The Battle of Chickamauga, fought September 19-20, 1863, marked the end of a Union
southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia called the Chickamauga
Campaign. The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of
the Civil War and involved the second highest number of casualties in the war
following the Battle of Gettysburg.
The battle was fought between the Union Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Braxton Bragg, and was named for West Chickamauga Creek, which meanders near the battle area in northwest Georgia (and ultimately flows into the Tennessee River about 3.5 miles northeast of downtown Chattanooga).
After his successful Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans renewed the offensive, aiming to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. In early September, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered in Tennessee and Georgia and forced Bragg's army out of Chattanooga, heading south. The Union troops followed it and brushed with it at Davis's Cross Roads. Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet a part of Rosecrans's army, defeat it, and then move back into the city. On September 17 he headed north, intending to attack the isolated XXI Corps. As Bragg marched north on September 18, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry, which were armed with Spencer repeating rifles.
Fighting began in earnest on the morning of September 19. Bragg's men strongly assaulted but could not break the Union line. The next day, Bragg resumed his assault. In late morning, Rosecrans was misinformed that he had a gap in his line. In moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosecrans accidentally created an actual gap, directly in the path of an eight-brigade assault on a narrow front by Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. Longstreet's attack drove one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. Union units spontaneously rallied to create a defensive line on Horseshoe Ridge, forming a new right wing for the line of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, who assumed overall command of remaining forces. Although the Confederates launched costly and determined assaults, Thomas and his men held until twilight. Union forces then retired to Chattanooga while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights, besieging the city.
The battle was damaging to both sides in proportions roughly equal to the size of the armies: Union losses were 16,170 (1,657 killed, 9,756 wounded, and 4,757 captured or missing), Confederate 18,454 (2,312 killed, 14,674 wounded, and 1,468 captured or missing). These were the highest losses of any battle in the Western Theater during the war and, after Gettysburg, the second-highest of the war overall. Although the Confederates were technically the victors, driving Rosecrans from the field, Bragg had not achieved his objective of destroying Rosecrans, nor of restoring Confederate control of East Tennessee.
On September 21, Rosecrans's army withdrew to the city of Chattanooga and took advantage of previous Confederate works to erect strong defensive positions. However, the supply lines into Chattanooga were at risk and the Confederates soon occupied the surrounding heights and laid siege upon the Union forces. Unable to break the siege, Rosecrans was relieved of his command of the Army of the Cumberland on October 19, replaced by Thomas. McCook and Crittenden lost their commands on September 28 as the XX Corps and the XXI Corps were consolidated into a new IV Corps commanded by Granger; neither officer would ever command in the field again. On the Confederate side, Bragg began to wage a battle against the subordinates he resented for failing him in the campaign-Hindman for his lack of action in McLemore's Cove, and Polk for his late attack on September 20. On September 29, Bragg suspended both officers from their commands. In early October, an attempted mutiny of Bragg's subordinates resulted in D.H. Hill being relieved from his command. Longstreet was dispatched with his corps to the Knoxville Campaign against Ambrose Burnside, seriously weakening Bragg's army at Chattanooga.
The Chickamauga Campaign was followed by the Battles for Chattanooga, sometimes called the Chattanooga Campaign, including the reopening of supply lines and the Battles of Lookout Mountain (November 23) and Missionary Ridge, (November 25). Relief forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant broke Bragg's grip on the city, sent the Army of Tennessee into retreat, and opened the gateway to the Deep South for Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
Today, most of the land used in the Battle of Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaign is preserved as national military parks. Starting in 1890, the Congress of the United States authorized the establishment of the first four national military parks: Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg.
The first and largest of these (5,200 acres) parks, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park became the standard for developing most other national military and historical parks. It owes its existence chiefly to the efforts of Generals Henry V. Boynton and Ferdinand Van Derveer, both veterans of the Union Army of the Cumberland, who saw the need for a federal park to preserve and commemorate these battlefields. Another early proponent and driving force behind the park's creation was Ohio General Henry M. Cist, who led the Chickamauga Memorial Society in 1888. Another former Union officer, Charles H. Grosvenor, was chairman of the park commission from 1910 until his death in 1917.
The newly created Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was utilized during the Spanish American War as a major training center for troops in the southern states. The park was temporarily renamed Camp George H. Thomas, in honor of the union army commander during the Civil War battle at the site. The park's proximity to the major rail hub at Chattanooga and its large tracks of land made it a logical marshalling area for troop being readied for service in Cuba and other points south.
I had a fantastic time exploring the battlefield for a number of reasons. I believe the best reason was the fact that I had a great guide…my cousin Bob took time off to show me around. Bob is also a history buff. In addition, I have done some extra research on Gen. Braxton Bragg. He moved to the Mobile, Alabama area, where I now live, to be with his brother, Judge John Bragg. Gen. Bragg is buried in Magnolia Cemetery. We have an article on Judge Bragg's Mansion and Magnolia Cemetery under the Mobile, Alabama section.
Bob and I had the pleasure of meeting Craig, one of the knowledgeable visitor center representatives. Let me see if I can set this up correctly. Craig was in the Air Force about the time I went in. Bob is a Navy veteran. Just image three ole vets swapping war stories at a historic battlefield. The time went so fast. Thanks Craig it was great meeting you.
Daily 8:30am - 5pm
Closed Christmas Day
Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
3370 Lafayette Road
Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia