Chickamauga, Second Day:
A Bad Start


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


Situation overview: 20 September 1863, 7:00 a.m.: Major General George Thomas [US, Rosecrans] withdrew his men to a line along a modest ridge to the east of Lafayette Road (today's Battleline Road). To the south the Union Army prepared a line slightly west of the road. Only a small pocket of land west of the road was not controlled by the Union Army, where Battleline Road crosses west of Lafayette Road and returns to the north-south pike. Opposing the federal line that grew stronger by the minute was a Rebel force reorganized by Braxton Bragg [CS, Davis] into a left wing (commanded by James Longstreet, who had arrived from the Army of Northern Virginia overnight) and a right wing (commanded by Leonidas Polk)


Nighttime was a blessing for Rosecrans. It gave the Army of the Cumberland the chance to build entrenchments to protect themselves from the Rebels the following morning. The work continued throughout the night as the Yanks built a strong defensive. Bragg's plan for the second day was almost the same as the first -- a frontal assault on LaFayette Road, dividing the Union troops. Rosecrans also held a late night meeting at his headquarters (the Widow Glenn's house) and planned to continue as they had done today, slowly move towards safety in Chattanooga.

Daniel Harvey Hill [CS, Polk] would be responsible for initiating the attack at dawn on September 20th, extending north from the site of the nearly successful breakthrough on the previous day, at today's southern intersection of Battleline and LaFayette Roads. Hill, claiming that he had not received orders, did not open the attack on schedule as ordered. During the 2-hour delay the Yankees continued to erect defenses.

About 9:30 Hill finally began the assault that should have commenced at least two hours earlier. He was formed to attack the southern end of present-day Battleline Road, so named to commemorate the strong Union line that had formed at the ridge of a small hill just east of Lafayette Road. Solders from three divisions, Baird, Johnson, and Palmer had formed a relatively strong line along the east side of Kelly Field. Behind the battleline were a series of well-distributed artilllery pieces, placed to fire over the heads of the infantry into any Rebel advance.

Hill's attack triggered a series of events along Battleline Road. Shortly after the initial volley the dashing John Breckenridge [CS, Hill] began to move south, attacking the Union line in the vicinity of Chickamauga Battlefield Visitors Center. Catching General George Thomas off-guard, Breckenridge nearly turned the Union left flank. Only the quick action of nearby soldiers turned the tide in favor of the Federal troops.

Then Bragg opened up one of his standard "rolling" attacks, starting near the point where Breckinridge almost turned the Union line. This type of attack looks for a weakness in a developed line to exploit. Sending Patrick Cleburne's division first, then Benjamin Franklin Cheatham's, and finally W. H. T. Walker's, the Rebels found no weakness, but did slow Rosecrans northward progress to a crawl.

Front
Introduction
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
Counterattack
Granger Reinforces Thomas

 



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