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Chapter 16:

  • South Carolinians at Chickamauga
  • -- organization of the armies -- South Carolinians engaged -- their heroic service and sacrifices.

The armies of Generals Bragg and Rosecrans, which were to fight the battle of Chickamauga on the 19th and 20th of September, 1863, were widely separated in the early part of August, Bragg at Chattanooga and Rosecrans beyond the Cumberland mountains, with the Tennessee river rolling between them.

About the middle of August, the Federal general broke up his encampments and moved his army across the mountains to the Tennessee. Crittenden's corps threatened Chattanooga through the gaps in Walden's ridge, while Thomas' corps and McCook's moved to Stevenson, Bridgeport and the vicinity. Rosecrans established his depot at Stevenson and passed his army over the river on pontoons, rafts and boats, and boldly crossed Sand mountain to Trenton. He was on the flank of General Bragg by the 8th of September, and by the 12th had crossed Lookout mountain.

Bragg, having left Chattanooga on the 8th, Rosecrans sent Crittenden's corps to occupy that place and move on the railroad as far as Ringgold, while Thomas and Mc-Cook took position in McLemore's cove and down as far as Alpine. Rosecrans' corps was widely separated and his wings were by road, 50 miles or more apart! Meanwhile Bragg was on the line of Chickamauga creek, with his left at Lafayette and his headquarters at Lee & Gordon's mills. General Gist's South Carolina brigade, with Ferguson's battery, was guarding his extreme left at Rome and supporting the cavalry in that quarter. Crittenden's [278] corps at Ringgold and vicinity was at General Bragg's mercy. He was only 10 miles from Bragg's headquarters, with the Chickamauga between himself and Thomas, and by road at least 20 miles from that general's support. McCook was fully as far from Thomas on the other flank. ‘It was therefore a matter of life and death (says Rosecrans in his report) to effect the concentration of the army.’

Crittenden marched across Bragg's right, passed the Chickamauga and moved down toward Thomas, and Mc-Cook marched up from Alpine toward that general's position in McLemore's cove. Pigeon mountain range covered McCook and Thomas; but Crittenden's march was open to attack. His corps should have been beaten and driven off toward Chattanooga. General Bragg clearly saw this and endeavored to strike Crittenden at the proper moment, giving explicit orders to that effect. These orders were not executed, the opportunity passed, and Rosecrans united his corps on the west side of the Chickamauga, while Bragg confronted him on the east. The great battles of the 19th and 20th of September were now imminent. We give the organization of the two armies as they were engaged in that memorable conflict, omitting those troops which were not in the battle; as, for instance, the brigades of Hood's and Mc-Laws' divisions, and the artillery of those commands. Longstreet had only three brigades in battle on the 19th and five on the 20th, the artillery and other commands of his corps not having arrived. Among his absent brigades was that of Gen. Micah Jenkins, composed of South Carolina regiments.

Bragg's army.

Right wing, Lieutenant-General Polk commanding.

Hill's corps, Lieut.-Gen. D. H. Hill: Cheatham's division, 5 brigades, 5 batteries; Cleburne's division, 3 brigades. 3 batteries; Breckinridge's division, 3 brigades, 4 batteries [279]

Walker's corps, Maj.-Gen. W. H. T. Walker: Walker's division, 3 brigades, 2 batteries; Liddell's division, 2 brigades, 2 batteries.

Total of wing, 5 divisions, 16 brigades, 16 batteries.

Left wing, Lieutenant-General Longstreet commanding.

Buckner's corps, Major-General Buckner: Stewart's division, 4 brigades, 4 batteries; Preston's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries; Johnson's division, 2 brigades, 2 batteries.

Longstreet's corps, Major-General Hood: McLaws' division, 2 brigades; Hood's division, 3 brigades; Hindman's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries; Reserve artillery, 5 batteries.

Total of wing, 6 divisions, 17 brigades, 17 batteries. Total in both wings, 11 divisions, 33 brigades, 33 batteries.

