American Civil War: Battle of Chickamauga

Battle of Chickamauga. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Battle of Chickmauga - Conflict:

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought during the American Civil War.

Battle of Chickamauga - Dates:

The Army of the Cumberland and Army of Tennessee battled on September 18-20, 1863.

Armies & Commanders at Chickamauga:



Battle of Chickamauga - Background:

Through the summer of 1863, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Union Army of the Cumberland, conducted a skillful campaign of maneuver in Tennessee. Dubbed the Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans was able to repeatedly force General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee to retreat until it reached its base at Chattanooga. Under orders to capture the valuable transportation hub, Rosecrans did not wish to directly assault the city's fortifications. Instead, utilizing the railroad network to the west, he began moving south in an effort to sever Bragg's supply lines.

Pinning Bragg in place with a diversion at Chattanooga, Rosecrans' army completed crossing the Tennessee River on September 4. Advancing, Rosecrans encountered rough terrain and poor roads. This forced his four corps to take separate routes. In the weeks prior to Rosecrans' movement, Confederate authorities had grown concerned about the defense of Chattanooga. As a result, Bragg was reinforced by troops from Mississippi and the bulk of Lieutenant General James Longstreet's corps from the Army of Northern Virginia.

Reinforced, Bragg abandoned Chattanooga on September 6, and moved south to attack Rosecrans' dispersed columns. This allowed Major General Thomas L. Crittenden's XXI Corps to occupy the city as part of its advance. Aware that Bragg was in the field, Rosecrans ordered his forces to concentrate to prevent them from being defeated in detail. On September 18, Bragg sought to attack XXI Corps near Chickamauga Creek. This effort was frustrated by Union cavalry and mounted infantry led by Colonels Robert Minty and John T. Wilder.

Battle of Chickamauga - Fighting Begins:

Alerted to this fighting, Rosecrans ordered Major General George H. Thomas' XIV Corps and Major General Alexander McCook's XX Corps to support Crittenden. Arriving on the morning of September 19, Thomas' men took a position north of XXI Corps. Believing that he only had cavalry on his front, Thomas ordered a series attacks. These encountered the infantry of Major Generals John Bell Hood, Hiram Walker, and Benjamin Cheatham. The fighting raged through the afternoon as Rosecrans and Bragg committed more troops to the fray. As McCook's men arrived, they were placed in the Union center between XIV and XXI Corps.

As the day wore on, Bragg's numerical advantage began to tell and Union forces were slowly pushed back towards the LaFayette Road. As darkness fell, Rosecrans tightened his lines and prepared defensive positions. On the Confederate side, Bragg was reinforced by the arrival of Longstreet who was given command of the left wing of the army. Bragg's plan for the 20th called for successive attacks from north to south. The battle recommenced around 9:30 AM when Lieutenant General Daniel H. Hill's corps attacked Thomas' position.

Battle of Chickamauga - Disaster Ensues:

Beating back the attack, Thomas called for Major General James S. Negley's division which was supposed to be in reserve. Due to an error, Negley's men had been put in the line. As his men shifted north, Brigadier General Thomas Wood's division took their place. For the next two hour's Rosecrans' men repeatedly defeated the Confederate attacks. Around 11:30, Rosecrans, not knowing the precise locations of this units, erred and issued orders for Wood to shift position.

This opened a gaping hole in the Union center. Alerted to this, McCook began moving the divisions of Major General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis to plug the gap. As these men were moving forward, Longstreet launched his assault on the Union center. Exploiting the hole in the Union line, his men were able to strike the moving Union columns in the flank. In short order, the Union center and right broke and began fleeing the field, carrying Rosecrans with them. Sheridan's division made a stand on Lytle Hill, but was forced to withdraw by Longstreet and a flood of retreating Union soldiers.

Battle of Chickamauga - The Rock of Chickamauga

With the army falling back, Thomas' men held firm. Consolidating his lines on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill, Thomas defeated a series of Confederate assaults. Farther north, the commander of the Reserve Corps, Major General Gordon Granger, dispatched a division to Thomas' aid. Arriving on the field they helped block an attempt by Longstreet to envelop Thomas' right. Holding until nightfall, Thomas withdrew under the cover of darkness. His stubborn defense earned him the nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga." Having incurred heavy casualties, Bragg elected not to pursue Rosecrans' broken army.

Aftermath of the Battle of Chickamauga

The fighting at Chickamauga cost the Army of the Cumberland 1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded, and 4,757 captured/missing. Bragg losses were heavier and numbered 2,312 killed, 14,674 wounded, and 1,468 captured/missing. Retreating back to Chattanooga, Rosecrans and his army were soon besieged in the city by Bragg. Shattered by his defeat, Rosecrans ceased be an effective leader and was replaced by Thomas on October 19, 1863. The siege of the city was broken in October following the arrival of the commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, and Bragg's army shattered the following month at the Battle of Chattanooga.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Chickamauga." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). American Civil War: Battle of Chickamauga. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Chickamauga." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).