For thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers, their hopes hinge on controlling Chattanooga — the “gateway” to the Confederacy. Yet, in mid-September, they meet in the peaceful farm fields of North Georgia, along a tranquil creek named Chickamauga. The Battle of Chickamauga in North Georgia was the largest battle fought in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, second only to the Battle of Gettysburg in the number of casualties.
September 18, 1863
Surprise, confusion, and hard fighting replace the well-laid plans of General Bragg, who hoped to block LaFayette Road and cut the Union’s route to Chattanooga. As darkness falls, Bragg is still confident he can continue his plans and stop the Union Army in the morning. However, General Rosecrans moves his troops north throughout the night, a move that could turn the tide of battle.
September 19, 1863
Early in the morning, Union troops stumble into Confederates, who they presumed to be farther south. Both sides exchange fire all morning, leaving fields and woods littered with dead and wounded soldiers. The fighting spreads southwest, yet neither side has gained a clear advantage. During the night, Confederate reinforcements arrive, while Union troops fortify their positions.
September 20, 1863
Fighting begins when Confederates attack Union fortifications on the battlefield’s northern end. This forces Rosecrans to shift troops, acci-dentally creating a gap in the center of his line. By chance, Confederates swarm through, sweeping away Rosecrans. Retreating Union soldiers led by General George Thomas make a heroic stand on Horseshoe Ridge, but only darkness saves their army.
Siege of the city begins
Rosecrans’s army withdraws into Chattanooga while Confederates oc-cupy key ground surrounding the city, including Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. The stage is set to starve the Union Army into submission. They and the remaining residents endure a hungry month before General Ulysses S. Grant and reinforcements arrive to help open a supply line into the city. The Battles for Chattanooga would soon commence.
Additional sources of information
In addition, two excellent short stories about the battle were written by noted American authors Ambrose Bierce and Thomas Wolfe. Bierce fought in the Civil War and wrote several stories based on his experienc-es, including “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “Chickamauga.” Wolfe, of Asheville, N.C., and author of “Look Homeward Angel” and “You Can’t Go Home Again,” interviewed his 96-year-old uncle who fought in the Battle of Chickamauga and recorded his experiences in the graphic and compelling short story “Chickamauga.” Both stories are available on the internet, along with dramatic video adaptations of Bierce’s “Chickamauga” and “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”
Here is an excerpt from Wolfe’s “Chickamauga”:
“The Battle of Chickamauga was fought in a cedar thicket. That cedar thicket, from what I knowed of hit, was about three miles long and one mile wide. We fought fer two days all up and down that thicket and to and fro across hit. When the fight started that cedar thicket was so thick and dense you could a-took a butcher knife and drove hit in thar anywheres and hit would a-stuck. And when that fight was over that cedar thicket had been so destroyed by shot and shell you could a-looked in thar anywheres with your naked eye and seed a black snake run a hundred yards away. If you’d a-looked at that cedar thicket the day after that fight was over you’d a-wondered how a hummin’ bird the size of your thumb-nail could a-flown through thar without bein’ torn into pieces by the fire. And yet more than half of us who went into that thicket came out of hit alive and told the tale. You wouldn’t have thought that hit was possible. But I was thar and seed hit, and hit was.”