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The battle of Chickamauga. [from the New Orleans, la., Picayune, September 11, 1904.]

An address delivered before the United Confederate Veterans' Convention in Baton Rouge, September, 1904.

By Captain James Dinkins, Member of the State History Committee.
[For the masterly address on the Battle of Chickamauga, delivered before the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, by Colonel Archer Anderson, see Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. IX, p. 385.—Ed.]

I desire, in this necessarily imperfect sketch of the great battle of Chickamauga, to record, as far as I may be able, only the most important features and events, and it is not without diffidence that I have consented to do so.

The present war between Russia and Japan has been compared to the war between the States, and the Japanese are accredited with possessing equal strategy with Jackson and Forrest.

The Japanese soldiers are being spoken of as the greatest of the age, almost without comparison for dash and courage.

Comparison is too vast a subject to undertake in a short report, but it is well to remind those of the present generation that the South was plunged into the midst of war without any preparation, and without equipment, while Japan has for years been actively employed in organizing her battalions and mobilizing her armies. We have great admiration for the Japanese, and earnestly hope they may be successful in crushing the menace which confronts them, and also check the madness of that barbarous and inhuman government which has for years oppressed and murdered a harmless and peaceful people. When a recent battle was fought reports were sent over the world stating that 800 men were killed or wounded, and people held their breath while they read the headlines, and gasped over the awful destruction of life.

I have selected Chickamauga as my subject, therefore, because it will illustrate the quality of the Confederate soldier, and will enable those who make comparisons to do so intelligently. [300]

I desire particularly to impress upon those who wish to be informed that the Confederates were greatly outnumbered, while the reverse is true of the Japanese.

Chattanooga, as we all know, is in the mouth of a narrow valley, formed by Lookout mountain and a spur of mountains known as Missionary Ridge. Lookout mountain juts abruptly upon the Tennessee river, a short distance to the west of Chattanooga, and extends southward into Georgia.

For fifty miles or more the densely wooded hills and rocky cliffs are impassable for troops, except by two wagon roads, one distant twenty, and the other forty miles from Chattanooga.

Missionary Ridge extends from north to south, on the eastern extremity of the valley, and along which the eastern branch of the Chickamauga river runs. To the south is Pigeon mountain, some twenty-five miles distant from Chattanooga and about equally distant between the two the Chickamauga river crosses the valley, and on this west branch of the river Lee and Gordon's mills are situated.

It was early in July, 1863, that the Army of Tennessee, under command of General Braxton Bragg, was withdrawn to the south side of the Tennessee river, and concentrated at Chattanooga, where necessary changes in the organization took place.

Forest had been assigned to the command of a division of cavalry and ordered to East Tennessee to keep watchful observation of the enemy in that direction. The Federals at that time were in strong force at McMinnville, Franklin and Triune.

General Rosecrans, who commanded the Federal army, had several times decided on a forward movement, it transpires, but the audacious work of Forrest kept him in doubt, and he therefore did not undertake to cross the Tennessee until about August 27th.

On the last of the month two divisions of McCook's Corps and one of Thomas' Corps made the passage at Caperton's Ferry, and began to march without delay over Sand mountain.

On the 4th of September the remaining divisions of McCook and Thomas crossed at Bridgeport and Shell Mound.

About this time the three Confederate corps, commanded by Generals Polk, D. H. Hill and Buckner, were withdrawn to the vicinity of Lee and Gordon's mills, on the Chickamauga. On September 9th, two divisions of Thomas' Corps (Negly's and Baird's) made their way through Cooper's and Stevens' gaps, in Lookout [301] mountain, both very strong positions, which were left open by General Bragg, but without any apparent object.

The enemy took position near Dug Gap, and as soon as they had done so, D. H. Hill was ordered to guard the passage in Pigeon mountain, while General Polk was summoned to make active operations against the Federals in McLemore's Cove.

Thus the two armies faced each other on September 10th, but no collision occurred. Hill made disposition for battle, and Cleburne's battle-scarred heroes deployed into line ready to spring forth with their habitual eclat, but before the order was given, word reached Hill from headquarters to suspend the movement.

It is believed by those acquainted with the conditions that a most favorable opportunity was lost at this time.

As an evidence of this, the Federals began a hurried retrogade march.

As soon as General Hill reported this fact, he was ordered to advance, which he did with great spirit, but the Federals declined battle, and night being at hand, under favor of darkness, fell back to the hills in front of Steven's Gap, and escaped that destruction which a skilled general like Hill, with his impetuous soldiers, could have wrought.

