Battle of Chickamauga

Battle of Chickamauga
Date September 19–20, 1863
Location Catoosa County and Walker County, Georgia
Victor Confederate victory
Contenders
United States (Union) Confederate States
Military Leaders
William Rosecrans Braxton Bragg
Military Units in Battle
Army of the Cumberland Army of Tennessee
Unit Strength
about 60,000 about 68,000
Casualties and Deaths
Total: 16,170 Total: 18,454
1,657 killed
9,756 wounded
4,757 captured/missing
2,312 killed
14,674 wounded
1,468 captured/missing
Part of the American Civil War

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.

Background

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.

The Campaign

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.

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