The Northern Army of the Cumberland, some 58,000 strong, was moving toward Chattanooga under the command of General William Rosecrans in the early fall of 1863. General Braxton Bragg, the Southern commander, removed his forces from the city and marched southward. Rosecrans reasoned that the Confederates were headed for Atlanta, but he badly misunderstood the situation. Bragg’s forces received reinforcements and managed to spring a trap on their opponents in an encounter along the Chickamauga Creek, about 10 miles south of Chattanooga.Neither Rosecrans nor Bragg demonstrated memorable military skills at Chickamauga, but a Confederate charge led by elements of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia under Lt. Thomas would become known at “the Rock of Chickamauga,” and Longstreet the "Bull of the Woods" for their respective roles in the battle.Heavy Southern losses prevented Bragg from pressing his advantage as the Union soldiers headed north to Chattanooga. Union casualties numbered 16,000 and the Confederates, 18,000.Following this disappointment, President Lincoln replaced Rosecrans with U.S. Grant, who would command the western armies. Grant assigned Thomas to hold Chattanooga.
This oil painting depicts the charge of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry, and the death of Colonel Hans C. Heg at the Battle of Chickamauga. View the original source document: WHI 2538
Monument for the 15th Wisconsin Infantry at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. View the original source document: WHI 91962
Date(s): September 18-20, 1863
Location: Chickamauga, Georgia (Google Map)
Campaign: Chickamauga Campaign (August-September 1863)
Outcome: Confederate victory
The defeat at Chickamauga, Georgia, in the fall of 1863 left Union troops pinned inside Chattanooga, Tennessee, and temporarily halted the Union advance into the heart of the Confederacy.
In early August 1863, Union forces were ordered to advance into the upper Tennessee River Valley and take Chattanooga, Tennessee. After capturing it in early September, Union generals pushed further south. They encountered their enemy 10 miles outside the city, across the state line in Georgia. For three days, 58,000 Union troops faced off against 66,000 Confederates in the war's second-bloodiest battle (after the Battle of Gettysburg).
The opposing lines were six miles long. Much of the fighting occurred in woods so thick that at times neither side knew the precise location of the other. Sometimes commanders could not find their own troops. Strategic maneuvers were difficult and surprise encounters were common. Over the course of three days, Union generals' misinformation combined with bad judgment enabled the Confederates to push them back into Chattanooga.
The 1st, 10th, 15th, 21st, and 24th Wisconsin Infantry regiments along with the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, and the 3rd, 5th, and 8th Wisconsin Light Artillery batteries were engaged in some of the fiercest fighting.
The chaplain of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry reported that 80 percent of its men were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. The 15th Wisconsin Infantry, composed almost entirely of Norwegian immigrants, was led on the field by Colonel Hans C. Heg, who was killed in action. The 21st Wisconsin Infantry found itself surrounded. Lieutenant Colonel Harrison C. Hobart was among those captured and sent to Libby Prison. He led more than 100 prisoners in a daring tunnel escape the following February.
Links to Learn More
Read About the Experiences of Wisconsin Troops
View Battle Maps
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View Original Documents
[Source: Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields (Washington, 1993) Estabrook, C. Records and Sketches of Military Organizations (Madison, 1914) Love, W. Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion (Madison, 1866).
Much of the Battle of Chickamauga took place in a wooded terrain.
In the late summer of 1863 the Union Army of the Cumberland under the command of General William Rosecrans maneuvered south from middle Tennessee with the objective of capturing the city of Chattanooga, the gateway to the Confederacy. By late September, much of the Union Army crossed Lookout Mountain south of the city and threatened to cut off the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Braxton Bragg. Bragg's Confederates withdrew towards LaFayette, Georgia. Both armies then engaged in a game of cat and mouse among the hills and coves south of Chattanooga.
On September 18, 1863, the Confederate army attempted to cross West Chickamauga Creek at several bridges and fords. These crossing were opposed, especially at Reed's Bridge and Alexander's Bridge, by Union cavalry. By the next day, September 19, the skirmishing along the creek crossings had blossomed into full scale battle. Throughout the day on September 19, Confederate troops poured into the fight from the east, reinforced by General James Longstreet and his men from the Army of Northern Virginia, while Union reinforcements moved in from the north and south. It was a terrifying fight as the wooded terrain concealed troop movements and positions, leading to chaos as units blindly attacked each other. Throughout the day the battle see-sawed back and forth through the woods east of the LaFayette Road, although by nightfall the Union army was anchored in a strong position along the LaFayette Road.
The Wilder Brigade Monument is an 85 foot tower that overlooks the south end of the battlefield where John Wilder's "Lightning Brigade" fought. It is open for visitors to climb seasonally in the spring, summer, and fall, with weather permitting.
Overnight, Bragg reorganized the Army of Tennessee, placing General James Longstreet, just arrived from Virginia, in command of the left wing of the army, and General Leonidas Polk in command of the right. Bragg planned an early morning assault, but miscommunication between Bragg and his subordinates delayed the attack until around 9:30 am. The assault began on the Confederate right, with Confederate troops under the command of former Vice President John C. Breckenridge and Irish-born Patrick Cleburne attacking the Union left along present day Battleline Road and the Kelly Field area. Killed in this fight was President Abraham Lincoln's brother-in-law, Confederate General Benjamin Helm.
That morning, General William Rosecrans experienced its own miscommunication, and it had catastrophic consequences for the Army of the Cumberland. In the heat of battle, he gave conflicting orders to General Thomas Wood regarding how he should position his troops. Wood pulled his troops out of line and began to move them to the north, creating a gaping hole in the center of the Union army. At that moment, disaster struck, as Longstreet's Confederates attacked the spot Wood had just vacated near the Brotherton Cabin. The center and right of the Union army collapsed and was routed towards Rossville. General George Thomas rallied his corps on the Union left at Snodgrass Hill, and with support from the Reserve Corps commanded by Gordon Granger, fended off relentless Confederate attacks throughout the afternoon, saving the Union army from annihilation. For his work that day, Thomas became known as the Rock of Chickamauga. On the evening of September 20, 1863, Thomas and his men withdrew from the battlefield and rejoined the army en route to Chattanooga.
Battle of Chickamauga - History
The Battle of Chickamauga was a conflict that took place in Georgia during the American Civil War. Federal and Confederate forces engaged over two days on September 19 and 20 in 1863 at Catoosa County and Walker County, Georgia.
The battle was the last conflict in the Union army’s offensive initiative, named the Chickamauga Campaign, against the rebels in northwestern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee.
On the Federal side, the battle was fought by the Army of the Cumberland, under the command of Major General William Rosecrans, while the Confederate Army of Tennessee was led by General Braxton Bragg.
During the summer of 1863, Rosecrans and his army had waged a successful campaign against the Confederate forces under Braxton in central Tennessee, and the rebel army had retreated to Chattanooga. Rosecrans was instructed by both the President, Abraham Lincoln and the supreme commander, Major General Henry W. Halleck, to carry on the offensive and take Chattanooga, which was an important strategic city, from the Confederates.
For his part, Bragg had persuaded the Confederate leaders to augment his army with troops from other areas with the intention of not just defending Chattanooga, but also to launch a counterattack against the Union army. This move increased his army from 52,000 men to just under 70,000, outnumbering Rosecrans army by about 10,000 men.
Rosecrans recognized that he would have some difficulties in complying with the President’s instruction. An offensive move would mean his forces had to cross the Cumberland Plateau, difficult terrain with poor quality roads. Furthermore, his supply lines would be hindered by the mountains to the rear.
Rosecrans wanted to delay the offensive until all the required supplies were in place, so that he would not have to worry about getting them while on the move. He wanted to delay the move until August 17, but Halleck insisted that he advance without delaying any longer. However, Rosecrans did not begin moving forward until August 16.
The Campaign Plan
Rosecrans’ plan was to move forward to the Tennessee River, and then to accumulate more supplies before attempting to ford it. He felt that it would be impossible to cross the river if the opposing army held the other side, so his plan was to create a diversion that would draw Bragg’s forces into skirmishes north of Chattanooga and use these as a distraction while his main army forded the river at different locations several miles downstream.
Once across the river, the plan was to attack the city from the west, the south and the southeast. The attack from the southeast would give the Union army control over the railway line that connected Chattanooga with Atlanta. This railway was a vital supply line for the Confederates, and taking it would mean that Bragg’s army would either have to retreat from Chattanooga or try to defend the city without having a supply source.
It took the Union army until August 23 to reach the river. Rosecrans began to implement his deception, and sent some of his army to the north of Chattanooga. The deception seems to have worked, and Bragg thought that the crossing would be attempted north of Chattanooga.
On August 29, the first Union troops succeeded in crossing the Tennessee River at Caperton’s Ferry. The following day, a second and third crossing took place at Shellmound. On August 31, a fourth crossing took place at Battle Creek, and by September 4, all of the Union soldiers who would take part in the attack on Chattanooga had successfully crossed the river.
When Bragg realized that he could not hold the city, he withdrew to Lafayette in Georgia, and the Union army entered Chattanooga on September 9. Because of his plan to attack on several fronts, Rosecrans’ forces were widely scattered. Even so, he still thought that Bragg’s men were in disarray and initially ordered some of his troops to pursue the retreating Confederates. He later decided against this tactic and opted instead to consolidate his troops.
Bragg was also consolidating his troops and by September 15 had decided that the best option for his army was to launch an offensive to retake Chattanooga. He began to move his troops to Chickamauga Creek.
The Battle of Chickamauga
The battle began on September 19 and took place on several fronts in many different locations. The Union army quickly gained the initiative in the various encounters, and when reinforcements arrived, the Confederates were forced into retreat in several areas. However, as the day progressed, the Confederates did manage to halt the Federal offensive and Bragg felt that his side was in the better position and had inflicted significant damage on the Union forces.
Bragg planned to launch a fresh attack on the Federal soldiers at dawn on September 20, but a breakdown in communications meant that the dawn offensive could not take place. The arrival of reinforcements meant that the Confederates greatly outnumbered the Union troops, and Rosecrans realized that he was not in a position to launch an offensive.
The delay in the Confederate attack allowed the Union army to better prepare for the anticipated action, and Bragg later stated that this delay was the main reason his troops did not inflict a severe defeat on the Union army.
Because the Confederate Army had the advantage, Rosecrans had no choice but to concentrate his defense within Chattanooga, he advised his scattered army to retreat in the face of sustained Confederate attacks. Rosecrans instructed his men to begin a general retreat to Chattanooga, signifying the end of the battle of Chickamauga and a victory for the Confederate.
Results & Aftermath
Casualties on both sides in the battle were high. The Federal army had 1,657 fatal casualties, 9,756 wounded and a further 4,757 missing or taken prisoner. On the Confederate side, there were 2,312 fatalities, 14,674 wounded, and 1,464 missing or taken prisoner. The number of casualties was the second highest in the entire Civil War, exceeded only by casualties at Gettysburg.
Bragg slowness to attack turned a tactical victory for the South into a strategic defeat, as Federal forces were allowed to escape to Chattanooga. After the Battle of Chickamauga, Bragg laid siege to Chattanooga, but it was strongly fortified and the Federal troops were able to maintain control. Despite not being able to receive supplies, the Union troops managed to hold on in Chattanooga until Major General Ulysses S. Grant arrived with a relieving force that broke Bragg’s siege in late November.
History of the Georgia National Guard
On the evening of Sept. 18,1863, Federal commander, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans, sent Maj. Gen. George Thomas, commander of the 14th Corps, north along the Lafayette Road. His intent was to extend his defensive line and maintain the Federal army’s line of retreat north to Chattanooga. By the morning of September 19, Thomas’s men had taken up position in the fields of the Kelly Farm.  Having received a report from Federal Col. Daniel McCook about an isolated rebel brigade trapped on the west side of the river, Thomas dispatched the Third Division of Maj. Gen. John Brannon to advance and develop the situation. Brannon, a career Army Soldier and Mexican American War Veteran dispatched the order to get the men on the move. Quickly downing coffee and half-cooked breakfast, Brannon’s men began moving east with Col. John Croxton’s Brigade moving to the Brotherton Road and Col. Ferdinand Van Derveer orienting on Reed’s Bridge Road.
|Opening actions on Sept. 19, 1863. Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com.|
The Confederate troops McCook had encountered were cavalrymen of the 1st Georgia, who had thrown up skirmish lines south of Jay’s Mill, approximately ½ mile west of Reed’s Bridge. Having already received orders to withdraw, McCook left the field to the Georgians before reporting his findings to Thomas. Thus, by the time Thomas’s brigades moved east in search of the isolated Confederate brigade the Georgians were prepared in skirmish order across Reed’s Bridge Road ready to receive Van Derveer’s skirmishers. Moving east through the woods just one quarter mile south of the 1st Georgia, Croxton’s skirmish line comprised of the 10 th Indiana encountered cavalry forces of Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Dispatching couriers to inform Brannon of contact to his front, Croxton began maneuvering his infantry regiments into line, a difficult process in wooded terrain. Forrest, meanwhile, ordered his cavalry to dismount and hold the ground while infantry support was summoned.
Receiving one of Forrest’s messages Maj. Gen. William T. Walker, commanding the confederate reserve corps ordered fellow Georgian, Col. Claudius Wilson to make haste with his brigade to the sound of contact. Walker, like Brannon, was a career Army Soldier and Mexican War Veteran, and like Brannon, he would soon have two brigades heading to the vicinity of Jay’s Mill as the Texas Brigade of Brig. Gen. Matthew Ector fell in behind Wilson.
The Confederate cavalry held long enough to Wilson to deploy his regiments to threaten Croxton. Wilson’s regiments, the 25th, 29th and 30th Georgia with the 1 st Georgia Battalion Sharpshooters and 4 th Louisiana Sharpshooters pressed Croxton’s line which bent, but did not break.  Over the next two and a half hours, brigades would be sucked into the growing fight at Jay’s Mill.
Confusion and Reinforcement
The action alarmed both Rosecrans and his Confederate adversary, General Braxton Bragg. Bragg’s battle plan called for 25,000 men to assault Federal lines along the Lafayette Road, well south of Jay’s Mill. The unexpected presence of Thomas to the north threatened Bragg’s right flank. Rosecrans, meanwhile, had ordered Thomas into defensive positions, only to have his subordinate engage a division with an enemy of unknown strength.
Before launching his Lafayette Road offensive, Bragg determined to secure his flank in the vicinity of Jay’s Mill. He dispatched his reserve corps and five brigades of Maj. Gen. Ben Cheatham’s Division. Rosecrans meanwhile shifted divisions from the 20th and 21st Corps north to bolster Thomas. Both the Federal and Confederate commanders were dispatching units without regard to the chain of command, a breakdown in command and control that would be further exacerbated by the terrain and lack of visibility.
|Actions on the afternoon of Sept. 19, 1863. Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com.|
The Fighting Moves South
Cheatham’s 7,000 Confederates slammed into the Federal divisions shortly after noon, in the vicinity of the Brock farm.  After committing Cheatham, Bragg dispatched a third division under command of Maj. Gen. A. P. Stewart and ordered him to move to the sound of the guns.  Stewart arrived south of Cheatham’s lines shortly before 2:00 p.m. in time to stabilize the faltering Confederate line. Moving with Stewart were the 4th Georgia Sharpshooters and the 37th Georgia Infantry.  The Georgians were able to dislodge the stubborn Federal defenders of Maj. Gen. Van Cleve’s Division from their positions on the Lafayette Road. Having taken a significant amount of ground, Stewart had insufficient men to maintain his position and was forced to withdraw east of the Lafayette Road. 
Georgians Enter the Ditch of Death
|Brig. Gen. Hans Christian Heg. NPS|
Intent on finding the enemy flank, Rosecrans met with the improbably named Brig. Gen. Jefferson Davis, and directed him to move his division across the Viniard Field, well south of the engaged forces. Expecting to find the Confederate left flank, Davis instead encountered the main body of Bragg’s waiting assault force-25,000 strong. In the next two and a half hours the most savage combat of the battle would swirl about the Viniard Field until the Federal line collapsed at 4:30 p.m. and the Northerners were sent streaming back across the Lafayette Road. Attempting to rally his 3 rd Brigade, Norwegian-born Col. Hans Christian Heg rode along the front line of his men admonishing them by personal example of courage. As he wheeled his horse about, Heg was struck by a bullet which pierced his abdomen. He reeled from the wound but kept to the saddle and remained with his men. 
Pursuing the fleeing Federal troops, the Georgians of Brig. Gen. Henry Benning poured volley after volley into the backs of the retreating Federal Soldiers. Sgt. W.R. Houghton of the 2nd Georgia recalled the action:
“We stood there… shooting them down… It was horrible slaughter.”  The slaughter would soon be visited upon Benning’s men as they advanced into the field of fire of the brigade of Col. John Wilder, whose men were armed with seven shot repeating rifles. Benning’s Georgians were cut to pieces. Of 1,200 Georgians 490 became casualties. The Federals had also suffered. Among the fallen was Heg who would die of the effects of his wound at a field hospital the next morning. 
|Monument to the 2nd Georgia Infantry at Chickamauga. Photo by Maj. William Carraway|
By 6:00 p.m., fighting had mostly ended in the Viniard Field where 15 brigades had contended. After nearly 12 hours of continuous combat the fighting was concluded, except for a rare night assault initiated by the division of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne across the Winfrey field. The men of both armies settled in for a restless night. Despite temperatures that plunged below freezing, Soldiers of both armies were forbidden from starting campfires due to the proximity of enemy forces.
With the arrival of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet on the field, Bragg reorganized his army into two wings. Longstreet was given command of the left wing while Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk commanded the right. Bragg’s battle plan remained unchanged: attack and drive the Federal army south, away from its line of retreat to Chattanooga.
On the opposite side of the Lafayette Road, Rosecrans, having gone without sleep, surveyed his lines with the intent of supporting Thomas’ lines to the north. Rosecrans would agree to reinforce Thomas – a decision that would have fateful consequences on the second day of the battle.
|Monument to Col. Peyton Colquitt at Chickamauga. |
Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Although Bragg had intended to attack at dawn, the Confederate assault did not get underway until 9:30 a.m. when the corps of Lt. Gen. D.H. Hill struck Thomas. Though bloodily repulsed on part of their lines, two brigades of Hill’s Corps succeeded in turning Thomas’s left flank. The Confederates drove south down the Lafayette Road into the Kelly Field and threatened the entire Federal position. Rosecrans, sensing the threat, shifted forces from the south and by 11:30, Hill was forced back, but not before Brig. Gen. James Deshler, a brigade commander in the division of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, was killed, struck in the chest by an artillery shell.  Moving in support of Hill, Col. Peyton Colquitt, commanding Gist’s Brigade of Georgian’s and South Carolinians was mortally wounded. Colquitt, had formerly commanded the 46 th Georgia Infantry Regiment. 
|Lt. Gen. Longstreet's Assault. Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com.|
Hill’s success worried Rosecrans, who began shifting additional forces north. In the course of redeployment, the Federal exposed a division-wide gap in their line. Just as the gap opened, Longstreet launched an assault into the gap. The divisions of Davis and Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan were crushed by 12,000 surging Confederates.
|Brig. Gen. W. H Lytle|
With defeat swiftly degenerating into a rout, Rosecrans, his chief of staff and future president, James Garfield, and three corps commanders were driven from the field. One third of the Federal army ceased to exist as a fighting force. If not for the determined stand of Maj. Gen. Thomas’s men on Snodgrass Hill, the entire Federal army might have been destroyed in detail. Thomas held just long enough to preserve the Federal army before withdrawing to Rossville to the North. Nevertheless, hundreds of Federal Soldiers were captured by onrushing Confederates.
|Maj. Gen. George Thomas' desperate stand. Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com.|
On the morning of September 21, Confederates awoke to find that the Federal army had slipped away. Rosecrans would reestablish his base at Chattanooga but his tenure as army commander was drawing to a close. In just over a week Rosecrans would be replaced by a hard fighting western general named Ulysses Grant.
Although he was technically the victor, Bragg had failed in his objective of destroying Rosecrans. He would continue to bicker with his subordinate commanders until November when he would challenge the Federal army for control of Chattanooga.
More than 34,000 of the 125,000 Soldiers engaged at Chickamauga became casualties. But D.H. Hill remembering the battle years later observed that true casualty of Chickamauga was hope.
“It seems to me that the élan of the Southern Soldier was never seen after Chickamauga the brilliant dash which had distinguished him was gone forever. He fought stoutly to the last, but after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair, and without the enthusiasm of hope. That ‘barren victory’ sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy.” 
 Powell, David A., and David A. Friedrichs. The Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 - September 23, 1863. New York: Savas Beatie, 2009. 48
Account Of The Battle of Chickamauga
In the dimly lit log cabin of the Widow Glenn, the military map was spread. Worried Union officers of the Army of the Cumberland crowded around as Major General William S. Rosecrans, their haggard commander, asked for an assessment of the situation facing his troops on the night of September 19, 1863. Sunday morning would certainly bring with it a renewal of the savage fighting that had swirled along the banks of Chickamauga Creek most of that day.
The Union army had been hard-pressed along an extended battle line, but had refused to break under the pressure of repeated assaults from General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. The XIV Corps of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas had borne the brunt of some of the fiercest fighting. Bone tired from his day’s work, Thomas settled back in a chair and napped. As was his practice, Rosecrans in turn asked each officer for his advice on the fight to come. Each time his name was mentioned, Thomas roused long enough to say, ‘I would strengthen the left,’ before falling back asleep.
Though Rosecrans’ army had been bloodied, its line was still unbroken, and the decision was made to renew the battle on the 20th on essentially the same ground the troops now occupied. Thomas would be reinforced and charged with holding the left, which crossed the LaFayette Road, the vital link to strategically important Chattanooga, Tenn., 10 miles to the north. Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps would close up on Thomas’ right, while Thomas Crittenden’s XXI Corps would be held in reserve. During the night, the ringing of axes told waiting Confederates their enemy was desperately strengthening his positions.
The Army of the Cumberland had fought bravely, and there was cause for optimism among the Union commanders. Since coming out of winter quarters, Rosecrans had brilliantly maneuvered Bragg and his army out of Tennessee and captured Chattanooga, virtually without firing a shot. In his moment of supreme success, however, Rosecrans made one error: he mistook Bragg’s orderly withdrawal for headlong retreat and rashly divided his force into three wings. As these separate forces moved blindly through mountain passes into the north Georgia countryside in pursuit of a ‘beaten’ foe, each was too distant to lend support to the others in the event of an enemy attack. With the Federal troops spread over a 40-mile-wide front in unfamiliar terrain, Bragg halted his forces at LaFayette, Ga., 25 miles south of Chattanooga.
Bragg realized the magnitude of his opportunity to deal with each wing of the Union army in detail and win a stunning victory for the Confederacy. He ordered his subordinates to launch attacks on the scattered Federal units, but they were slow–even uncooperative–in responding. The relationships between Bragg and his lieutenants had seriously deteriorated after questionable retreats from Perryville, Ky., and Murfreesboro, Tenn. Bragg’s corps and division commanders felt almost to a man that he had squandered victories by his inept handling of troops. The lack of cooperation in the higher echelons of Bragg’s army contributed greatly to the squandering of a chance for one of the most lopsided victories of the war.
In the nick of time, and with substantial help from his enemy, Rosecrans collected his troops in the vicinity of Lee and Gordon’s Mill along the banks of a sluggish little stream the Cherokee Indians had named ‘Chickamauga’ after the savage tribe that had lived there many years earlier. Now, two great armies would prove once again that ‘River of Death’ was an accurate translation. In the vicious but indecisive fighting of September 19, both Rosecrans and Bragg committed more and more troops to a struggle which began as little more than a skirmish near one of the crude bridges that crossed the creek. Though little was accomplished the first day, the stage was set for a second day of reckoning.
The importance of the war in the West was not lost on the Confederate high command. Already three brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia, under Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood, had arrived by rail to reinforce Bragg. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee’s ‘Old Warhorse’ and second in command, was due at any time with the balance of his I Corps. These veteran troops would give Bragg an advantage few Confederate commanders would know during the war–numerically superiority. As the Virginia troops arrived, Bragg’s army swelled to 67,000 men, outnumbering the Federals by 10,000.
While Rosecrans convened his council of war at the Widow Glenn’s, Longstreet was searching for the elusive Bragg. Bragg unaccountably had failed to send a guide to meet him, and after a two-hour wait, Longstreet struck out with his staff toward the sound of gunfire.
As they groped in the darkness, Longstreet and his companions were met with the challenge. ‘Who comes there?’ ‘Friends,’ they responded quickly. When the soldier was asked to what unit he belonged, he replied with numbers for his brigade and division. Since Confederate soldiers used their commanders’ names to designate their outfits, Longstreet knew he had stumbled into a Federal picket. In a voice loud enough for the sentry to hear, the general said calmly, ‘Let us ride down a little and find a better crossing.’ The Union soldier fired, but the group made good its escape.
When Longstreet finally reached the safety of the Confederate lines, he found Bragg asleep in an ambulance. The overall commander was awakened, and the two men spent an hour discussing the plan for the following day. Bragg’s strategy would continue to be what he hoped to achieve on the 19th. He intended to turn the Union left, placing his army between Rosecrans and Chattanooga by cutting the LaFayette Road. Then, the Confederates would drive the Army of the Cumberland into the natural trap of McLemore’s Cove and destroy it, a piece at a time.
Bragg now divided his force into two wings, the left commanded by Longstreet and the right by Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, the ‘fighting bishop’ of the Confederacy. Polk would command the divisions of John C. Breckinridge, who had serves as vice president of the United States under President James Buchanan, and Patrick Cleburne, a hard-fighting Irishman. Also under Polk were the divisions of Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, States Rights Gist and St. John R. Liddell. Breckinridge and Cleburne were under the direct supervision of another lieutenant general, D.H. Hill. Longstreet was given the divisions of Evander Law and Joseph Kershaw of Hood’s corps, A.P. Stewart and William Preston of Simon Bolivar Buckner’s corps, and the divisions of Bushrod Johnson and Thomas Hindman.
Breckinridge and Cleburne were to begin the battle with a assault on Thomas at the first light. The attack was to proceed along the line, with each unit going into action following the one on its right. Bragg’s order subordinating Hill to Polk precipitated some costly confusion among Southern commanders as the time for the planned attack came and went. Somehow, Hill had been lost in the shuffle and never received the order to attack. Bragg found Polk calmly reading a newspaper and waiting for his breakfast two miles behind the lines. Polk had simply assumed that Bragg himself would inform Hill of the battle plan.
When the Confederate tide finally surged forward at 9:45 a.m., Thomas was ready with the divisions of Absalom Baird, Richard Johnson, John Palmer and John Reynolds. Breckinridge’s three brigades hit the extreme left of the Union line, two of them advancing smartly all the way to the LaFayette Road before running into reinforcements under Brig. Gen. John Beatty, whose 42nd and 88th Indiana regiments steadied the Federal line momentarily. A redoubled Rebel effort forced the 42nd back onto the 88th, and several Union regiments were obliged to shift their fire 180 degrees to meet the thrust of enemy troops in their rear. Fresh Federal soldiers appeared and finally pushed Breckinridge back.
Cleburne’s troops followed Breckinridge’s assault and suffered a similar fate. The hard-pressed Rebels pulled back 400 yards to the relative safety of a protecting hill. As he inspected the ammunition supply of his men before ordering them forward again, one of Cleburne’s ablest brigadiers, James Deshler, was killed by an exploding shell that ripped his heart from his chest. Seeking shelter in a grove of tall pines, the Confederates traded round for round but could not carry the breastworks.
Thomas’ hastily constructed breastworks had proven to be of tremendous value, but several of the Union regiments suffered casualties of 30 percent or higher. The brigades of Colonel Joseph Dodge, Brig. Gen. John H. King, Colonel Benjamin Scribner and Brig. Gen. John C. Starkweather had held the extreme left of the Union line since the day before and had been engaged for over an hour when Cleburne’s attacks gained their full fury. For all their seeming futility, the Confederate assaults against Rosecrans’ left did have one positive result. Thomas’ urgent pleas for assistance were causing Rosecrans to thin his right in order to reinforce the left through the thick, confusing tangle of forest.
At the height of the fighting on the left, one of Thomas’ aides, Captain Sanford Kellogg, was heading to Rosecrans with another of Thomas/ almost constant requests for additional troops. Kellogg noticed what appeared to be wide gap between the divisions of Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood on the right and John Reynolds on the left. In actuality, the heavily wooded area between Reynolds and Wood was occupied by Brig. Gen. John Brannan’s division. When Kellogg rode by, Brannan’s force was simply obscured by late-summer foliage.
When Kellogg informed Rosecrans of the phantom gap, the latter reacted accordingly. In his haste to avoid what might be catastrophe for his army, Rosecrans did not confirm the existence of the gap but, instead, issued what might have been the single most disastrous order of the Civil War. ‘Headquarters Department of Cumberland, September 20th–10:45 a.m.,’ the communiqué read. ‘Brigadier-General Wood, Commanding Division: The general commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible and support him.’
Earlier that morning, Wood had received a severe public tongue-lashing from Rosecrans for not moving his troops fast enough. ‘What is the meaning of this, sir? You have disobeyed my specific orders,’ Rosecrans had shouted. ‘By your damnable negligence you are endangering the safety of the entire army, and, by God, I will not tolerate it! Move your division at once as I have instructed, or the consequences will not be pleasant for yourself.’
With Rosecrans’ stinging rebuke still echoing in his ears, Wood was not about to be accused of moving too slowly again, even though this new order confused him. Wood knew there was no gap in the Union line. Brannan had been on his left all along. To comply with the commanding general’s order, Wood was required to pull his two brigades out of line, march around Brannan’s rear, and effect a junction with Reynolds’ right. In carrying out this maneuver, Wood created a gap where none had existed.
Simultaneously, Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan’s men were ordered out of line on Wood’s right and sent to bolster the threatened left wing, and Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis’ division was ordered into the line to fill the quarter-mile hole vacated by Wood. Almost three full divisions of the Federal right wing were in motion at the same time, in the face of a heavily concentrated enemy.
Now, completely by chance, in one of those incredible situations on which turn the fortunes of men and nations, Longstreet unleashed a 23,000-man sledgehammer attack directed right at the place where Wood had been moments earlier.
At 11:30 a.m., the gray-clad legion sallied forth from the forest across LaFayette Road into the fields surrounding the little log cabin of the Brotherton family. Almost immediately it came under fire from Brannan’s men, still posted in the woods across the road. Brannan checked Stewart in his front and poured an unsettling fire into the right flank of the advancing Confederate column. Davis’ Federals, arriving from the other side, hit the Rebels on their left while his artillery began tearing holes in the ranks of the attackers.
Johnson soon realized that the heavy resistance was coming from the flanks and the firing of scattered batteries. His front was virtually clear of opposition, and he smartly ordered his troops forward at the double-quick. As he emerged from the treeline that marked Wood’s former position, Johnson saw Davis’ troops rushing forward to his left, while two of Sheridan’s brigades were on their way north towards Thomas. On Johnson’s right, Wood’s two brigades were still in the act of closing on Reynolds.
While Johnson wheeled to the right to take Wood’s trailing brigade and Brannan from behind, Hindman bowled into Davis and Sheridan, throwing them back into confusion. When Brannan gave way, Brig. Gen. H.P. Van Cleve’s division was left exposed and joined the flight from the field. In a flash of gray lightning, the entire Union right disintegrated.
The onrushing Confederates were driving a wedge far into the Federal rear. They crossed the Glenn-Kelly Road just behind the Brotherton field, rushed through heavy stands of timber, and burst onto the open ground of the cultivated fields of the Dyer farm. One Confederate regiment overran a troublesome Union battery that had been firing from the Dyer peach orchard, capturing all nine of its guns.
Johnson paused to survey the progress of the attack. Everywhere, it seemed, Union soldiers were on the run, fleeing in panic over the countryside and down the Dry Valley Road toward McFarland’s Gap, the only available avenue to reach the safety of Chattanooga. ‘The scene now presented was unspeakably grand,’ the amazed general recalled.
The brave but often reckless Hood caught up with Johnson at the Dyer farm and urged him forward. ‘Go ahead and keep ahead of everything,’ Hood shouted, his left arm still in a sling from a wound received 10 weeks earlier at Gettysburg. Moments later, Hood was hit again. This time, a Minie bullet shattered his right leg. He fell from his horse and into the waiting arms of members of his old Texas Brigade, who carried him to a field hospital, where the leg was amputated. Meanwhile, Longstreet was ecstatic as his troops swept the men in blue before them. ‘They have fought their last man, and he is running,’ he exclaimed.
Only two Federal units offered resistance of greater than company strength once the rout was on. Intrepid Colonel John T. Wilder and his brigade of mounted infantry assailed Hindman’s exposed flank and drove Brig. Gen. Arthur Manigault’s brigade back nearly a mile from the area of the breakthrough. Wilder’s stouthearted troopers from Indiana and Illinois were able to delay a force many times their size by employing the Spencer repeating rifle.
Sheridan’s only remaining brigade, under Brig. Gen. William Lytle, a well-known author and poet, was in the vicinity of the Widow Glenn house when Hindman’s Confederates began streaming through the woods. A commander much admired by his troops, Lytle was famous for his prewar poem, ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ which was popular in the sentimental society of the day and familiar to soldiers on both sides.
Lytle found his brigade found his brigade almost completely surrounded by Rebels. With the prospect of a successful withdrawal slim, he gallantly ordered his men to charge. He told those near him that if they had to die, they would ‘die in their tracks with their harness on.’ As he led his troops forward, he shouted: ‘If I must die, I will die as a gentleman. All right, men, we can die but once. This is the time and place. Let us charge.’ Lytle was shot in the spine during the advance but managed to stay on his horse. Then, he was struck almost simultaneously by three bullets, one of which hit him in the face. As the doomed counterattack collapsed around him, the steadfast Lytle died.
Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana was with the Army of Cumberland at Chickamauga to continue a series of reports to Washington on the progress of the Western war. Exhausted by the rapid succession of events the prior day, Dana had found a restful place that fateful morning and settled down in the grass to sleep. When Bushrod Johnson’s soldiers came crashing trough the Union line, he was suddenly wide awake. ‘I was awakened by the most infernal noise I ever heard,’ he remembered. ‘I sat up on the grass and the first thing I saw was General Rosecrans crossing himself–he was a very devout Catholic. ‘Hello!’ I said to myself, ‘if the general is crossing himself, we are in a desperate situation.”
Just then Rosecrans rode up and offered Dana some advice. ‘If you care to live any longer,’ the general said, ‘get away from here.’ The whistling of bullets grew steadily closer, and Dana now looked upon a terrible sight. ‘I had no sooner collected my thoughts and looked around toward the front, where all this din came from, than I saw our lines break and melt way like leaves before the wind.’ He spurred his horse toward Chattanooga, where he telegraphed the news of the disaster to Washington that night.
With time, the Confederate onslaught gained momentum, sweeping before it not only the Federal rank and file but also Rosecrans himself and two of his corps commanders, Crittenden and McCook. After negotiating the snarl of men, animals and equipment choking the Dry Valley Road, Rosecrans and his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. and future president James A. Garfield, stopped for a moment. Off in the distance, the sounds of battle were barely audible. Rosecrans and Garfield put their ears to the ground but were still unable to satisfy themselves as to the fate of Thomas and the left wing of the Union army.
Originally, Rosecrans had decided to go to Thomas personally and ordered Garfield to Chattanooga to prepare the city’s defenses. Garfield disagreed. He felt that Rosecrans should supervise the placement of Chattanooga’s defenders, while the chief of staff would find out what happened to Thomas. Rosecrans assented and started toward Chattanooga while Garfield moved in the direction of the battlefield. By the time he reached his destination, Rosecrans was distraught. He was unable to walk without assistance and sat with his head in his hands.
Had he known the overall situation, Rosecrans might have been in a better state of mind–if only slightly. Thomas, to the great good fortune of the Union cause, was far from finished. Those troops which had not fled the field had gathered on the slope of a heavily wooded spur that shot eastward from Missionary Ridge. From this strategic location, named Snodgrass Hill after a local family, Thomas might protect both the bulk of the army withdrawing through the ridge at McFarland’s Gap and the original positions of the Union left–if only his patchwork line could hold.
An assortment of Federal troops, from individuals to brigade strength, came together for a last stand. Virtually all command organization was gone, but the weary soldiers fell into line hurriedly to meet an advancing foe flush with victory. The Rebels drew up around the new defensive position, and a momentary lull settled over the field.
Their goal clearly before them, the emboldened Confederates then rose in unison and assailed their enemy with renewed vigor. They pressed to within feet of the Union positions, only to be thrown back again and again, leaving scores of dead and wounded on the ground behind them.
With three of Longstreet’s divisions pressing him nearly to the breaking point, Thomas noticed a cloud of dust and a large body of troops moving toward him. Was it friend or foe?
When the advancing column neared, Thomas had his answer. It was Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger with two brigades of the Union army’s reserve corps under Brig. Gen. James Steedman. These fresh but untried troops brought not only fire support but badly needed ammunition to the defenders of Snodgrass Hill, who had resorted to picking the cartridge boxes of the dead and wounded. For two days, Granger had guarded the Rossville Road north of the battlefield. By Sunday afternoon, he was itching to get into the fight. Finally, when he could stand it no longer, he bellowed, ‘I am going to Thomas, orders or no orders.’
At one point, the marauding Rebels actually seized the crest of Snodgrass Hill, planting their battle flag upon it. But thanks to numerous instances of individual heroism, the stubborn Yankees heaved them back. No single act of bravery was more spectacular than that of Steedman himself, who grabbed the regimental colors of a unit breaking for the rear and shouted: ‘Go back boys, go back. but the flag can’t go with you!’
As daylight began to fade, Thomas rode to the left to supervise the withdrawal of his remaining forces from the field, leaving Granger in command on Snodgrass Hill. Longstreet had committed Preston’s division in an all-out final attempt to carry the position, and the movement toward McFarland’s Gap began while Preston’s assaults were in progress. The protectors of Snodgrass Hill were out of ammunition again, and Granger’s order to fix bayonets and charge flashed along the lines of the 21st and 89th Ohio and the 22nd Michigan, the last three regiments left there. The desperate charge accomplished little save a few extra minutes for the rest of the army. While the last 563 Union soldiers on the hill were rounded up by Preston’s Confederates, the long night march to Chattanooga began for those fortunate enough to escape. By Longstreet’s own estimate, he had ordered 25 separate assaults against Thomas before meeting with success.
The tenacity of the defense of Horseshoe Ridge bought the Army of the Cumberland precious time. It also contributed to Bragg’s unwillingness to believe his forces had won a great victory and might follow it up by smashing into the demoralized Federals at daybreak. Not even the lusty cheers of his soldiers all along the line were enough to convince their commander. Bragg was preoccupied with the staggering loss of 17,804 casualties, 2,389 of them killed, 13,412 wounded and 2,003 missing or taken prisoner. The Union army, after suffering 16,179 casualties, 1,656 dead, 9,749 wounded and 4,774 missing or captured, retired behind Chattanooga’s defenses without further molestation.
History has been less than kind to Bragg, not without cause. True enough, over a quarter of his effective force was lost at Chickamauga. Nevertheless, at no other time in four years of fighting was there a greater opportunity to follow up a stunning battlefield triumph with the pursuit of such a beaten foe. Had Bragg attacked and destroyed Rosecrans on September 21, there would have been little to stop an advance all the way to the Ohio River. Bragg, however, was true to form. As at Perryville and Murfreesboro before, he quickly allowed victory to become hollow.
Rosecrans, on the other hand, had seen one mistaken order wreck his military reputation and almost destroy his army. His nearly flawless campaign of the spring and summer had ended with the Army of the Cumberland holed up in Chattanooga and the enemy tightening the noose by occupying the high ground of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Lincoln lost faith in ‘old Rosey’s’ ability to command, saying he appeared’stunned and confused, like a duck hit on the head.’
Chickamauga, the costliest two-day battle of the entire war, proved a spawning ground of lost Confederate opportunity. While Bragg laid siege to Chattanooga with an army inadequate to do the job, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the hero of Vicksburg, was given overall command in the West and set about changing the state of affairs. Reinforcements poured in from east and west. During the November campaign to raise the siege, the Army of the Cumberland evened the score with the rebels in an epic charge up Missionary Ridge. And when Union soldiers next set foot on the battlefield of Chickamauga, they were on their way to Atlanta.
This article was written by Mike Haskew and originally appeared in America’s Civil War magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to America’s Civil War magazine today!
156th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga Living History & Youth Programs
Living historian presentations provide a unique opportunity for visitors and volunteers to experience the Battle of Chickamauga. During the weekends of September 14-15 and September 21-22, the park will host several living history organizations conducting programs on the experiences of various groups of soldiers who participated in the Battle of Chickamauga. In addition, during the weekend of September 14-15, the park will host special hands on programs designed for young people.
Living history programs this year will feature mounted soldiers in addition to artillery programs.
Living History Programs
“Bite the Bullet”: Myths & Realities of Civil War Medicine
11 am, 1 pm, and 2:30 pm (Friday, September 13, and Saturday, September 14)
Location: Snodgrass Cabin (Tour Stop 8)
During the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union Army turned George Snodgrass’s farm into a hospital. Join local historian Dr. Anthony Hodges to learn about how surgeons, doctors, and stewards waged their own battle to keep men alive.
Lightning Strikes at Chickamauga: Wilder’s Brigade
10 am, Noon, 2 pm, and 4 pm (Saturday, September 14) & 10 am, Noon, and 2 pm (Sunday, September 15)
Locations: Saturday, September 14 - Wilder Brigade Monument (Tour Stop 6). Sunday, September 15 - along Glenn-Viniard Road. Look for the Special Program signs
Colonel John Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade” were some of the most elite troops to take the field at Chickamauga. Armed with the latest in weapons technology, the deadly Spencer repeating rifle, they commanded the south end of the battlefield throughout the engagement. Programs will feature mounted living historians and Spencer rifle demonstrations.
10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm (Saturday September 14, and Sunday, September 15)
Location: Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
At the Battle of Chickamauga, the technology of the past at times clashed with the technology of the future. While Colonel John Wilder’s men entered the battlefield with modern repeating rifles, many soldiers fought with cannon - technology that had gone largely unchanged for hundreds of years. Learn about the role artillery played at the Battle of Chickamauga with these firing demonstrations.
The Veterans Return to Chickamauga
10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm (Saturday September 21) and
10:30 am, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm (Sunday, September 22)
Location: Battleline Road near the King Monument
In 1889, veterans from both armies returned to Chickamauga Battlefield for a reunion that ultimately led to the creation of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. This weekend, living historians will stage their own reunion and portray Civil War veterans and their efforts to create the park.
Hands on History
Ongoing programs throughout the day (Saturday, September 14, and
Sunday, September 15)
Location: Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
On Saturday September 14, and on Sunday September 15, meet a park ranger for a series of hands-on activities for young people to earn a unique Junior Ranger badge available during the battle anniversary.
This is the fourth portion of E.B. Quiner’s history of the 15th Wisconsin, which fought in the Federal (Union) Army during the American Civil War (1861-1865). This portion covers the time period of May, 1863, through September, 1863. Information within brackets [ ] has been added to the original text by the webmaster to help modern readers understand what Mr. Quiner rightfully assumed mid-19th century readers would automatically know. Alternative spellings of 15th soldiers’ names have also been added within brackets by the webmaster, using spelling from the 15th’s official muster rolls. Finally, hot links have been added that will take you to on-line transcriptions of official documents and soldiers’ letters, and to profiles of soldiers, which contain additional information about the 15th or its soldiers. Enjoy!
Source: Quiner, E. B., The Military History of Wisconsin: Civil and Military Patriotism of the State, in the War for the Union. Chicago, Illinois: Clarke & Company, Publishers, 1866. Chapter XXIII, pages 622-625.
[Change of Command]
“On the 1st of May, the regiment was transferred to the Third Brigade, of which Colonel [Hans C.] Heg had been placed in permanent command, by General Rosecrans. Adjutant Henry Hauff was appointed Assistant Adjutant General, Captain Albert Skofstadt, Inspector, and Lieutenant O. R. [Ole Rasmussen] Dahl, Topographical Engineer.
The death of Lieutenant Colonel [David] McKee created a vacancy, and Major Ole C. Johnson was appointed Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain George Wilson, Major. Colonel Heg being in command of the brigade, the command of the regiment devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Johnson.
The Fifteenth, with Heg’s brigade, accompanied the movement of General Rosecrans’ forces, against General Bragg, at Tullahoma, leaving the neighborhood of Murfreesboro on the 24th of June, Heg’s brigade being detailed as the rear guard of the Twentieth Corps, under General McCook.
We have before described this march of the army, and nothing occurred of much historical importance, in which the Fifteenth was engaged. After driving Bragg out of Tennessee, General Davis’ division went into camp at Winchester, Tenn., on the 3d of July.
[First to Cross the Tennessee River]
On the 17th of August, the onward march was commenced, and the division crossed the Cumberland Mountains, to Stevenson, Ala. [Alabama], where they remained until [August] the 28th, when they led the advance of Rosecrans’ army against the enemy, in the Chickamauga campaign. Proceeding by a circuitous route, the brigade reached the Tennessee River near Caperton’s Ferry, in the neighborhood of Bridgeport, where they constructed a pontoon bridge, and the Fifteenth Wisconsin was the first regiment to cross into the enemy’s country, south of the Tennessee River.
With the rest of McCook’s corps, the division of General Davis proceeded up Wills’ Valley, to Winston’s Gap, from whence it was recalled, when General Rosecrans concentrated his troops prior to the battle of Chickamauga. General McCook’s command joined General [George] Thomas’ forces on the 18th of September, the night proceeding the great battle of Chickamauga.
[Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia]
On the morning of the 19th of September, General Davis’ division was ordered to march at daylight, but it was 8 o’clock before they got in motion. The engagement began on the extreme left, about 10 o’clock, and the cannon firing increased as they advanced. About noon they passed General Rosecrans’ headquarters, at the widow Glenn’s house, and were soon after seat forward at a double quick, and thrown into line of battle, to fill a gap which existed in the lines at that place, and of which the rebels were attempting to take advantage, by throwing in a force, and thus cut the army in twain. Heg’s brigade was formed in two lines, the Thirty-fifth Illinois on the left, the Eighth Kansas in the centre, and the Fifteenth Wisconsin on the right. The Twenty-fifth Illinois was in the second line, as a reserve. Advancing in this manner, the enemy skirmishers were driven in, and a heavy fire was received from his main line. The brigade continued to advance, however, until the Eighth Kansas began to waver and fall back. Being unsupported on the right, and the regiment on the left thus faltering, compelled the Fifteenth also to fall back, which it did, fighting, carrying off most of its wounded. Here Captain [John M.] Johnson, of Company A, was killed. Being reinforced, they regained the lost ground. Colonel Heg was conspicuously active, and labored with the utmost bravery to make up by personal valor, what he lacked in numbers. The forces in this part of the field were, however, compelled to yield to superior numbers, and fell back across an open field. The regiment was stationed in reserve a few moments, when the front line was driven back. The regiment was lying down as the Thirty-fifth Illinois passed over them, intending to form in the rear of the Fifteenth, but did not, and passed through a column of reinforcements, which were just coming up. The reinforcements, supposing the Thirty-fifth to be the last Union regiment in their front, mistook the Fifteenth for a rebel regiment, and opened fire, while the enemy began a heavy fire on the other side. Being thus placed under the galling fire of both friend and foe, the regiment was compelled to break, and each man looked out for himself. The regiment was no more together that day as an organization, but the men attached themselves temporarily to the commands they first encountered, and stayed with them till night. Another advance was made, and the lost ground occupied until near sundown, when Lieutenant Colonel Johnson proceeded to gather his scattered regiment. About this time, Colonel Heg was wounded by a shot in the bowels, which proved fatal next day. Captain [John M.] Johnson, of Company A, and Captain [Henry] Hauff, of Company E, were killed Major [George] Wilson and Captain Captain [Augustus] Gasman were severely wounded, Captain [Hans] Hanson, of Company C, mortally wounded, and Second Lieutenant C. S. Tanberg [Christian E. Tandberg], of Company D, was also wounded.
The remnant of the Fifteenth was aroused at 3 o’clock next morning, and put in a commanding position near the Chattanooga road, to the right and somewhat to the rear of the rest of the army. About 10 o’clock the skirmishers became engaged on the left, and the battle soon raged with great fury on that part of the field. [General] Sheridan’s and [General] Davis’ divisions were soon ordered forward to occupy the extreme right of the line. Davis’ division consisted of the Second Brigade, Colonel Carlin, and the Third, (late Heg’s) now commanded by Colonel Martin, of the Eighth Kansas. Carlin’s brigade occupied the frontline, his left joining General Wood’s right, with the Third Brigade in his rear as support. We have elsewhere related the great blunder at Chickamauga, whereby General Wood’s division was withdrawn, and the divisions of Sheridan and Davis were allowed to be outflanked and slaughtered. A recapitulation here is therefore unnecessary. After General Wood’s departure, Colonel Heg’s brigade was ordered to fill the gap, with about 600 fighting men. The Third Brigade had hardly time to get into line, before the rebels attacked them. Protected by a slight barricade of logs and rails, they were warmly received, and repulsed with great slaughter. A second charge was also bravely repulsed, soon after which, the right and left flanks were turned, Sheridan’s division not having come up on the right of Carlin and a large gap still existed in the position vacated by General Wood. Holding out to the last, in hopes reinforcements would come, the regiment, when almost surrounded, broke, the last to leave their position, and many were captured, among them, Lieutenant Colonel [Ole C.] Johnson. [To read the personal account of the battle by Lieutenant Colonel Johnson, click HERE]
An effort was made to gather the scattered men near the Chattanooga road, but it proved a failure, and the retreat was continued a mile south of the road, where a good position was obtained, and here men were gathered from the division, and from most of the regiments of the corps, who had got separated from their commands. The whole force was consolidated, and the position held until 5 o’clock in the afternoon, when they were ordered three or four miles further to the rear, where they camped for the night. Here the fragments of the regiment were gathered. The day before, their [the 15th’s] aggregate [strength] was 176 [officers and enlisted men], it was now reduced to 75.
The killed and wounded [at Chickamauga], as officially reported, were:
KILLED OR DIED OF WOUNDS — Field Officer — Colonel Hans Heg. Company A — Captain J. M. Johnson, Second Lieutenant Oliver Thompson. Company B — Privates John Johnson and Gunder Olson. Company C — Captain Hans Hanson, Private John Simondson [John Simonsen]. Company D — Private Halvor Halvorson [Halvor Halvorsen]. Company E — Captain Henry Hauff. Company H — Private Knute Bjornson [Knud Bjornson]. Company K — Corporal Ole M. Dorvnass [Ole N. Damness] — 11 [total].
WOUNDED — Field Officer — Major George Wilson, severely. Company A — Sergeant Amand Geterson [Omund Petersen], Privates Christian M. Johnson, Amund Olson and Hubbard Hammock. Company B — Sergeant A. G. Urnaes [Anders J. Urness], Privates Nils Anderson, Osten Knudson, Hans Lageson, Jacob Jacobson and John Inglestad. Company C — Sergeants Christian Hyer [Christian Heyer] and John Lansworth, Corporal James Overson [James Oversen], Privates Peter Anderson (Sr.), Torstun Hendrickson [Torsten Hendricksen], Basmus Jensen [Rasmus Jensen], Hans C. Sorenson [Hans C. Sorensen] and Carl Sobjornson [Carl Torbjornsen]. Company D — Second Lieutenant C. E. Tanberg [Christian E. Tandberg], Sergeant Ole M. Bendixen [Ole M. Bendixon], Privates Thomas Thompson and Anders Amundson. Company E — Privates John H. Stokke [Johannes H. Stokke], Anson Kjellevig [Anund Kjellesvig] and Nils Hanson [Nils Hansen]. Company F — Sergeant Ole B. Johnson [taken prisoner], Privates Ole W. Vigen [Ole K. Vigen] and Torkeld Togerson [Torkild Torgersen]. Company H — Corporal Nels J. Eide, Privates Ole L. Hangnoes [Ole S. Haugness] and Sam. Samson [Sams Sampson]. Company I — Captain August Gasman, at the time, commanding Company D. Company K — Sergeants Ellend Erickson [Lieutenant Ellend Errickson] and Lars A. Larson, Privates Haagen Geterson [Haagen Pederson], Ole Olson [Ole Aslison?], and Ole Johnson [Oemund Johnson]. — 37 [total].
Forty-eight were missing, mostly taken prisoners. [To review a list detailing the names and fate of the 15th’s casualties (killed, wounded, and Missing), click HERE]
All the field officers being disabled, Captain [Mons] Grinager took command of the regiment. [To read the 15th’s official after action report written by Captain Grinager, click HERE] Soon after breakfast, on the 21st, companies G and I, which had been stationed at Island No. 10 since June 11th, 1862, joined the regiment. They numbered eighty men – more than all the other companies put together. [To read the 3rd Brigade official after action report by Colonel Martin, click HERE.]
Rail breastworks were thrown up, but the enemy made no attack, and the brigade was ordered, at 10 P. M., to proceed to Chattanooga, where they arrived about daybreak, and commenced throwing up breastworks. Here the regiment, with the whole army, suffered severely for fuel, provisions and clothing, there being only a single line of communications over the Cumberland Mountains, to Stevenson, 180 miles, which was continually interrupted by the rebel cavalry. Captain [John] Gordon, of Company G, joined the regiment on the 28th of September, and being senior Captain, took command.” [To read the official Chickamauga report of General Davis, the 15th’s Division Commander, click HERE.]
[To read excerpts from letters, diaries, and interviews of 15th soldiers about their experiences during the May through September, 1863, time period, click HERE]
Battle of Chickamauga - History
Map titled “Draft of battle, 19th-20th Sept” drawn by George C. Lusk, with labels added (click image to enlarge). MCHS archival document.
The map above was drawn by George Campbell Lusk. The title, “Draft of battle, 19th-20th Sept,” and the reference to Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps in Rossville indicate it is a map of the Battle of Chickamauga.
The battle took place September 18-20, 1863, in northwestern Georgia. The Union force of 58,000 troops (the Army of the Cumberland, led by Major General William Rosecrans, and Major General Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps) fought 66,000 soldiers of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General Braxton Bragg. Seven of every 25 men on the battlefield were killed or physically wounded. Only the Battle of Gettysburg incurred more casualties than the Battle of Chickamauga during the Civil War.
Chickamauga was one of several battles over the city of Chattanooga. Earlier in the month, Rosecrans had succeeded in forcing Bragg out of the city. Bragg wanted to take it back and destroy Rosecrans’s army. The forces clashed at Chickamauga Creek. After three days the Confederates earned a victory by forcing the Union troops to retreat from the battlefield. But Rosecrans’s army survived and retained control of Chattanooga.
It isn’t known when George Lusk drew this map. He served as Captain of Company K, 10th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The soldiers of the 10th were part of Major General Granger’s Reserve Corps, but they were stationed at the Union supply base in Bridgeport, Alabama, during the Battle of Chickamauga. Lusk’s map includes Bridgeport, although it is actually about 40 miles downriver from the battleground.
Private Joel Waters of Company K wrote to his brother about Captain Lusk:
“I have got a very good captain he passes me out [i.e. gives me written permission to leave camp] every day if I want to go but I never get tight [i.e. drunk] and always come back when he tells me to. Some of the Captains is hard on their men and punish them for most any little offense.”
(Written December 15, 1861, from Camp Morgan, Mound City, Illinois. From Correspondence of Joel E. Waters, p. 10-12.)
Lusk was a 37-year-old veteran of the Mexican War, married with two children, when he joined the Union cause. He was born in Edwardsville, Illinois. Lusk fulfilled his three-year term of service in August of 1864 but was unable to resign until October due to the responsibilities of command. (Click here to read a transcription of Lusk’s resignation letter.) He returned to Edwardsville where he and his wife Mary had a third child. Lusk worked as a United States revenue agent and then as a policeman and police magistrate. He died in 1892 and is buried in Lusk Cemetery in Edwardsville.
Ideas for Teachers (or anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into the map)
Some relevant essential questions for students to explore:
- What events happened during the Civil War and what impact did they have?
- What impact did military leadership have on the conduct of the war?
Possible classroom activities:
- Re-draw George Lusk’s map to scale and compare it to Lusk’s version.
- Compare George Lusk’s map of the Battle of Chickamauga to maps of the battle found in history books and discuss the differences.
- Read John Waters’s letters from September and October of 1863 (p. 33-37) describing his experiences in Company K before and after the battle and discuss how they provide context for the map.
Sources for this article include United States federal decennial census records and the following additional sources:
Battle of Chickamauga - History
The Chickamauga Campaign
|Battle Description||A brief, fairly detailed, description of the battle itself, with map of the 2nd day action.|
|Battle of Chickamauga||Another good battle description with a Union slant. Taken from "The Army Of The Cumberland" By Henry M. Cist, Brevet Brigadier-General U. S. V.|
|The Chickamauga Campaign||A very good description of the campaign, with a Southern slant, taken from the Georgia volume of the Confederate Military History.|
|Chickamauga With Longstreet||Chickamauga as seen by James Longstreet as described in his book, "From Manassas to Appomattox."|
|Gordon on Chickamauga||From " Reminiscences Of The Civil War" By John B. Gordon, Maj. Gen., CSA|
|D.H. Hill at Chickamauga||Article taken from Battles and Leaders of The Civil War.|
|Union Order of Battle||Presents the Organization of the Army of the Cumberland|
|Confederate Order of Battle||Presents the Organization of the Army of Tennessee|
|Summary of Principal Events||This lists the principal events of the campaign from Aug. 16 - Sept. 22, 1863|
List of site sources >>>
Official Reports (After Action)