Counterattack of
The Lightning Brigade

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

Situation overview 20 September 1863 11:45am: The southern end of the main Union line along LaFayette Road had been routed by Longstreet's Rebels. Each attempt to form a new line against the gray juggernaut had failed and now a massive, unorganized retreat toward McFarland Gap had begun. In some cases only a few steps ahead of the advancing, increasingly unorganized Rebels, the Yankee retreat threatened to turn a defeat into a rout.

General George Thomas was trying to respond to attacks on his line on a modest ridge west of LaFayette Road at Kelly Farm that continued without relief. Headquartered at Snodgrass Cabin west of the LaFayette Road, he began to pick Union stragglers from the Confederate breakthrough at Brotherton Cabin. Thomas, giving orders directly to enlisted men, began to form the retreating Yankees into a weak line along Snodgrass Hill, about half-a-mile from his field headquarters.

Colonel William Lytle [US] moved forward from a position to the south and west of the breakthrough, driving Deas [CS] skirmishers from a high point on the ridge a mile west of LaFayette Road. A rugged attempt to move Lytle from the hill failed and stopped Dea's advance. Gen. Arthur Manigault [CS Hindman], moving south of Deas did not run into the same problem and continued to advance further into what remained of the Yankees.

Patton Anderson [CS Hindman] was ordered forward to patch a hole in the line. His men's presence rallied Deas' Confederates to renew the attack on Lytle. This time during the advance Lytle was shot, the bullet shattering his spine. Without their commander the line withered in the face of the advancing Rebels. As the Confederates advanced they found Lytle's body, and Anderson came over. Lytle and he had been close friends before the war. Grieving, Anderson removed personal items from the general's body including his wedding ring to give to his wife.

At noon the hopelessness of the situation got to Rosecrans. He, McCook, Critenden, Sheridan and many other officers fled the field to the northwest. The devastation of the Union Army was continuing unabated. While heading towards Chattanooga Rosecrans and others did attempt to form a line, grabbing men hurrying from the field of battle. McCook, too, turned and tried to reach General George Thomas at Snodgrass Hill. He was relieved when a wounded officer told him it would be impossible to reach the Virginian.

One of the reasons the Rebels moved ahead with alacrity was the presence of top echelon officers in the advance, most noticeably John Bell Hood. It was his finest moment. Originally the advancing Rebels where to "wheel" to the left, or south, pivoting on an imaginary hub, but Hood changed the orders mid-stream, attacking to the west and north. His presence had made the breakthrough a resounding success.

As the Confederate line advanced through Dyer Field it came under attack by Bluecoats; it was the division of Thomas Wood that had pulled back from the federal line behind the Brotherton Cabin to create the hole so adroitly exploited by James Longstreet. Suddenly the Yankees were holding a line against the Rebels. Then, on the Confederate left, more Federals. The line that only moments before had been moving briskly through the forest stopped and many of the men began a wild retreat.

Hood tried desperately to rally the troops but to no avail. Then, just as the entire line seemed to give way Rebel reinforcements made it to Dyer Field. Col. David Kershaw's men came out of the woods in support of Hood's remaining men. As Kershaw reported to his senior officer a bullet shattered Hood's leg.

Meanwhile, Manigault moved forward, gaining the modest ridge on which the Widow Glenn's house sat. Suddenly, there was a problem. Rifle fire in front of his men slowed and eventually halted the advance. Then, while trying to come up with a solution, Manigault's flank came under attack by Col. John Wilder's Spencer repeating rifles.

Even to soldiers who had seen battle numerous times these Spencer rifles created horror. After overrunning a significant portion of Manigault's men the Rebels withdrew back to LaFayette Road. Then Wilder began to advance on Longstreet's Corps in an attempt to aid Thomas, clearly visible on Snodgrass Hill. After 100 yards the advance was halted by Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana who told Wilder he could not attack and must provide him (Dana) an escort to Chattanooga. Wilder obeyed although Dana had no authority to issue such an order.

About this time on the opposite side of the battlefield, Daniel Govan's Arkansasans came unexpectedly out of a heavily wooded area a few feet south of the present-day Chickamauga Visitors Center, crossed the LaFayette Road and returned to the woods a few feet west of the road. The men turned and began to advance on the left flank of the Federal line when they were struck by a group of combined Union forces. The men that weren't killed outright scattered back into the woods and regrouped in an attempt to locate the Confederate line.

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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