The Battle of the Second Day.—1863
BOTH armies bivouacked, or rather lay on their arms, during the night. Excepting the pickets and their supports and the working parties, the rank and file enjoyed some hours of rest. But the commanding officers on either side were not allowed that boon. Rosecrans summoned his corps commanders to his headquarters at the Glenn House between nine and ten o'clock, where they remained till midnight to report the location and condition of their troops and to receive their instructions for the next day. Most of the remainder of the night the tired Union generals devoted to conforming their lines to their orders.
The position in which our army awaited the next attempts of the enemy was as follows: Thomas formed the left on substantially the line he held at nightfall, which was almost at a right angle to that from which he had opened the action in the morning, and extended from the road to Reed's Bridge to the direct road from Lee and Gordon's Mills to Rossville and thence to the so-called Dry Valley road, leading through Missionary Ridge from Crawfish Springs to Rossville. McCook formed the right — his left, Negley's division, filling the place of Johnson's, still on Thomas's line, connecting with Thomas's right; and his right, Sheridan's division, near the Glenn House in front of the gap through which the Dry Valley road runs. Davis's two brigades were the reserve of the corps. As the divisions of Generals Johnson and Palmer remained under Thomas's orders, McCook and Crittenden had only two divisions each to command on the 20th, and the former was soon to be deprived even of Negley's, which, as will appear, was also sent to reinforce the left. Crittenden's corps extended as the general reserve along the eastern slope of Missionary Ridge, with Wood's division on the right and Van Cleve's on the left, and was so posted as to support both Thomas and McCook. In the line thus constituted, Baird's division held the extreme left, Johnson's came next, then Palmer's, Reynolds's, and Brannan's on the slopes of Missionary Ridge, followed by McCook with Negley's (till withdrawn) on the left, Sheridan's on the right, and Davis's in reserve. There is no record of any direction to the reserve corps under General Granger to move up closer to the front on either the first or the second day of the battle, but it was left in a position covering the junction of the roads from Ringgold and Cleveland to Chattanooga at a distance of nearly four miles from our extreme left, until its commander, of his own accord, as will be seen, led it into the action on Sunday afternoon.
A council of war likewise took place during the night at Bragg's headquarters, which did not have the shelter of a building, but were located around a camp-fire. The rebel generals were informed by their commander that the army was to be fought the next day in two parts: the right wing to consist of Hill's corps, Walker's reserve corps and Cheatham's and Breckinridge's divisions, and to be commanded by Lieutenant-General Polk, and the left wing to be composed of Hindman's and Bushrod John son's divisions, Buckner's corps and Longstreet's corps (or so much of it as had arrived), with Major-General Hood in command, to be led by Lieutenant-General Longstreet. Bragg's plan of battle, as communicated to his corps commanders, was to execute with his army a general movement by a wheel upon the extreme left as a pivot — an exact repetition of the Stone's River plan. Polk was to attack at daylight, and the action was to be taken up successively from right to left. General Longstreet reached Bragg's bivouac only at 11 P.M., when General Polk had already returned to his corps. He had arrived by train near Ringgold at 2 P.M., and left thence for the field with two staff officers as soon as horses could be procured. The party missed their way, rode into the Federal lines and were fired at, and came very near being taken prisoners. Thus General Longstreet had the responsibility thrust upon him of leading troops immediately into action of whom he had seen only those of his own corps. He was as unfamiliar with the ground as with the greater part of his command, and spent the night in learning all he could of the latter, and in studying maps.
General Bragg had personally given his verbal order to General Polk to attack with his extreme right at daybreak. A curious chapter of incidents and accidents now occurred that will be related in full, as it had an important bearing upon the impending action. General Polk had started between 10 and 11 P.M. for his headquarters, east of Alexander's bridge, to prepare for executing his orders. On the way he met an aide-de-camp of General Hill, to whom he communicated his orders, with the further message that he desired to see General Hill at his headquarters, and that he would have fires started and orderlies stationed at the bridge to conduct the general to him. At 11:30 P.M., he issued written orders to Generals Hill and Cheatham to attack the enemy simultaneously at daylight, and to General Walker to remain in reserve, and sent them by couriers to the headquarters of these three commanders. The couriers to Cheatham and Walker promptly returned with receipts for the orders. The one sent to Hill searched for him in vain all night, and returned at daylight with the report that he had been unable to find him. Nor did General Hill put in an appearance in compliance with the order sent to him through his aide-de-camp. Thereupon General Polk sent direct orders to General Cleburne and Breckinridge, Hill's division commanders, to attack at once, and rode himself to the front. Here he received at 7 A.M. a message from General Hill that he had gone to Alexander's Bridge, but failed to meet there the orderlies that were to guide him to headquarters, and was, therefore, unable to find them and him, that his divisions were getting breakfast, and would not be ready to move for an hour or more. He also advised General Polk to examine their line and correct some irregularities in it before attacking, and expressed the opinion that, as the Yankees had been felling trees all night, their position had become too strong to be taken by direct assault.
General Polk no doubt had committed a very grave mistake in allowing six hours to elapse between the starting and the return of the courier to General Hill before taking any other action to insure the execution of his superior's order to attack at dawn of day. General Hill's preference of his own judgment as to the proper course for himself to pursue to the peremptory order of his immediate superior must be considered an act of insubordination. Two curious features of this incident, which proved very serious for the two generals, were, first, that Polk established the fact that he had stationed the promised guides for Hill at the bridge by the soldiers themselves detailed for that duty, while Hill and staff testified that they found none there; and that Polk claimed positively that he had sent the verbal order to attack at daylight to Hill through the latter's aide-de-camp, while Hill absolutely denied having ever received it, and the staff officer in question denied having been given such a message. The effect of it all was that the rebel right, instead of attacking at daybreak, as ordered, did not commence the action till 10 A.M. This at least is the hour stated in General Bragg's subsequent formal charges against General Polk for disobedience of orders. Rosecrans, however, asserts that the battle began at 8:30 A.M., and Thomas also mentions an earlier hour. Breckinridge, who opened on the rebel right, makes it 9:30 A.M. In his official report, General Bragg thus speaks of the delay:
Before the dawn of day, myself and staff were ready for the saddle, occupying a position immediately in rear of and accessible to all parts of the line. With increasing anxiety and disappointment I waited until after sunrise without hearing a gun, and at length despatched a staff officer to General Polk to ascertain the cause of the delay and urge him to a prompt and speedy movement. This officer, not finding the General with his troops, and learning where he had spent the night, proceeded across Alexander's Bridge to the east side of the Chickamauga, and there delivered my message. Proceeding in person to the right wing, I found the troops not even prepared for the movement. Messengers were immediately despatched for General Polk, and he shortly after joined me. My orders were renewed and the General urged to their prompt execution, the more important as the ear was saluted throughout the night with the sounds of the axe and falling timber, as the enemy had labored industriously to strengthen his position by hastily constructed barricades and breastworks. A reconnoissance made in the front of our extreme right during this delay crossed the main road to Chattanooga, and proved the important fact that this greatly desired position was open to our possession. The reasons assigned for this unfortunate delay by the wing commander appear in the reports of his subordinates. It is sufficient to say they are entirely unsatisfactory.
If Bragg's contention that the way to the main Chattanooga road from his right — that is, around the left flank of Thomas and to his rear — was open early in the morning, was well-founded, the salvation of the Union army from entire destruction was doubtless due to the delay of the rebel attack. But a search of all the reports of the general officers commanding on the rebel right failed to discover any evidence corroborating Bragg's allegation. General Polk, moreover, in a long letter addressed to President Davis after his suspension from command, combats most strenuously, but not altogether convincingly, the assumption that the outcome of the battle would have been different had the attack been made as early as ordered.
At all events, the gain of those hours enabled General Rosecrans to correct some faults in our lines, which he discovered, as he narrates, on inspecting them with his staff at daybreak. The time was also diligently utilized to further strengthen our line by additional breastworks. General Thomas having received a message at 2 A.M. from General Baird that his left could not be extended as ordered to the road to Reed's Bridge without weakening it too much, immediately requested the army headquarters to send Negley's division so that it could be placed on Baird's left and rear, to which General Rosecrans responded that he would issue the order at once. Finding that Negley had not arrived, he sent an aide-de-camp to urge him forward as rapidly as possible. Negley says in his report that he received the order from the aide at 8 A.M., but makes no reference to any preceding one from army headquarters. It is of record, however, that General Rosecrans issued it at 6:30 A.M., as well as an other to McCook to relieve Negley. The General Commanding was surprised to find, on his return to the right from his inspecting ride, that these orders had not been carried out. As it was hazardous so late in the morning to cause a wide gap in the line by the withdrawal of the whole division at once, Rosecrans ordered Negley to send only his reserve brigade under Beatty immediately to General Thomas, and to withdraw the two others only when actually relieved on the line. This new order prevented Negley's compliance with that of Thomas's brought by the aide. General Crittenden, as nearest to Negley, was directed by the Commander-in-chief to relieve him, and did so by directing Wood's division and a brigade of Van Cleve's to move into the vacated position. There is no evidence that the alleged order was issued from the army headquarters to Negley or received by him, but McCook's report contains a copy of a despatch dated 6:35 A.M. from General Garfield, advising him that Negley's division had been ordered to General Thomas, and directing him to fill the space left by his withdrawal, if practicable. The order reached General McCook so late that, although he rode immediately with General Sheridan to the position vacated by Negley, he found it already occupied by Wood's men. There must have been carelessness or confusion at Rosecrans's headquarters in issuing orders, for General McCook, in returning, met Davis with his two brigades advancing, also by direct order of the General Commanding, to Wood's position. Three divisions had therefore been actually ordered to take the place of one. McCook directed Davis to occupy part of Wood's line with one brigade and hold the other in reserve.
The tardiness in meeting General Thomas's call for help led to a bad beginning of the battle for us, for Beatty's brigade was just moving into line on Baird's left when the enemy opened the action by a furious assault at that point. The brigade had first formed perpendicularly to Baird for the better protection of our flank from a turning movement, but was directly ordered, against the remonstrance of its commander, to advance to a low ridge a quarter of a mile distant. This left a gap between the right of the brigade and Baird's left. The left of the brigade reached the ridge unopposed, but its centre and right met the enemy half way, and were not only stopped, but pressed so heavily that they had to fall back until the rebels were checked and driven to shelter by a shower of grape from the brigade battery.
Such was the beginning of the second day's struggle. The rebel attack extended quickly to nearly the whole of our left, involving the divisions of Baird, Johnson, Palmer, and Reynolds. It was delivered by Breckinridge and Cleburne's divisions of Hill's corps. As explained, instead of attacking at daybreak as ordered by Generals Bragg and Polk, they had delayed in order to enable their men to fight on full stomachs. Breckinridge's line was formed and began to advance on the left at 9:30 A.M. Cleburne on the right moved forward when Breckinridge had already been in motion for some time, with the result that there was no contact between the two divisions and that they fought independently of each other. Breckinridge advanced with Helm's brigade on the left, Stovall's in the centre, and Adams's on the right. Pushing forward some seven hundred yards, Helm came under fire. His left found itself opposite the breastworks protecting Baird's line, and was brought to a halt by the withering fire from behind them, while the rest of the brigade came in conflict with Beatty's men. Helm was mortally wounded while urging on the regiments on his left, which upon his fall retreated in disorder. Meantime Stovall's and Adams's Confederate brigades had steadily moved forward, resisted at first only by lines of skirmishers, until Adams came up with Beatty in the position to which the latter had retired before Helm. Adams succeeded, by a vigorous onset, in pressing back Beatty and taking from him a section of his battery, after killing nearly all the men and animals belonging to it. The Federal brigade was cut in two, and its two right regiments became separated from it for the rest of the day. Adams continued on, and actually reached the Chattanooga road and passed some distance to the west of it. Stovall also reached the road, where he halted. In fact, these two brigades overreached our left, and virtually turned our flank by their movement. Their commander perceived and reported this to General Breckinridge, who rode up and ordered them to change front perpendicularly to their original line and renew the advance, with the left of Adams and the right of Stovall resting on the Chattanooga road. In this position they were directly in the rear of General Baird's division — a most threatening juncture at this early stage of the action.
When Helm recoiled, Baird made no counter-attacks, but, on the withdrawal of the enemy, sent out skirmishers who took many prisoners. He knew the weakness of his left since Beatty's withdrawal from it, and he was trying to strengthen it with regiments from other divisions when the overwhelming attack upon Beatty also forced back his left, and even reached the rear of Johnson, whose left brigade became severely engaged. When Adams and Stovall resumed the offensive in their new formation, Baird had to order his line to face about and meet the attack fronting to the rear. Fortunately, the appearance of abundant succor insured the repulse of the rebels. General Thomas, when he was apprised of Beatty's discomfiture, at once ordered Van Derveer's brigade of Brannan's division, Barnes's brigade of Wood's, Grose's of Palmer's, and Stanley's of Negley's, to the support of the left, with the help of which reinforcements Breckinridge's brigades were beaten back. This phase of the struggle is described by Breckinridge as follows:
The brigades advanced in fine order over a field and entered the woods beyond. Stovall, after a severe and well-contested struggle, was checked and forced to retire. Adams, on the west of the Chattanooga road, met two lines of the enemy who had improved the short time to bring up reinforcements and re-form nearly at a right angle to his main works. The first line was routed, but it was impossible to break the second, aided as it was by artillery; and, after a sanguinary contest, we were forced back in some confusion. Here General Adams was severely wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy.
Breckinridge's division, thus badly defeated in detail (it lost over one-third of its number), fell back to a position a short distance in advance of that from which it had begun its attacks, and continued hors de combat till nearly the end of the day, leaving Baird's front correspondingly unmolested.
Had the imminent peril from Breckinridge's push to the rear of our left not been averted, complete defeat would doubtless have overtaken the Union army then and there. Our escape was plainly due alone to the fact that the rebel division attacked without proper support, Breckinridge complains of this in his report, and apparently with good reason (although his brigades found their way around our flank by chance and not by design), for he had informed his corps commander of his discovery, and requested and obtained consent to the change of his line; but his superior evidently did not appreciate his opportunity, and continued the front attack with the rest of his command.
Cleburne's division was to fare no better than Breckinridge's. It moved forward with Deshler's brigade on the left, Wood's in the centre, and Polk on the right, when Breckinridge was already on the way, and its effort to catch up caused, as Cleburne admits, hurry and confusion. In this condition the division became exposed, its commander says, to the heaviest artillery fire he had ever experienced. A hurricane of shot and shell swept the woods from the unseen enemy in front. The Union guns checked the right of the rebel division within less than two hundred yards of the breastworks. Its centre and left found themselves impeded in their progress by Stewart's division. Wood's brigade got mixed up with Bates's of that division, and Deshler's was entirely stopped for a time. Wood's brigade disentangled itself, and, advancing again, attempted to cross an open field extending to the Chattanooga road. It received a heavy oblique fire from small arms and artillery which drove it back. It lost five hundred men in killed and wounded within a few minutes. Polk's line had also given way, and the two brigades retreated for a quarter of a mile. Cleburne had succeeded in bringing Deshler to the front by a move by the right flank, but he too failed to make headway against the Union fire, and fell back to the position of the other brigades. Deshler himself was killed by a shell that passed clear through his body.
Upon the repulse of Helm's brigade, General Hill sent to General Walker of the reserve corps for a brigade to fill the opening in his line made by the withdrawal of Helm. His request was misunderstood, and, instead of one brigade, the two divisions of the corps came up accompanied by Lieutenant-General Polk. They were ordered to resume the attack abandoned by Breckinridge, but, to quote from Hill's report, “met with a front and flank fire which threw them in confusion and drove them back precipitately.”
Four divisions of the rebel right were thus used up. The fifth, Cheatham's, was spared and kept in reserve. While Breckinridge and the three brigades of Walker were contending against Baird and his supports, Cleburne and Walker's other brigades made futile efforts in front of Johnson's, Palmer's, and Reynolds's divisions. These, like Baird, acted mainly on the defensive, checking the enemy by a very heavy infantry and artillery fire when ever he tried to rush forward. A rain of bullets, shot, and shell was poured forth incessantly from our breastworks, the front infantry ranks doing the firing and the rear ones the loading. All the rebel reports speak of our fire as more fearful than any they had ever before witnessed. Only General Willich, with his usual impetuosity, sallied forth at the head of one of his regiments, and followed the re treating enemy for a mile, inflicting considerable loss on him. General Thomas himself did not think of striking a counterblow after the rebels' offensive had been repelled and disappeared from his front, for Breckinridge's rear attack had much shaken and confused his command, and, moreover, his supply of ammunition had grown short. But the danger to our left had now fully passed, and the rebels did not disturb it again till near the close of the day.
The struggle there had not wholly ceased when an all but fatal turn took place on our right. General Longstreet relates that he arranged the line of the left wing so that Stewart's division formed his right, followed by Bushrod Johnson's, Hood's, Hindman's, and Preston's divisions as the centre and left. Only three brigades of Hood's having arrived, Kershaw's and Humphrey's brigades of McLaws's division were also placed under his command. The divisions were formed with two brigades in the front and the others behind them in supporting distance. When the action on the Confederate right had been raging for some time, without any apparent progress, Longstreet grew anxious, and sent an aide to General Bragg with an inquiry whether he had not better attack. Before the aide returned, Longstreet learned that the Commander-in-chief had already sent orders direct to his division commanders to advance. Thus all of Longstreet's divisions got in motion except Preston's, which remained in reserve on the extreme left. The rebel left was to achieve the success that had been denied to the right, and the stranger lieutenant-general from Virginia, who had not even yet seen most of the general officers and the troops now placed under his orders, snatched the laurels which the old commanders under Bragg had failed to pluck.
What occurred on our right during the fighting along Thomas's front and up to the time that Longstreet moved to the attack, was as follows: Negley's two remaining brigades were relieved from the front line by Wood's division only at 9:30 A.M. Stanley's brigade was sent quickly to the support of the left, and took an active part in the repulse of Breckinridge. Negley's, with Sirwell's, was stopped on the way to the left by an order from General Thomas to mass artillery on the elevations to the left and rear of Baird's position. Negley did not properly comply with the order, but placed the guns so that they protected the extreme right under Brannan instead of the left.
