previous next

Doc. 71.-the battle of Chickamauga.

Statement of Major-General McCook.

Louisville, Ky., February 18, 1864.
on the twenty-eighth of September last, an order was issued consolidating with another the Twentieth army corps, which had been my highest honor to command.

The order was announced to the army on the eighth of October; I was relieved from command, and have been ever since awaiting the pleasure of the President for the investigation which has just closed.

Conscious that my troops had been subjected to unjust reproach, and that my reputation as their commander had been reviled, I was glad to have this opportunity of vindication, the only means open to me; for on every principle binding the soldier silence was imposed upon me, when the same order which relieved me from command directed me to await a Court of Inquiry upon my conduct.

I am conscious, too, that the testimony which has been introduced, while it may enable the Court to respond to the questions which are vital to myself, has fallen far short of enabling it fully to pass upon the battle of Chickamauga; and whatever you may think of the conduct of its commander, surely you must conclude that it was a hurried and a hard sentence, which blotted out of existence the Twentieth army corps, while others not nearly so large nor so tried in battle have been allowed to retain their organization and recruit their ranks.

The Court will bear me witness, except when absolutely necessary for a proper understanding of my own conduct, I have abstained from any questions as to the conduct of others, and the same rule shall govern me in the remarks I make upon the testimony. Indeed, if it were not a departure from the custom in such cases, I feel that I might refrain from this, and submit my cause without a word. If the Court shall be as impartial in judgment as it has been patient and fair in the hearing, I shall be content.

On the seventeenth day of September, 1863, the Twentieth army corps, wearied by its marches over mountain roads, returned and effected its junction with General Thomas by Winston Gap, which the latter advised to be the only practicable road. It went into camp at Pond Spring, seven miles from the slope of Mission Ridge, at Widow Glenn's house, and only fifteen miles from Chattanooga, the objective point of the recent army movements. It remained there all the day of the eighteenth, waiting to close up “when General Thomas is out of the way.”

His troops marched that night, and before daylight the Twentieth corps started, Johnson's division leading, and when it reached headquarters it was immediately ordered to Thomas. Johnson's and Davis's divisions and one brigade of Sheridan's were heavily engaged on the nineteenth, Davis losing one brigade commander, (killed,) and Sheridan one, (wounded.)

But I need not delay the Court with any resume of the operations of the nineteenth. My fieldorders are before the Court, and it is enough to say they were obeyed. “I was with General McCook the entire day, and feel certain they were explicitly obeyed.” --[Major Bates's reexamination.]

At dark on the nineteenth I went to the council at Widow Glenn's House. At midnight the orders were resolved upon, and I left to rouse my troops and move them to their position for the struggle of the twentieth.

Before daylight I reported at Glenn's House that they were moving.

The positions selected were seen by General Morton, the Chief of Engineers, who testifies they were “eminently judicious.”

General Davis testifies that “he is confident they could have been held against any attack in front.”

General Rosecrans “made several observations in approval of the positions.” --[Morton's testimony.]

Now, admitting the General-in-Chief debated some of the positions with me; that he suggested a change in one place; that he answered my objections to his suggestions, and gave replies to the reasons urged for the positions chosen — it is enough to say that he rode the lines; that he saw the positions — it was his to order and mine to obey.

Nor is it quite accurate to say that General McCook was not expected “to cover any particular position of the ground unless he could do so, and at the same time maintain his connection with General Thomas.”

The order to General Crittenden most clearly indicates what McCook was expected to do.

Headqdarters Department of the Cumberland, Widow Glenn's house, September 19, 1863--11.20 P. M.
General: The General Commanding directs me to inform you that General McCook has been ordered to hold this gap to-morrow, commanding the Dry Valley Road, his right resting near this place, his left connecting with General Thomas's right.

The General places your corps in reserve tomorrow, and directs you to post it on the eastern slope of Mission Ridge to support McCook or Thomas.

Leave the grand guards of your command out with instructions to hold their ground until driven in; then to retire slowly, contesting the ground stubbornly.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,

J. A. Garfield, Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.

But whatever may be the merits or demerits of the position selected, it is idle to discuss them, for they were proved in battle, but were changed in respects most vital to their security.

