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Before Chickamauga
About North Georgia

Introduction

Repeated attempts to stall the Army of the Cumberland's advance into Georgia had failed to do anything but warn the corps commander, William S. Rosecrans, of the presence of a large force of Confederates that he was not expecting. The Confederate Army of Tennessee were in the process of being reinforced by men from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia when Braxton Bragg decided to commit his army to battle on the morning of September 15, 1863.

Bragg's strategy

Bragg wanted to interpose his forces between Rosecrans and the city of Chattanooga, forcing the Union general to either attack the Army of Tennessee or withdraw into the gaps of Lookout Mountain where Bragg's men could attack them individually. His corps commanders, Leonidas Polk, Daniel Harvey Hill, and William H. T. Walker agreed with Bragg's plan. James Longstreet, heading to the battle by train from Virginia, had not yet arrived. During the meeting of September_15, 1863 with his commanders, Polk came up with the idea of distracting Thomas Crittenden at Lee and Gordon Mill while Confederates cross Chickamauga Creek at the fords and bridges on Polk's right flank. Bragg did not issue specific orders.

The Confederates wait

September 16th saw a day of waiting for both armies. Crittenden's men were waiting for the other corps to join them at Lee and Gordon's Mill while Bragg's commanders were waiting for orders. When the Confederate orders finally arrived late in the day they created more questions than answers, a typical problem with Bragg. For example, he ordered three crossings (Reed's Bridge, Alexander's Bridge and Byram's Ford) be held by cavalry but did not state what should happen to the others.

As Bragg was detailing his plans to his commanders at Gordon Hall in Lafayette, Georgia, Rosecrans vanguard, the 21st Corps under Thomas Crittenden, reached Lee and Gordon's mill on Chickamauga Creek. Rosecrans moved his headquarters to the Gordon-Lee mansion, near the mill. With 15 miles separating the two commanders, they were closer to each other than they were to most of their armies.

Rosecrans ponders his options

William Rosecrans
Since September 10 Rosecrans had realized that Bragg was not retreating, at least not at the speed Rosecrans had expected. In fact, Bragg had decided to fight to protect his stores in Ringgold and try to prevent the industrial center of Rome, Georgia from falling into enemy hands. James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee's right-hand man, was on his way to support Bragg in the Western Theater.

Rosecrans decided retreating into the gaps of Lookout Mountain was a bad idea because Bragg might pursue his armies in detail and do serious damage to at least one corps. Moving east towards the Western and Atlantic Railroad seemed impossible to the Union commander, which left him with the option of regrouping in Chattanooga, first recommended by George Thomas on September 10. On September 14th, Rosecrans began to organize for his movement along the Lafayette-Chattanooga Road towards Chattanooga.

Thomas Crittenden's corps would hold the vicinity of Lee and Gordon's Mill while George Thomas and Alexander McCook sidled north behind him. Once around Crittenden, Thomas and McCook would form a line while the Kentucky general moved behind them. It is a very complex movement for a large army, and Rosecrans chose to manage the movements at brigade and division level. He moved to the Lee and Gordon Mansion to manage the movement on September 16 and his adjutant, Brigadier General James Garfield informed division commanders that the Rebels appeared to massing on their left flank.

Later that day the arrival of Major General Alexander McCook at Stevens Gap meant the Army of the Cumberland was finally fairly close together, in a line 40 miles long starting at Chattanooga. Only the two brigades left to protect Dougherty Gap (at the south end of McClemore Cove where Pigeon Mountain and Lookout Mountain join) were detached on orders from Rosecrans.

September 18th was a day of consolidation for Rosecrans. Thomas moved north of Crittenden and McCook was in the process of moving north on Lafayette Road. Rosecrans had been alerted by his Lookout Mountain observers to the presence of a large number of Rebels. As Rosecrans moved north he assigned Colonels Robert Minty and John Wilder to guard Reed's Bridge and Alexander's Bridge respectively. Minty chose a position near Peavine Ridge (spelled Pea-Vine at the time) while Wilder chose to screen himself with Chickamauga Creek against an approaching brigade. As the Rebels approached Peavine, Minty counted 34 regiments with no indication that the advance would slow.

Bragg Advances

As Rosecrans issued hundreds of individual orders during the day on September 17, Bragg issued a single "circular" early on September 18th from his new position at Leet's Tanyard, pressing forward elements of Longstreet's Corps to move west from Ringgold, Georgia across Peavine Ridge to Chickamauga Creek at Reed's Bridge while most of Bragg's Army of Tennessee were to concentrate at Lee and Gordon Mill.

The 34 regiments that Robert Minty saw approaching his position on Peavine Creek at 11:00am on the morning of the 18th were the vanguard of Longstreet's Corps, disembarking at Ringgold and Catoosa Station, then riding west. Leading Longstreet's Corps was Johnson's Brigade under Colonel John S. Fulton. Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson, from whom the brigade took its name, had been made provisional commander of the division.

Aware of the Yankees in front of him, Johhson regrouped at Peeler's Mill before continuing his advance. Fulton's men quickly ran into Minty's skirmish line in front of the position on Peavine Ridge. After a brief exchange, the skirmish line withdrew to safer harbor, behind the Chicago Board of Trade battery. Minty sent the battery forward to buy time as he tried to get support from any number of people including John Wilder guarding Alexander Bridge.

Wilder, however, had his own problems. Brigadier General Robert Waltham and his Mississippians began an attack about 1:00pm, striking Alexander Bridge from the south. Using their famous Spencer Rifles, Wilder's men inflicted heavy causualities on the Mississipians.

When Bushrod Johnson claimed the top of Peavine Ridge he realized that he had been fighting less than a thousand Yankees with more than 5,000 Rebels. He ordered a general advance, nearly catching Minty on the business side of Reed's Bridge. His men were only a few yards from the bridge as the last of Minty's men crossed Chickamauga Creek.

John Bell Hood, who had earlier arrived at Ringgold, reached the vanguard of his division shortly after Bushrod Johnson completed a crossing using the bridge for his cannon and stores while pushing the majority of his infantry across Fowler's Ford just south of the bridge. Once across Chickamauga Creek Hood tried to sweep to the south as Bragg had instructed, but it was clear from the obstacles delaying Hood's movement that Bragg had not scouted the land.

Hood's movement south almost immediately endangered Wilder's position at Alexander Bridge. Wilder ordered a retreat and after a final volley from Eli Lilly's battery Wilder's brigade headed off to the safety of Lee and Gordon Mill, while Alexander Bridge burned in the background.

Controversy on the starting date

Some historians believe the starting date of the battle of Chickamauga should be September 18. The dates of battle have traditionally been given as September 19 - September 20, 1863. We agree with the starting date of Septembeer 19 because there was no continuity between the skirmishes for Reed's Bridge and Alexander's Bridge and the main action at Chickamauga. These fights were over at 4:00pm, while the heavy fighting of the next day did not begin until 11:am and was further west of the bridges.


See Also

Chickamauga Campaign
Battle of Davis Crossroads
Before Chickamauga
Chickamauga

Other Links

Chickamauga Battlefield The battlefield becomes a national park
Battle of Chickamauga books Our favorite books on Chickamauga

County: Walker County
Catoosa County

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

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Before Chickamauga
Braxton Bragg
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Chickamauga Battlefield
Chickamauga Campaign
Daniel Harvey Hill
George Thomas
James Garfield
James Longstreet
John Bell Hood
Leonidas Polk
Lookout Mountain
Robert E. Lee
William S. Rosecrans

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