Early fighting

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

Situation overview, 19 September 1863, 10:00 am: Braxton Bragg [CS, Davis] still believed that the bulk of Rosecrans [US, Lincoln] Army was south of Lee and Gordon's Mill. Rosecrans thought the bulk of Bragg's Army was west of Chickamauga Creek. Both were wrong. Gen. George Thomas [US, Rosecrans] ordered John M. Brannen to advance to flush out Rebels on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek. Col. John Croxton engaged Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry around Jay's Mill.

Nathan Bedford Forrest [CS, Bragg] was desparately looking for support. His men were trying to hold a weak line against a force of perhaps 1,000 Union soldiers who had run into Forrest's rear guard of Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Forrest sent a messenger to Major General Leonidas Polk [CS, Bragg], requesting General Armstrong and his men be released to his command. Then Forrest set off looking for help. Polk was unwilling to release General Armstrong and his men, but he did detach Col. George Dibrell [CS, Forrest]. His cavalry advanced along Reed's Bridge Road, initially forming a line to the right of Davidson. Dibrell did not see the advantage of engaging the enemy at the point of attack, so he set out down Reed's Bridge Road looking for the end of Croxton's line.

Hearing the fighting, Brannen ordered Col. Ferdinand Van Derveer [US, Brannen] down Reed's Bridge Road. Unlike Croxton, Van Derveer found the correct road, and advanced towards the column of smoke that had been Reed's Bridge. About 1/2 mile west of Chickamauga Creek, Van Derveer ran headlong Dibrell's cavalry. Van Derveer repulsed the initial head-on attack. Dibrell pulled back, then made his way through the woods to the north of Van Derveer, hoping to outflank the Union colonel. Van Derveer wheeled his men around so their line was now parallel with Reed's Bridge Road, once again repulsing Dibrell's attack.

Forrest engaged General Claudius Wilson [CS, Gist], whom he had found near Alexander's, having just crossed Chickamauga Creek. Wilson refused to help, requesting orders from his commanding officer (this was normal in Bragg's command). The request made its way to Bragg, who approved the support for Forrest's cavalry. Wilson and Forrest returned together to the fighting. Wilson led his Georgians to the sound of battle, hurling them against Croxton's Kentuckians. So unexpected and furious was the attack that Croxton wired Thomas asking which one of the four or five brigades in front of him did Thomas want him to attack?

Shortly, Union regulars began to arrive in support of Brannen's now-beleaguered right flank. Croxton felt a force of 4,000-5,000 men was in the area, based on Wilson's aggressive counter-attack. His assessment was wrong. The force near him was much smaller than he thought, although additional Rebel forces were rushing to join the fight.

Luckily for Croxton his men withdrew to resupply. Colonel Benjamin Scribner [US, Baird] advanced as the left flank of Brigadier General Absolam Baird's line, supporting Croxton's withdrawal. Scribner's line slowed as it encountered Wilson's Georgians, whom Forrest was also in the process of withdrawing. For a few minutes at about 11:00am the sounds of battle briefly came to a halt, but not for long. The combined brigades of Edward C. Walthall [CS, Liddell] and Daniel Govan [CS, Liddell], stepped out of the woods on the right flank of the Union line. In spite of advancing with a line of skirmishers, Scribner's men were caught off guard in a crossfire so tremendous that his right flank evaporated.

But a Union line remained. To the north, near Reed's Bridge Road Dibrill's [CS, Forrest] cavalry, reinforced by Brigadier General Mathew Ector [CS, Gist] began to push Colonel Ferdinand Van Derveer's [US, Brannan] Yankees back on the south side of Reed's Bridge Road. Van Deveer stubbornly held his position against numerically superior forces. Immediately south of Van Derveer were two more brigades of Bairds division, somewhat disorganized, but no more so that the Confederates opposing them. At the south end of the line Scribner continued to regroup, his side being the most seriously impacted. About noon Croxton returned, his men resupplied and ready to fight. Govan's Arkansasans and Walthall's Mississippeans were having difficulty moving through the heavily forested field of battle. It was not their only problem.

The sound of battle rolling through the hills is a very unique and unmistakable noise. Unlike the popping of skirmish lines meeting by chance, with battle came a roar. It was a roar Major General Thomas Crittenden [US, Rosecrans] knew well, and one he responded to by detaching a division under Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson [US, McCook] and ordering it forward. They formed a line near Kelly Field, then began to march on the flank of Govan's men and a significant body of other nearby Confederates. The battle that had moments before appeared to be turning in the Rebels' favor was once again firmly under the control of the Union forces. As the Rebels were overrun Union forces entered Winfrey Field where Walthall's Mississippians halted their advance with bitter fighting.

Visit the fighting:

The entire line of this fight comprises a trail that runs from Reed's Bridge Road to Brotherton Road and back again. For more information, please see GeorgiaTrails

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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