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Chickamauga—a reply to Major Sykes.

Letter from James M. Goggin, A. A. General McLaws's Division.
[We regret that the following letter from a gallant soldier has been ‘crowded out’ of several numbers. We publish these conflicting views without note or comment, and without ‘taking sides’ with either.]

Austin, Texas, January 2, 1884.
Rev. J. William Jones, Secretary of Southern Historical Society.:
Sir,—In the last number of the Southern Historical Society papers I find a ‘Cursory Sketch’ of General Bragg and his Campaigns, from the pen of Major Sykes, of Columbus, Miss. His ‘Battle of Chickamauga’ is certainly calculated to mislead the future historian, especially in regard to the events of the 21st, if the statements and assertions of those who participated actively in the inaction of that day are worthy of credence.

It is earnestly to be hoped that, in time, we may get at the bottom facts, but, as yet, notwithstanding the numerous publications on [220] the subject by your Society, as well as through other mediums, both North and South, we still seem to be as far from a satisfactory solution of certain questions as ever.

That the Army of the Confederate States, when the battle closed on Sunday, the 20th, had won one of the greatest victories of the war, no one, be he Federal or Confederate, who participated in the fight, will for a moment deny. This fact was patent to all who were on the field the next morning.

There is no question that when General Rosencranz determined to give General Bragg battle, he did so in confidence of a great success, or, to use General Thomas's own language, that he would use the rebels up. This assurance was shared by other officers.

On September 10th General Cruft writes to his Division Commander, General John M. Palmer: ‘Have skirmished with two regiments of mine and one of Colonel Grose to a point, say 1 1/2 to 2 miles front of Benview, the bald place you see on the Hill from where I left you. The enemy had, say 200 cavalry, which charged my First Kentucky advanced guard after the cavalry of our left, and drove them in. Have driven them away constantly as I advanced. This can be continued ad infinitum.’

General Palmer seems to have been so well pleased with General Cruft's ad infinitum idea that on the 18th he placed him in command of a division, and I think it probable that if General P. furnished the Commander of the Fourteenth Corps a copy of Cruft's communication it may have inspired the proposition of General Thomas to General Palmer on the 19th. It may also have had something to do with General T.'s bull-dog tenacity on the 20th. General Thomas writes as follows:

headquarters Fourteenth army corps, near McDaniel's House, September 19th, 9 A. M., 1863.
Major-General Palmer.
The rebels are reported in quite a heavy force between you and Alexander's Mill.

If you advance as soon as possible on them in front while I attack them in flank I think we can use them up.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General Commanding.


To this General Palmer promptly responded:

headquarters Second division, Twenty-First army corps, Gordon's Mill, September 19th, 1863-10 A. M.
General,—Your note of 9 A. M. received. Colonel Grose is gone on reconnoissance on our flank. As soon as he returns will advance as you propose.

Very respectfully,

J. M. Palmer. Major-General Thomas, Fourteenth Army Corps.

On that day the great battle may be said to have commenced, and I quote the above for the purpose of showing that leading officers of the Federal forces entered on it in the full assurance of a great success and with a determination and expectation of ‘using up’ the rebel army. In proportion to the confidence felt in their ability to win must have been the revulsion of feeling and demoralization on the night of the 20th, when they found that they had been beaten at all points and that they must leave the field in possession of those very rebels whom the sanguine Cruft had declared could be driven ‘ad infinitum,’ and Thomas believed could be easily ‘used up’

The question then arises why the fruits of so grand a victory were not gathered in on that night or on the succeeding day?

General Bragg was in consultation with General Longstreet at early dawn of the morning of the 21st at the latter's bivouac. General Longstreet urged a movement across the river in the rear of Rosecrans, to the pushing on to Nashville, and, after drawing Rosecrans out of Chattanooga, seek an opportunity to crush him; but go on to Nashville and Louisville.

This General Bragg agreed to do, and it was understood that he gave his orders with such a purpose in view.

On parting from General Bragg General Longstreet directed his command to move at once. When the order was delivered to General Kershaw, who, as senior Brigadier, was in command of his own and Humphries' brigade of McLaws's division (the two Georgia brigades and General McLaws not having yet reached the field), the men were preparing to eat breakfast, and though they had laid down supperless, it was not ten minutes before they were on the move. Riding forward to report the fact to General Longstreet, I had proceeded but a short distance before I met that officer, who [222] directed me to halt the command, and remarked: ‘General Bragg has changed his mind for some reason or other. I know not what.’ At 10:45 we were ordered to be ready to move at 2 o'clock; but we only moved about two miles, and camped for the night. On the morning of the 22d we advanced on the road to Chattanooga, by which a large portion of the Federal army had retreated. We had moved but a short distance before we came upon and captured quite a number of the enemy hiding in the brush on the mountain side. These prisoners, as well as the citizens we met, gave us to understand that the Federal army was thoroughly demoralized by its defeat on the 20th; the latter all agreeing in the assertion that if we had ‘Come along the day before we could have captured all of 'em.’

