George Thomas' 14th Corps vanguard, the 2nd Division under Major General James Negrey, pushed through the plateau on top of Lookout Mountain to reach McClemore Cove late in the day on September 9, 1863.
For nearly two weeks the Army of the Cumberland had been hidden by the rugged mountains south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Patrolling 40 miles of territory had only brought news of the arrival of a Union force in tiny Alpine, Georgia and the surrender of Chattanooga to Thomas Crittenden. In spite of warning the farmers in McLemore Cove of the approaching Union Army, no intelligence had been forthcoming.
Then, on the evening of the 9th the 3rd Alabama Regiment (Confederate cavalry) in General William Martin's Division finally spotted a number of fires near Stevens Gap. It turned out to be Negrey's division encamped beneath Lookout Mountain and the horsemen had stumbled upon the center wing of William S. Rosecrans' Union Army of the Cumberland. Martin wired Bragg, reporting an initial troop strength of 4,000 to 8,000 men and that they were vulnerable to defeat in detail before withdrawing to Pigeon Mountain.
Early on September 10, as Negley left camp, the Confederate horsemen realized he did not have immediate support. Absolom Baird's men had not yet made it to the bottom of Steven's Gap. Upon arriving at Pigeon Mountain, Martin's men began to reinforce the front of Pat Cleburne's division with trees and rocks, intended to prevent a Union force from passing over the mountain.
The news of the cavalry's find was quickly forwarded to Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee at his headquarters in Lafayette, Georgia. Bragg wanted to keep Rosecrans west of Chickamauga Creek to protect the Western and Atlantic Railroad and his storage depot in Ringgold, Georgia and use the wide creek as a defensive barrier between the two armies.
Bragg summoned Thomas Hindman to Lee and Gordon Mill on the evening of the 9th and told him to prepare to attack the Union force the following day. He also told the Tennessean that his old friend Pat Cleburne would advance from Dug Gap in support of Hindman's move and that he should meet Cleburne or his commanding officer Daniel Harvey Hill at Davis Crossroads to finalize the attack.
The only problem with Bragg's plan was that Cleburne was firmly ensconced on Pigeon Mountain with a good deal of debris in front of him. Cleburne was also bedridden with a stomach ailment. Hindman began to march, as ordered, at 1:00am, and by daybreak his men put 9 miles between them and their starting position at Worthen's Gap.
Bragg chose to inform Cleburne of his orders through Daniel Harvey Hill, his commanding officer. Hill was not located until 4:30am on September 10th and only then did Hill report on Cleburne's condition. About 6:30am Hindman brought his troops to a halt 4 miles north of Davis Crossroads as his cavalry searched for Cleburne or Hill. At 8am Hill decided to move Simon Bolivar Buckner forward from his position to take advantage of the opportunity.
As Negrey reached the bottom of Stevens Gap on September 9th, he had little choice but to move his 2nd Division forward through McClemore Cove the following day because Brigadier General Absolom Baird's 1st Division had begun his movement down the gap road. After resting at the foot of Lookout Mountain on September 9th Negrey moved forward the following day. With Baird, whose lead division was reaching the bottom of the gap on September 10, Negrey planned to cross Pigeon Mountain and capture Lafayette. Convinced the Rebels were not in the area James Negley crossed Chickamauga Creek, boldly moving across McLemore Cove at the head of his column in marching formation and without skirmishers deployed.
Major General Negrey realized that the Rebels had deployed pickets when they began firing on his column. With haste he reformed into battle formation, sent out skirmishers, and continued forward movement to Davis Crossroads, where he determined to prepare his defenses for an attack in the face of increasing Rebel resistance. George Thomas rode in, spoke with Negrey and agreed with his decision to stop forward movement.
With Negrey's crossing of Chickamauga Creek Bragg's plans evolved from a simple attack to destroying Thomas's vanguard with a double envelopment using the troops of Hindman and Cleburne. The Confederate commander felt that a quick, sudden attack might separate the 2nd Division from the main force of George Thomas's army. As Negrey men settled into camp at Davis Crossroads they threw up a V-shaped set of breastworks on either side of the Stevens Gap - Dug Gap Road pointed towards Dug Gap.
Hindman's cavalry continued their search for Hill or Cleburne while Hill ordered Simon Bolivar Buckner to advance in support of Hindman in place of Cleburne. At 4:45pm Hindman and Buckner joined forces at Hindman's original stopping point. As night fell on the encamped Union forces, forward units of Baird's division began to arrive in support. Pickett duty fell to a single regiment of Negrey's 2nd Brigade.
Bragg arrived at Dug Gap with Daniel Harvey Hill early on the morning of September 11, 1863 and immediately sent orders to Hindman to pursue the attack. They rode off to find Pat Cleburne, then waited for the opening volley of Hindman's attack. Buckner deployed his men across McLemore Cove to prevent Negrey from trying to escape to the north and reaching Thomas Crittenden.
Hindman received his orders at 7:00am, but at 11:00 his men had covered only 2 of the four miles to Davis Crossroads. When the initial attack did not come as expected Bragg sent Hindman word that if he didn't think he could win he should withdraw through Catlett's Gap. Moments later, a second telegram arrived stating that Bragg felt there was a force of 12,000 in front of Dug Gap (there were still less than 5,000 men even with Baird's support).
Had Bragg been the kind of general to allow his men some leeway, Hindman might have attacked. Instead, he sought for clarification from Bragg on a minor matter. Bragg's response was the "attack ... must be made immediately." All morning long skirmishers and pickets had been exchanging fire. By 3:00pm the small arms file seemed to become continuous, normally indicating a battle was about to occur.
Negrey, headquartered at the Widow Davis' house, felt his chances were hopeless of withstanding a Rebel onslaught. He had reports of Buckner, Hindman and Cleburne all preparing to do battle. Hindman ordered Patton Anderson to lead the attack, striking the rear of Negrey's force on the east side of Chickamauga Creek.
An Rebel artillery volley began the action as skirmishers advanced followed closely by a battleline. To the rear Union troops saw Confederate cavalry preparing to make a strike. Union forces ordered their artillery behind Chickamauga Creek for protection, but the Rebel artillery had turned to grape-shot and canister and some of the Union artillery was simply left where it stood because the action was too "hot."
Some Rebels crossed Chickamauga Creek and pushed towards Bailey's Crossroads. Suddenly, Union artillery began responding to the Confederate fire from the far side of Chickamauga Creek, hurling shells into the Rebel line. That fire, thought to from the main body of Thomas's force, plus the waning daylight, forced Hindman to call off the attack. As September 11, 1863 drew to a close, Thomas Hindman was being reprimanded by Braxton Bragg.
It was the Battle of Davis Crossroads that warned Rosecrans that the Confederates were "in force" east of Lookout Mountain. Because of Bragg's willingness to attack, Rosecrans altered his plans to advance into Georgia's Ridge and Valley, perhaps even taking Rome. Instead, he would march, albeit slowly, toward the relative safety of Chattanooga.
For Bragg, it meant a series of communication errors resulted in a lost opportunity. He would have more before the battle of Chickamauga, underscoring his inability to handle the tactical command of even a small number of troops.
Georgia History Articles about North Georgia history and the state in general. This section is currently being developed. For more information on Georgia History, please see The Civil War in Georgia The Civil War in Georgia Beginning with the Great Locomotive Chase and the battle of Chickamauga, to the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea