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Reenforcing Thomas at Chickamauga.

by J. S. Fullerton, Brevet Brigadier-General, U. S. V.; at Chickamauga chief-of-staff to General Gordon Granger.
On the 19th day of September, 1863, the Reserve Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, General Gordon Granger in command, was distributed over a long stretch of country, its rear at Murfreesboro' and its van on the battle-field of Chiekamauga. These troops had been posted to cover the rear and left flank of the army. During September 19th, the first day of the battle, they were engaged in some skirmishing and stood at arms expecting an attack. On the evening of the 19th every indication pointed to a renewal of the battle early the next day. The night was cold for that time of the year. Tell-tale fires were prohibited. The men slept on their arms. All was quiet save in the field-hospitals in the rear. A bright moon lighted up the fields and woods. [666]

The Snodgrass farm-house. From a recent photograph. General Thomas's headquarters on the second day were in the field this side of the house. The hills called the “Horse-shoe,” made famous by the defense of Brannan and Steedman, lie on the opposite side of the house. See map, p. 648.--editors.

Along the greater part of a front of eight miles the ground was strewn with the intermingled dead of friend and foe. The morning of Sunday, the 20th, opened with a cloudless sky, but a fog had come up from the warm water of the Chickamauga and hung over the battle-field until 9 o'clock. A silence of desertion was in the front. This quiet continued till nearly 10 o'clock; then, as the peaceful tones of the church-bells, rolling over the land from the east, reached the meridian of Chiekamauga, they were made dissonant by the murderous roar of the artillery of Bishop Polk, who was opening the battle on Thomas's front. Granger, who had been ordered at all hazards to hold fast where he was, listened and grew impatient. Shortly before 10 o'clock, calling my attention to a great column of dust moving from our front toward the point from which came the sound of battle, he said, “They are concentrating over there. That is where we ought to be.” The corps flag marked his headquarters in an open field near the Ringgold road. He walked up and down in front of his flag, nervously pulling his beard. Once stopping, he said, “Why the----does Rosecrans keep me here? There is nothing in front of us now. There is the battle”--pointing in the direction of Thomas. Every moment the sounds of battle grew louder, while the many columns of dust rolling together here mingled with the smoke that hung over the scene.

At 11 o'clock, with Granger, I climbed a high hayrick near by. We sat there for ten minutes listening and watching. Then Granger jumped up, thrust his glass into its case, and exclaimed with an oath:

I am going to Thomas, orders or no orders!

“And if you go,” I replied, “it may bring disaster to the army and you to a court-martial.”

“There's nothing in our front now but ragtag, bobtail cavalry,” he replied. “Don't you see Bragg is piling his whole army on Thomas? I am going to his assistance.”

We quickly climbed down the rick, and, going to Steedman, Granger ordered him to move his command “over there,” pointing toward the place from which came the sounds of battle. Colonel Daniel McCook was directed to hold fast at McAfee Church, where his brigade covered the Ringgold road. Before half-past 11 o'clock Steedman's command was in motion. Granger, with his staff and escort, rode in advance. Steedman, after accompanying them a short distance, rode back to the head of his column.

Thomas was nearly four miles away. The day had now grown very warm, yet the troops marched rapidly over the narrow road, which was covered ankle-deep with dust that rose in suffocating clouds. Completely enveloped in it, the moving column swept along like a desert sandstorm. Two miles from the point of starting, and three-quarters of a mile to the left of the road, the enemy's skirmishers and a section of artillery opened fire on us from an open wood. This force had worked round Thomas's left, and was then partly in his rear. Granger halted to feel them. Soon becoming convinced that it was only a large party of observation, he again started his column and pushed rapidly forward. I was then sent to bring up Colonel McCook's brigade, and put it in [667] position to watch the movements of the enemy, to keep open the Lafayette road, and to cover the open fields between that point and the position held by Thomas. This brigade remained there the rest of the day. Our skirmishers had not gone far when they came upon Thomas's field-hospital, at Cloud's house, then swarming with the enemy. They came from the same body of Forrest's cavalry that had fired on us from the wood. They were quickly driven out, and our men were warmly welcomed with cheers from dying and wounded men.

A little farther on we were met by a staff-officer sent by General Thomas to discover whether we were friends or enemies; he did not know whence friends could be coming, and the enemy appeared to be approaching from all directions. All of this shattered Army of the Cumberland left on the field was with Thomas; but not more than one-fourth of the men of the army who went into battle at the opening were there. Thomas's loss in killed and wounded during the two days had been dreadful. As his men dropped out his line was contracted to half its length. Now its flanks were bent back, conforming to ridges shaped like a horse-shoe.

On the part of Thomas and his men there was no thought but that of fighting. He was a soldier who had never retreated, who had never been defeated. He stood immovable, the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Never had soldiers greater love for a commander. He imbued them with his spirit, and their confidence in him was sublime.

To the right of Thomas's line was a gorge, then a high ridge, nearly at right angles thereto, running east and west. Confederates under Kershaw (McLaws's division of Hood's corps) were passing through the gorge, together with Bushrod Johnson's division, which Longstreet was strengthening with Hindman's division; divisions were forming on this ridge for an assault; to their left the guns of a battery were being unlimbered for an enfilading fire. There was not a man to send against the force on the ridge, none to oppose this impending assault. The enemy saw the approaching colors of the Reserve Corps and hesitated.

At 1 o'clock Granger shook hands with Thomas. Something was said about forming to fight to the right and rear.

“Those men must be driven back,” said Granger, pointing to the gorge and ridge. “Can you do it?” asked Thomas.

“Yes. My men are fresh, and they are just the fellows for that work. They are raw troops, and they don't know any better than to charge up there.”

Granger quickly sent Aleshire's battery of 3-inch rifle guns which he brought up to Thomas's left to assist in repelling another assault about to be made on the Kelly farm front. Whitaker's and Mitchell's brigades under Steedman were wheeled into position and projected against the enemy in the gorge and on the ridge. With ringing cheers they advanced in two lines by double-quick — over open fields, through weeds waist-high, through a little valley, then up the ridge. The enemy opened on them first with artillery, then with a murderous musketry fire. When well up the ridge the men, almost exhausted, were halted for breath. They lay on the ground two or three minutes, then came the command, “Forward!” Brave, bluff old Steedman, with a regimental flag in his hand, led the way. On went the lines, firing as they ran and bravely receiving a deadly and continuous fire from the enemy on the summit. The Confederates began to break and in another minute were flying down the southern slope of the ridge. In twenty minutes from the beginning of the charge the ridge had been carried.

Granger's hat had been torn by a fragment of shell; Steedman had been wounded; Whitaker had been wounded, and four of his five staff-officers killed or mortally wounded. Of Steedman's two brigades, numbering 3500, twenty per cent. had been killed and wounded in that twenty minutes; and. the end was not yet.

The enemy massed a force to retake the ridge. They came before our men had rested; twice they assaulted and were driven back. During one assault, as the first line came within range of our muskets, it halted, apparently hesitating, when we saw a colonel seize a flag, wave it over his head, and rush forward. The whole line instantly caught his enthusiasm, and with a wild cheer followed, only to be hurled back again. Our men ran down the ridge in pursuit. In the midst of a group of Confederate dead and wounded they found the brave colonel dead, the flag he carried spread over him where he fell.

Soon after 5 o'clock Thomas rode to the left of his line, leaving Granger the ranking officer at the center. The ammunition of both Thomas's and Granger's commands was now about exhausted. When Granger had come up he had given ammunition to Brannan and Wood, and that had exhausted his supply. The cartridge-boxes of both our own and the enemy's dead within reach had been emptied by our men. When it was not yet 6 o'clock, and Thomas was still on the left of his line, Brannan rushed up to Granger, saying, “The enemy are forming for another assault; we have not another round of ammunition — what shall we do?” “Fix bayonets and go for them,” was the reply. Along the whole line ran the order, “Fix bayonets.” On came the enemy — our men were lying down. “Forward,” was sounded. In one instant they were on their feet. Forward they went to meet the charge. The enemy fled. So impetuous was this counter-charge that one regiment, with empty muskets and empty cartridge-boxes, broke through the enemy's line, which, closing in their rear, carried them off as in the undertow.

One more feeble assault was made by the enemy; then the day closed, and the battle of Chickamauga was over. Of the 3700 men of the Reserve Corps who went into the battle that afternoon, 1175 were killed and wounded; 613 were missing, many of whom were of the regiment that broke through the lines. Our total loss was 1788, nearly 50 per cent.

Gordon Granger was rough in manner, but he had a tender heart. He was inclined to insubordination, especially when he knew his superior to be wrong. Otherwise he was a splendid soldier. Rosecrans named him well when he wrote of him, “Granger, great in battle.” [668]

House of Mr. J. M. Lee, Crawfish Springs, Rosecrans's headquarters before the Sattle, and site of the Union filed-hospital for the right wing. From a photograph taken in 1884.

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