Let us inquire how the plan of battle clanged.

My proper command was the Twentieth corps, consisting of Johnson's, Sheridan's, and Davis's [365] divisions, and to these were added “all the cavalry” --a formidable force truly. With it the right should have been made secure, and for the employment of this force, by all men who have not studied the battle, I am held responsible. How much I had actually present to engage, will be shown in a little while.

General Thomas had his own four divisions, and to strengthen him, Johnson's, of McCook's, by far the strongest, and Palmer's,of Crittenden's, the strongest of that corps, had been sent the day before, and fought upon the left throughout the day.

Crittenden's remaining divisions were to be in reserve, and ready to “support either Thomas or McCook.” I had in line two brigades of Sheridan's, with Laibolt's brigade in reserve to support that line, and two brigades of Davis's to the left and rear of Sheridan. The other brigade of Davis had been left to hold Steven's Gap, and support the cavalry when the army advanced from Pond Spring. Colonel Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry extended Sheridan's right, but the rest of the cavalry was not available, the General commanding it, from a misconception of General Rosecrans's orders, having declined to obey the orders given by me.

After daylight the unmistakable tokens of battle manifested themselves on the left; the calls for assistance begin, and the commands to reenforce follow promptly.

Just as the fog begins to lift, Negley is ordered out of line, and moves to the left. The reserve is at once called upon, and General Crittenden sends in Wood's division to supply the place left vacant.

All is yet quiet on the right; the demands of the left are pressing, and General Van Cleve is ordered to march to Thomas, and afterward Wood's division leaves the line and takes the same direction. Whether this order was correctly construed or not, it is unnecessary to discuss. The consequences to General McCook's troops are the same. The part of a division is suddenly withdrawn from the line, without any information to him except that given by General Wood, in an accidental meeting at the moment the movement commenced.

“It was done at the double-quick,” thus giving General McCook no time to close his troops properly and “fill the vacant space.” [General Rosecrans's testimony.] There was not only no time to fill the space, but I had no troops to fill it with, unless a small brigade could cover division intervals.

Just as I was forming on General Wood's right, I was told by Colonel Buell that.he was leaving for the left, and that the other brigades had already moved. [General Davis's testimony.]

At ten o'clock the attack had not begun upon the right, but the left being heavily pressed; and a few moments later the resolution was taken that every thing must be hazarded for the position on the left, and the reserve having been employed, the right was called upon.

At ten minutes after ten o'clock this order was given.

headquarters Department Cumberland, in the field, September 20, 1863--10.10 A. M.
Major-General McCook, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps:
General Thomas is being heavily pressed on the left. The General Commanding directs you to make immediate disposition to withdraw the right, so as to spare as much force as possible to reenforce Thomas. The left must be held at all hazards, even if the right is drawn wholly back to the present left. Select a good position back this way, and be ready to send reenforcements to Thomas at a moment's warning.

J. A. Garfield, Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.

At thirty (30) minutes after ten, the order for preparation is followed by the command of execution:

headquarters Department Cumberland, in the field, September 20, 1863--10.30 A. M.
Major-General McCook, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps:
The General Commanding directs you to send two brigades of General Sheridan's division at once and with all possible despatch to support General Thomas, and send the Third brigade as soon as the lines can be drawn in sufficiently. March them as rapidly as you can without exhausting the men. Report in person to these headquarters as soon as your orders are given in regard to Sheridan's movement. Have you any news from Colonel Post?

J. A. Garfield, Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.

At a few minutes before eleven these orders were received almost simultaneously, “not six minutes interval,” and the fate of the right was sealed.

Well might the General, who was “calm and confident” at his lines in the morning, become “anxious, when he saw the dust rising through the woods to his front,” at the moment he received an order to break his line and march to the flank.

The attack on the right came at thirty minutes after eleven o'clock--not later, if any reliance is to be placed as to time on the battle-field, upon testimony of soldiers engaged. There seems to be, on this point, the concurrence of all witnesses.

Where are the troops who occupied the ground in the morning?

Negley was gone. Wood, who filled his place, had followed him, and Van Cleve was also marching. The two brigades of Sheridan's, which are in line on the right, are now taken out in obedience to this order, and are marching through the dense woods close in the rear of tile line of battle toward that same left, which is swallowing the army.

What is there to resist the coming attack?

Two weak brigades of Davis's — the remnants of the bloody fight of yesterday, one thousand three hundred strong, and the brigade of Laibolt, less in number than Davis's two. [366]

What is their position?

Davis had the brigade in line which joined Wood, behind breastworks, and the other he is just bringing into line as Wood's troops leave it, “two regiments being on it and the others closing to it.” [General Davis's testimony.] Laibolt, who had been held as a reserve for Sheridan, is now ordered to support General Davis's right. Wilder's mounted infantry is in line, but the cavalry has not yet reported.

So the reserve of the army is gone and my own weak reserve, my only reliance for a second line has to be put on the first.

An interval of two brigades separates Wilder from Laibolt. and a division interval separates Davis from the nearest troops on his left.

Through these intervals the enemy's columns came against one small line; theirs is displayed overreaching either flank. “Three to one, at best,” says General Davis, and Colonel Wilder says the attack was made five lines deep. Could the result be for a moment doubted?

And for what part of it is General McCook responsible? What dispositions could he have made which he omitted? What skill in the officers, what courage of the troops could have availed?

Troops marching by the flank in the presence of an enemy, covered by a line which is less than the interval it exposes, must owe their safety to the forbearance of the foe.

I do not state these matters in criticism of my military superiors, but they are plain, incontrovertible facts necessary for my vindication. Indeed, although the movement would have uncovered the Dry Valley road, I quite agree with the Commanding General's conclusions as indicated in the preparatory order, dated the tenth at ten A. M., “that the left must be held at all hazards, even if the right is driven back to the present left.” But it was too late. There was no opportunity to look for positions, for by the time the dispositions to send the troops were ready, the enemy was advancing to the attack.

I have not another word to say as to the battle. But the Court is required to investigate my conduct in leaving the field as well as in the battle.

I will not, before a court of soldiers, answer the imputation, if it be implied, that any considerations of personal safety influenced my conduct. May I not, without boasting, say that I have faced death on too many fields, and in the presence of too many thousands of men, to require at this day any vindication of my composure or hardihood in action?

It would be enough that the firing had terminated upon the right, and that all pursuit had ceased, to leave the question simply one of judgment and duty under the circumstances by which I was surrounded.

My troops had been driven back and scattered; the ground was singularly unfavorable for rallying them; a commanding officer could do little more in that forest and thicket than other general officers. I remained until I gave orders to my troops and for the safety of the artillery and transportation.

I knew that Generals Sheridan and Davis were in safety and with their men, and competent to take charge of them. The point to be saved or lost was the position of Chattanooga. To that point the General Commanding had gone. He had been not far to the left of my lines when they gave way, and as he passed by on the Dry Valley road, saw me “among the broken columns trying to rally the troops.”

I had an order which I believed to be in force, requiring me to report to him in person in the field.

As General Rosecrans, in the correction of his testimony, says he supposed I had complied with that part of the order, that we had met, and I informed him I would send in Laibolt's brigade to set matters to rights, I desire to call the attention of the Court to the terms of the order and the circumstances which preceded and followed it.

It was given after an order despatched a few moments before, which required me to look out for a new position further to the left; that the exigencies of the day might be so pressing as to require the removal of all the troops from the right, involving consultation and the development of a new plan. Surely it was not to report that I had obeyed him and repeated his order to Sheridan, for that was the duty of a staff-officer, for which a general officer would not be taken away from his troops. And at an interview, after such pressing and important orders, nothing took place between us but a reference by myself to one of my brigades. General Rosecrans's recollection has not served him correctly. He must have the impression from some previvious interview between us. At the time Laibolt went in, the testimony shows I was behind his brigade, went forward with it, and was driven back when his troops were repulsed. Besides, if the situation was so extremely critical on the left, when the right was intact, as to require a personal interview, surely it was not lessened when the right was broken and the troops marching to support the left were driven by the enemy. If there could be a time when an interview between a General and his Lieutenant was necessary, that time was then. If I had troops which I thought I could have reorganized in time and taken to the left, I concede that when I did not find him upon the field, it would have been my duty to have marched where the cannon yet sounded.

Upon the information communicated to me by staff-officers whom I met upon the field, and whose testimony is before the Court, I determined to go to Chattanooga, but through Rossville, or close to it, that I might get information from General Thomas, and ascertain the situation of the place in the direction of which I had ordered my troops to move, and where I supposed the troops of Thomas would move back. I had no acquaintance with the country or the [367] roads — neither myself nor any of the staff officers having ever been in Chattanooga, or nearer to it than the battle-field.

I was compelled to rely upon the guide of General Rosecrans, who assured me there was no other route we could take, and that the one we took led us toward Rossville. I expected to go by Rossville, or near enough to learn the situation of affairs there, until I met the troops of General Spears and found I was nearer Chattanooga than Rossville, and that General Rosecrans was still at the former place.

And I submit to the Court that without any order from him at all, if there was to be a tomorrow to that day, it was my duty. to see General Rosecrans that day, and know his plans and see the country nearer Chattanooga, where I had no doubt the army must fall back; that this, too, was the superior duty for me if the troops I left behind were in competent hands. By the route I took, no body of soldiers was found until I met those of General Spears, within two (2) miles of Chattanooga, marching to Rossville.

I did not, immediately after reporting to General Rosecrans, return to Rossville, on which my troops had been directed to march, because the General ordered me to remain with him until he should receive further information, when he would determine his course and give me orders.

When I left the field, it would have been easy to follow impulse, and, notwithstanding the reports I had received, endeavor to reach the left. It was the stronger with me, as one of my own divisions was there; but the path of duty, under my conception of my orders, or in the absence of any orders, was the same, and I felt compelled to follow it.

Respectfully submitted.

A. Mcd. Mccook, Major-General U. S. Volunteers.

Defence of General Negley.

Louisville, Ky., February 22.
Major-General Hunter, President Court of Inquiry:
sir: At Chattanooga, on the evening of October sixth, 1863, at a private interview, secured for me by a written request from General Thomas to General Rosecrans, I was informed for the first time that the Department Commander was dissatisfied with my official conduct at the battle of Chickamauga, on the twentieth of September, 1863. At the same time, General Rosecrans referred to statements made by Brigadier-Generals Brannan and Wood as the reasons for his unfavorable opinions.

In reply to my expression of pain and surprise, that he should entertain such opinions without my knowledge, or without giving me opportunity for explanation or defence, he requested me to submit a supplementary report, with the written statements of officers whose names I had mentioned, who were conversant with the facts. This report occasioned General Rosecrans's letter to the Adjutant-General of the army, dated October fourteenth, 1863, in which he states:

The General (Negley) had always been an active, energetic, and efficient commander, and displayed very good judgment in the affair of Widow Davis's house, in front of Stevens's Gap, where he was attacked by a superior force of the enemy, and successfully extricated his train and command from its perilous position.

Also: “From a careful perusal of that (my report) and the accompanying documents, (I find) that he acted (at Chickamauga) according to his best judgment under the circumstances of the case.”

But as General Wood, aided by several other general officers, labored assiduously to impair my military reputation, and thus my usefulness in the army, I deemed it imperative, being also influenced by the friendly advice of General Rosecrans and Thomas, to demand an investigation, as the only admitted and honorable means of vindicating myself. The application was considerately complied with in the order convening this Court.

General Rosecrans also states in the letter referred to: “But an impression that he left the field on Sunday, without orders or necessity, having made its way through the army, and statements having appeared in the official reports of general officers seeming to support this impression,” etc.

The testimony and papers before the Court show conclusively that Generals Brannan and Wood, officers junior to me in rank and entirely independent of my command, were the authors of these imputations, and that they used their official report for otherwise unauthorized censures which necessitated this investigation. Official copies or extracts from these official reports were not furnished until submitted before this Court, February eleventh, 1864. Nevertheless, true extracts from these reports appeared. from time to time in the public press, in direct violation of the following order:

war Department, October 4, 1862.
II. If any officer shall hereafter, without proper authority, permit the publication of any official letter or report, or allow any such document to pass into the hands of persons not authorized to receive it, his name will be submitted to the President for dismissal. This rule applies to all official letters and reports, written by an officer himself.

By order of the Secretary of War.

L Townsend, Adjutant-General.

The channels through which these extracts were obtained may be plausibly conjectured, from the italicizing, and the purpose for which they were used. The evidence further shows that my most zealous, violent, and disrespectful accuser was General Wood; yet, as a sworn witness before this Court, he not only failed to establish the statement made in his report, but could not mention a single instance where General Negley had failed to do his duty in the battle of Chickamauga, or which would in the slightest [368] degree justify the unwarrantable liberty he arrogated to himself in publishing such insinuations.

Whether or not the motives which induced Generals Brannan and Wood to disregard the rules of the army and of society, were desires for the benefit of the service and of the Government, and were prompted by sentiments of virtue, patriotism, and manly honor, I leave to the unbiassed opinion of the Court and of the world.

Why General Brannan should pause in his poetic description of military achievements on the field of Chickamauga, and become the voluntary censor of my conduct, unqualifiedly stating that which it was impossible, from his own personal observation, to know, is a painful inquiry; and his doing so establishes a dangerous precedent in the composition of official reports. The positiveness which characterizes his reference to me, demands some attention in these remarks.

General Brannan attaches much importance to a pledge he says I gave to protect his right and rear. This appears incredible to me; and it is plain to every one who comprehends the facts, elicited by the testimony taken before this Court, that at that moment my own right was being turned, and my own position so essentially endangered, as to induce pressing messages to General Rosecrans for immediate assistance. While such a pledge might indicate zeal and determination, it would not balk the purpose of the enemy without a proper representation of muskets.

General Brannan further states, that so far from holding his right, I carried off his first brigade. This is not reconcilable with his previous statement, namely: “With, however, the exception of the first brigade, which, being much exposed, broke with considerable disorder,” etc. As he speaks of having swung back his right flank to the rear half a mile, he is prudently silent as to the distance the first brigade swung back. I mean no disparagement to the brave men of that brigade, and its efficient commander.

It is strange, (perhaps I might use a stronger term,) if General Brannan had a brigade unoccupied, why he should ask for and take one of my regiments, reducing my then too small force. On this point there is much concurrent testimony.

Again, he speaks of a portion of General Granger's reserve corps “taking up the position which should have been occupied during the day by General Negley's division.” This would seem to be a bold reflection upon the Commanding General, for ordering General Negley's division elsewhere. However, it appears from his and other reports, that he was commanding “a large portion of General Negley's division,” and that the Twenty-first Ohio, of the same division, covered his retreat, losing three fourths of its strength.

General Brannan commanded in this battle the largest division in the army — the division once commanded by General Thomas. With that, and “portions of Palmer's and Negley's divisions,” he “maintained his ground with obstinacy,” “the troops evincing great gallantry and devotion until reenforced,” and “nothing could exceed the desperate determination with which the rebels endeavored to gain possession of this point, hurling entire divisions on his small force.” How long, then, would my seven hundred men have held at bay those “entire divisions” ?

General Brannan also refers to his failure to obtain ammunition, thus necessitating the use of the bayonet, as the only means of defence. Perhaps his ammunition was ordered to Chattanooga by higher authority, as was the case with mine.

It would be uncharitable for me to omit the allusion to the service of my old division, in this connection. It is sacredly due those heroic men who left over seven hundred of their number on that sanguinary field, that they should not suffer reproach from any fault of mine, or share in the envious calumnies bestowed upon me. To them I owe the honor and dignity of my position — but no disgrace. The bodies of the brave who slumber on the banks of the Chickamauga, as well as their bereaved friends at home, appeal against the base insinuation that the “bulk of the division retired intact.” True, the enemy counts not amongst his trophies the battle-begrimed, bullet-torn standards of the Second division; but remembers with grief its splendid discipline and glorious charges.

As to the aspersions cast against my personal deportment on the field, I have only to say that the evidence has awarded me higher honors in that respect, than even egotism would have asked.

I now proceed to consider briefly the intimation that I left the field early and unnecessarily on Sunday. The bearing of much explicit testimony on this point has doubtless arrested the attention of the Court, and relieves me from the task of doing more than describe my situation, and the circumstances influencing my judgment and controlling my actions.

Immediately after receiving and complying with an order directing me to take charge of and place the artillery upon the field, which virtually deprived me of the command of my division, already separated in consequence of the culpable delay of General Wood to relieve me as he was ordered to do, I was reliably informed that the extreme left of General Thomas's line, which was situated obliquely to my front and rear, was being driven back. I hastened to the threatened point, taking some artillery, and Sirwell's brigade, which was just arriving. I found the enemy in heavy force, lapping over the extreme left, pressing it back in a crotchet, which was about to be taken in reverse. I opened upon the advancing columns with artillery from a splendid position, checking the enemy's further approach upon that point. Information then reached me from the right and front, that they were threatened, and the artillery [369] I had in position endangered. I immediately gave directions for the protection of the left, and passed quickly to the position to which I was assigned, by an order received per Captain Gaw, of General Thomas's staff. On the way I met General Brannan, who urgently requested a regiment. I ordered to his support my largest regiment, the Twenty-first Ohio, armed with revolving (five-chambered) muskets. I found affairs in front assuming an alarming condition. The enemy was pushing heavy columns through the gap in our line, caused by General Wood's hasty abandonment of his position. Remaining portions of the line swung back like a gate before the wind. The troops from the right, who rested back against the ridge in echelon, pushed forward with intrepidity to recover the lost ground, but were taken in flank, and crumbled into flying fragments. My situation was desperate. My effective batteries were fast exhausting their ammunition. I had sent, on the first view, two aids to General Rosecrans, to describe my situation, and ask immediate reenforcements. At the same time I ordered up the remainder of the Third brigade, which was not then engaged. Lieutenant Moody returned through a shower of bullets, expressing surprise at finding me still on the ridge, and reported General Rosecrans's reply: “Tell Negley it is too late; I cannot help him.” The regiment of stragglers on my left had vanished; those upon my right were disappearing in the dense woods, their speed redoubled by the farreaching shells; and the exultant yells of the enemy, whose closely planted batteries and long lines of musketry were sweeping the ridge with an appalling fire, were ringing in my ears. Yet the batteries of Schultz, Marshall, and one of Parrott guns, were heroically hurling death into the enemy's ranks, at such short-range, that the smoke from the guns of both contending hosts mingled together.

Contemplate my position, if it is possible to do so here, removed from the scene of action. No human eye could penetrate the dark woods to the left, where General Thomas, with the flower of the army, was struggling against the inspirited enemy. To seek succor from that quarter was hopeless. None could be expected from General Brannan, as he had just applied for and received assistance from me. Tidings of defeat came from the right; the enemy was gliding up the ravine to the left, and almost seizing the guns in action. All was now agonizing doubt and irremediable confusion. It was now, in my judgment, time to retire. To continue an unequal contest, could only add more graves to the battle-field, and give more trophies to the enemy. A proper realization of the situation, and a just regard for the lives and materiel of war intrusted to my care, urged the speedy withdrawal of my few troops and considerable artillery. The latter was moved to the second ridge, at which point a portion of the Third brigade had just arrived. The ground was unfavorable — a dense forest covered the movements of the enemy, who manifested an intention of cutting off our retreat along the only passable route, the Dry Valley road. The artillery was becoming more scattered each moment, trying to escape the falling shells. It now became a question for me to decide, whether I should remain with my isolated command, and save it all if possible, or endeavor to reach the left with my infantry only, leaving the ambulances, filled with wounded, the stragglers, and the artillery, to inevitable capture. I was ignorant of the condition of the troops upon my left, who might, for aught I knew to the contrary, be in full retreat upon the La Fayette and Rossville road. Indications, and the general impression, were that such was the fact; and, indeed, it would have been the case had not the approaching column (unknown to me) of General Granger's corps prevented. My decision was to remain with my special command, until relieved by the same (or higher) authority which had assigned me to it. I withdrew until I reached McFarland's house, in the first open ground on the natural line of communication with Rossville, where I halted, induced to do so by the fact that it was the termination of a long and narrow defile, which could be held by a small force against the enemy, who were reported to be advancing. It is a reasonable presumption that a knowledge on the part of the enemy, of the assembling of our scattered forces at McFarland's farm, checked his further pursuit.

I now learned, for the first time, from a cavalryman, that General Thomas was holding the enemy in check upon the left, and as it would require time to organize the troops and clear the gap, I turned over the command to General Davis, and hastened back to find General Thomas, if possible, and report for orders. Meeting General Sheridan entering the defile from the west side, with a considerable body of troops, I suggested the propriety of moving what I thought was his division, to the support of General Thomas. He replied that it was his intention to proceed to Rossville. I passed on, and soon met the enemy, who prevented my further advance. I then returned to McFarland's, and held consultation with Generals Sheridan and Davis, and officers of General Rosecrans's staff. It was unanimously agreed, that General Davis should remain and hold the Gap; General Sheridan to pass through Rossville, toward General Thomas's left; while I should proceed to Rossville, with the debris of the army, organize the scattered troops, and be prepared to support either column. About this time, a despatch arrived from Captain Hill, of General Rosecrans's staff, stating that Forrest's cavalry was on the Ringgold and Rossville road, in General Thomas's rear. In view of this new danger, I marched expeditiously to Rossville, and prepared to hold it. This entire movement was only an anticipation of the order received from General Rosecrans, then at Chattanooga, sent by telegraph at seven P. M.

The great advantage of this effective organization and disposition of troops, who otherwise [370] would not have halted short of Chattanooga, can scarcely be estimated; and its importance in a tactical point of view, must be apparent to every experienced military mind. Had the two roads converging at Rossville been relinquished to or seized by the enemy, it would in probability have sealed the fate of General Thomas's command, which was compelled to fall back that night for supplies. The influence my action exerted over subsequent events, may be designated in history as an accident, but it was one of those military accidents which restored order with equilibrium, changed the front of a defeated army, and according to the testimony of General Rosecrans and others, unquestionably saved Chattanooga. Public opinion estimates the ability of a general by results. The value and importance of my official action, from the moment I was assigned to the command of the artillery (without referring to the “handsome” operation of my command on the nineteenth September) until the close of the twenty-first, is not, in view of the testimony taken before the Court, open to controversy. The saving of fifty pieces of artillery is in itself significant. I beg of you to observe, in this connection, that I possessed no knowledge of the topography of the country or of the disposition of the troops, beyond an imperfect view from the position I occupied. The only intelligence I had of the disaster, was derived from statements of officers passing to the rear. A strong impression was naturally made upon my mind by General Rosecrans's significant reply to my application for aid, and by the information that he, with two of his corps commanders, had gone toward Chattanooga. If the Department Commander, with a large retinue of staff-officers, corps of engineers and a cavalry escort, failed, as he admits, to correctly comprehend under the circumstances the situation at noon, how was it possible, with my very limited facilities, and almost enveloped by the enemy, for me to know the facts at one P. M.?

Military history proves beyond contradiction that no single battle, no matter what may be its magnitude or results, is a positive or even fair test of the ability of a commander. The fear of public opinion, after a disastrous battle, betrays many officers, sometimes high in command, to deny even their unavoidable mistakes, to direct attention to the errors of brother officers, to claim honors undeserved, laurels never won, and by a skilful use of the pen exaggerate the simple performance of duty into a great achievement. If I know my own purposes in life, I seek no honor by such unsoldierly pretexts, and scorn such means of vindication. As this investigation refers to but a single battle, it would be unbecoming in me to refer to my previous services and the many assurances of confidence and appreciation won from my superior officers on other fields. The testimony before you pays a higher tribute to my fidelity to country, my skill, energy, and fortitude as a commander, than I could claim for myself. Therefore I respectfully submit the case to the Court, desiring only to add my thanks for the patient courtesy and impartiality which enabled me to place the facts connected with my official conduct at the battle of Chickamauga, so fully before you.

James S. Negley, Major-General U. S. V.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: