soon afterward, and unable to secure reports from subordinate commanders. The material left by him, however, with what we have been enabled to procure, will do, as we trust, entire justice to his memory.

It has been already mentioned in the preceding chapter that in consequence of a flank movement on the right, and the threatened danger to its communications towards the last of June, the Army of Tennessee was put in retreat from Shelbyville and Tullahoma on or toward Chattanooga. The retreat was effected with slight or inconsiderable loss in men and transportation, and Chattanooga was occupied during the days of the first week of July. Polk's corps, except Anderson's brigade of Withers's division, which was ordered to Bridgeport, where the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad crosses the Tennessee river, for purposes of observation, was retained in and around Chattanooga, and Hardee's corps was distributed along the line of the Knoxville railroad, with Tyner's station as its centre, General Bragg establishing the army headquarters at Chattanooga. The work of fortifying was begun and prosecuted for some weeks, during which the army seemed to await the development of the enemy's plans.

Beyond reconnoissances in some force at Bridgeport, and at the mouth of Battle creek, the enemy made no demonstration until the 21st of August, when he succeeded in covering the town of Chattanooga with his artillery from the heights overlooking the Tennessee river and the town. This bombardment of our position, which was intended as a demoralizing coup de main, had the more pregnant significance of an announcement that the enemy's plans were completed, and were about being put in active operation. The effect of the bombardment was the official evacuation of the place to points beyond range outside, and the withdrawal of stores to points of convenience on the railroad to the rear, and the withdrawal of Anderson's brigade from Bridgeport.

On the 26th, or 27th of August, or some five or six days after the surprise of Chattanooga, Burnside's advance into East Tennessee was announced by the presence of his cavalry in the vicinity of Knoxville, and Major-General Buckner received orders to evacuate Knoxville, and occupy Loudon. In consequence of a demonstration, it is said, by [3] a portion of Rosecrans's army at Blythe's ferry, on the Tennessee river, opposite the mouth of the Hiwassee, he was ordered to fall back from London to Charleston, and soon after to the vicinity of Chattanooga. Pending these movements above, which were to give East Tennessee to the Federals, not only for occupation, but for cooperation with Rosecrans in his designs upon Chattanooga and the Army of Tennessee, Rosecrans was not idle below. On Tuesday morning, September 1st, citizens living near Caperton's ferry reported that the enemy was crossing the Tennessee river in force at that point (Caperton's ferry); that on Saturday, the 29th August, three days before, a Federal cavalry force had forded the river at some shallows above to the south side, had proceeded down the river to Caperton's, and in conjunction with another force, appearing contemporaneously on the opposite shore, had thrown a pontoon bridge across the river; and that the enemy commenced immediately to cross in force, and had been crossing for three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and were moving accross Sand mountain in the direction of Wills's valley and Trenton. This story, regarded at army headquarters as incredible, was soon after confirmed by reports of the occupation of Trenton by the enemy's cavalry, and its advance up the Wills Valley railroad in the direction of Chattanooga as far as Wahatchie, within seven miles, as a covering force to the advance of its infantry columns on Trenton.

In order to understand this movement of Rosecrans, and subsequent operations, a topographical view is necessary.

Chattanooga is situated on the Tennessee river at the mouth of Chattanooga valley — a valley following the course of the Chattanooga creek, and formed by Lookout mountain and Missionary ridge. East of Missionary ridge, and running parallel with it, is another valley-Chickamauga valley — following the course of Chickamauga creek, which, with the Chattanooga creek, discharges its waters into the Tennessee river — the first above and the latter below the town of Chattanooga, and has with it a common source in McLemore's cove, the common head of both valleys, and formed by Lookout mountain on the west, and Pigeon mountain on the east. Wills's valley is a narrow valley lying to the west of Chattanooga, formed by Lookout mountain and Sand mountain, and traversed by a railroad which takes its name from the valley, and which, reaching from the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad where the latter crosses the valley, has its present terminus at Trenton, and future as Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The distance of Bridgeport from Chattanooga is twenty-eight miles, of Caperton's ferry about forty, and of Trenton something over twenty. Ringgold is [4] eighteen miles from Chattanooga, on the Georgia State road, and Dalton some forty, at the point where the Georgia State road connects with the East Tennessee railroad. Rome is sixty-five miles southwest of Chattanooga on Cooss river, at the point of confluence of the Etowah and Estanalah. The wagon road from Chattanooga to Rome, known as the Lafayette road, crosses Missionary ridge into Chickamauga valley at Roseville, and proceeding in a southwesterly direction, crosses Chickamauga creek eleven miles from Chattanooga, at Lee and Gordon's mills, and passing to the east of Pigeon mountain, goes through Lafayette — distant some twenty-two miles from Chattanooga — and Summerville within twenty-five miles of Rome. From Caperton's ferry there is a road leading over Sand mountain into Wills's valley at Trenton, and from Trenton to Lafayette and Dalton, over Lookout mountain, through Cooper's and Stevens's gaps, into McLemore's cove, and over Pigeon mountain by Dug gap. The road from Trenton, following Will's valley, exposed by easy communications, Rome, and through it Western Georgia and Eastern Alabama, with easy access to the important central positions, Atlanta and Selma.

The General commanding believing a flanking movement to be the purpose of the enemy in his movements on the left, ordered Lieutenant-General Hill on Monday, September 7th, to move with his corps to Lafayette, and General Polk to Lee and Gordon's mill, and Major-General Buckner, with the Army of East Tennessee, and Major-General Walker, with his division from the Army of Mississippi, to concentrate at Lafayette, and Brigadier-General Pegram to cover the railroad with his cavalry. These dispositions having been made of the Confederate forces, Major-General Crittenden, commanding the left wing of Rosecrans's army, which had not moved with the right and centre, but had been left in the Sequatchie valley, crossed the Tennessee river at the mouth of Battle creek, and moved upon Chattanooga. Major General McCook, commanding the right wing, was thrown forward to threaten Rome, and the corps of Major-General Thomas was put in motion over Lookout mountain, in the direction of Lafayette.

In view of the situation of the enemy, as above given, General Polk suggested to the attention of the Commanding General the opportunity offered of striking Rosecrans in detail. A force was thrown forward into McLemore's cove, but the movement was inadequate, and by no means equal to the magnitude or the consequences suspended on its success. Various causes have been assigned for its failure, but among the best informed it is set down to the score of the limited scale on which it was planned. [5]

Hindman's division had been detached from General Polk's corps, and under direct orders from army headquarters was to make this movement under its supervision. General Polk was assigned a position where he could protect Hindman against Crittenden.

The force approaching the cove was known to be a portion, if not the whole, of Thomas's corps, much the largest in the opposing army.

A reference to General Bragg's official report will show that during the 9th of September it was ascertained a column of the enemy, estimated variously from four thousand to eight thousand strong, had crossed Lookout mountain and reached the cove, by way of Stevens's and Cooper's gaps, this body doubtless being the advance of a corps then known to be opposite the cove, on the other side of the mountain.

Hindman was ordered to move at midnight of the 9th September, and be in position as early as practicable to attack the enemy at the cove. Lieutenant-General D. H. Hill, whose forces were in the direction of Lafayette, was ordered to move at the same time, with Cleburne's division, across Pigeon mountain, by way of Dug's and Collit's gaps, to unite with Hindman and take charge of the forces. Timber felled by the enemy impeded Hill's march through Dug's gap to such an extent that Buckner was directed, at 8 A. M. on the 10th September, to move Preston's and Stewart's commands to Hindman's support and supply Hill's place. Hindman got into position early on the morning of the 10th. Buckner followed without delay, but owing to the distance was unable to reach Hindman until about half-past 4 o'clock in the afternoon — rather late for the accomplishment of the object in view on that day.

While these movements were going on Negley's division of the opposing forces advanced to within a mile of Dug's gap, Baird's moved up to within supporting distance, leaving Reynold's and Brannan's still to the west of the mountain.

By daylight of the 11th September Cleburne had forced his way through the felled timber of Dug's gap, and was ready to respond to Hindman's attack,1 but being uncertain of his position, did not attack, and Negley, realizing the peril of his position, withdrew with Baird, about 10 A. M. to a secure position at the foot and sides of the mountain, and foiled the manoeuvre planned by the Commanding General of the Army of Tennessee.

Thomas had escaped, but Crittenden, in the direction of Ringgold, [6] was isolated. It was believed throughout the army that a prompt movement on the part of General Bragg in the direction of Chattanooga would have intercepted and crushed him. But the attention of the Commanding General was fixed on McCook, who had crossed Lookout mountain to the south of Lafayette, and thrown a column of observation northward to feel for his enemy.

McCook's column of observation having approached Lafayette, gave General Bragg the impression that a heavy force threatened him from that quarter. He therefore concentrated his strength at Lafayette, and Crittenden pursued his way unmolested.

On the morning of the 12th of September the nature of McCook's movement having been ascertained, attention was turned to Crittenden; as the Confederate army was not then pressed by either Thomas or McCook, its prompt movement to Chattanooga was feasible, and would have resulted in his capture. The movement was not made; what was done we shall now mention.

At 10 A. M. on the 12th September General Polk was instructed to proceed with the divisions of Cheatham and Walker, and take position at Rock Spring. Hindman's division was to follow as early as practicable.2

Rock Spring, on a road leading from Ringgold to Lafayette, is about twelve miles from Lafayette to the north, about seven from Ringgold, to the southwest, and about four and a half from Gordon's mill to the southeast.3 It marks the intersection of roads from Ringgold, Peavine church and Gordon's mill, and it was along these roads that Crittenden was believed to be advancing. Such was General Polk's information from the Commanding General and from the cavalry in his front.

General Polk's orders were to attack at daylight on the 13th September. After having placed Cheatham's and Walker's divisions so as to cover all anticipated approaches, General Polk at 8 P. M. of the same day sent a dispatch to General Bragg, in which he gave a disposition of the forces under him, made a suggestion as to the protection of his left flank, and other details.

Hindman arrived about dawn, his division was at once placed in line, Polk was ready, but there was no enemy; reconnoissances were made without avail on the roads upon which he was expected. General [7] Bragg now came upon the field, and the situation was reported to him by General Polk.

A reference to General Crittenden's report of the part taken by his corps in the battle of Chickamauga will show where the opposing forces really were.

Wood had been sent to Gordon's mills on the 11th September. Crittenden, with VanCleves's and Palmer's Divisions, on the morning of the 12th of September, moved from Ringgold in a westerly direction, crossed the Chickamauga and marched directly to Gordon's mills, where his corps was concentrated on the evening of the same day (September 12). So that the expected enemy from the direction of Ringgold and Peavine church, which was to be attacked at Rock Spring at daylight on the 13th September, had reached Gordon's mills on the preceding evening, thus placing himself behind the Chickamauga, covering his line of retreat, and securing his communications with Thomas. The Commanding General had ordered Polk's movement just twelve hours late. See Rebel Record, volume 7, page 526.