This was one of the lost opportunities of the war.

McCook assembled his corps near Winston's Gap, in Lookout mountain, some forty miles distant. Meantime Thomas began to move eastward to intercept General Bragg, whom Rosecrans believed to be in full retreat.

Previous to these events a third corps of Rosecrans' army, under Crittenden, had crossed the Tennessee at Bridgeport, and at the mouth of Battle creek, and was moving by way of Ringgold towards Dalton.

Let us consider the situation at this time. Rosecrans' army was widely separated. McCook could only reach Thomas by a march of thirty-five miles, while Crittenden was separated from both, as he moved down the east side of Missionary ridge. General Bragg had concentrated his whole force near Lafayette, and it was impossible, therefore, for McCook to reach Thomas by the road mentioned. There was but one opportunity open, and that was to march back into Wills' Valley and northward, some fifty miles through most difficult mountain roads and passes. It was fortunate, indeed, for the Federal commander that General Bragg did not take in the [302] situation; certainly it was the best opportunity afforded during the war to destroy an army in detail.

On September 13th the Federal army was posted as follows:

McCook's 20th Corps, 14,345 effectives and 54 cannon, near Alpine, Ga.

Thomas' 14th Corps, 24,072 effective and 72 cannon, in front of Stevens' Gap, and Crittenden's Corps, 13,975 effective and 48 cannon, west of Lee and Gordon's Mills. Total, 52,392 infantry, 177 guns and 8,000 cavalry, making an effective force of more than 600,000 men, while a division of Gordon Granger's Corps was at Shell Mound. General Bragg's force consisted of Polk's Corps, 12,027 strong; D. H. Hill, 11,972; Buckner, 11,029; 150 cannon and 7,500 cavalry. Total, 42,528.

It will be noted that General Bragg made no effort to destroy either of the separated Federal forces.

By the 18th of September General Rosecrans had brought together in the Chickamauga valley, southward of Lee and Gordon's Mills, the bulk of his army, while General Bragg had, as before stated, concentrated his army about Lafayette.

On September 19, General Bragg decided to take the offensive. Bushrod Johnson was ordered to take the iniative with his division by crossing the Chickamauga at Reed's bridge, about four or five miles from Lee and Gordon's Mills, and move southward against his enemy, while Walker, with his division, was to cross at Alexander's bridge, and support Johnson.

Buckner's Corps crossed at Tedford's Ford, still nearer the enemy's position, while Hill was to cover the left flank against any operation the Federals might make from that direction.

Johnson began the movement early on Friday morning with four brigades, while Forrest covered his flanks and front.

Forrest came in contact with the Federal cavalry at Keller's Mill and pressed them back to Reed's bridge, where there was sharp fighting before the infantry arrived. Two brigades (Law's and Robertson's), commanded by General Hood, soon re-enforced Johnson.

Buckner, as instructed, marched from Lafayette, and approaching Tedford's and Dalton's Fords, late in the afternoon, seized the hills commanding both fords, where he planted his batteries to cover the crossing. Polk's Corps, in the meantime (Hindman's and Cheatham's Divisions) had taken position nearly opposite Lee and Gordon's Mills. [303]

It will, therefore, be seen that on the morning of September 19, the bulk of the Confederate army lay east of Chickamauga.

This was a position fraught with great jeopardy for General Bragg. Had Rosecrans been such a man as General Lee, or Jackson or Forrest, he would have made use of it. The battle was now near at hand. With forces opposed, of numbers, courage and other qualities and aspirations, which assured that it would be one of the most sanguinary and obstinate of the war.

General Bragg had effectives, located as we have shown, not to exceed 38,000 bayonets, 7,500 cavalry and 150 cannon.

Rosecrans fronted Chickamauga with Crittenden's Corps, while Thomas with his corps occupied the Chattanooga and Lafayette road to the left of Crittenden, and McCook was at Crawfish Spring. On the morning of the 20th, Forrest was ordered to develop the enemy on the extreme right, and was assured of prompt support. Forrest moved swiftly to Jay's Saw Mill, when he encountered a heavy Federal column, which he boldly attacked and brushed back some five or six hundred yards, where he observed two strong lines in battle array, nearly due west of Reed's Bridge.

He sent an officer to headquarters with the information, and requested that his left should be re-enforced.

It was now about 10 o'clock A. M. The Federals threw forward a line of skirmishers, and it may be said that this was the overture of the battle of Chickamauga.

The conflict became warm and was maintained with pertinacity on both sides. Forrest drove back the Federal line until it formed a junction with McCook's Corps and Reynold's Division of Thomas' Corps.

The battle thus far had been confined to an arena scarcely a mile and a half in length, the whole face of which was an undulating plateau covered with an oak forest and dense undergrowth. The Federals had thrown up earthworks, from which they now poured forth a hot torrent of musketry fire, as well as grape, canister and shell from numerous batteries.

The attacking Confederate force thus far consisted of two small cavalry divisions, about 3,000 rifles and eight guns.

In a short time Walker's Division, 5,000 strong, and sixteen guns, was sent to the support of Forrest, but about this time Forrest discovered that the enemy was overlapping his lines and he fell back. In the meantime events were culminating. [304]

Cheatham's Division of Polk's Corps had been ordered from Dalton's Ford to re-enforce Walker. Cheatham hastened to the right and took position astraddle the road from Alexander's Bridge.

Cheatham at once advanced his Tennesseans, and they were soon engaged with the counter movement which had pressed Walker and Forrest back. Thomas and Crittenden's Corps were now in this quarter of the field, where a fiery, fluctuating conflict raged for several hours.

At one time the Federals were driven back fully three-quarters of a mile, when they were strongly re-enforced and rolled the Confederates back.

Meanwhile, Cleburne's Division of Hill's Corps had been held eastward of the Chickamauga until nearly night, when he was ordered to report to General Polk, who instructed him to form in rear of his right.

It was now about 6 o'clock, but Cleburne was ordered to advance and attack, over the ground so lately, so frequently and so obstinately contended for, and Cheatham also moved forward in concert.

A furious tempest of shot and shell rained upon that advancing host of immortals, and for half an hour the firing was as heavy as was ever known. Darkness came on, and the aim of each adversary was directed by the flash of his opponent's gun.

Finally two fresh brigades were sent to the support of Cleburne and Cheatham, and the enemy gave way, leaving twelve pieces of cannon, some 600 prisoners, and four stands of colors in the Confederates' hands.

Here General Preston Smith fell—a great loss to our cause—an officer who had no superior in that army for shining courage, while none of his grade excelled him in the qualities of a commander.

With him also fell his Adjutant-General, Captain John Donelson, and his Aide, Captain Thomas H. King.

Cleburne never halted to readjust his lines until he had driven the Federals more than a mile, where he and Cheatham bivouacked upon their arms.

There had been fighting elsewhere, also, although the main conflict was as we have described.

Preston's Division of Buckner's Corps, and Hood's two divisions, Johnson's and Law's, were drawn up in line on the crest of a ridge about a thousand yards east of Vinyard's house from early morning until about 4 P. M., when their skirmish line was drawn in. [305]

Hood then ordered Johnson to attack, which he did with great energy, and pressed the Federals back to the Chattanooga road, and thus matters stood the night of the 20th.

General Rosecrans, in his report of this battle, states that ‘the whole Federal army was brought squarely into action,’ save two brigades of Sheridan's Division and Mitchell's Cavalry. On the other hand, only about half of the Confederate forces were engaged, not exceeding 9,000,000 bayonets. Why they were not put into action we are unable to comprehend, because they could have been used to good advantage.

Breckinridge, with 4,000 men, and Hindman, with 5, 6000, also those of Preston's Brigade, were suffered to remain idle during the entire day.

Lieutenant-General Longstreet, of the Army of Northern Virginia, reached General Bragg about 11 o'clock at night, and stated that McLaws' Division of his corps was marching from Catooso Station, thus increasing Bragg's force 4,600, making a total of 50,100. He was advised by General Bragg of his purpose to give battle the following day, September 21, and that he had arranged his forces into two grand divisions. The command of the right was assigned to General Polk, and that of the left to Longstreet.

Polk's command embraced Hill's Corps, Walker's Reserve Corps and Cheatham's Division of his own corps, while Forrest supported his right flank.

Longstreet's wing was composed of Buckner's Corps, Hindman's Division of Polk's Corps, Johnson's Division, and Hood's and McLaws' Divisions of Longstreet's Corps.

Notwithstanding the arrangements as told to General Longstreet, several officers of high rank had no information on the subject. D. H. Hill had been selected to begin the combat, but received no advice to that effect until told by General Bragg, in person, the next morning. Buckner also was ignorant of the plan, so he states.

As late as 8 o'clock in the morning our forces occupied the same position in which the close of the battle had left them the night before.

During the night General Rosecrans assembled his corps commanders at his headquarters, and, in consequence, his forces presented a well-furnished front, behind breastworks of logs, and, in many places, trenches.

The sun rose bright and clear, but a heavy mist lay low in the valley, concealing the two armies from each other. [306]

General Bragg ordered that the attack be make at daylight, but the failure to communicate the plans to the corps commanders led to a delay of three hours or more.

The plan of battle provided that the movement begin on the right, and follow in succession toward the left, the purpose being to wheel the whole line towards the left.

At length, between 9 and 10 o'clock, final orders were received to begin the battle.

Breckinridge advanced, and, together with Helm's Brigade, became furiously engaged with a force behind strong breastworks. Forward dashed the Alabamians and Kentuckians, under a most murderous fire, enfilading as well as front, that shattered their ranks, but they pressed on.

The loss was fearful, and among the fallen was the accomplished Brigadier-General Ben Hardin Helm. The line advanced beyond the Chattanooga road, and captured a battery of Napoleon guns in position.

Adams' Brigade, in the meantime, had met but slight resistance, but also captured a battery, which was turned on the enemy. Seeing that the Federal line was practically turned, Breckinridge changed front at right angles to the Chattanooga road, facing southward, with Slocum's Louisiana Battery in his front. Advancing along and to eastward of the road, he developed the enemy's left strongly intrenched. Adams, on the right, encountered the enemy fronting his approach, but he broke through them by the impetuosity of his attack, but found a second and stronger line, at least three brigades, supported by artillery, behind them.

The next instant the Confederates were thrown back in confusion, leaving the gallant and intrepid Adams, severely wounded, in the hands of the enemy.

The situation was serious but Slocum threw his battery into favorable position and opened with grape and canister, fighting his guns with resolution and desperate courage. Slocum faced the Federal line unsupported until the brigade was rallied in his rear. Slocum was severely cut up, but continued to work his guns until the crisis was over. His battery had to be refitted before he could move.

The 19th Louisianna Regiment performed valiant services, and lost a large number of gallant officers and men. Among the killed was the gallant and always to be lamented Major Loudoun Butler.

In the meantime Wood's Brigade pushed forward upon the southern [307] angle of the breastworks in its front, but, having to cross an open field swept by an oblique fire, was repulsed with fearful loss, leaving over 600 killed and wounded in ten minutes time.

Deshler was then thrown forward to fill the gap left by the repulse of Wood, and before he had fairly begun his charge, a three-inch shell passed through his body.

Cleburne, finding that he was confronted by an enormous force, withdrew and reformed. In the meantime Helm's Brigade had been equally cut up, and the situation seemed critical.

Breckinridge was being hard pressed. Hill sent Colquitt's Brigade to receive the pressure, but the noble Georgians came quickly under a most destructive fire from the front and flank that killed or wounded more than a third of the fellows, while Colquitt fell mortally wounded. Every field officer in the brigade was killed or wounded, save one. Ector's, Wilson's and Walthall's Brigades were sent to the support of General Polk, and encountered an overwhelming force, before which they had to give way with heavy loss. It will, therefore, be seen that after an hour's gallant fighting nothing had been accomplished on the right but the fearful loss of some of the best soldiers of any age.

Clayton and Bates had been so cut up they also had to retire and reform.

Preston, in the meantime, with his division, Stewart's, Trigg's, Gracie's and Kelly's Brigades and Johnson's Division on his left, with Breckinridge and Forrest on the right, moved forward like a mighty current, and striking the Federals, strongly intrenched around the Brotherton's house, swept them away, and, pressing the advantage, drove the enemy precipitately and headlong to flight. This was the first ray of light to the gallant Confederates. Pushing ahead, keeping his force well in hand, Johnson passed through a wood and entered an open field, over which the Federals were falling back in disorder. The enemy had planted several batteries very favorably on the little hills which bore on the noble ranks as they dashed forward in pursuit. The writer heard General Stewart say that ‘the scene at this moment was the most brilliant and exciting he witnessed during the war.’ The impetuous charge, the rush and yell of the columns as they swept out of the woods into the field, the artillery, and men on horseback, dashing onward with the recklessness of desperation, the dust and smoke, the bursting of shells, the swish of grape-shot, all combined to make a battle scene of unsurpassed grandeur. The wildest enthusiam now took possession [308] of our troops. Hindman's Division dashed forward and carried the enemy's works with an impetuosity never surpassed. The Federals were staggered on every hand, and ran in great disorder, leaving guns in position and thousands of dead and wounded on the field. General Hindman, in his report, pays the highest compliment to Manigault and his brigade, also to Deas and Anderson.

Longstreet's wing of the army was now fully engaged, and was handled with skill and judgment, throwing the full force of his troops in concert, while the fight on the right had been made in brigades and divisions.

About 12 o'clock one of Forrest's scouts reported that a column of infantry was advancing from the direction of Rossville. With that foresight and promptness which always characterized Forrest, he dashed away with Armstrong's Brigade to meet this new enemy. Granger, with 5,000 fresh troops and three batteries, was pushing on to relieve Thomas. Forrest, with his small force, became quickly engaged, and forced Granger to halt, and, although too weak to long stay his advance, compelled Granger to deflect some distance from the main direction. Thomas has been accredited with great stubbornness and tenacity in holding his position, but when we look into the facts we are compelled to find that his ability to do so was due more to the inaction of the Confederate troops on the right than to any special credit due Thomas. It is a fact that our entire right wing, for two hours or more, stood motionless on the field, while the left wing had driven the enemy from every position on that part of the field. General D. H. Hill states that it was half-past 3 when the order was given to advance. General Cleburne also made the same statement. It was, therefore, 4 o'clock when the line again advanced against Thomas, who had now strengthened his command until he mustered over 35,000 muskets. Finally Breckinridge, on the right, then Liddell, while Cleburne pressed forward in the centre, and Cheatham on the left, moved forward like a mighty torrent against the strongly posted forces of Thomas, well sheltered by breastworks.

The gallant men fought their way to Thomas' lines, but, confronted by overwhelming odds, they could not hold their advantage, and the right began to give way. Forrest, who had been guarding the extreme flank, seeing the disorder, hurried to the rescue, and, placing himself among the infantry, called on them to stand. His presence was so grand, so lofty, and so inspiring that the men rallied and renewed the attack. Forward, and yelling, the men rushed [309] headlong into Thomas' works, surmounting them at every point, and the Federals went pell-mell through the swamp into the woods and up the ravines in swarms and broken masses. It was one of the grandest moments in all the world's history.

The Confederates had swept everything before them, and were complete masters of the field, while the Federals were routed and left the field covered with cannon and small arms, besides several thousand prisoners and sixteen thousand dead and wounded.

The loss on the Confederate side was .also very heavy—some twelve thousand killed and wounded.

The battle of Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest of the war, or, in fact, of any war. The brilliant achievement of the Confederates should have insured a decisive operation, and it is more than probable that if a rapid advance had been made that night the Federal army would have been destroyed. Even the following day the Federals were huddled in Chattanooga in great disorder. Forrest urged an advance, and, because of the failure to take advantage of the great opportunity, he sent to General Bragg his resignation, which, however, President Davis would not accept.

The battle of Chickamauga was waged with energy by the troops wherever they were sent in, and the fight was made under peculiar conditions, upon a theatre peculiar in its character. We, therefore, feel that a review of facts and events should be touched upon, but the paper is already too long, and, even if we undertook to discuss the oversights and omissions, it would be difficult to do so without bringing out matters it were better to leave unsaid. And yet it requires no clearer demonstration than the facts already stated to show that indecision as well as inaction, on that field crushed the hopes of our people.

It can be truthfully said that the Confederate soldier has fixed the record of the world in the field of war. He has written an epic by his achievements whose grandeur and simplicity no genius of song can further brighten or ennoble. It stands on the pages of history matchless and imperishable, and it was the soldiers of the ranks who did this.

It is no detraction from the fame of Lee, Jackson, Forrest and the Hills, or Gordon, and the other leaders, to say that the men who followed them to battle were cast in the same heroic mold and that the ragged private was the instrument by which their achievements were made possible.

When the last impartial monument shall be erected to the heroes [310] of the South, and the last impartial epitaph shall be inscribed upon it, it will rob the great names of Southern history of none of their glory that the monument is surmounted by the marble effigy of the common soldier and the inscription a testimonial to his sublime courage and pre-eminent services to the South.

The loyalty of his life, the firmness of his principles and the serenity of his bearing make him more magnificient than all the arguments of a century.

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