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The Battle of Chickamauga
September 19-20, 1863

Intro  |  General Cleburne's Report

Decisive Charge Upon Byrne's Confederate Battery

Crawfish Springs where the Battle of Chickamauga began, Chickamauga, Georgia, 1867
Library Photograph Collection

After driving the Confederate forces from Middle Tennessee, Rosecrans moved south into Georgia, forcing Bragg to abandon Chattanooga. Bragg, however, was determined to retake Chattanooga so he attacked Rosecrans along the Chickamauga Creek about 15-20 miles south of Chattanooga.

General George H. Thomas

General George H. Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga," ca. 1860s
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

The Battle of Chickamauga began on the morning of September 19, 1863, and ferocious fighting raged all day, but Bragg's men could not break the Union lines. Fighting resumed on the morning of the 20th. Around mid-morning Rosecrans received a report which caused him to believe, erroneously, that there was a gap in his lines. He ordered General Thomas Wood’s division to pull out of its position in the line and fill the gap that was not really there. His orders thereby created an actual gap in his lines just as it was being attacked by Confederate troops under General James Longstreet. Longstreet's men drove through the hole in the Union lines, forcing the Union troops to retreat.

As Rosecrans raced back to secure Chattanooga, he ordered General George H. Thomas to rally the remaining Union troops and then retreat. Thomas was able to hold off the Confederate forces until nightfall and then to retreat to Chattanooga successfully. His actions in preventing a wholesale Union rout led to Thomas' nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga."


Report on the Battle of Chickamauga by Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA
General Patrick R. Cleburne's report

Report by Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA, on his division's actions during the Battle of Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga, Tennessee, October 18, 1863
Benjamin Franklin Cheatham Papers
PDF of entire report

Head Quarters, Cleburne's Division, Hill's Corps, A. F. Missionary-Ridge, Near Chattanooga, Tenn. Oct. 18th 1863.

Colonel [Archer Anderson, Hill's Corps],

I have the honor to report the operations of my Division in the Battle of Chickamauga, fought on Saturday and Sunday the 19th and 20th of September, 1863.

During the afternoon of Saturday, the 19th ultimo, I moved my Division in a westerly direction across the Chickamauga River, at Teaford's Ford, and having received orders to report to Lieut. Genl. Polk, commanding the right wing of the Army. I did so, and was directed by him to form a second line in rear of the right of the line already in position. Accordingly, soon after sunset, my Division was formed partially in echelon, about three hundred yards in rear of the right of the first line. My right rested in front of a steam saw-mill, known as Jay's Mill, situated on a small stream, running between the Chickamauga, and the road leading from Chattanooga to La Fayette. My line extended from the saw-mill almost due South for nearly a mile, fronting to the west....

In my front were open woods, with the exception of a clearing (fenced in) in front of my centre, the ground sloping upwards as we advanced. Ordering the Brigades to direct themselves by Hood's (the centre) Brigade, and preserve Brigade-distance, I moved forward, passing over the first line, and was in a few moments heavily engaged along my right and centre. The enemy, posted behind hastily-constructed breast-works opened a heavy fire of both small arms and Artillery.

Canister shot

Canister shot embedded in the trunk of a dogwood tree from the Chickamauga Battlefield
The tree was cut down in the 1930s after the National Park Service took over administration of the battlefield park and began making improvements.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection

For half an-hour the firing was the heaviest I have ever heard; it was dark, however, and accurate shooting was impossible. Each party was aiming at the flashes of the other's guns, and few of the shot from either side took Effect....

At about ten O'Clock next morning I received orders from Lieut. Gen. Hill to advance and dress on the line of Gen. Breckenridge, who had been placed on my right. Accordingly, directing Each Brigade to dress upon the right, and preserve its distance, I moved forward. Breckenridge was already in motion. The effort to overtake, and dress upon him, caused hurry and some confusion in my line, which was necessarily a long one. Before the effects of this could be rectified, Polk's Brigade, and the right of Hood's encountered the heaviest Artillery-fire I have ever Experienced. I was now within short canister range of a line of log breast-works, and a hurricane of shot and shell swept the woods, from the unseen Enemy in my front.

This deadly fire was direct, and came from that part of the enemy's breast-works, opposite to my right and right centre; the rest of my line, stretching off to the left, received an oblique fire from the line of breast-works, which at a point opposite my centre formed a retiring angle, running off towards the Chattanooga-Lafayette road behind....

My right and right-centre, consisting of Polk's Brigade, and Lowry's Regiment of Hood's Brigade, were checked within one hundred and seventy-five yards of the advance part of this portion of the enemy's works, and the rest of the line were halted in compliance with the order previously given to dress upon the right....

William Githens letter

Letter from Assistant Surgeon William Githens, USA, describing the Battle of Chickamauga, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, October 7, 1863
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection
PDF of entire letter

That part of Hood's Brigade to the left of Lowry's Regiment, and to the left of the Southern angle of the breast-works, in its advance at this time, entered an old field bordering the road (Chattanooga-La Fayette), and attempted to cross it in the face of a heavy fire from works in its front; it had almost reached the road, its left being at Poe's House, (known as the Burning House), when it was driven back by a heavy oblique fire of small arms and artillery which was opened upon both its flanks; the fire from the right coming from the South face of the breast-works, which was hid from view by the thick growth of scrub-oak bordering the field. Five hundred men were killed and wounded by this fire in a few minutes. Upon this repulse Lowry's Regiment having also in the mean time been forced to retire, I ordered the Brigade still further back to reform. Semple's Battery, which had no position, I also ordered back.

I now moved Deshler's Brigade by the right flank, with the instruction of connecting it with Polk's left, so filling the gap left in my Centre by the withdrawal of Hood. This connection, however, I could not Establish, as Polk's left had in its turn been also driven back. Finding it was a useless sacrifice of life for Polk to retain his position, I ordered him to fall back with the rest of his line, and with his and Hood's Brigades I took up a strong defensive position, some three or four hundred yards in rear of the point from which they had been repulsed. Deshler's Brigade had moved forward towards the right of the enemy's advanced works, but could not go beyond the crest of a low ridge, from which Lowry had been repulsed. I therefore ordered him to cover himself behind the ridge, and hold his position as long as possible. His Brigade was now En echelon about four hundred yards in front of the left of the rest of the Division, which here rested for some hours.

In effecting this last disposition of his command, Genl. Deshler fell – a shell passing fair through his chest. It was the first battle in which this gentleman had the honor of Commanding as a General Officer. He was a brave and Efficient one. He brought always to the discharge of his duty a warm zeal, and a high conscientiousness. The Army and the Country will long remember him....

Private G. W. James letter

Letter from Private G. W. James, Company H, 12th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, describing the Battle of Chickamauga, Sweetwater, Monroe and McMinn Counties, Tennessee, November 4, 1863
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection
PDF of entire letter

The Left Wing of the Army had been driving the Enemy; the Right Wing now attacked, Lieut. Gen. Polk ordering me to advance my heavy Batteries, and open on the enemy. Capt. Semple, my Acting Chief of Artillery, (Maj. Hotchkiss, my Chief of Artillery, being disabled by a wound received the day before) selected positions in front of the line, and placed his own and Douglas' Batteries within two hundred yards of the enemy's breast-works, and opened a rapid and most Effective fire, silencing immediately a Battery, which had been playing upon my lines. About the same time Brigadier Genl. Polk charged, and soon carried the north-west angle of the Enemy's works, taking in succession three lines of breast-works. In this brilliant operation he was materially aided by Key's Battery, and towards its close by Douglas' Battery, which had again been moved by my orders to my extreme right, where it was run into position by hand.

A large number of prisoners (Regulars) was here captured; the enemy abandoned his works, and retired precipitately. Brigadier Genl. Polk pursued to the Chattanooga-Lafayette road, where he captured another piece of artillery....

I carried into action on Saturday (the 19th) five thousand one hundred & fifteen (5115) Officers and men — four thousand eight hundred and seventy five (4875) bayonets. On Sunday (the 20th) I carried in four thousand six hundred and seventy one (4671) Officers and men — four thousand four hundred and thirty seven (4437) bayonets. In the two days my casualties were two hundred and four (204) killed, fifteen hundred and thirty nine (1539) wounded, six (6) missing, making in all one thousand seven hundred and forty nine (1749).


The Battle of Chickamauga

"Battle of Chickamauga," 1890
Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection, Oversize

Silver-cased pocket watch

Silver-cased pocket watch belonging to Marcus Bearden DeWitt, 8th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, who fought at the Battle of Chickamauga, ca. 1870s
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection

Model 1850 foot officer's sword

Model 1850 foot officer's sword belonging to Blackman Dunn who was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection

minie balls

Spurs belonging to Lieutenant Joseph F. Massengill, Company B, 4th (Murray’s) Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, CSA, and two .50 caliber minie balls, ca. 1860s
The spent bullet on the left wounded Lieutenant Massengill at the Battle of Chickamauga.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection