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[450] Lieut.-Gen. Polk was ordered to assail the enemy on the extreme right at day-dawn on the 20th, and to take up the attack in succession rapidly to the left. The left wing was to await the attack by the right, take it up promptly when made, and the whole line was then to be pushed vigorously and persistently against the enemy throughout its extent.

At dawn, Gen. Bragg was in the saddle, surrounded by his staff, eagerly listening for the sound of Polk's guns. The sun rose, and was mounting the sky, and still there was no note of attack from the right wing. Bragg chafed with impatience, and at last despatched one of his staff-officers, Maj. Lee, to ascertain the cause of Polk's delay, and urge him to a prompt and speedy movement. Gen. Polk, notwithstanding his clerical antecedents, was noted for his fondness of military ostentation, and carried a train of staff officers whose numbers and superb dress were the occasions of singular remark. Maj. Lee found him seated at a comfortable breakfast, surrounded by brilliantly dressed officers, and delivered his message with military bluntness and brevity. Gen. Polk replied that he had ordered Hill to open the action, that he was waiting for him, and he added: “Do tell Gen. Bragg that my heart is overflowing with anxiety for the attack-overflowing with anxiety, sir.” Maj. Lee returned to the commanding-general, and reported the reply literally. Bragg uttered a terrible exclamation, in which Polk, Hill, and all his generals were included. “Maj. Lee,” he cried, “ride along the line, and order every captain to take his men instantly into action.” In fifteen minutes the battle was joined; but three hours of valuable time had been lost, in which Rosecrans was desperately busy in strengthening his position.

It was 10 o'clock when the battle opened on the right wing of the Confederates, and the command “forward” ran down their ranks. Breckinridge moved forward with his division, but, after a severe contest, was pressed back. Had the reserve ordered forward to Breckinridge's support come up in time, the enemy's position might have been carried, and prevented the conflict of the afternoon. As it was, notwithstanding the partial repulse, several pieces of artillery were captured and a large number of prisoners.

At the same time each succeeding division to the left gradually became engaged with the enemy, extending to Longstreet's wing. Walker's division advanced to the relief of Breckinridge, and, after an engagement of half an hour, was also compelled to retire under the severe fire of the enemy. The gallant Tennesseans, under Cheatham, then advanced to the relief of Walker, but even they wavered and fell back under the terrible fire of the enemy. Cleburne's division, which had several times gallantly charged the enemy, had also been checked, and Stuart's division, occupying the centre and left of our line, detached from Buckner's corps, had recoiled before the enemy.

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Leonidas Polk (6)
Robert E. Lee (4)
Braxton S. Bragg (4)
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D. H. Hill (2)
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