The rebel pressure on Thomas being apparently very great and steadily increasing, General Rosecrans decided to make dispositions to hold the left at all hazards, and to go even to the length of withdrawing his right wholly behind it. The resolve was a risky one, as it involved the abandonment to the enemy of one of the two lines of communication with Chattanooga, viz., the Crawfish Springs and Chattanooga road. But Rosecrans believed that the whole rebel army was being hurled against Thomas, and did not dream that a mightier force than had assailed his left was about to fall upon his right. By a message dated 10:10 A.M., he notified General McCook of his intention, directing him to prepare at once for a withdrawal of the right, and to be ready to send reinforcements to Thomas at a moment's warning. Twenty minutes later, another order was despatched to McCook requiring him to send two brigades of Sheridan's division immediately, and with all despatch, to support Thomas, and to let the third brigade follow as soon as the lines could be drawn in sufficiently. McCook received the two orders within six minutes of each other, and lost no time in executing them. Lytle's and Walworth's brigades were taken from the extreme right and started for the left at the double quick. After General Wood had moved to occupy Negley's position, and when Davis's division was ordered to the front, Van Cleve's was also moved forward twice by the direction of the General Commanding, for the better support of Wood and Davis. Sheridan's third brigade, under Colonel Laiboldt, was held in reserve to Davis.
General Rosecrans states in his report that one of Thomas's aides, who brought him a request for further help, informed him at the same time that Brannan was out of line and Reynolds's right thereby exposed. The aide was mistaken, as Brannan was really in echelon slightly in the rear of Reynolds's right; but the Commander-in-chief acted without further inquiry on the wrong information, and at once sent an aide on the gallop to General Wood with the following order: “September 20, 10:45 A.M.: The General Commanding directs that you close up on Reynolds as fast as possible and support him.” The order was received at about eleven o'clock by Wood, who was then a short distance in the rear of the centre of his command, and he immediately proceeded to carry it out. General McCook was with him at the time, and must have received his own order to move Sheridan's brigade about the same time, shortly before or after. He says in his report that, simultaneously with the movement of Sheridan and much to his surprise, Wood's division left its position in the line. This naturally suggests the question why McCook did not make an effort to prevent the execution of the General-in-chief's order to Wood if he considered it unwise and dangerous. He did nothing, and that unlucky order, to which the disaster to our army was unquestionably due, was literally obeyed. Brannan's division being between Wood and Reynolds, Wood, in order to close up on and support the latter as ordered, had to pass his command in rear of Brannan. Wood's withdrawal left a wide gap in our line, to fill which General Rosecrans gave no order, supposing that Wood was occupying the vacant space created by the assumed change of Brannan's position. Wood had requested McCook to make Davis close up to the left, and an attempt to do so was made, according to McCook, but could not and did not prevent the impending catastrophe.
Wood was diverted from his intended destination. Riding in advance of his brigade to find General Reynolds, he met General Thomas, after searching vainly for the former, told him of his order, and requested instructions as to how to place his command. The corps commander told him that Reynolds was not in need of support, but that Baird was. Wood then asked whether Thomas would take the responsibility of changing his order, to which the latter replied he would. Wood consented accordingly to go to the support of Baird, and asked for a staff officer to conduct him. He rode back with the aide to meet his command, but, on reaching them, “found,” as he says in his report, “the valley south of them swarming with the enemy.”
Thus it happened that General Longstreet advanced to attack our right when almost the whole of it was in motion for changes of position. There is great divergence in the statements of the official reports on both sides as to the time at which his column struck our line, but it seems correct to say that Stewart's division on his right collided first with Brannan's between eleven and half-past, and the other divisions quickly became engaged successively as they swung from the right as on a pivot to the left, and that before noon all were under fire. Stewart's right brigade under Brown moved forward simultaneously with S. A. M. Wood's brigade of Cleburne's division on its left, followed by Clayton's and Bate's brigades. They pushed on for several hundred yards under a destructive fire, when Wood's brigade broke in confusion and exposed Brown's to an enfilading fire. The latter brigade continued on for a short distance, when its right gave way, but its left and centre, followed by Clayton and Bate, pressed on some hundreds of yards beyond the Chattanooga road, driving the Federals before them. Brown's right had recoiled from Reynolds's front. The other parts of Stewart's command came upon Brannan's division, striking it obliquely, and turning first its left, formed by Council's brigade. After a brief resistance this brigade, as its commander says, “broke in confusion and fled to the rear.” The right brigade under Croxton was taken in flank and rear in consequence, and also driven off. Reynolds, learning that the troops to his right were yielding, sent a regiment to their support, but it also was involved in the flight. Stewart, however, found himself confronted by another force. General T. J. Wood, on discovering the rebels, as related, in the large open field behind him, at once sought to meet the emergency as best he could with the available part of his command. Hastening forward, he found that Colonel Harker, a brigade commander, had already been warned by one of Brannan's staff of what had happened, but felt in doubt whether the approaching troops were foes or friends, as it seemed almost incredible that the enemy should suddenly turn up at that point. Riding forward to determine their character and being fired on, Harker went back and formed an east and west line directly in the way of the advancing rebels. This movement appears to have led Stewart to stop and fall back. He explains: “New batteries being opened by the enemy on our front and flank, heavily supported by infantry, it became necessary to retire the command, re-forming on the ground occupied before the advance.” The division was so crippled that it did not take part in the action again until just before its close.
According to Longstreet's account, Hood's division, followed by Bushrod Johnson's, attacked next to Stewart's; but Johnson claims, and no doubt correctly, that he led, followed by Hood's (under Brigadier-General Law, Hood exercising command over both it and Johnson's). The two divisions formed a broad column three lines deep, thus bringing great weight of numbers to bear. The moving mass hit our most vulnerable point. The direction of its advance led it accidentally to the gap in our line made by the withdrawal of T. J. Wood's division. Passing the unoccupied breastworks of rails and logs, they fell a short distance beyond them upon Wood's rear brigade, under Colonel Buell, as it was moving to the left. Colonel Buell thus narrates what befell him:
We had scarcely moved one brigade front when the shock came like an avalanche. My little brigade seemed to be instantly swept off the field. The greater portion of it was cut off from me and driven to the rear. My staff, who were executing orders at the time, were also cut off. The orderly carrying the headquarters flag was captured. Captain Estes succeeded in getting away in hot haste with the brigade battery to a position four hundred yards to the rear, from which he opened on the enemy, but the latter worked around to it and captured it after killing thirty-five of the horses.
Another of T. J. Wood's batteries was also forced back without a chance to fire, but escaped without being able to rejoin the division.
Having made short work of Buell's men, the attacking column directly caused further havoc. The Federal General Van Cleve, after his two advances towards the front, was finally ordered to the line of battle. His two brigades had moved but a short distance when another order reached them to hurry also to the relief of General Thomas. They were hastening in that direction when Buell's men suddenly rushed over them in their pell-mell flight. Some batteries were also driven at full speed through their ranks, breaking them up and wounding several men seriously. This threw the brigades into great confusion, and before order could be restored the rebels were upon them. Bushrod Johnson's column again worked like a wedge, splitting the brigades in two and scattering one to the left and one to the right. The rebel general gives this graphic description of the scenes that followed:
Our lines now emerged from the forest into open ground on the border of long, open fields, over which the enemy was retreating, under cover of several batteries, which were arranged along the crest of a ridge on our right and front, running up to the corner of a stubble-field, and one battery on our left and front posted on an elevation in the edge of the woods, just at the corner of a field near a peach orchard and southwest of Dyer's house. The scene now presented was unspeakably grand. The resolute and impetuous charge, the rush of our heavy columns sweeping out from the shadow and gloom of the forest into the open fields flooded with sunlight, the glitter of arms, the onward dash of artillery and mounted men, the retreat of the foe, the shouts of the hosts of our army, the dust, the smoke, the noise of firearms — of whistling balls and grape-shot and of bursting shell — made up a battle-scene of unsurpassed grandeur. Here General Hood gave me the last order I received from him on the field — “Go ahead, and keep ahead of everything.” How this order was obeyed will be best determined by those who investigate all the details of this battle.
The unusual depth of our columns of attack in this part of the field, and the force and power with which it was thrown upon the enemy's line, had now completely broken and routed their centre, and cast the shattered fragments to the right and left. Everett's battery was here ordered into action on the right of Johnson's brigade, and opened upon the retreating foe while my line continued to advance.
There was now an interval of about 800 yards between Hindman's division, on my left, and my command. Johnson's brigade, on the left, bore but slightly to the right, its left regiment stretching across the road from Dyer's house to Crawfish [Springs] road and passing on both sides of the house. Gregg's brigade, in the centre, moved a little to the right, so as to flank and capture nine pieces of artillery on its right, posted on the ascent to the eminence in the corner of the field north of Dyer's house. McNair's brigade, now somewhat in rear of the two left brigades, moved obliquely to the right and directly upon this eminence. My line was here uncovered by Hood's division, which must have changed its direction to the right.
At the moment Van Cleve was being overborne, General Crittenden was placing the corps artillery in a commanding position on a hill to the rear with several hundred yards of clear fields in front. Turning from the batteries to the troops, he was astounded to see sudden and unaccountable disorder among them. He says: “There was but little firing at this moment near the troops, and I was unable to account for the confusion. In a moment, however, the enemy had driven all before them, and I was cut off from my command, though not one hundred yards in rear and in full view, and also cut off from our army. Returning to the batteries, I found them without the support of a single company of infantry.” All the support that came a little later were from sixty to seventy men, the small remainder of Van Cleve's command brought up by that unfortunate commander himself. Troops were seen advancing over the open ground before the artillery. Our guns held their fire at first, as there was doubt whether they were foes or friends, but opened vigorously upon them when, on coming nearer, the rebel uniforms and flags were recognized. General Crittenden rode off to find additional help. He had hardly left when the batteries were obliged to fly precipitately. The enemy had come close up to them; his severe fire killed many of the horses, and only fifteen of the twenty-six guns got away. General Van Cleve did not succeed in getting more of his men together, but the greater portion of three of his regiments which had been driven to the right soon rallied, and did more or less fighting in the afternoon under other commanders.
All this mischief was done by the right of Hood's column. Its left and Hindman's division wrought still greater havoc. By the marching off of T. J. Wood's and Sheridan's brigades, Davis's division had become an isolated outpost, as it were, in its position a few hundred yards to the west of the Chattanooga road behind rude breastworks — a weak outpost, too, for the losses of the previous day had reduced his force to a little over twelve hundred effectives. Ordered by his corps commander to fill the gap left by Wood, he was just moving his left brigade for that purpose when he found himself enveloped on the front and flanks by the enemy. His men fired a few rounds, but, after a short resistance, were utterly overcome. He called on his support, Laiboldt's brigade of Sheridan's division, for help, but it too was overwhelmed before it could be brought into line. Indeed, Davis's own men fleeing through its ranks made it helpless. In very little time the three brigades were swept away in complete rout. Repeated attempts were made to rally them, but they could not be brought to a stand before they were far out of harm's way.
Sheridan's brigades succumbed to the same assailants, but only after more resistance. The brigades were moving at the double-quick to the left when Davis received the shock, and orders reached Sheridan from McCook to halt and form his command for action. Directly the enemy was upon him, his men being shot down while forming. The odds against him were too great, and he was forced back some hundreds of yards, when his men rallied and drove the rebels back to Laiboldt's position before the attack. They even captured rebel colors and a number of prisoners. But they came upon the strong rebel reserves, and were forced back in turn beyond their starting-point. Sheridan's struggle was altogether with the division of Hindman, who claims to have captured in this attack eleven hundred prisoners (including three colonels), seventeen pieces of artillery, and six flags. General Lytle, one of Sheridan's brigade commanders, lost his life in the contest.
These rebel successes were achieved in less than an hour, by noon, and with relatively little loss in killed and wounded. General Hood, however, had his hip shattered by a bullet, and was supposed to be mortally wounded, but recovered with the loss of a leg. Bushrod Johnson assumed command in his place. Our eight overwhelmed brigades — one of T. J. Wood's, two of Van Cleve's, two of Davis's, and three of Sheridan's, almost the equivalent of two divisions were not only swept off the field, but carried in such a direction and to such a distance as to withdraw them entirely from the struggle. They were forced both off the Lafayette and Chattanooga road which formed the means of communication between them and our left, and out of the valley of the Chickamauga into the valley of the Chattanooga, so that Missionary Ridge became a barrier between them and the remainder of the army. Buell's, Van Cleve's, and Davis's men got all mixed up, and made off in confused swarms. Sheridan, after being pushed back, re-formed his brigades on a ridge overlooking the scene of his fight; but, when he ascertained that all our troops to his left had disappeared, and that the enemy was between him and General Thomas, he determined to make an attempt to recover connection with the latter by marching his command on the arc of a circle over the hills of the so-called Dry Valley road, and by it to the Crawfish Springs road, and thence over Missionary Ridge to our lines. He was obliged to disencumber himself of twenty-four guns and forty-six caissons which he had found abandoned by other organizations and scattered promiscuously over the ground.
Colonel Wilder, with his brigade of mounted infantry, which had been guarding our right flank while moving to the left in the wake of Sheridan, struck the extreme left of the column assailing the latter, and succeeded in checking and driving it back, capturing two guns. He remained on the ground, and had another successful encounter with the enemy in the course of the afternoon. He took position on the outrunners of Missionary Ridge and held it till 4 P.M., although he was repeatedly advised by superior officers to fall back to the passes of Lookout Mountain. He then retreated unmolested to the Chattanooga Valley, bringing off with him a large number of stragglers, many ammunition wagons, caissons, ambulances, and stray beef cattle. The record of the brigade is worth mentioning as that of almost the only unit of our army fighting by itself and coming off successfully.
The impetus of victory had carried the rebels in the wake of the fugitive Federals up and down and again up the group of hills intervening between the Lafayette and Chattanooga and the Crawfish Springs and Chattanooga roads. They gathered up many spoils on the way — guns, caissons, small arms, piles of knapsacks and tents. With Bushrod Johnson's division still in the lead, they reached the crest commanding the gap through which the last-mentioned road passes into the valley of Chattanooga Creek, and in which they discovered some of our retreating trains. They managed to send some shot and shell among the wagons, producing a panic among the drivers, who abandoned their charge to save themselves. Some more guns moving with the trains also fell into their hands. By thus pushing vigorously after our shattered troops, Johnson made it impossible to rally any of Davis's men before they reached McFarland's Gap and Farm on the Crawfish Springs road, between two and three miles from Rossville. He also prevented Sheridan from rejoining Thomas, as he had planned, and compelled him to march nearly five miles down to Rossville, whence he marched south for four miles over the Lafayette road, but did not reach the front again. Davis succeeded in collecting at McFarland' between twenty-five hundred and three thousand of his own command and of Wood's and Van Cleve's men, whom he led back late in the afternoon by the crossroad towards the battle-front. On arriving near it, he was ordered to fall back to Rossville.
The dispersal of our right had another momentous con sequence. The Commander-in-chief found himself suddenly isolated from every part of the army. He describes his misfortune as follows:
At the moment of the repulse of Davis's division, I was standing in rear of his right, waiting the completion of the closing of McCook's corps to the left. Seeing confusion among Van Cleve's troops, and the distance Davis's men were falling back, and the tide of battle surging towards us, the urgency for Sheridan's troops to intervene became imminent, and I hastened in person to the extreme right to direct Sheridan's movement on the flank of the advancing enemy. It was too late. The crowd of returning troops rolled back and the enemy advanced. Giving the troops directions to rally behind the ridge west of the Dry Valley road, I passed down it, accompanied by General Garfield, Major McMichael, Major Bond and Captain Young of my staff and a few of my escort under a shower of grape, canister and musketry for two or three hundred yards, and attempted to rejoin General Thomas and the troops sent to his support by passing to the rear of the broken portion of our lines, but found the routed troops far towards the left, and, hearing the enemy's advancing musketry and cheers, I became doubtful whether the left had held its ground, and started for Rossville.
In other words, the Commanding General, without an attempt to ascertain the real condition of the left, as in duty and in honor bound, himself magnified the doubt he felt regarding it into the assumption that total defeat had already overtaken the army, and, giving up all thought of further resistance, rode off with a squad of followers, leaving his command to its fate. He put, as we shall see, not only the four miles to Rossville, but the eight to Chattanooga, between himself and his soldiers. This act cost him the loss of his command and irretrievably blotted his record.
General Crittenden became a like victim of the disaster. He tried to find support for his corps batteries, and, when they had been driven off, remained with a small force of about one hundred men on an adjacent hill. After vainly waiting for some time for tidings, the fear seized him that Generals Rosecrans, McCook, Sheridan, and Davis had all fallen into the hands of the enemy. No other course seemed to be open to him than to leave the field and to find his way if possible to Rossville. He does not claim to have been cut off from Thomas, but he no doubt was. Riding over the hills, he reached the Rossville road, which he found filled all the way with soldiers, cannon, caissons, and trains. Before reaching Rossville, he learned that General Rosecrans had not been captured, but had gone to Chattanooga, and he determined to follow him there. He should at least have tried, like Davis and Sheridan, to return to the front when he heard, as he did, that Thomas was still fighting. It is true that he was left entirely without command by the orders of Rosecrans transferring Palmer's division on the first day, and Wood's and Van Cleve's on the second, to Thomas, and therefore he cannot be accused of deserting his command; still, he was riding away from instead of towards his divisions. For this he had to atone grievously.
General McCook was a third victim. He met Davis, while he was being driven back, and exerted himself to rally his troops, but without avail. He followed the division commander, and instructed him regarding his further retreat, and then set out to find General Rosecrans, but failed to discover him. He got the impression that our left was also beaten, and, learning from one of General Crittenden's staff that the latter had gone to Chattanooga, he decided to go there also. Had he remained with Davis to the last, he would have had opportunity, in the course of the afternoon, to fall in again with Sheridan's division and resume command over it. It was a strange fatality, indeed, that thus led the General-in-chief and two of the three corps commanders separately back to Chattanooga, as if fugitives from the battle-field, accompanied by mere squads of followers. All three were in ignorance of each other's fate when they turned their backs upon the scene of the struggle. All three believed that the whole army was utterly beaten and shattered, and the bulk of it destroyed or captured. It is easy to imagine the deep distress of mind which must have harassed them on that unlucky ride.
General Thomas was as ignorant of what had befallen his superior and his fellow corps commanders and their troops as they were of his condition at the time of and after the rout of the right. But he was made to feel the effect of it by the sudden threatening of his right rear before Breckinridge's brigades had been fully beaten back from his left rear. He states in his report that, hearing heavy firing to his right and rear at about 2 P.M. — he must have been mistaken in the hour, or it is misprinted in the Official Records, as a score of witnesses testify that the crisis occurred much earlier — he rode in that direction to ascertain the cause. On the way he met one of his staff, whom he had sent to hurry up Sheridan's brigades, who reported that, in attempting to reach them, he had met a large force moving with a line of skirmishers in front who fired on him and compelled him to return. The aide had also encountered Brigade-Commander Harker when the latter was yet uncertain whether the body in sight was a hostile or a friendly one. Thomas thereupon at once sought Harker to instruct him to fire on the approaching line if he was fired on, and was not long in verifying the portentous discovery that the enemy had gained his right rear, and was already behind Reynolds. The duty now devolved upon him to direct during the afternoon as determined a resistance to the rebel efforts to overcome his right as he had offered in the forenoon on the left. While his failure to hear anything from the Commander-in-chief and from the rest of the army made him apprehend that something serious had occurred beyond his right, hours elapsed before he clearly understood that he was fighting alone for the honor and safety of the army.
Bushrod Johnson's leading column had moved forward all but due west so fast that the division behind it under Law lost sight of it and became diverted in a northwesterly direction. This led it obliquely towards Harker's brigade and part of Buell's, the remnant of the division of General T. J. Wood to which he had returned after discovering the enemy behind him. As the advancing rebels threatened his right flank, Wood retired his command to a narrow and short spur shooting out nearly due east and west at right angles from the main Missionary Ridge. The ridge fell off abruptly to the south, thus forming a strong and commanding position. When Brannan's two brigades were driven off in confusion by Stewart's division, he managed to rally a small number of his men about half a mile to the west on the hills from which the ridge occupied by Wood's troops extended. He and his staff and other officers succeeded also, by strenuous efforts, in gathering up and getting into line some hundreds of stragglers from various organizations. Wood effected connection by his right with Brannan's left, which was barely done when the Confederates delivered the first of the vehement onslaughts upon them which they attempted one after an other in the course of the afternoon.
The heights constituting the southern outrunners of Missionary Ridge were the scene of the new conflict. They extend from a short distance west of the Lafayette road for about a mile to the Crawfish Springs road. They rise to a height of one hundred feet, and have a gentle, but irregular and spurring slope to the south and east, and were then covered with open woods. Their southeastern parts were within the boundaries of a farm belonging to one Snodgrass, and hence locally known as “Snodgrass Hill,” as which it appears in the records of both sides. The struggle now ensuing was for the possession of it, from which the enemy would have commanded the rear of Thomas's line as well as the Lafayette road, the only line of retreat left to us. The lines of Wood and Brannan on these elevations formed a curve having almost the shape of a horseshoe, which gave our troops an enfilading and plunging fire upon the assailing enemy.
The chance-medley of troops hardly aggregated one thousand officers and men, an entirely inadequate number for the defence of the “horseshoe”; but they were gradually succored, after the beginning of the desperate wrestle, by the second brigade and one regiment of the third brigade of Negley's division, and also by Brannan's third brigade under Colonel Van Derveer, who, after taking a decisive part in repelling Breckinridge's division, had been led by the rising roar of battle on Snodgrass Hill to march of his own accord to the relief of his division commander. But even these reinforcements increased the defenders by only about fifteen hundred, and would have left their total less than one-fifth of the number Longstreet could bring against them. These overwhelming odds would doubtless have overpowered them in one of the early rebel onsets, had not, luckily, further aid come in time by the appearance upon the scene of General Granger, with the greater part of the reserve corps. Granger had been charged with guarding the lower crossings of the Chickamauga and the road from Ringgold to Chattanooga. He had heard the heavy firing in the direction of the army from 10:30 A.M., and, after listening to its swelling intensity for some time with growing anxiety, he determined to hurry to the front as quickly as possible without waiting for a call. In this, as General Rosecrans well says of him, he followed “the instinct of a true soldier.” Leaving Colonel McCook's brigade to watch the Ringgold road, he started with General Whitaker's and Colonel Mitchell's brigades, and two additional regiments under the direct command of Major-General Steedman, soon after eleven o'clock. The force represented a total of thirty-seven hundred officers and men. After marching about two miles, he was suddenly fired upon by rebel skirmishers and a section of artillery. It was part of Forrest's cavalry which was guarding the rebel right. Granger stopped long enough to brush them aside, but moved on, after satisfying himself that they were only a small body and ordering up McCook's brigade to keep the Lafayette road open between that point and the front. He reported to General Thomas for orders at 1:30 P.M. (according to Steedman), and naturally received a most grateful welcome. He was directed to go into position on the right of Brannan, which he did with alacrity. As we shall see, he was in the nick of time to prevent an attempt of the enemy to attack the “horseshoe” on the right flank and rear.
General Negley performed a different part at this stage of the battle, which subjected him to much and severe animadversion. He was charged with nothing less than marching off his command from the battle-field shortly after noon without orders. It appears that while he was moving in the forenoon to the relief of Baird's division, General Thomas had ordered him to concentrate all the artillery that could be spared from the line, with strong infantry supports, on a point of Missionary Ridge commanding the ground to the left and rear of Baird. Misunderstanding this order, he had occupied a hill some distance to the north of Snodgrass Hill, and nearly in the rear of Reynolds, with three batteries and Sirwell's brigade, which rendered effective service in checking Breckinridge's movement to our rear. Upon the rout of the right, swarms of runaways came up the ravines and over the ridge to his position, and several batteries from the broken divisions joined those already there. Negley and a number of other officers exerted themselves to rally the retreating troops for the protection of the artillery, but, as a staff officer describes it: “As soon as the detachments formed of them and brought to the front heard the sound of the enemy's muskets, they disappeared like smoke. All these scattered troops were soon gone.” Finding it impossible to stop the fleeing troops, and unable to communicate with General Thomas, Negley deemed it his duty to secure the safety of the artillery, which was threatened with immediate capture by a large force of the enemy, and, accordingly, marched off with the guns and infantry to McFarland's Gap within two miles of Rossville. His retreat led to direct imputations of misconduct on his part by Generals Brannan and Wood in their official reports.
Meanwhile, on the rebel left, after the brushing away of our right and before the assaults on the “horseshoe,” Bushrod Johnson, who had occupied the elevation commanding the defile of the Crawfish Springs and Chattanooga roads and captured our trains, found himself separated from the other Confederate troops both on the right and left, and far in advance of them. He observed, too, the gathering of Federal batteries on Snodgrass Hill, which dominated his position, and therefore decided to halt until he was reinforced. He sent one of his staff to General Longstreet to report his situation, and to ask for infantry and artillery, and at the same time also despatched aides in other directions for help. None appearing for some time, he galloped off himself in search of assistance. After riding some distance to the right and rear, he came upon General Hindman, escorted by his staff officers. They first had to settle the question of rank between them, Johnson having learned only just before their meeting of the disablement of General Hood. Hindman was recognized as the superior in rank by virtue of his seniority, and ordered at once Anderson's and Deas's brigades to the support of Johnson, who then returned to his command.
Pending the arrival of the expected reinforcements, Johnson ordered one of his batteries to open fire upon the rear of the Federal position on the “horseshoe,” which was about six hundred yards to his right. Having vainly waited for some time for the promised brigades, he grew restive and resolved to advance without them. He formed his line facing to the north and almost perpendicular to the Lafayette road, with Johnson's brigade on the left and Gregg's on the right. He was just getting in motion when Deas's and Anderson's brigades reported, followed by the third brigade of Hindman's division under Manigault. This and Deas's were brought into position on the left and Anderson on the right of Johnson, under whose immediate orders all the five brigades fought, although Hindman exercised superior command over them and Kershaw's and Humphrey's brigades, which were brought into connection with the line of attack on the right of Anderson. McNair's brigade, which had got astray, was also brought up in time in the rear of Johnson.
It being reported to Hindman that a force was trying to work around his left, he erroneously assumed that they were the same troops who were driven off by him and Johnson (indeed, neither he nor any other rebel general knew the extent of the havoc they had inflicted), but had been rallied and brought back to the field. Apprehensive of an attack in the rear, he sent to Generals Longstreet and Buckner for help, and, at the same time, ordered a vigorous general attack. The brigades of the centre and left were to wheel to the right until faced east, and then to advance against the enemy's flank. Anderson and Kershaw, as the pivot, were to stand still till the firing commenced to their left, and then also to advance. Hindman felt confident that this movement would drive the remnants of the Federal army upon the rebel right, thereby insuring their capture or destruction. According to him, it did not commence till 3:30 P.M., but in other reports an earlier hour is mentioned. His appeal and Bushrod Johnson's previous one for assistance failed to bring it. General Longstreet, who did not deem it safe to weaken any part of his line, nor prudent to draw so early on his reserve (Preston's division) for that purpose, applied to General Bragg for troops from the right wing. He was answered that the latter had been beaten back so badly that they could be of no service to him, from which the commander of the left deduced that the discomfiture of the rebel right had been just as great as that of the Federal right, and that the fate of the day was depending on him and his command.
Bushrod Johnson's wheeling movement commenced under the protection of artillery fire upon the “horseshoe,” and brought the rebel line within range of our musketry within a few minutes. It advanced determinedly up the slope, firing volley after volley, towards the crest for the defence of which Steedman's division had just hurriedly formed. Steedman boldly delivered a counter-attack upon the approaching enemy. Gallantly seizing a regimental flag, he led his men forward. With defiant shouts they rushed upon the foe, and, after a desperate conflict of twenty minutes, drove him back in confusion and gained a good advanced position. Johnson admits in his report that Deas's and Anderson's brigades and all but two regiments of Manigault's suffered so severely that they did not again participate in the action. He says further that the retreat of his whole line was precipitate, and that it required all the exertions he could make, joined to the “appeals, commands, and physical efforts” of the officers, to prevent the abandonment of the hill from which his troops had started, and of the artillery firing from it. He claims that these batteries checked our attack. The slaughter on both sides was terrible, especially among officers. The feat of Steedman's men was the more creditable as most of them had never been under fire before.
Kershaw's brigade, forming with Anderson's the pivot of the wheel, also came to the attack on the right simultaneously with Johnson's. They had been previously engaged and gained some ground, but found themselves compelled to fall back. Advancing again, they soon became exposed by the repulse of Anderson's brigade on their left. Kershaw claims that he not only stopped the Federals, but drove them with three of his regiments and the Anderson reserve regiments “pell-mell,” and that he “followed them to the top of the hill, the Second South Carolina reaching even the crest.” But he adds that the commander of the last-mentioned regiment, finding that the troops on his left had fallen back to their former position, was reluctantly obliged to retreat also. Longstreet refers to this part of the action as follows: “Kershaw made a most handsome attack upon the heights at the Snodgrass house, simultaneously with Johnson and Hindman, but was not strong enough for the work.”
The rebel attempts to capture the “horseshoe” were directed both against the left and the front of it, and were repelled from the latter only by the firm resistance of Wood's and Brannan's commands. These did not attack in return, but confined themselves strictly to the defensive. Anderson's brigade recoiled from them in a shattered condition, and they foiled Kershaw's onset, which the defenders describe as extremely determined. But our men fought from the shelter afforded by the rampart-like crest, overwhelming the advancing enemy by their continuous volleys.
General Thomas had established his headquarters at the Snodgrass house, from which he directed the course of the action during the remainder of the afternoon. He was made very anxious before the arrival of General Granger, on account of the short ammunition of his men, as, by somebody's unauthorized orders — the name of the guilty party is not mentioned in the reports — the ammunition-trains had been ordered back. There were not more than two or three rounds to the man left when a partial supply was obtained from the train following Steedman's division, giving an average of ten rounds per head. At half-past three Thomas received, for the first time, authentic intelligence of the full extent and consequences of the disaster to our right — four hours after it had happened! — by the arrival of General Garfield, accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Thurston, General McCook's assistant adjutant-general, and two of his own staff.
The chief of staff and his companions had made their way back to the front, following roads part of the way, but cutting right through the woods over Missionary Ridge the greater part, urging their animals to the utmost speed, with the sounds of battle for their guidance. Once they rode right upon a party of the enemy, who fired upon them, and they narrowly escaped death or capture. General Garfield had followed the Commander-in-chief as far as Rossville. During the ride to that point past the retreating soldiery, artillery, and trains of every sort, grave and quickly growing doubts rose in his mind and pricked his conscience (I heard the story from his own lips in Chattanooga, within a fortnight after the battle) regarding the official and personal propriety of his chief's and his own conduct in turning their backs upon the battle-field, and going a long distance from it without any knowledge of the fate of the greater portion of the army, and without any earnest effort to ascertain it. He expressed this feeling to his superior, with the suggestion that they proceed no further than Rossville and try to learn something definite about Thomas, and he offered to go himself in search of reliable information. General Rosecrans at first objected to both recommendations, but finally yielded to the chief of staff's urgent plea for permission to set out in quest of Thomas. Garfield's success in reaching the front proved that communication with Thomas was possible. As General Wood expresses it pointedly in his report: “He showed thereby that the road was open to all who might choose to follow it where duty called.” But still stronger proof lay in the fact that the two aides of Thomas, who came with Garfield, led back with them one of the missing ammunition-trains which they had overtaken far to the rear. Garfield's ride has been commemorated perhaps more than it deserved in both prose and poetry.
His tale of Rosecrans's escape and the sorry plight of the rest of the army was hardly apt to inspire General Thomas with greater confidence in his ability to save the fortunes of the day. But that stern character was not daunted by it, and resolved to hold his ground to the last. Shortly after Garfield's appearance, instructions from General Rose crans, dated Chattanooga, 4:15 P.M., reached Thomas over the field telegraph (thus demonstrating how easy it really was to communicate with the front), instructing him “to assume command of all the forces, and with Crittenden and McCook take a strong position and assume a threatening attitude at Rossville. Send all the unorganized force to this place for reorganization.” This was virtually an order to leave the field to the enemy and retreat. Neither General Thomas nor the chief of staff thought such a course necessary. The latter, in his first report of Thomas's condition to Roseerans, dated 3:45 P.M., indicated this and even said: “I think we may in the main retrieve our morning disaster.” But the order was not modified, and so Thomas had to obey it. He determined, however, to hold the position until nightfall. The fresh supply of ammunition was distributed as quickly as possible. Our line was strengthened by moving in Hazen's brigade, which was the only one left with full cartridge-boxes, from Palmer's front between Reynolds's right and Wood's left. The expectation that the enemy would renew his attacks was fulfilled directly.
General Longstreet had kept his reserve division under Preston inactive notwithstanding the repeated requests from his sub-commanders for assistance. But, upon the failure of the general assault upon the Federal position, he decided to respond to a further pressing demand from Hindman. Indeed, having satisfied himself by personal observation that to gain the Snodgrass heights would make him complete master of the field, he resolved upon a supreme effort to take them, and sent orders to General Buckner to move Preston to the attack. The latter first led Gracie's and Kelly's brigades forward, his third one under Trigg being kept back to meet an apprehended cavalry attack against the left and rear. In support of the advance, Buckner ordered the reserve artillery of his corps to a commanding position, from which the eleven pieces opened a heavy, continuous fire upon the hills. Preston's men passed through the discomfited lines of Anderson and Kershaw. The two brigades were to form beyond them for a joint attack, but Gracie in the lead followed directions from Kershaw to push on, and directly received a withering musketry fire from the “horseshoe.” Still, he moved on to the base of the hills and then made a rush up the nearest spur. The Second Alabama actually gained the height. There the brigade was checked by our infantry fire, suffering terrible losses. The Second Alabama went in with 239 officers and men and lost 169. Its flag was pierced eighty-three times. Gracie contended against Granger's command. Kelly's brigade followed in about ten minutes, and, bearing more to the right, attacked Brannan and Wood. He became at once as hotly engaged as Gracie, and also gained a lodgment on the outrunners of the hills. But both he and Gracie found themselves so severely pressed that they sent word to the division commander that they could not maintain themselves with out reinforcements. Trigg's brigade was thereupon hurried up, one of its regiments going to the support of Gracie and the remainder making a fresh attack to the left of Kelly. At the same time, by order of General Longstreet, Stewart's division resumed action after hours of passivity, and advanced to the right of Kelly.
As Longstreet himself admits that Preston's attack was not a success, the claim of all the commanders of the defenders of the “horseshoe” that they maintained their position even against these last rebel onsets, deserves credit. The truth was, doubtless, that the enemy won some elevated ground held by our skirmishers in front and on the flanks, but did not actually penetrate our main line. But our leaders agree that the onslaughts upon them were made with extraordinary energy and bravery. General Wood states that the attack last referred to brought on the most terrific musketry duel, the fierce, continued roar of which inspired a sentiment of grandeur in which the awful and sublime were intermingled. Our front line advanced to the crest of the ridge, anc delivered their fire by volleys at the command, and then retired a few paces to reload, while the rear line took its turn in firing, thus keeping up a rain of missiles upon the enemy. Colonel Harker says that he never before witnessed so grand an example of effective musketry. General Granger speaks of our line being continually enveloped in smoke and fire. His men, in the end, got out of ammunition and had only their bayonets with which to repel the foe. Our troops were encouraged and cheered by the presence of Generals Thomas and Garfield under fire. The latter remained till the close of the action with Harker's brigade, his own former command, sustaining the spirits of rank and file by animating words and acts.
Before five o'clock, General Thomas notified the division commanders through a staff officer to prepare to withdraw their commands from the field as soon as they received formal orders to that effect. These preparations meant the drawing in of the picket lines and their reserves, and could be carried out on our left only where the enemy had abstained from offensive movements since the forenoon. Not long before, General Bragg had concluded to second indirectly the final effort of Longstreet by a new general attack with his left, and sent orders to General Polk to press forward at once with his whole line. There was considerable delay in distributing corresponding orders to the corps and division commanders under Polk, and it was near dusk before they were carried out. The line of attack was formed with Liddell's division on the right, and next Gist's, Breckinridge's, Cleburne's, and Cheatham's respectively. It so happened that, in the meantime, further orders to begin the withdrawal had been sent to the division commanders Reynolds, Palmer, Johnson and Baird, and their execution was just commencing when Polk's columns advanced. Reynolds withdrew first, and General Thomas left Wood's rear to direct Reynolds to a proper position to cover the retirement of the other troops from the left. On the way he received warning that a rebel column was advancing perpendicularly upon Reynolds, and reached the latter in time to prevent his surprise and the loss of the line of retreat. Turchin's brigade threw itself upon the approaching rebels, and routed and drove them beyond Baird's left, with the loss of over two hundred prisoners. It was Liddell's division that received this staggering blow. Reynolds's division was then so posted to the east of the Chattanooga road as to form a curtain, as it were, behind which the retirement might be effected, it was hoped, without molestation; but it turned out otherwise.
Palmer was to move away first, Johnson next, and Baird last. The rebel attack struck them, however, before they could get out of reach. As in the morning, Baird was involved first and worst. He describes the onset as more violent than that of the morning. Three batteries opened upon him, while the rebel infantry pushed on towards him. He held fast to his position for a time, as it seemed to him safer to remain than to fall back with the enemy upon him; then, seeing the troops of Palmer and Johnson moving off, he attempted to follow suit. But he was pressed so closely that many of his men were struck down, while a large portion of the remainder became disordered, and saved themselves in separate squads, or, in the confusion, ran into the enemy's lines. Johnson asserts that he was appealed to personally by Baird, and that he sent Willich to his support, and that the latter's brigade charged the enemy “and drove them back with terrible slaughter.” Strange to say, Baird makes no mention whatever of this alleged incident. Johnson further relates that, as his front was already attacked when he received the order to withdraw, he sent a staff officer to tell General Thomas that he supposed the general was under the impression, when he gave the order, that all was quiet on his front, whereas he was so fearfully assailed that a retreat might prove disastrous. Before the staff officer's return, however, the withdrawal of Palmer, followed by a hostile body, exposed Johnson's flank so that he felt obliged to retire also, barely saving his command from complete destruction. He gives credit to his reserve brigade under Willich for having saved the troops from annihilation and capture by being able to “engage the enemy in four different directions,” but makes the disgraceful confession that he neglected to send an order to withdraw to the gallant brigadier, who, however, took good care of himself and others.
Palmer also suffered in his retreat. He supposed that he was to retire only some distance to another position in the rear of the centre and there to re-form for further resistance. His men had moved but a few hundred yards when the rebels rushed over the abandoned breastworks, and, in a few moments, opened upon them with artillery from right and left and small arms from the rear. It was almost impossible under such severe fire to preserve the formations. Grose's brigade became disordered, but the remainder got off in better shape, and the loss of the division was not great. Palmer halted and formed his command beyond range so as to constitute a rallying-point for the large crowds of stragglers which came up with him. His order did not direct him to what point to fall back, but, after waiting until night had set in, he started of his own accord for Rossville.
It was Stewart's division which, in advancing, had come upon and passed over the breastworks abandoned by Reynolds and then chased Palmer and made captures from him. His men joined the divisions of the Confederate right in making hill and dale ring with the frantic yells of joy over the apparent ease with which they had now carried the position against which they had vainly butted with heavy loss in the morning. The rebels did not discover, indeed, that Thomas was in retreat, but all thought that they had driven him off to another position. As dusk had set in, and the different parts of Polk's command had become much mixed up in pressing after our troops, and there was danger of their mistaking each other for enemies after dark, they were brought to a halt all along their line.
The rebel offensive in front of Brannan, Wood, and Granger by the command of Hindman and Buckner also ceased as the shades of evening descended upon the field. But the defenders of the “horseshoe” were made to hold their position until after the left had been withdrawn. Thomas sent orders to retire to the three generals simultaneously, but they do not agree as to the time at which they did so. Brannan says he withdrew “soon after sun set,” while both Wood and Granger give seven o'clock as the hour when they received the order. Fortunately, moonlight facilitated the retreat towards Rossville. It was effected by Brannan and Wood without disturbance from the enemy, but Granger fared worse. By a most censurable negligence, three regiments of Whitaker's brigade did not receive notice to withdraw, and found themselves suddenly enveloped by the two rebel brigades of Trigg and Kelly, and were compelled to surrender almost bodily with all their field officers and flags.
Our several columns reached the vicinity of Rossville before ten o'clock, with the exception of Generals Reynolds and Willich, whom General Thomas had directed to protect the rear with their commands, and who remained in position in the field till the last of the other bodies had passed, and did not get into bivouac before midnight. General Thomas, accompanied by Generals Garfield and Granger, had ridden in advance (in compliance with the Commander-in-chief's order to assume a “threatening attitude”), to select as good a position commanding the approaches to the town as could be found in the night and in the early morning. This the troops occupied as they arrived.
The enemy remained in entire ignorance of our retreat during the night. None of the rebel commanders was aware, indeed, of the extent of their success before the next day. General Bragg telegraphed cautiously in the evening to Richmond that, “after two days' hard fighting, we have driven the enemy, after a desperate resistance, from several positions and now hold the field, but he still confronts us. The losses are heavy on both sides, especially in our officers. We have taken over twenty pieces of artillery and some 2500 prisoners.” The secession Governor Isham G. Harris, one of the bitterest rebels (he died in 1897, a United States Senator), who was with Bragg, wired at the same time to a newspaper: “After two days' fighting, we succeeded in driving the enemy from his positions. The engagement not yet decisive.” General Bragg was even led to believe, from alleged indications of movements in his front, that his foes were making dispositions for a renewal of the conflict in the morning. He was not at all anxious for this, “with his troops exhausted,” to quote from his report, “by two days' battle, and with very limited supplies of provisions and almost destitute of water”; and the news of our disappearance must have been most welcome to him. He heard it first, while riding early in the morning towards Polk's headquarters, from General Liddell, whose pickets had discovered at dawn and reported that there were no signs of the Federals. He immediately gave orders to send out skirmishers along the whole line and move all the cavalry to the front. The rebel left still believed in the presence of our army when Bragg's aides reached it with these orders. The reconnoitring of the cavalry soon brought confirmation of the contrary. It was only then that Bragg dared to claim a “complete victory” in a second despatch to the rebel War Department. But he felt too weak for immediate pursuit. Having an aggregate loss of nearly fifty per cent. of his effective strength, including a very large percentage of officers, and considering the disorganization of the remainder, he felt that it would be reckless and disastrous to follow the enemy immediately and attack him in the entrenchments at Chattanooga, to which he supposed we had at once fallen back. His judgment was doubtless correct. His army certainly needed at least a short respite for rest and reorganization and replenishment of supplies. But his decision to remain quiet was, as will be seen, the beginning, so to speak, of his downfall.
General Rosecrans continued his mournful ride from Rossville to Chattanooga in gloomiest despondency, as I learned afterwards from his companions, for he was still under the impression that the whole army had been overwhelmed. He reached the town about 4 P.M., and established his headquarters in the building occupied by General Wagner, the post commander. Within half an hour of his arrival, both General McCook and General Crittenden rode into the place separately and reported to the Commander-in-chief for orders. McCook, accompanied by General Morton, Chief-Engineer, and three aides-de-camp, had been conducted by a guide over by-roads without meeting any of our troops until he struck the main road within less than two miles of Chattanooga. Here he met a force under command of General Spears on its way to Rossville by order of General Rosecrans to render what assistance it could to the army. The whereabouts of the Commanding General in town being thus ascertained, McCook galloped on. Crittenden had stopped a short time at Rossville to make inquiries regarding his command and General Rosecrans. He failed to get any reliable information regarding the former, but, learning from some staff officers of Rosecrans's presence in Chattanooga, he pushed on as fast as possible.
The two corps commanders had not been long with the General-in-chief when the first report from General Garfield was received. It was the first intelligence that had reached General Rosecrans that Thomas had not succumbed, but was still holding the enemy at bay. The chief of staff said in the same message: “Granger thinks we can defeat them badly to-morrow if all our forces come in. I think you had better come to Rossville to-night" Notwithstanding this appeal, General Rosecrans not only did not himself act on this suggestion to return to the front, but remained in Chattanooga, and did not even send Generals McCook and Crittenden back. He told them to get some rest, which they both did.
Immediately after hearing from General Garfield, the Commanding General sent the first telegraphic report of the day's events to Washington. He wired: “We have met with a serious disaster. Extent not yet ascertained. Enemy overwhelmed us, drove our right, pierced our centre and scattered troops there. Thomas, who had seven divisions, remained intact at last news.” This was a sorry sequel to his report of the first day's battle, which had closed with these words: “By the blessing of Providence, the defeat of the enemy will be total to-morrow.” Far worse tidings had already reached the national authorities in the frantic, terror-stricken messages to the Secretary of War of Charles A. Dana, whom Mr. Stanton had chosen as one of his assistants, in reward really for the “vigorous editorial championship” of the Secretary after Dana had quarrelled with Horace Greeley and resigned as managing editor of the Tribune. Dana was sent on a roving mission to visit the different armies in the West, and report confidentially to the Secretary upon their condition, as well as his own opinions of their commanders and the leading generals under them. His part was something like that of the committees which the Convention in the first French Revolution kept at the headquarters of the armies in the field. He had joined Rosecrans on the 11th of September, and was with him in the battle, but became separated from him on the 20th, when the rebels broke our right. He fled back to Chattanooga, reaching there earlier than Rosecrans, and telegraphed at once under the impression of the rout of McCook's and Crittenden's troops, and without any knowledge of Thomas's successful resistance in the afternoon, and on the assumption that the whole army was defeated when he left the field. His report commenced, “My report to-day is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a name as Bull Run,” and contained these passages: “Our troops turned and fled. It was wholesale panic. Vain were all attempts to rally them.” “Our wounded are all left behind, some 6000 in number. We have lost heavily in killed to-day. The total of our killed, wounded, and prisoners can hardly be less than 20,000, and may be much more.” “Enemy not yet arrived before Chattanooga.” The official reporter of the War Department went to sleep directly after this performance and did not learn of Garfield's report until 8 P.M., when he was obliged, in a second despatch, to modify the alarming fictions born of his fright, as follows: “My report proves to have given too dark a picture. Having been myself swept bodily off the battle-field by the panic-stricken rabble of Davis's and Sheridan's divisions, my own impressions were naturally colored by the aspect of that of the field.” What a confession! Then he gives a pretty correct account of the course of the action, but adds: “The latest report from Thomas is that he was driving back the enemy.” He also overestimated the strength of the enemy at 70,000.
At 8:40 P.M., Garfield sent another summary of the events of the afternoon to General Rosecrans from Rossville, in which he expressed more favorable and hopeful views of the result than the facts warranted, using such language as this: “Longstreet's Virginians have got their bellies full.” “I believe we can whip them to-morrow and crown the battle with victory.” “Granger regards them as thoroughly whipped to-night.” He added: “I hope you will not budge an inch from this position, but come up early in the morning, and, if the rebs try it on, accommodate them.” Rosecrans answered that he liked his suggestions, but did not respond to his second appeal to come to Rossville any more than to the first. Nor was a third more successful which Garfield made five hours later in these words: “I hope you will get here as soon as possible to organize the army and victory before the storm sets in.” The General Commanding thought more of saving the remnants of the army than of achieving a victory.
It appears from the records that Generals McCook and Crittenden were ready again for orders at General Rosecrans's headquarters between 11 and 12 P.M. They were finally directed to proceed to Rossville and report to General Thomas. The two generals say in their reports that they started together at 12 P.M., but, according to Captain John J. McCook of Crittenden's staff, they did not get under way till 2 A.M. General Rousseau, who had just reached Chattanooga on his return from an official visit to the North, accompanied them. The two corps commanders found in line what had been gathered of their several divisions and resumed command over them.
The chief of staff's sanguine expectations for the next day were not fulfilled. In the morning, after studying the ground about Rossville by daylight, he and General Thomas became satisfied that it was not a good one for defence, being exposed on the right to an easy flanking movement, and they united in a recommendation to the General Commanding to concentrate the army at Chattanooga; he assented to it by an order received at 6 P.M. by General Thomas. The movement commenced at 9 P.M. and was successfully carried out, and by 7 A.M. the next day, September 22, the troops were all in the positions in front of Chattanooga staked off for them by engineer officers. McCook was once more on the right, Thomas in the centre, and Crittenden on the left. The retreat was not disturbed in the least by the enemy. Rifle-pits were at once dug and breastworks thrown up, and the entrenchments subsequently improved from day to day until they were sufficiently strong for all defensive purposes.
In the forenoon of the 22d, Rosecrans telegraphed to General Halleck: “Our position is a strong one. Think we can hold out for several days.” In the afternoon of the same day, he answered President Lincoln, in reply to an anxious inquiry from him about the position and condition of his army: “We are now in Chattanooga in line of battle, the enemy threatening our whole front. Have pushed to our picket line. Whether they will attack us to-day uncertain. We are about 30,000 brave and determined men, but our fate is in the hands of God, in whom I hope.” On the 23d, his confidence was so much restored that he wired to the White House: “We hold this point, and can not be dislodged except by very superior numbers and after a great battle.”
Bragg's troops only shifted their bivouacs slightly on the 21st, so as to be nearer to water in Chickamauga Creek, buried the dead, and gathered the wounded of both sides, and collected the spoils of the field in guns, small arms, accoutrements, tents, ambulances, ammunition, and quartermaster' and commissary supplies. On the 22d they were moved some miles further down the valley, but it was only on the morning of the next day that they appeared in force on the heights along our front, after some lively skirmishes with our outposts, so that Rosecrans was mistaken in reporting their presence the day before.
The rebel Commander-in-chief addressed a congratulatory order to his army on the 22d, opening thus:
It has pleased Almighty God to reward the valor and endurance of our troops by giving to our arms a complete victory over the enemy's superior numbers . . . . . . . Soldiers, after two days of severe battle you have stormed the barricades and breastworks of the enemy, and driven before you in confusion and disorder an army largely superior in numbers.
Our own Commanding General was, of course, in duty bound to let off a counterblast. He did this in a high-flown proclamation, dated October 2, in which he told his soldiers, among other boastful flatteries:
You have made a grand and successful campaign. You have driven the rebels from Middle Tennessee. . . . You fought the combined armies of Bragg, of Johnston and the tried veterans of Longstreet's corps, and for two days held them at bay, giving them blow for blow with heavy interest. When the day closed, you held the field, from which you withdrew in the face of overpowering numbers to occupy the point for which you set out — Chattanooga. You have accomplished the great work of the campaign. You hold the key of East Tennessee and North Georgia. . . . You hold in your hands the substantial fruits of a victory, and deserve and will receive the honor and plaudits of a grateful nation.
As between the rival claims to victory of the two generals-in-chief, the balance of truth no doubt inclines in favor of Bragg. For even the one basis of Rosecrans's boasts, the possession of Chattanooga, became directly a doubtful advantage and threatened to prove a fatal trap for him. He could not prevent the immediate close investment of the town, and, before the end of the month, the enemy held him in so tight a grip that the confidence expressed in the despatch of the 23d to the President in his ability to successfully defend the place was very much shaken. He certainly would never have extricated himself from the rebel toils with his reduced force, and, but for the reinforcements which were hurried to his relief from the East, West, and South, would have been compelled to choose between starvation and surrender or retreat.
Historic justice must, indeed, award the palm to General Bragg, although his performance fell short of his chief object of interposing his army between ours and Chattanooga. At the close of the first day, it is true, the battle might be considered a drawn one, but the issue of the second warrants no other verdict than that the Army of the Cumberland suffered a complete defeat. The incontestable facts were that fully one-third of it was overwhelmed in one attack and driven off in great disorder, and that the remainder had to abandon the whole field, with its dead and severely wounded and numerous trophies, to the enemy. Nor can it be denied that the rebel triumph was due to superior generalship. Bragg had, indeed, failed to turn our left on the 19th, but he struck us so hard that he kept us on the defensive on both days. Rosecrans had no plan of battle beyond the protection of his lines to Chattanooga. Bragg adopted a bold one for the 20th, justified by the situation and the rules of the art of war, and substantially carried it out. He was favored by the accident of hitting our right just when most of it was out of position and in motion. But the strength of his assailing columns and vigor of their onset would doubtless have been too much for our wing if it had been in line. General Longstreet is, however, justly entitled to a share of the laurels. The début of Lee's tried corps commander upon this new theatre was certainly a brilliant one. It will be difficult, indeed, to find another instance on record of a general assuming command at midnight over entirely strange troops and successfully fighting a great action with them the very next day. Most singular was the final outcome of the battle of Chickamauga in that it proved fatal in its consequence to both the victorious and the vanquished commanders-in-chief.
According to the official lists, our casualties on the two days were 140 officers, including one brigadier-general (Lytle) and 1517 enlisted men killed, 609 officers and 9147 enlisted men wounded, and 248 officers and 4503 enlisted men captured, making a total loss of 16,164. The proportion of nearly one officer to every sixteen enlisted men is very large. On the Confederate side, a number of organizations appear to have failed to make returns, so that complete lists were never available. The closest estimates show a total rebel loss of nearly 18,000. As 2000 prisoners fell into our hands, the aggregate of their killed and wounded must have been almost equal to our total loss, and fully one-third larger than ours in killed and wounded. This was the natural result of the constant offensive of the enemy on both days. Three Confederate generals were killed and four wounded. There is a great discrepancy between the returns of the respective chiefs of ordnance as to the loss of artillery on our side. Rosecrans's chief admits the loss of only thirty-six pieces, while Bragg's claims fifty-two.
The battle of Chickamauga will live in memory as one of the bloodiest ever fought. The killed and wounded on the two days reached fully twenty-five per cent. in the Union and thirty-three per cent. in the Confederate army of the number engaged. But the percentage of the losses of particular organizations was much higher on both sides. In a number of regiments and brigades it ranged from forty to fifty per cent. and over, with even higher percentages of officers, so that regiments were commanded by captains and first lieutenants, and brigades by majors. By far the greatest relative losses were suffered during the closing struggle on the second day. Among the assailants as well as the defenders of Snodgrass Hill, almost all the casualties occurred in the two hours, and in some brigades in the last hour, before dark. Of the Confederates, Bushrod Johnson's and Cleburne's divisions, and of the Unionists Steedman's, shed the most blood.
As I was not an eye-witness of the struggle described in the foregoing, it may be asked why I undertook to write its history. The answer is a simple one. In order properly to introduce the story of the events at and about Chattanooga, which will be related in the next chapter, it was necessary to review the Chickamauga campaign. For this purpose, I examined both the Official War Records and other works relating to it, and, in so doing, was struck by the imperfections of all the existing narratives of the memorable battle. I found them incomplete, incoherent, and contradictory in a greater degree than those of almost any other of the great actions of the Civil War. These very defects excited a desire on my part to draw from the available material a truer picture of the extraordinary contest. I was not long in finding out that, owing to the complicated movements of the two armies preceding the culminating collision, to the extension of the fighting over two days, and to the insufficiency of the sources of information, I had undertaken a most difficult task. But its very difficulties stimulated my determination to overcome them. It involved months of arduous labor. I am obliged to confess, however, that their result is not as satisfactory as I could wish it to be as regards fulness and accuracy. Yet I can affirm that its shortcomings are not due to any want of conscientious endeavor on my part, but to the impossibility of making up a consecutive, complete and absolutely clear and true account from the material at my command. I have done the best I could with it, however, and I believe I can justly claim that my story is fuller and more correct than any of the existing publications upon the subject, and that it will be readily intelligible to the general reader.