General Bragg, in his official report of the battle of Chickamauga, charges General Polk with the failure to crush Crittenden's forces in their isolated position at Ringgold. It will be noted, however, that General Polk was ordered to take position at a particular spot-Rock Spring — thence, if not attacked, to advance by daylight of the 13th September, and assume the offensive against the opposing forces which were expected from the direction of Ringgold. But Crittenden was at Gordon's mill behind the Chickamauga on the evening of the 12th September; the order simply was impracticable. There was no enemy, save scouting cavalry, in Polk's front, as General Bragg, who was on the ground at the time, was able to ascertain from personal observation; and the manoeuvre failed, not by a fault of a subordinate in neglecting to carry out a specific order, which, being fulfilled, relieved him of responsibility, but the failure was due to the fact that the alertness and celerity of the enemy, although not remarkable in its way, overmatched the movements of the General commanding the Army of Tennessee.

Although these movements on the part of General Bragg to destroy fractions of the enemy's force, were without effect, it might be supposed they would at least serve as warnings to Rosecrans, but the several corps of the army under him were still far apart, and General Bragg was aware of it. In the official report made by General D. H. Hill, of the part taken by his command in the battle of Chickamauga, he mentions that General Bragg stated at a council of officers held on, [8] the morning of the 14th of September, that McCook was at Alpine, Thomas in McLemore's cove and Crittenden at Lee and Gordon's mills. The Federal right, therefore, was separated from its left by about forty miles, in a straight line, with a mountain of difficult passage intervening. The Confederate force, at the time, could have been thrown upon either corps.

Rosecrans finally seems to have abandoned the vain imaginings with which he had been possessed, that Bragg was in disorderly retreat, and to have awakened to a sense of the peril of his divided and weakened forces against such masses as the Confederates possibly might move against him. He therefore retired Crittenden to the foot of Missionary ridge, and directed McCook to close on Thomas at Stevens's gap. On the 17th of September these three corps were within supporting distance of each other.

Moving up carefully, General Bragg succeeded by the night of the 17th of September in placing the army in position upon the east side of the Chickamauga, its line extending from McLemore's cove on the left to Reed's bridge on the right; its centre, commanded by General Polk, resting about Lee and Gordon's mills. The Federal army lay along the west side of the stream, its corps in easy supporting distance, the right in the cove, its left at Lee and Gordon's mills, while the reserve corps (Granger's) rested at Rossville; reached that point on the 14th, moving from Bridgeport.

In view of the tempting and magnificent opportunity now offered to the Confederate General, with the army of Rosecrans before him, General Polk proposed a strong demonstration be made at Lee and Gordon's mills. Under cover of that feint the remainder of the army should march rapidly by the right flank as far as Reed's bridge and fords near there, and, having crossed Chickamauga creek and valley, should move at right angles to the Lafayette and Chattanooga road, by that means closing the exit of the opposing forces from the valley in the direction of Chattanooga.

The movement could have been met by the Virginia troops now arriving at Ringgold, and would have effectually imprisoned the Federal army in McLemore's cove, barred its communication with Chattanooga, and placed it in the power of the Confederate General.

This movement, which might have been executed on the night of the 17th of September and morning of the 18th, was unquestionably that upon which General Bragg had determined. In making it, however, the crossing was effected at points too near Lee and Gordon's mills — the enemy's left. [9]

By nightfall of the 18th of September General Bragg had placed Hood's and Walker's commands, with Forrest's cavalry, to the west of the creek, covering the bridges and fords by which he intended to cross the remainder of the army on the following day.

Forrest was at Alexander's bridge, Walker half a mile in front of him, Hood in front of Tedford's ford, about nine hundred yards east of the Chattanooga road, while Buckner held Byron's and Thedford's fords. Polk and Hill were opposite Lee and Gordon's and Glass's mills, and during the day had been making demonstrations against the forces at these points in order to cover the movements just noted.

Pending these movements Rosecrans, perceiving Bragg's purpose, shifted his line further down the stream. Retaining Crittenden at Lee and Gordon's mills, he moved McCook near Bond's spring, and Thomas was directed to pass to the rear of Crittenden and take position near Kelly's house, on the Lafayette and Chattanooga road, nearly opposite Reed's bridge (see map 1 of the series).

Thomas succeeded by dawn of the 19th of September in placing Brannan's and Baird's divisions in position.

The ground upon which the shock of arms was imminent is undulating and gradually rising from the stream to the State road from Lafayette to Chattanooga. It was at the time covered in the main with dense undergrowth, interspersed with oak and pine timber, with here and there small cultivated fields.

Battle of the nineteenth.

At dawn on the 19th of September, the Confederate demonstration at Lee and Gordon's mills, and Glass's mill, was resumed with a view of holding the enemy in their position at those points.

In order to complete the left of the Confederate line, Buckner now took position to the left of Hood, Buckner's left resting on the stream some fifteen hundred yards from Lee and Gordon's mills.

Cheatham, who had been detached from General Polk's command during the previous night, crossed Hunt's ford about 7 A. M., and took post in the rear of Walker's position of the day previous, from which Walker had moved to take post on Hood's right.

Forest, under orders direct from army headquarters, moved at dawn with Pegram's division to reconnoitre in the direction of the roads leading west from Reed's bridge, and struck a brigade that had gone out in like observation, under direction of General Thomas. Forrest, with characteristic promptness, attacked the brigade and opened the [10] battle, unexpectedly to General Bragg, who was under the impression that the enemy's left was at Lee and Gordon's mills, where he had expected to assail and turn it.

But Rosecrans had judiciously thrust his left beyond the Confederate right to an advantageous position, which enabled him not only to cover his line to Chattanooga, but to assault the Confederate right, with the expectation of crushing it in the bed of the Chickamauga.

Thomas was honored with command of this assault, and strove with a will to achieve it. With Brennan's and Baird's Divisions he bore down heavily against Forrest until the latter, who seldom asked for aid, appealed to Walker for relief. Ector's and Wilson's brigades speedily responded, and with this light force the gallant cavalry chief stayed the tide of battle. The check was temporary. Bragg dispatched the remainder of Walker's command to his support. Its timely onset about 11:30 A. M., again placed advantage with the White and Red.

The divisions of Johnston, Palmer and Reynolds now came into Federal line, to the right of Brennan's and Baird's, and pushing against the left flank of Walker whilst he was forcing back the latter two divisions, threatened his capture. Walker skilfully extricated his command from the danger involved, and slowly withdrew it.

It was now about 1 P. M. It appeared Thomas would accomplish his design of driving the Confederate right to the stream. But Cheatham had been ordered to Walker's support. He formed his division to the left and rear of Walker, in two lines, across the road from Alexander's bridge, and moving steadily up to Thomas's exultant divisions, struck their exposed right, and threw them back in disorder.

General Polk, who had remained with Hindman to press the demonstration at Lee and Gordon's mills, received orders at noon to withdraw Hindman's division as early as practicable, move it across the stream, and assume command of the operations in progress on the right. After having issued the necessary orders to Hindman, he rode at once to the scene of conflict, which he reached just as Cheatham was moving forward to the assault we have already mentioned. From a reconnoissance of the position, necessarily brief, he formed the opinion the forces under him were contending with the entire corps of Thomas, and perhaps fractions of other corps. He reported his views to General Bragg, and as Walker had suffered severely, asked that another division might be placed at his disposition.

In the mean while Cheatham had been steadily pressing forward, and Walker having reformed his command was moved to the right, so [11] as to take position to cover Cheatham's right flank, Forrest covering the extreme right.

The Federal forces, now again in line, surged against Cheatham's front till he was compelled to yield ground. Liddell was now thrown forward on the right of Cheatham, to meet the pressure in that direction.

Stewart's division of Buckner's corps now came upon the ground. Its arrival was opportune. Cheatham's left had been turned by Reynolds, and his entire command was falling back. Lieutenant Richmond, of General Polk's staff, indicated to Stewart his position on Cheatham's left. Moving promptly forward, this division struck Reynolds's and swept it out of the way; continuing forward, it met Van Cleve's division, on its way to the relief of Thomas, and drove it in disorder across the State road.

While Stewart was executing this daring and brilliant advance, Cheatham, in falling back had reached a strong position, where he halted his line, ran forward Lieutenant Turner's battery, and opened so fierce a fire the centre of Thomas's line gave way just as its left had been struck by Liddell. Thomas, now with Stewart on his right, Cheatham in front and Liddell on his left, was compelled to retire. Stewart, after disposing of Van Cleve, pierced Rosecrans's line and moved across the State road some four hundred yards. Negley and Davis now threatening his rear, made retreat expedient. About sunset he took post about six hundred yards to the east of the road.

Thomas retreated until he reached a position near the State road, where he placed Palmer, Reynold and Brannan, in line, leaving Johnson and Baird well in front as a grand guard.

Cleburne's division reached the portion of the line where this stubborn conflict had been going on about 6 P. M. Though late General Polk determined to put it in position on Cheatham's right and move again upon the enemy. Cleburne and Cheatham were ordered to advance and attack, Walker to move in the rear as a support.

General Polk then turned to Captain Wheeless of his staff and said: “Go to General Bragg and tell him that I feel certain, from the prisoners captured, we have been fighting Rosecrans's entire army. I am now placing Cleburne in position on the right, and will advance in a few moments on the enemy, and expect to drive them before us. Present my compliments to General Bragg, and assure him that I feel confident of success to-morrow.”

Cannon and musketry announced a renewal of the persistent conflict. Cheatham's division struck Johnson's and Baird's in front, while Cleburne's [12] struck them in front and flank; and this portion of the Federal line was further driven back, until darkness prevented pursuit.

It was in the latter contest the thorough soldier and courtly gentleman, Brigadier General Preston Smith, lost his life.

On the left of the Confederate line no event of note occurred prior to 2 P. M., when Hood's skirmish line was driven in, and he assumed the aggressive, taking with his own command Trigg's brigade of Preston's division, he moved across the State road, driving the enemy's forces in his front. He soon encountered Wood's division and a portion of Sheridan's on his left and rear, and the divisions of Negley and Davis in front, which compelled him to withdraw his troops some six hundred yards east of the road where they were posted for the night.

This conflict, though not so prolonged as that on the right, was fierce while it lasted, and the loss comparatively heavy.

Preston's remaining brigades, not being ordered into action, held their position near the Chickamauga, covering the extreme left.

As the result of the day's fighting General Bragg had effected a crossing, established his line, and had inflicted a heavy loss on the enemy, forcing them to stand upon the defensive.

On the left Hood bivouaced on a prolongation of the line of the morning, some six hundred yards to the right. The contest of the day on this part of the field had been made by 8,219 Confederate infantry and artillery against 15,618 Federals, together with a brigade of mounted infantry.

On the right the forces opposed to Polk had been defeated and driven back to their position of the morning. By 5 P. M. Thomas had abandoned his aggressive movement against the Confederate right and had retired to within 500 yards of the Chattanooga (State) road, leaving Baird and Johnson well in advance as a grand guard to hold the battle-field, if possible, for the night. They also quickly retired to the State road, when, attacked by Cleburne and Cheatham at 6 P. M., these two divisions bivouaced in advance of the position abandoned by Baird and Johnson.

The contest of the day had been made on this part of the field by 16,573 Confederate infantry and artillery against 30,247 Federal, the fruits of which were reaped by sending forward Cleburne's division of 5,115 infantry; making a total infantry and artillery force on the Confederate right, after 6 P. M., of 21,728. [13]

The arrangement of the forces, the number engaged, and the losses we now give.4

Confederate.
 Right wing, Lieutenant-General Polk: 
Walker's corps5,175
Cheatham's division7,000
Stewart's division4,398
Cleburne's division5,115
   
 Total infantry and artillery21,688
 Cavalry2,000
   
 Total23,688
   
 Loss about4,000
 Confederate left wing, Major-General Hood: 
Johnson's division3,683
Laws's division about3,000
Trigg's brigade1,536
   
 Total infantry and artillery8,219
   
 Loss about2,000
In reserve, not engaged, 2 brigade's, Preston's3,270
 Right wing: 
Hill's corps.Breckinridge3,769
Cleburne4,670
Walker's corps.Liddell4,355
Gist5 
Cheatham6,000
   
 Total18,814
 Cavalry, (Forrest's)3,500
   
 Aggregate22,314
 Of the infantry of this wing 4,749 were fresh troops. 
 Left wing: 
Buckner's corps.Preston4,078
Stewart3,750
Hindman's division6,100
Hood's corps.Johnson 
Law 
Kershaw 
   
 Total622,849
 Cavalry (Wheeler's)4,000
   
 Aggregate26,849
 Of the infantry of this wing 10,900 were fresh troops. 
 Total Confederate force, 49,162. 150 pieces of artillery. 
Federal.
 Left wing, Major-General Thomas: 
Brannan's division5,989
Baird's division4,655
Johnson's division4,184
Palmer's division4,853
Reynolds's division6,268
Van Cleve, two brigades2,300
   
 Total infantry28,247
   
 Artillery about2,000
   
 Total, about30,247
   
 Loss7,701
 Federal right: 
Wood's division4,125
Barnes's brigade about1,800
Davis's division2,971
Negley's division4,349
One brigade, Sheridan's division1,373
   
 Total infantry14,618
   
 Artillery about1,000
Wilder's brigade — mounted infantry0,000

Two brigades of Preston's division, all of Breckenridge's and Hindman's, being eight brigades, forming an aggregate of 13,142 strong, were unengaged on the 19th. As to the enemy's force engaged on that day, Rosecrans, in his official report of the battle, says, “The reserve corps covered the approaches from the Chickamauga towards Rossville, and the extension of our left, and the fact, that at the close of day, we had present but two brigades which had not been opportunely and squarely in action, opposed to superior numbers of the enemy, assured us that we were greatly outnumbered, and that the battle of the next day must be for the safety of the army, and the possession of Chatanooga.”

Crittenden, in the official report of the part taken by the corps under him, attests, “the enemy appeared to have troops enough to fight us everywhere, and to fill up every interval.”

This was generous and effective testimony to the intrepidity of the Confederate soldiers and the skill of their commanders.

At the close of the day, General Polk gave orders for the adjustment of his line, and directed his headquarters to be established at Alexander's bridge, about 1,200 yards in rear of his line, as the bridge was well-known and accessible from all parts of the field.

About 9 P. M. he rode to army headquarters to report the operarations of the command under him during the day.

After the report was made, a conversation ensued between General Bragg and himself on the disposition of the various commands for the morrow. General Bragg announced that the army would be divided into two wings, the right wing to be under General Polk and the left wing to be under General Longstreet.

The distribution completed, verbal instructions were given General Polk to open the attack at daylight by the division (Breckenridge's) [16] on the extreme right, from which the attack was to be taken up, by divisions, successively, to the left. It was designed to attempt to turn the enemy's left, and force him into McLemore's cove.

During this interview General Polk suggested a larger force than that allowed should be massed upon the right. He called General Bragg's attention to the inference from the day's fighting — that Rosecrans was accumulating his forces in front of the right wing of the Confederate line. General Polk further mentioned the fact that Granger's corps was a short distance from Rosecrans's left (four and a half miles) in a position to assail in flank and rear any force that might succeed in turning the Federal left. But the Commanding General held to the opinion the bulk of the enemy were nearer Lee & Gordon's mills than General Polk supposed.

General Polk returned direct to his quarters at Alexander's bridge. On the way he met and was accompanied by General Breckenridge, who reported his division as lying near the bridge. As his men had just come from the extreme left and were much fatigued, General Polk on his request consented that they should rest in an open field, just west of the bridge, but directed him to be in line at dawn. He then invited General Breckenridge to bivouac with him. * * *

Immediately on reaching his quarters General Polk issued the following order:

Headquarters right wing A. T., (Near Alexander's Bridge), September 19, 1863, 11:30 P. M.
Circular.

1st. Lieutenant-General Hill, on the right, will attack the enemy with his corps to-morrow morning at day-light.

2d. Major General Cheatham, on Hill's left, will make a simultaneous attack.

3d. Major-General Walker's corps will act as reserve.

Corps and Division commanders will see that their troops are amply supplied with ammunition before daylight.

By command of


* * * * * * * * * [17]

The orders issued, Generals Polk and Breckenridge talked over the plans of the coming day for some time, and then threw themselves upon the ground for a short sleep.

During the same evening Rosecrans assembled his corps commanders and gave them orders for the following day.

Thomas was to hold the position to which he had retired, about five hundred yards east of the State road, his command to form in three lines, placing Baird's division on the extreme Federal left, next to Baird's, successively on the right the divisions of Johnston, Palmer and Reynolds. Brennan's division was to be posted in reserve to the right and rear of Reynolds's.

Negley's division was to take post on the right of Reynolds's; next on the right was McCook, with the divisions of Davis and Sheridan. Wilder's mounted infantry formed the extreme right. This portion of the line was west of the State road.

Crittenden, with his remaining two divisions, VanCleve and Wood, was to take position in the rear of Thomas's and McCook's Corps, so as to be able to support either.

These commanders, as soon as posted, commenced to throw up temporary breastworks. It was understood the left of the line was to be held at all hazards, as the safety of the army depended upon it. General Rosecrans states in substance that if necessary every command should be moved from the right to the left.

It will be noted from this arrangement of the Federal line, General Polk was correct in the views expressed to General Bragg, which we have alluded to, that the bulk of the enemy's forces were massed under Thomas, opposite the Confederate right.

On September 20th the forces under Rosecrans consisted of--

McCook's Corps (Twentieth)710,640
Thomas's Corps (Fourteenth)14,524
Crittenden's Corps (Twenty-first)13,539
Granger's Reserve (Steadman's Division)5,171
Cavalry (Mitchel's Corps)9,676
 
Forming a total of53,550

The Federal line had 170 pieces of artillery.

The disposition made by the Confederate Generals were as follows:

Both wings were to occupy substantially the lines held at the close of [18] the day's engagement. The left wing some five or six hundred yards from the State road, and about parallel to it. The right wing was to the right and rear, about twelve hundred yards from the road. The general direction of its line being also parallel to the State road. It was necessary for this wing to cover the space between Cheatham's right and the road leading from Reed's bridge to the State road, and in order to accomplish this, fully half its line had to be placed in single formation. Breckenridge's division was in one line on the extreme right; Forrest's cavalry on its flank; Cleburne in one line next to Breckenridge's; Cheatham, with four brigades, in front-one in reserve was on the left; Walker's division (4,500)8 corps was in reserve in the rear of Cleburne and Cheatham, so as to support either. General Polk expected to make a heavy pressure in front with Cheatham's, Cleburne's and Walker's divisions, while Breckenridge with Forrest operated on the left flank of the enemy.

During the night General Longstreet had arrived and assumed command of the left wing; at dawn he commenced the arrangement of his line; Hindman's division was placed on the extreme left; Wheeler's cavalry on the flank; Johnston's division was next to Hindman's, and Stewart's on the right of Johnston's. Each division had two brigades in front and one in the rear. Preston's division was placed in reserve on the left; Law's division in the rear of Johnston's. The brigades of Kershaw and Humphries, of McLaw's division, commanded by Kershaw, were posted in rear of Law.

Johnston's, Laws's and Kershaw's commands were under Hood, and formed a column of eight brigades, arranged four lines deep. This General Longstreet intended as his principal column of attack.

General Longstreet having understood a gap existed between the wings of the army, had at the beginning of his formation moved Stewart's division some five hundred or six hundred yards to the right. This movement placed Stewart's division directly in front of Cheatham's line and in advance of his skirmishers.

The Commanding General did not advise General Polk of the change of Stewart's division, although they were together after the disposition was made.9

If the change had been made known there was ample time, prior to the attack, to move Walker's corps and Cheatham's division to the right and in rear of the divisions of Cleburne and Breckenridge, and by that [19] means have given to the right wing the strength it needed, by a double formation from right to left.

As both lines now stood in array Granger held post four and a half miles to Polk's right, Thomas with Baird's, Johnston's, Palmer's and a part of Reynold's divisions, each division in three lines, and behind breastworks, was opposed to Hill with the divisions of Cleburne and Breckenridge, and a part of Walker's corps.

The remainder of Reynold's division with Brannan's in echelon was in front of Stewart's and Cheatham's divisions and the remainder of Walker's corps.

Negley's, with Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions in reserve, under Crittenden, was in front of Hood's corps.

The divisions of Davis and Sheridan, and Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry under McCook were in front of Hindman's division.

About the time the action began Negley's division was withdrawn from its position, and moved to the rear of Thomas's corps, as a support to the left, Wood's division moving forward and taking Negley's place in the line betweed Reynold's and Davis's division. The entire Federal line was covered by temporary breastworks.

We have seen that at 11:30 P. M. of the 19th, orders were issued to Hill, Cheatham, and Walker to begin the attack at daylight. The copies destined for Cheatham and Walker were promptly delivered; those for General Hill did not reach him till about sunrise. Every effort was made, but the country, thickly wooded, was cut up with innumerable roads. The moving trains of 50,000 men and the darkness added to the confusion — hence the delay.

A further delay was made by General Hill in order that his men might be fed, many having been without food for twenty-four hours. As an illustration of the loose manner in which the Commanding General made preparations for the battle of the 20th, it may be said that General's Polk's orders were verbal, while General Hill, an officer of equal grade with General Polk, commanding the companion corps of the army, and with headquarters at Thedford's ford, quite near army headquarters, never received a word or line from General Bragg to indicate that he was to report to General Polk for instructions.

The resting of the responsibility for finding and instructing Hill on such a night, upon an officer having no communication with him and without definite information as to his whereabouts, will go far toward accounting for the delay in transmitting the orders. And General Bragg, with that promptness which characterized him in such matters, lost no time in placing the whole of it upon General Polk. It is also [20] interesting to note that notwithstanding the delay on the right, the Confederate Commander did not have his left ready for action until the assault of the right was commenced, and then, as we will see, so placed as to throw six brigades out of the line in which they were most needed.

Battle of the twentieth.

It was now 9:30 A. M. General Hill reported his corps ready. The order to advance was given, when Cheatham reported the relation of his line to Stewart's already alluded to. General Polk took prompt measures to repair the grave error by directing Cheatham to halt. He then dispatched information to Cleburne of Stewart's position, and moved Walker by the right oblique, so as to support Hill in the advance. But Hill, already on the move, struck the enemy before Walker could reach him. Cheatham was directed by General Bragg to remain as he was, to act as a reserve.

In the advance Deshler's, and larger part of Wood's, brigades, of of Cleburne's Division, more than half over-lapped Stewart's division on its rear, therefore could not take part in the assault. L. E. Polk's10 brigade, and Lowry's regiment, of Wood's brigade, struck the works of the enemy squarely in front, but were too weak to force them. Polk, unable to advance his brigade, determined not to retreat, ordered the command to lie down and hold their position, which was about one hundred and seventy-five yards from the enemy's works. Helm's brigade, of Breckenridge's division, struck the left flank of the works. After two desperate and unavailing efforts to carry them, it was compelled to retire, but not until its leader sealed his devotion, with his life, to the grand old cause of right.

Stovall's and Adams's, the remaining brigades of Breckenridge's division, passed clear of the work, to the State road in the rear, and bore down on the left flank and rear of the enemy.

While Breckenridge was executing this bold movement, General Bragg held Cheatham's division to its position. If it could have been thrown forward to the right in aid of Cleburne, at this opportune moment, the enemy might have been so pressed in front as to have compelled him to keep his troops in position. As it was, he was able to withdraw a portion of his reserve, which, strengthened by brigades from Brannan's and Negley's divisions, operated against Stoval's and Adams's brigades, and forced them back. In this contest, Brigadier-General Adams [21] marked with the scars of Shiloh, Penyville and Murfreesboro, was again wounded, and fell into the enemy's hands.

General Bragg, impressed with the necessity of the occasion, detached Jackson's brigade of Cheatham's division, and ordered its commander to report to General Hill, but the support was too feeble to do material service.

Hill had four brigades and a regiment in this attack against four divisions of the enemy, three of which were entrenched. The assault was fierce, and, though repelled, bore its fruits; for, as will be seen, it broke up the formation of the enemy's right.

Meanwhile Walker getting well to the right was advancing to the front. Cleburne was engaged in extricating Deshler, in order to bring him to Polk's support. Helm had fallen and his brigade repulsed. Breckenridge, with Stoval and Adams, was yet far to the front fighting in the enemy's rear. There was thus a gap of several hundred yards between the divisions of Hill's corps. The enemy showing every disposition to fill it, imperiling Breckenridge's position, Walker had to be thrown in at once. Gist, changing direction to the left, moved against Baird's retired flank. Govan, gaining ground to the front and left, advanced as a support to the right of Gist, while Walthal, moving to the left, endeavored to fill the interval between Gist and Cleburne, but the undergrowth was so thick, his own, as well the movements of the troops on his right, were executed with great difficulty. Before he could get into position his left was assailed so fiercely the entire brigade had to be retired. The division under Gist was repulsed. The gallant Colquit, of the Fourth Georgia, falling in the assault, and Govan, isolated on the extreme right, had to be withdrawn.

Though no advantage had been gained the pressing danger had been averted. The loss commensurate with the effort included many gallant officers, among them the brave and efficient General Deshler. In the interval between these assaults of Breckenridge and Walker the enemy had heavily reinforced their left, extending the line to the left and rear, some distance to the west of the State road.

Prior to this assault, General Polk hearing of Cleburne's repulse, directed General Hill to assume control of the movements on the extreme right, and then rode to his left. Inspecting Cleburne's division, he found his line withdrawn about three hundred yards, readjusted, and in a strong position.

Cleburne having suffered materially in the repulse, General Polk ordered Cheatham to replace him, when a message from General Forrest was received announcing the advance of Granger's corps. This [22] force of the enemy, as has been said, was holding a position some four-and-a-half miles to the extreme left of the enemy's line when the action began. At 11 A. M. it started to the support of Thomas's corps.

Feeling the importance of protecting the Confederate right against this counter flank movement of the enemy, General Polk ordered Cleburne to hold his position, and directed Cheatham to move to the right with his division, to meet the movement of Granger, but Granger, making a detour to the west of the State road, moved to the rear of Thomas's line, having previously posted a brigade to observe the Confederate right.

It was now 2 P. M. Granger having ceased threatening his flank, General Polk readjusted his line from left to right preparatory to another assault. The enemy's works being visible through the open woods in front of Cleburne, that officer was directed, about 3 P. M., to mass his artillery, and open fire upon the enemy introductory to the advance. Promptly moving his guns to within two hundred yards of the enemy's lines a destructive fire was opened upon them.

Soon after the attack by the right wing, General Longstreet had completed the arrangement of his line, and stood prepared to take up the contest as it reached him from the right, but the repulse of the right deranged the plan of battle. Owing to the advanced position of the enemy's left, Cleburne could move no further forward than on a line with Stewart's division on the right of the left wing, and as the orders were for the divisions on the left to move only in connection with the divisions next on the right, and as Stewart did not move in consequence of the operations of the right wing, the remainder of the left wing remained passive.

Perceiving the right wing unable to advance, Longstreet sought permission to move directly upon the enemy in his front. The Commanding-General, however, had already seen the necessity of the movement, and accordingly orders to that effect had been sent directly to the division commanders.

Stewart, with a portion of Wood's brigade of Cleburne's division, was the first to advance, but encountering a terrific front and flank fire from Reynolds, whose line was retired to the rear and right, he was compelled to fall back after several gallant efforts, aided by Wood, to force the position.

Hood's corps, next on the left, was more fortunate.

Hill's assault in the morning had so impressed Thomas, he called repeatedly upon Rosecrans for aid. Negley's division had been taken from the right and sent to him. Van Cleve's division was ordered to [23] follow. Sheridan was ordered to go with two brigades, and was executing the order when Hindman's division compelled him to confront it. There remained, to oppose the forces under Longstreet, Wood's division, Van Cleve, a portion of Brannan's, Davis's and Sheridan's, and Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry.

With a view to make his line compact, Rosecrans had directed Wood to close to the left on Reynold's, McCook being ordered to follow the movement. Wood, misunderstanding the order, withdrew from the line, and passed to the rear of Brannan, whose force was in echelon to the right and rear of Reynold's division. The movement of Wood left a gap of a division front on the Federal right. It was noted as soon as made, and Hood's quadruple line filled it. The rear of Wood's division and the right of Brannan's were driven in confusion to the right, Davis was thrust in like disorder to the left; Hindman attacked Sheridan and Wilder in front. The entire Federal right was routed, one of Van Cleves brigades was captured entire. Sheridan's division, two brigades of Davis's division, and Rosecrans disappeared from the field.

The triumph achieved by Hood was marred by the serious wounding of this daring commander. He had to suffer the amputation of a leg upon the field.

Upon the disappearance of Rosecrans, the command of the Federal line, now shorn of six brigades, devolved upon Thomas. He withdrew Reynold's right, and posted Wood, and two brigades of Negley's divisions to the right, at about right angles to his front line. Brannan was placed next on the right, and west of the State road, and later, Granger on the extreme right; so that his left and right were now at right angles to each other. The position was advantageous. The original line on his left, as already stated, was well fortified. The right was now posted upon the high ground of the foot hills of Missionary Ridge.

Longstreet, without opponent in front, now wheeled his entire line to the right, and moved to assault the enemy's new position, on the foot hills of Missionary Ridge. Buckner massed several batteries upon the State road, and opened an enfilading fire upon the angle of the enemy's line, while Preston's division assailed Brannan's position, and the line to Brannan's left.

While these movements on the left were taking shape, General Polk prepared for a renewal of the assault on the right. As already said Cleburne at 3 P. M. was ordered to mass his batteries, move close up and open fire on the enemy. This was promptly done. A point within 200 yards of their line having been secured, a continuous and destructive fire was kept up. [24]

At 3:30 P. M. General Hill was ordered to attack Cheatham and Walker, being directed to move at the same time. Some delay was occasioned by the difficulty which General Hill met with in getting Jackson's brigade into position on Cleburne's right, so that it was after four when the movement begun. The batteries having opened the way the troops moved up with a will, Cleburne on the left, then Breckenridge and Walker, followed by Cheatham, the whole covered by Forrest on the extreme right.

Brigadier-General Polk's brigade leading the line dashed at the works, and after an heroic effort, seized the portion that had opposed such stubborn and successful resistance to Helm, Walthall and Gist earlier in the day, capturing a large number of the enemy.

Longstreet now put forth his full strength, as the cheering yells of successful battle came from the right, Hindman, Buckner, Hood, Stewart all moved forward for a final and triumphant struggle.

Both wings now moved simultaneously. The entire line swept forward in one mighty and resistless surge. Vain the determination that attempted to stay the human tide. The enemy, who had given every proof of valor and endurance the day previous, as well as in the morning, were compelled to retreat hurriedly, striking Liddell a parting blow as they disappeared with the sinking sun. Night interposing the victorious Confederates went into bivouac on the field wrested from the enemy.

The immediate results of the victory were several stands colors, 8,000 prisoners, 51 pieces of artillery, 15,000 stand of small arms, a number of wagons and ambulances, and a quantity of ammunition, hospital stores, &c. * * * * * *

In studying the details of this, the greatest battle of the West, one is struck with the singular coincidence that while both commanders showed great activity in putting their armies into battle on the 19th, neither impressed himself upon the action of the 20th. General Bragg in the main satisfied himself with issuing orders from the neighborhood of Alexander's bridge, and there was an evident lack of confidence in his ability to grasp and direct the rapidly shifting events of the battle suggesting disaster where all else pointed to success.

Rosecrans disappeared from the field by noon, leaving his army, shorn of six brigades in the hands of Thomas. Friend and foe alike must give to this officer, all praise for the masterly manner in which he continued the battle. Hard pressed along his entire line he rode to the right in search of aid, when suddenly he found there was no right. In its place were Longstreet's victorious divisions. To a man of less [25] nerve and resources a more trying situation can scarcely be pictured. Promptly shortening his line he proceeded to form a right from reserves remaining. Placing it at right angles to his front he prepared for a stubborn contest.

There was no time to intrench; unlike the left, here all that could be done must be done in the open field, and that it was well done is clearly shown, for in the face of disaster, with eight brigades and portions of two others, he held at bay twelve brigades flushed with victory and directed by the most accomplished corps commander in the Confederate army, till the left of his army being from their position by the Confederate right rendered further resistance impossible.


Conclusion.

With this, Mr. Editor, we bring our extract to its close. For our authorities we beg to refer to the reports of the two armies, army, corps, division, brigade and regimental; and also to certain papers on file in the War Records office, Washington. The more personal parts of the sketch are from notes prepared by General Polk. We trust the article may be read carefully, as we wish candid and sincere criticism.

Yours truly,


1 General Hindman's reasons for not attacking at daylight are given in his report, now in the archives of the Southern Historical Society.

2 This division, marching from its position near Dug's gap, reached Lafayette about dark on the 12th, and started for Rock Spring about 9 the same evening.

3 These measurements taken from a map prepared by Major-General Tower to show movements of Federal armies.

4 the estimate of the Confederate forces is made from the official reports of the corps, division and brigade commanders. That of the Federal from morning reports made September 10th and September 20th, 1863. copies of which were kindly furnished by General Marcus J. Wright, war records office.

5 Gist's Brigade arrived about 10 A. M.--20th.

6 Longstreet's Report, page 375, vol. X, Rebellion Record.

7 Taken from morning report, September 20, ‘63, a copy of which was kindly furnished by General M. J. Wright.

8 Gist did not report till about 10 A. M., the 20th.

9 There was a thick woods between the two commands.

10 A nephew of Lieutenant-General Polk.

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