Submitted by C.J. Johnson
In the summer of 1863, Union forces under the command of General William Rosecrans had pushed Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg out of both Tullahoma and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Bragg and his troops moved into northern Georgia, in an area of mountains, about 25 miles south of Chattanooga.
In the early morning of September 19, Federal troops from General George Thomas’s corps engaged a dismounted Confederate cavalry group. It became a much larger fight when additional Confederate troops were sent into battle. The fighting increased, with both sides fully involved in the battle. However, the day’s results were inconclusive.
That night, even more Rebel troops moved into the area, as General James Longstreet’s two divisions arrived. With the arrival of Longstreet’s troops, Rebels outnumbered Yankees by about 10,000 troops.
By noon on the 20th, events fell into place in the Confederate’s favor, when Union General Thomas Wood was ordered to move his troops “to plug a gap in the Yankee line,” when in fact there was no such gap. Instead, this move created a one.
Longstreet took full advantage of the situation, marching his troops through the newly formed gap, creating havoc in the Union line. The Yankees quickly retreated to Chattanooga, with only Union General Thomas’s corps left to fight. The Rebel attack was thwarted, and Thomas earned the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga.” Sometime after nightfall, Thomas’s troops also returned to Chattanooga.
Confederate General Bragg opted not to pursue General Rosecrans to Chattanooga. The decision was made to besiege the city of Chattanooga. With Confederate artillery on the high ground, looking down on the river, as well as blocking the railroad lines and roads, Union supplies were cut-off to the city.
Chickamauga was one of the largest and bloodiest battles in the war. Losses on both sides were huge, and surprisingly equal as far as percentages. Union forces, with a total count of about 58,000, had a casualty rate of about 28 percent, with over 16,000 casualties including 1,600 dead. Confederates also had a 28 percent casualty rate, with a total strength of over 66,000 men and 18,500 total casualties, with just over 2,300 killed.
The National Park Service, in its online copy of its 1956 Historical Handbook of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, offers this idea of the importance of Chickamauga. “In and around strategically important Chattanooga, Tenn. in the autumn of 1863, there occurred some of the most complex maneuvers and hard fighting of the Civil War. The Confederate victory at Chickamauga (September 19-20) gave new hope to the South after the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July of that year.”