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Chickamauga — the great battle of the west.1

by Daniel H. Hill, Lieutenant-General, C. S. A.

Confederate line of battle in the Chickamauga woods.

On the 13th of July, 1863, while in charge of the defenses of Richmond and Petersburg and the Department of North Carolina, I received an unexpected order to go West. I was seated in a yard of a house in the suburbs of Richmond (the house belonging to Mr. Poe, a relative of the poet), when President Davis, dressed in a plain suit of gray and attended by a small escort in brilliant uniform, galloped up and said: “Rosecrans is about to advance upon Bragg; I have found it necessary to detail Hardee to defend Mississippi and Alabama. His corps is without a commander. I wish you to command it.” “I cannot do that,” I replied, “as General Stewart ranks me.” “I can cure that,” answered Mr. Davis, “by making you a lieutenant-general. Your papers will be ready to-morrow. When can you start?” “In twenty-four hours,” was the reply. Mr. Davis gave his views on the subject, some directions in regard to matters at Chattanooga, and then left in seemingly good spirits.2 [639]

The condition of our railroads even in 1863 was wretched, so bad that my staff and myself concluded to leave our horses in Virginia and resupply ourselves in Atlanta. On the 19th of July I reported to General Bragg at Chattanooga. I had not seen him since I had been the junior lieutenant in his battery of artillery at Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1845. The other two lieutenants were George H. Thomas and John F. Reynolds. We four had been in the same mess there. Reynolds had been killed at Gettysburg twelve days before my new assignment. Thomas, the strongest and most pronounced Southerner of the four, was now Rosecrans's lieutenant. It was a strange casting of lots that three messmates of Corpus Christi should meet under such changed circumstances at Chickamauga.

My interview with General Bragg at Chattanooga was not satisfactory. He was silent and reserved and seemed gloomy and despondent. He had grown prematurely old since I saw him last, and showed much nervousness. His relations with his next in command (General Polk) and with some others of his subordinates were known not to be pleasant. His many retreats, too, had alienated the rank and file from him, or at least had taken away that enthusiasm which soldiers feel for the successful general, and which makes them obey his orders without question, and thus wins for him other successes. The one thing that a soldier never fails to understand is victory, and the commander who leads him to victory will be adored by him whether that victory has been won by skill or by blundering, by the masterly handling of a few troops against great odds, or by the awkward use of overwhelming numbers. Long before Stonewall Jackson had risen to the height of his great fame, he had won the implicit confidence of his troops in all his movements. “Where are you going?” one inquired of the “foot cavalry” as they were making the usual stealthy march to the enemy's rear. “We don't know, but old Jack does,” was the laughing answer. This trust was the fruit of past victories, and it led to other and greater achievements.

I was assigned to Hardee's old corps, consisting of Cleburne's and Stewart's divisions, and made my headquarters at Tyner's Station, a few miles east of Chattanooga on the Knoxville railroad. The Federals soon made their appearance at Bridgeport, Alabama, and I made arrangements to guard the crossings of the Tennessee north of Chattanooga.3 On Fast Day, [640]

Map of the Chickamauga campaign.

August 21st, while religious services were being held in town, the enemy appeared on the opposite side of the river and began throwing shells into the houses.4 Rev. B. M. Palmer, D. D., of New Orleans, was in the act of prayer when a shell came hissing near the church. He went on calmly with his petition to the Great Being “who rules in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth,” but at its close, the preacher, opening his eyes, noticed a perceptible diminution of his congregation. Some women and children were killed and wounded by the shelling. Our pickets and scouts had given no notice of the approach of the enemy. On Sunday, August 30th, we learned through a citizen that McCook's corps had crossed at Caperton's Ferry, some thirty-five miles below Chattanooga, the movement having begun on the 29th. Thomas's corps was also crossing at or near the same point.

The want of information at General Bragg's headquarters was in striking contrast with the minute knowledge General Lee always had of every operation in his front, and I was most painfully impressed with the feeling that it was to be a hap-hazard campaign on our part.5 Rosecrans had effected the crossing of the river (Thomas's corps) and had occupied Will's Valley, between Sand and Lookout mountains, without opposition, and had established his [641] headquarters at Trenton. Lookout Mountain now interposed to screen all the enemy's movements from our observation.6

On the 7th of September Rosecrans sent McCook to cross Lookout Mountain at Winston's Gap, forty-six miles south of Chattanooga, and to occupy Alpine, east of the mountains. Thomas was ordered to cross the mountain at Stevens's and Cooper's gaps, some twenty-five miles from Chattanooga, and to occupy McLemore's Cove on the east, a narrow valley between Lookout and Pigeon mountains. Pigeon Mountain is parallel to the former, not so high and rugged, and does not extend so far north, ending eight miles south of Chattanooga. Crittenden was left in Will's Valley to watch Chattanooga.

General Bragg had had some inclosed works constructed at Chattanooga, and the place could have been held by a division against greatly superior forces. By holding Chattanooga in that way, Crittenden's corps would have been neutralized, and a union between Rosecrans and Burnside would have been impossible. Moreover, the town was the objective point of the campaign, and to lose it was virtually to lose all east Tennessee south of Knoxville. If Bragg knew at the time of the prospective help coming to him from the Army of Northern Virginia, it was of still more importance to hold the town, that he might be the more readily in communication with Longstreet on his arrival. Under similar circumstances

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