The Cost of the Battle of Chickamauga

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought on two days (19-20) in September, 1863. This battle was the culmination of Major General William Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland (57,000 )late summer (23 June - 20 September) 1863 campaign to maneuver General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee (66,326 ) out of Tennessee. Fought in dense forests and small open fields in northwestern Georgia, Chickamauga was one of a very few clear cut victories for the Army of Tennessee. However, Bragg was slow to take advantage of the defeat of the Army of the Cumberland and the bulk of the Federal army made it safely into the lines at Chattanooga. It soon became apparent to many of the Confederate generals that a perfect chance to destroy an entire Federal army had slipped away. Never again would the proud Army of Tennessee have a chance as had existed in the woods along the banks of the Chickamauga.

After his defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans was removed as commander of the Army of the Cumberland and replaced with George Thomas (the "Rock of Chickamauga"). Bragg laid siege to Chattanooga and Longstreet took his corp east to Knoxville to remove Burnsides from that east Tennessee city. Neither were successful in their efforts. Longstreet took his corp back to the Virginia theater after failing to defeat Burnsides. Bragg was routed from the hills around Chattanooga in a series of battles late November '63 by forces led by General U.S. Grant.

Colonel Samuel McSpadden's After Action Report

About 11 a.m. (20th) we were ordered forward. Scaling our breastworks, we advanced in good order, driving the enemy from the woods across the field some 50 to 75 yards from its further boundary, we were met by a volley of musketry from the enemy, who had been securely placed behind breastworks in the edge of another woods. At the first fire of the enemy, so unexpected and near, my regiment exhibited a momentary hesitancy and wavering, but upon my ordering 'charge,' it moved at double-quick, and, with a shout, scaled the enemy's works, and pursued their panic-stricken and shattered ranks through the woods and undergrowth until, reaching the borders of another open field, the enemy were discovered behind some houses, potash-works, and rail breastworks. At this point there was not even a temporary hesitancy, but with an increased shout and rapidity of step, we drove the enemy from these works with great slaughter, and pursued them through the open field some 250 yards to an elevated skirt of heavy open woods, where we again came upon him and drove him in utter confusion from two pieces of artillery and other breastworks. There being no horses near, we were compelled to leave the pieces of artillery on the ground. During the next morning, we were enabled to gather about 50 prisoners, two or three wagons of rations, ammunition, etc., with one piece of artillery and many small-arms.

My regiment entered into battle with about 469 guns. My loss was: Killed 34; Wounded 158; Missing 12 (a causality rate of 44%). My regiment deeply mourns the loss of many gallant comrades, and especially of a good man, a consistent Christian, and excellent officer, in the person of First Lieut. Joseph B. High, Company H, who was in command of and fell while gallantly leading his company at the enemy's third breastworks (Horseshoe Ridge). While I cannot specify the many acts of gallantry exhibited by the different officers and men under my command, there was one instance of valor and daring so extraordinary as to demand my attention. On the second charge in the evening (Horseshoe Ridge), when the troops on my right gave way and my right wing began to waver, Captain Hugh L. Houston, Company B, sprang to the colors, and rushing with them to within 30 steps of the enemy's cannon, gallantly waved them and urged the men to follow their country's banner. But finding he was supported by only 40 or 50 men, they were compelled to retire, which they did in good order.

A letter home from Ambrose Doss (Company C, 19th Alabama Infantry)

Camp Near chicamauga Tenn
Sept 23 1863
"Dear Wife...I am well and come through the Battle Safe tho there was Several of the Boyes killed and wounded in our company there was fore (four) killed James Robins Tom Bove John fortes Frank Warmick is thought be be ded (dead) by this time...I havent no news to write only we whiped them badly and they fell back to chattanooga...

A. Doss

The Cost of Chickamauga

Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Confederate losses totaled more than 18,000 out of some 66,000 engaged (27%). Federal losses were 16,000 out of some 58,000 (28%). On one day the 22nd Alabama Infantry Regiment (Deas' Brigade) lost 55% of its soldiers and almost half of its officers. "We advanced under a perfect shower of bullets," recalled Lt. Col. James Abernathy of the 8th Kansas Infantry (Heg's Brigade), "sometimes driving the enemy and in turn being driven by them, until we had fought over the ground over and over again, and almost half of our number lay dead and wounded." Confederate General William Bates, surveying the carnage, called Chickamauga a sluggish "River of Death."

Cozzens writes in "This Terrible Sound," "no strangers to battlefield slaughter themselves, the French were nevertheless astounded by the carnage at Chickamauga. Said the Paris Figaro of the battle: "These Americans are fighting on a military system inaugurated by the Kilkenny cats. The two armies meet and fight and slaughter each other with the utmost fury. Then they fall back and reorganize for another general massacre. Positively, the war will end when the last man is killed".

Cozzens finishes "This Terrible Sound" with a quote from General D.H. Hill, a Confederate division commander at Chickamauga. "There was no more splendid fighting in '61, when the flower of the Southern youth was in the field, than was displayed in those bloody days of September '63. But it seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga - that brilliant dash which had distinguished him was gone forever...He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope. That 'barren victory' sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy."


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