The enemy were reported to be making a stand at Rossville, but when we reached that point we found it evacuated.

Pushing on towards Chattanooga, with Armstrong's brigade of cavalry in advance, at 10:45 reached Watkin's Hill, two miles from Chattanooga. Advanced line of skirmishers to feel the enemy. After skirmishing some fifteen or twenty minutes, using our artillery, the enemy retired. On the 23d and 24th nothing was done; same may be said of 25th, 26th and 27th.

The above facts are given only in connection with, and by way of accounting for, the movements of one division alone of the army that fought at Chickamauga. In regard to the operations of that other division of Longstreet's corps, which did such noble service on the 19th and 20th, I have before me a communication from a private (G. M. Pinckney) of Hood's brigade, who, though at the time of the fight a mere boy, was for that very reason much more likely to be so impressed by what he saw and heard that his memory could not lead him astray. After a vivid and stirring picture of the events of the 19th and 20th, and especially of the operations of Hood's brigade, he says:

‘On Sunday night, the 20th of September, 1863, one of the grandest armies of the North was in full retreat. Small arms and other fixtures of camp life covered the ground. In my judgment it was a most complete victory and should have been followed up; but our army quietly lay on the battle-field and allowed the enemy to retire.’

On Monday morning, the 21st, we had moved to the right of the battle-ground occupied by us on Sunday. On this (Monday) morning we arose early, and just at the head of our brigade we [223] noticed a crowd of men collected, some of whom were on horseback. Among them we could plainly distinguish the tall form of John C. Breckinridge and our bull-dog leader, General James Longstreet, Lee's famous war-horse. Tom Wallingford, one of my company, called me, and we walked to where they (Longstreet and Breckinridge) were. I think General Buckner was also there, on horseback. General Bragg was on foot. Longstreet and Bragg were in earnest conversation—the latter calm and quiet, while the former spoke in an excited manner—his voice clear and distinct, yet very angry. We could not hear what Bragg was saying; he spoke slowly, and in low tones. Longstreet said: ‘General, this army should have been in motion at dawn of day.’ General Bragg made some reply, to which Longstreet said: ‘Yes, sir; but all great captains follow up a victory’ Another remark from Bragg was followed by these words from Longstreet: ‘Yes, sir, you rank me, but you cannot cashier me.’

It was an evident fact that General Bragg did not intend to push the enemy, but to fall back, or at least to take position without advancing. * * * * We lay upon or near the battlefield until Wednesday, the 23d, when we took up our line of march. Late in the evening we reached Chattanooga. Along the route from the battlefield we met citizens who told us that the Yankee army was demoralized to the extent that they had thrown away their arms and fled in every direction. All day Monday, 21st, you could hear the query among the soldiers [the privates], ‘Why don't we follow our victory?’

In view of the foregoing facts it is hard to understand Major Sykes when he says: ‘On the morning of the 21st September, the enemy having the night previous commenced his retreat to Chattanooga, Bragg moved rapidly forward, preceded by General Forrest and his troopers, who were sorely pressing and harrassing the retreating foe; that night reached Missionary Ridge and commenced fortifying.’ As I have said, the above is hard to understand, taken in connection with the movements on the 21st, 22d and 23d of so important a portion of Bragg's command as Longstreet's corps.

In reference to the disobedience of orders by General Polk in not advancing on the morning of the 20th, I have said nothing, because I am wholly ignorant in regard thereto, and prefer saying nothing that cannot be substantiated by direct and positive proof. It is a difficult matter for any one to believe, great as the victory won by General Bragg on the 20th really was, that if General Polk had [224] moved at daylight of that morning the victory would have been so much the greater that it might have resulted in the achievement of our independence, as suggested by General Bragg. It is certainly a heavy indictment against the dead Bishop that he by his inaction, disobedience of orders, or whatsoever you may term it, had sacrificed that boon for which the Southern people were contending, and had rendered nugatory and of no avail all their heroic exertions and sacrifices. It is sometimes best to let the dead past bury its dead; but in a case of this sort I think it due the memory of such a man that some one or more of General Polk's military family should tell us what he or they know on this subject.

James N. Goggin, A. A. General, McLaws's Division. Austin, Texas, January 2, 1884.

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