First Day:
First Contact

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

Situation overview: 19 September 1863, 7:30 am; Bushrod Johnson [CS, Stewart] crossed Reed's Bridge at 3:30pm, 18 September 1863, about the same time that Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry [CS, Bragg] crossed Fowler's Ford. They formed a group on the west side of Chickamauga Creek halfway between Reed's and Alexander's Bridge. General W. H. T. Walker [CS, Bragg] crossed Lambert's Ford and joined them in the same small area after 8pm. Further south, Buckner's Corps was crossing the Chickamauga at Thedford Ford and Dalton Ford. Due west of them was Major General George Thomas [US, Rosecrans] moving north along the LaFayette Road. Further north Gordon Granger [US, Rosecrans] held Ringgold Gap with the Reserve Corps. Generals Crittenden [US, Rosecrans] and McCook [US, Rosecrans] were widely spread across six miles of territory east of LaFayette Road, mostly south of Lee and Gordon Mill.

Major General William Rosecrans [US, Lincoln] felt the increased Rebel activity being reported up and down his line was a rear guard action. Although he was running into enough resistance to concern him, he did not believe the Confederate forces were in the midst of launching a major attack. He had no reason to. Not once since the Tullahoma Campaign began in June, 1863, had Braxton Bragg [CS, Davis] stood his ground.

Thomas [US, Rosecrans] had marched during the night to an advanced position on LaFayette Road, his northernmost troops in the vicinity of McDonald's (where the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitors Center now stands). Further south, John Bell Hood's division and Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner's Corps [CS, Polk] were forming to complete Bragg's original plan of trapping the Union Army in McLemore's Cove and destroying them in a piecemeal fashion while the rest of Rosecrans Army advanced to move north along the LaFayette Road.

Today Reed's Bridge is a barely noticeable concrete edifice spanning Chickamauga Creek. Approaching from the present-day town of Boynton (named for the man who conceived the idea of a national park at Chickamauga) the road dips, crosses the river, then rises. Almost immediately the signs of war are upon you. Cannon, markers and memorials appear in increasing numbers as a visitor moves east to west down this country road.

During the days of Chickamauga, however, this rickety bridge was on a main route in northwest Georgia; Battlefield Parkway, a mile north, did not exist and the bridge was one of the few in the area that crossed Chickamauga Creek. As reports quickly filtered into the Union headquarters of "Rebels advancing in force..." Rosecrans knew he needed more time to move closer to Chattanooga, where he intended to regroup. To give him that time he ordered all bridges across Chickamauga Creek destroyed.

Colonel Daniel McCook [US, Granger] had been involved in the fighting of the previous day, capturing a regimental band and some stragglers from Johnson's division. He spent the night at the intersection of Jay's Mill Road and Reed's Bridge Road. At 8:15am the colonel was advancing towards Reed's Bridge intent on its destruction.To his surprise he found it unoccupied, and set about his task. At 8:30am Reed's Bridge was burning. McCook had been ordered to withdraw after destroying the bridge, which he did, once again alerting General George Thomas to the presence of Confederates in the area. Thomas [US, Rosecrans], misled by McCook's assumption that a brigade of men had crossed the river, sent a division under the command of Brigadier General John M. Brannen [US, Thomas] to drive the men back.

Col. John Croxton [US, Brannen] moved forward to engage the Rebel brigade. He was advancing along a path he thought was Reed's Bridge Road, but it was actually a few hundred feet south. As he swung into position, Croxton's men spotted some elements of Brigadier General John Pegram's [CS, Forrest] cavalry. Pegram was off with Forrest scouting the smoke from McCook's work as Croxton moved towards the Rebels encamped near Jay's Mill. The Yankees quietly set up a line of about 1,000 men concentrating their weapons on some 250 horsemen. A single shot rang out, then in unison the rest of Croxton's men fired at the cavalry. Pegram's men were completely unaware of the presence of Union soldiers, and the damage was severe.

The first shots in the battle of Chickamauga had been fired.

Visit the fighting:

Take I-75, Exit 350 (Battlefield Parkway) west .3 miles to the first traffic light. Turn left on Three Notch Road. Travel 1 mile south and turn right on Boynton Road. This becomes Reed's Bridge Road after the town of Boynton. Continue on for 4.2 miles. The road descends, crosses Chickamauga Creek and rises to Jay's Mill Road. Turn left and continue to a small parking lot on the right.


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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