December, 1862 - September, 1863

By Randy Golden and Col. Samuel Taylor,
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

On December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863 the armies of William S. Rosecrans and Braxton Bragg battled at Murfreesboro (Stone's River), southeast of Nashville. After an initial Rebel victory, Union forces returned to the battlefield, eventually forcing their Southern opponents to withdraw to a position south of the Duck River. Bragg set up headquarters in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and created a strong defensive line. Rosecrans began to prepare for an offensive move against the Army of Tennessee.

Late in January, 1863, a young Ohio Republican named James A. Garfield joined Rosecrans staff. He was destined to become the President of the United States. Also during this time John Wilder organized the Lightning Brigade, infantry mounted on horseback with 7-shot Spencer repeating rifles, to help the Union Army track down "The Wizard of the Saddle," Nathan Bedford Forrest. Colonel Abel D. Streight was also in the Union camp. That April he launched what Robert L. Willett termed the "Lightning Mule Brigade" to attack Rome, Georgia

As Bragg waited for the inevitable assault, Rosecrans continued to prepare for a campaign. Six months later, after several strongly worded messages from both his commander, Henry Halleck, and his commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, Rosecrans began what is known as the Tullahoma Campaign on June 24, 1863 with an attack on the right flank of the Army of Tennessee at Hoover Gap. Fighting lasted two days, then Bragg set out on a hot retreat. 70 miles and 17 days later The Army of Tennessee stopped to catch its breath in Chattanooga on July 4. As quickly as it started, the advance of the Union Army stopped.

Establishing a headquarters west of Chattanooga (in Bridgeport and Stevenson, Alabama), Rosecrans "consolidated" his position for another six weeks, re-supplying his army from the railhead at Stevenson, Alabama and planning his next move. On August 21, John Wilder and his mounted infantry crossed Walden's Ridge and entered the Chattanooga Valley northwest of the city as a ruse to distract Bragg.

With Bragg concentrating on the enemy northeast of Chattanooga, Rosecrans slipped the majority of his troops across rugged Lookout Mountain south of the city. Caught completely off-guard, General Bragg was forced to withdraw again, this time to LaFayette, Georgia while Rosecrans advanced through mountain passes from Stevenson, Alabama to Trenton, Georgia, and then on to the city of Chickamauga. Rosecrans goal was to capture the Western and Atlantic Railroad to use as a supply line from Chattanooga.

The opportunity to confront the widespread Union Army was dwindling. Bragg ordered an attack on George Thomas after he came through Steven's Gap trying to force him into McLemore's Cove. The Rebels, under the command of Patrick Cleburne and Thomas Hindman never fully engaged the two divisions of the Union Army under the command of Thomas Negley and Absalom Baird. The Union generals retreated to the west side of Chickamauga Creek and established a defensive position.

Leonidas Polk was then ordered to attack the federal left as Thomas Crittenden moved south from Chattanooga. That attack, too, failed to materialize. On September 17th, with Bragg in LaFayette at Gordon Hall and Rosecrans at the Lee and Gordon Mansion in Chickamauga, the two rivals were closer to each other than they were to most of their troops. As Rosecrans prepared a direct move to Chattanooga, Bragg planned to cut of the Yankees line of supply and force a Union attack against an entrenched line.

Normally, the Army of Tennessee was divided into corps, with each Corps commander reporting to Braxton Bragg. With the addition of Buckner's Corps and Longstreet's Corps, Bragg felt it would be prudent to divide the Army of Tennessee into a Right Wing and Left Wing, although this reorganization was not complete until the second day of battle. About 3:00pm on September 18, Longstreet's Corps began to arrive and Bragg chose Hood to command the Left Wing until James Longstreet arrived. In addition to his own Corps, Hood had Simon Bolivar Buckner's Corps and Bushrod Johnson's provisional division under his command. The Bishop, Leonidas Polk would command the Right Wing, comprised of his own Corps, Daniel Harvey Hill's Corps, and W. H. T. Walker's Corps. Nathan Bedford Forrest's Corps provided cavalry support for both wings.

The Army of the Cumberland under William S. Rosecrans was comprised of three Unions corps, but during the fighting the Union commands became badly mixed. Commanding the XIV Army Corps (14th Army Corps) was Major General George Henry Thomas, who had become Rosecrans most trusted advisor. In command of the XX Army Corps (20th Army Corps) was Alexander McDowell McCook, a member of the famous "Fighting McCooks." Thomas Crittenden, son of Kentucky Senator John Crittenden, was in command of the XXI Army Corps (21st Army Corps). Cavalry Corps commander David S. Stanley was ill at the time of Chickamauga and the corps was under the command of Robert B. Mitchell.

Prelude (December, 1862 - September, 1863)
The Day Before (September 18, 1863)
First Contact
Early Fighting
The Conflict Widens
A Battleline is Drawn
A Bad Start
Rosecrans Moves North
Breakthrough at the Brotherton Cabin
Granger Reinforces Thomas

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