Corps of cavalry, Major-General Wheeler, operating on Bragg's left: Wharton's division, 2 brigades, 1 battery; Martin's division, 2 brigades, 1 battery.

Corps of cavalry, Major-General Forrest, operating on Bragg's right: Armstrong's division, 2 brigades, 2 batteries; Pegram's division, 2 brigades, 2 batteries.

Total of cavalry, 4 divisions, 8 brigades, 6 batteries.

Rosecrans' army.

Fourteenth corps, Major-General Thomas commanding: Baird's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries; Negley's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries; Brannan's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries; Reynolds' division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries.

Twentieth corps, Major-General McCook commanding: Davis' division, 3 brigades, 5 batteries; Johnson's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries; Sheridan's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries.

Twenty-first corps, Major-General Crittenden commanding: Wood's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries; Palmer's division, 3 brigades, 4 batteries; Van Cleve's division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries.

Reserve corps, Major-General Granger commanding: One division, 3 brigades, 3 batteries.

Total, II divisions, 33 brigades, 36 batteries.

Cavalry corps, Brigadier-General Mitchell commanding: 2 divisions, 5 brigades, 2 batteries.

The number of infantry divisions and brigades, as reported, was the same in both armies. Bragg had more cavalry in the field than Rosecrans, but in the battle of Chickamauga, on his immediate flanks, Wheeler had not more than 2,000 and Forrest about the same number. It is always difficult to estimate the strength of [280] armies by counting their divisions, brigades or regiments, for the reason that it is impossible in an active campaign to keep up the relative proportions of separate corps, engaged at different times and often with no option as to whether a fresh or a decimated command shall go into action. The writer was an officer of General Walker's division, and knows that at the battle of Chickamauga, on the 20th, that division of three brigades did not number 3,000 men. General Gist's brigade, to which the writer was attached, went into action on the 20th, 980 strong, one of its regiments (Sixteenth South Carolina) and its light battery being absent at Rome.

By studying the field returns of both armies, nearest to the opening battle on the 19th (Rosecrans' of September 10th and Bragg's of August 20th), and making deductions for commands on stations or on detached duty, and counting in for Bragg's army the two divisions from Mississippi (Breckinridge's and Walker's), and Longstreet's five brigades and Buckner's troops, and estimating losses for both armies up to the battle of the 19th, it is believed that Bragg crossed the Chickamauga on the 18th, 19th and 20th with 45,000, exclusive of his cavalry. By the method of estimating the strength of General Bragg's army, the writer believes that Rosecrans confronted Bragg with 53,000, exclusive of his cavalry.

Before the battle, each general overestimated the strength of the other and underestimated his own. On September 12th, General Rosecrans believed that ‘the main body of Johnston's army had joined Bragg,’ and that he had been heavily reinforced from Virginia. The truth is, that so far as Bragg's reinforcements affected the engagements of the armies at Chickamauga, they did not add a man more than 10,000 to Bragg's strength, if, indeed, they added so many.

The two armies facing each other from opposite sides of the Chickamauga, Bragg gave order for battle. Rosecrans' left, under Thomas, was at Kelly's house on the [281] Chattanooga road, his right stretching beyond and south of Lee & Gordon's mills. The Chattanooga road spoken of is the main road from LaFayette to Chattanooga, crossing the Chickamauga at Lee & Gordon's mills. Kelly's house was opposite Reed's bridge, and south of it, on the road, were the houses of Poe, Brotherton, Brock, Taylor and Vineyard. Nearly a mile north of Kelly's was McDonald's. From McDonald's to Lee & Gordon's mills (the road running nearly north and south) was about 4 miles.

The crossings of the Chickamauga were by fords and two bridges, Alexander's and Reed's; the former opposite Vineyard's house, and the latter opposite Kelly's. Hunt's (or Dalton's) ford came nearest Lee & Gordon's mills; then Thedford's, then Alexander's bridge, then Byram's ford, then Reed's bridge, and a mile further north, Reed's ford. General Bragg's order designated the ford or bridge at which the different commands were to cross and directed each to attack in front, beginning from the Reed bridge crossing and moving against the Federal left and rear.

Thomas marched his head of column beyond Kelly's house, faced the Chickamauga, and sent one of his divisions (Brannan's) to reconnoiter toward Reed's bridge. From Kelly's to Reed's bridge was about 2 1/2 miles. At Jay's mill, near the bridge, Brannan met Forrest, and the battle of the 19th was opened. Forrest pushed Brannan back, the latter was reinforced by Baird's division, and Walker (marching from Alexander's bridge toward Forrest's battle) sent two of his brigades, Ector's and Wilson's, to Forrest's support. Brannan and Baird were driving Forrest back to Jay's mill when Ector and Wilson came up, and then in turn Baird and Brannan were driven, artillery and prisoners captured. Thomas now reinforced his battle by Reynolds, and McCook sent in Johnson's division. Walker, coming up with Liddell's two brigades, took command of the battle and attacked vigorously [282] with Forrest and his four brigades, driving Reynolds, on the Federal right, in rout; but Palmer's division sent by Crittenden to reinforce Thomas, met and drove Walker back. Meanwhile, Baird and Brannan were checking and holding Forrest.

General Bragg sent up Cheatham's division on Walker's left, and Thomas moved Brannan from his left to his right. Cheatham attacked against the Federal right, further reinforced by Van Cleve's division, drove forward for a half mile, was checked, his flanks threatened, and retired to his first position. The Federal right advanced, attacked Cheatham and Walker, and were handsomely repulsed; meanwhile Forrest holding fast the right. Finally, near night, Cleburne came up in Cheatham's rear and forming on his right, attacked and drove for a mile the Federal left, capturing three pieces of artillery, several stand of colors and 300 or more prisoners. It was now past night and the battle on the Confederate right was over. Lieutenant-General Polk arrived on the right and took command at about 5 p. m. Walker's, Cheatham's, Cleburne's and Forrest's battle was from Jay's mill (a half mile from Reed's bridge on to the west) toward Kelly's house, the line of battle extending for a mile on either side of the road from Reed's bridge toward Kelly's. Early in the afternoon, Stewart's division in front of Vineyard's, and Hood's on his left, vigorously attacked. Stewart drove in the Federal center and crossed the Chattanooga road, but was repulsed. The battle of Stewart and Hood was vigorous and aggressive from the start, but was not reinforced and was repulsed from the road. Stewart nor Hood had artillery, and neither could hold what was gained at and beyond the road.

Thus ended the battle of the 19th. Rosecrans held the ridge of the Chattanooga road, formed and strengthened his line during the night, and Bragg called his corps commanders and gave his orders for the battle of the 20th to open at daylight. General Rosecrans remarks of the [283] 19th, that ‘at the close of the day we had present but two brigades that had not been squarely and opportunely in action, opposed to superior numbers of the enemy.’ On his part, the whole of his infantry, two brigades excepted, had been ‘opportunely and squarely in action.’ On Bragg's part, six divisions of eighteen brigades, with Forrest's cavalry, had been ‘squarely in action.’

There was but little rest or sleep for soldier or officer on the night of the 19th. Rosecrans was felling trees along his front, building breastworks of logs and rails, and massing his army in line from beyond Kelly's to Vineyard's, a distance of 2 miles. Bragg gave his right to Lieutenant-General Polk and his left to Lieutenant-General Longstreet; the latter did not arrive until II p. m. on the 19th. Forrest was well out on the right, in front of McDonald's; Wheeler on the left, at Lee & Gordon's mills and beyond. Polk's command was arranged from right to left, as follows: Breckinridge, Cleburne, with Walker behind the former and Cheatham in rear and to the left of the latter. On the left, Lieutenant-General Longstreet's wing was organized from right to left as follows: Stewart (touching Cleburne), Johnson, Hood, McLaws, Hindman and Preston. The line of the Confederate battle for most of its entire length was in the forest, which made it difficult to handle artillery until the openings along the road were gained.

The South Carolina brigades, Kershaw's, Manigault's and Gist's, were with the divisions of McLaws, Hindman and Walker. Kershaw reached Alexander's bridge from Ringgold at midnight and went into camp on the west bank at 1 a. m. on the 20th. General McLaws not having arrived, General Kershaw was in command of the two brigades of the division present, Humphreys' and his own.

While Kershaw was marching from Ringgold for Alexander's bridge, General Gist was marching from [284] Catoosa Station for the same point, having arrived from Rome with part of the Forty-sixth Georgia, the Twenty-fourth South Carolina and the Eighth Georgia battalion; the Sixteenth South Carolina and Ferguson's battery awaiting transportation at Rome, with the remainder of the Forty-sixth Georgia.

General Gist had under his charge an ammunition train which delayed his march and prevented his leaving Catoosa before 10 p. m. on the 19th. After an all-night march Gist crossed Alexander's bridge at sunrise, halted a mile beyond, and after a brief rest was directed to the right to join Walker, arriving about 9 o'clock. General Walker at once assigned Gist to the command of his division (Ector, Wilson and Gist), and Gist's brigade was commanded by the senior officer, Col. P. H. Colquitt, Forty-sixth Georgia. Kershaw marched his own and Humphreys' brigades to the left and took position in support of Hood. Manigault's brigade, including the Tenth and Nineteenth South Carolina, under Colonel Pressley, was under fire on the 18th, Pressley losing 6 men, crossed at Hunt's ford on the afternoon of the 19th, with its division (Hindman's), and on the 20th was in line near the extreme left. Culpeper's South Carolina battery was with McNair's brigade, Johnson's division.

The province of the writer does not permit him to do more than first sketch the outline of the battle, and then more particularly to speak of the action of the South Carolina commands. The attack began between 9 and 10 a. m. by a vigorous assault of Breckinridge's and

Cleburne's divisions on the extreme left of Rosecrans' line, in front of Kelly's. This assault was repulsed. Fighting on the right throughout the morning failed to carry the Federal left. The battle progressed from right to left, the Confederate center and particularly the left being more successful. The Federal center and right were gradually driven until forced from the road at Poe's, Brothertor? Vineyard's. Rosecrans' line was bent [285] first into a curve, and then broken into a right angle, the angle being about opposite the left of Polk's wing. The Federal right found a strong rest at Snodgrass hill, where Thomas, now commanding on the field, concentrated artillery and all the troops as they were driven from the line. This position, assaulted again and again, repulsed the assaults and proved the salvation of Rosecrans' army, for behind it the Federal divisions retreated on Rossville and Chattanooga.

The Federal left held the position at Kelly's until late in the afternoon, about 5 o'clock, when General Polk ordered his wing forward. The attack carried the position for its whole front and Baird's division followed those on his right in the retreat behind Snodgrass. This last stronghold was abandoned during the early part of the night and Bragg's victory was complete.

When the first attack against the Federal left had failed, and the divisions of Breckinridge and Cleburne were withdrawing, General Gist's brigade, under Colquitt, not 1,000 strong, was hurried in to the support of Breckinridge's left brigade, that of General Helm. No opportunity was given for reconnoitering the woods, and the lull in the firing made it uncertain as to the exact position of the enemy. Colquitt was ordered to advance due west and support Breckinridge, on his left, and his left (Helm) was repulsed and retiring in disorder. Meeting and passing Helm's men, the little brigade, dressing on the center (Eighth Georgia battalion), marched on into the great forest. Colquitt's three companies were on the right and the Twenty-fourth South Carolina on the left. It was now about 11 o'clock. The first attack had been made at about 9:30. General Baird, who received the attack, fixes the hour at between 8 and 9 a. m. The well-known order of General Bragg had directed it to be made at daylight.

The attack of Breckinridge and Cleburne, which preceded this advance of Colquitt, struck the Federal left [286] flank in front of Kelly's house. Baird's division was in position here, behind breastworks of logs and rails, the timber freshly cut from the abundant forest. The position was a quarter of a mile east of the road, in the forest, with open fields behind it running to the road and surrounding Kelly's house. The breastworks made a sharp angle about opposite the right of Polk's brigade (on the left of Helm) and ran back northwest to the road. From the angle to the road King's brigade of regulars was stationed, and on their right Scribner's brigade and then Starkweather's. General Baird formed his division in two lines, and reported that King's regulars were even more concentrated. Three batteries of artillery belonged to Baird's division, but that general reported that much of it was disabled on the 19th, and that he defended his line with but four guns.

Gist's brigade, not 1,000 strong, plunged into the woods, without support right or left, to storm the position from which Cleburne on its left and Helm in its front, were retiring. The gallant Helm had fallen and his brigade, supported on its left by Polk, was repulsed, after three attempts to storm King's regulars. In a few moments the Twenty-fourth South Carolina passed the angle in Baird's line unseen in the thick forest, and his artillery and infantry opened an enfilade from King's front. Promptly as the fire opened, Col. C. H. Stevens commanded the Twenty-fourth to change front to the left, and was instantly wounded and disabled, his horse being shot. Lieutenant-Colonel Capers executed the change of front and directed the fire of the Twenty-fourth in reply. The gallant adjutant of the Twenty-fourth, Lieut. J. C. Palmer, fell pierced through the head. Then Maj. J. S. Jones was badly wounded, and in bringing up his right to form on the Twenty-fourth and Eighth Georgia, Colquitt fell. The assault was ordered, and while leading it Lieutenant-Colonel Capers received a serious wound in the thigh, his horse was disabled, and the little [287] brigade was repulsed. Capt. D. F. Hill took command of the Twenty-fourth and Lieutenant-Colonel Napier, Georgia battalion, took command of Gist's brigade.

In the battle of the afternoon the Twenty-fourth with the brigade had better luck. Reinforced by the absent companies of the Forty-sixth Georgia to 1,400 strong, Napier led the brigade in the glorious battle of the right wing and had the happiness to follow the broken and routed columns of Baird, Johnson and Palmer, until night came to give rest and sleep to men who had enjoyed none since leaving Rome on the early morning of the 18th.

In the struggle before Baird's position, which lasted not more than forty minutes, the Twenty-fourth South Carolina lost 169 men and line officers, killed and wounded. Colonel Colquitt, an accomplished soldier and gallant leader, fell from his horse mortally wounded in front of the center of his line. At the moment Colquitt's 980 men were sent in to support Breckinridge, Lieutenant-General Hill (who gave the order) did not know that Helm and Polk were badly repulsed. Learning it, he sent General Gist forward with Ector and Wilson's brigades to support Colquitt's attack, but before Gist reached Colquitt, his attack was over, with the result above described. Indeed, the history of Colquitt's attack and repulse is the history of the fight of the right wing throughout the morning of the 20th. It was not until the afternoon, when the whole wing went forward, that victory crowned its battle.

In the left wing Manigault and Kershaw were in the thick of the fight. Kershaw commanded the two brigades of McLaws' division, and after General Hood was wounded, he took the direction of his three brigades. Kershaw attacked about 11:30 and Manigault shortly after, the former in front of the Brock house and the latter just north of Vineyard's. Both attacks were successful and crossed the Chattanooga road, swinging with the left wing in a [288] grand wheel to the right. In his advance Kershaw reached the Dyer house, almost in rear of Brotherton's and half a mile beyond the Chattanooga road. Manigault reached a point on Kershaw's left and in line with his advance, the divisions of Preston, Hindman, Kershaw and Hood driving the Federal right to Snodgrass and drawing around that point. Here followed the hardest and most prolonged struggle of the day. The order of the divisions was somewhat broken up, and brigades went in wherever they could assist in a charge. About 5 p. m. Gracie and Kelly, from Preston's; McNair, with Culpeper's battery, from Johnson's; Anderson from Hindman's, and Law from Hood's, with Kershaw's brigade, all directed by Kershaw, moved on the front and east of Snodgrass, while Hindman with Manigault's and Deas' brigades, Johnson with Gregg's, and Preston with Trigg's, attacked the west flank. This, says Kershaw, ‘was one of the heaviest attacks on a single point I ever witnessed! The brigades went in in magnificent order. For an hour and a half the struggle continued with unabated fury. It terminated at sunset.’ The hill was not carried. It was held with splendid courage and was defended by all the forces of the center and right which could be rallied, and by Steedman's division of Granger's reserve corps; the whole put in position by General Thomas, now in command of the field, General Rosecrans having given up the battle as lost and gone to Chattanooga to arrange for the morrow.

As soon as the Confederate right had driven the Federal left, Thomas began the retreat of the center behind his citadel on Snodgrass, and after night withdrew the divisions of Wood, Brannan and Steedman from the hill, and the great battle had been fought to its victorious end.

The losses had been terrible on both sides. Among the Carolina commands some of the choicest spirits had fallen. Kershaw lost 488 killed and wounded; Manigault [289] 539, and the Twenty-fourth South Carolina (Gist's brigade) 169; a total of 1,196. Lieut.-Col. Elbert Bland, Seventh South Carolina, fell at the head of his regiment, and a few moments later Maj. John S. Hard, his successor, was instantly killed. Capt. J. M. Townsend, commanding the Third battalion, Lieut.-Col. Hoole, Eighth regiment, and Capt. W. A. Williams, acting major of the Third, were killed in the gallant performance of duty. Capt. D. R. Huger of General Manigault's staff fell in front of Snodgrass hill, and others of that gallant brigade sealed their devotion to duty with their heart's blood.

In the report of General Kershaw, the following officers are mentioned for gallant and noteworthy conduct: Lieutenant-Colonel Bland and Major Hard of the Seventh; Captain Townsend of the Third battalion; Col. James D. Nance of the Third regiment; Lieut.-Col. Franklin Gaillard of the Second; Col. John W. Henagan of the Eighth, and Col. Joseph F. Gist of the Fifteenth; Capts. C. R. Holmes, H. L. Farley, and W. M. Dwight of the brigade staff, and Couriers M. F. Milam, Company A, Third battalion, and Rawlins Rivers, Company I, Second regiment; both killed carrying General Kershaw's orders on the field.

General Gist mentioned Maj. B. B. Smith, Capt. M. P. King, and Lieuts. L. M. Butler and J. C. Habersham, of his staff, for efficiency and gallant conduct; Col. C. H. Stevens and Lieut.-Col. Ellison Capers, Twenty-fourth, for the same; and Adjt. J. O. Palmer and Capt. D. F. Hill, of the Twenty-fourth, ‘and other brave and true officers’ of the same regiment.

General Manigault mentioned the following as ‘distinguished for conduct on the field:’ Col. J. F. Pressley and Lieut.-Col. Julius T. Porcher of the Tenth; Maj. J. L. White and Adjutant Ferrell of the Nineteenth; Capt. C. I. Walker, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieut. William E. Huger, aide-de-camp. These names are given from the reports, but how many are left unmentioned! [290] The men and officers of the line who carried their colonels and lieutenant-colonels and majors and generals forward to victory are worthy of lasting honor. South Carolina has recorded their names on her roll of faithful and devoted soldiers and citizens, and while her archives endure they may be read by their descendants as the witness she bears to their courage, their patriotism, and their self-sacrificing devotion to duty.



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