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Granger saves the Federal Right
at Chickamauga
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Gordon Granger
Moving east to Chickamauga Creek during an unusual late summer cold spell, Major General Gordon Granger and his Reserve Corps advanced to Rossville, Georgia on September_14, 1863 to hold a pivotal mountain pass to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The northern echelon of the Army of the Cumberland, men from the Reserve Corps had continued on to destroy Reed's Bridge when Confederate forces made first contact with the Union Army in the vicinity of Jay's Mill shortly after midnight on September_19, 1864. Fighting developed along a broad front after sunrise that morning. Granger watched the battle of Chickamauga from a log cabin known as The Ross House.

At 11:10am on September_20, 1863, the major-general jumped off a large haystack he had climbed to better observe the developing situation at the northern end of the battlefield. Granger ordered his men forward. When his adjutant questioned the decision Granger replied, "I am going to Thomas, orders or no orders." It was a move that not only saved the Federal forces remaining on the field at Chickamauga but may well have saved the entire Union Army in the West.

Brigadier General John B. Steedman was in motion within 20 minutes, with Granger and his staff riding in advance of the column. Moving south from McAfee Church he left Dan McCook with a brigade to protect Rossville Gap. As General Granger and most of the 5400 men in his command advanced towards the noise and smoke, Nathan Bedford Forrest's Rebel cavalrymen, guarding the Army of Tennessee's right flank, fired on them. Some troops stopped to engage this dismounted cavalry unit as the rest of the Reserve Corps headed south towards the sounds of battle.

Soon they came upon increasing numbers of Rebel skirmishers. At a field hospital established in the Cloud House, a group of Forrest's men were caught in the middle of a raid and quickly driven away by Grangers men. Continuing south they witnessed growing evidence of a tremendous battle. Dozens of small fires burned, ambling across fields that days before had been full of crops. Fallen trees were everywhere, some formed into abatis, some scattered randomly like matchsticks. What happened here was sudden, catching Union soldiers off-guard. Bodies of Rebels and Yanks side-by-side, most dead but some still dying.

...we passed through a narrow skirt of woods and across a field which had been fired by the shells in previous conflict on that ground early in the day. A more desolate sight never met the eye. The entire country seemed to be one smoking, burning sea of ruin. Through this blazing field we marched, while the rebel[sic] battery played upon us with spherical case, shell, and almost every conceivable missile of death.

Lt. Col. D. W. Magee, Commanding,
86th Illinois
Official Records
George Henry Thomas was watching the obviously large group advancing on his rear, but was more concerned about General John Bell Hood's men directly in front of him as he struggled to form a southern line on Snodgrass Hill. An officer using the general's binoculars assured Thomas the troops were Union. Thomas dispatched a staff officer, who upon seeing the blue uniforms rode up to inform Granger of the bleak situation. The right flank had given way, William S. Rosecrans, McCook and Crittenden had fled the battle and only Thomas, the Virginian who never retreated, remained.

Snodgrass Cabin by John McCormick. Award-winning Chattanooga artist John McCormick captures the solitude of the Snodgrass Cabin in this water-color. On September 20, 1863, it was a the center of the last Federal stand at Chickamauga.
At one o'clock Granger stepped briskly up to Thomas and shook his hand. He had covered 4 miles in an hour and a half in spite of two significant skirmishes. They quickly dispensed with formalities and Thomas pointed towards Confederates driving towards the ridgeline less than half a mile from his headquarters. "Those men must be driven back," Thomas stated in a matter of fact manner, "Can you do it?" "Yes," replied Granger.

As Granger returned to his men Rebels were engaging Union soldiers along a horseshoe ridge. Granger's men were ordered to stabilize the area to the right of Hill 3. Slightly more than halfway up the hill they stopped briefly to catch their breath. No longer were they just facing the constant popping of muskets. The roar of captured artilley joined in the cacophony of sound. From Granger's official report:

As rapidly as possible I formed General Whitaker's and Colonel Mitchell's brigades, to hurl them against this threatening force of the enemy, which afterward proved to be General Hindman's division. The gallant Steedman, seizing the colors of a regiment, led his men to the attack. With loud cheers they rushed upon the enemy, and, after a terrific conflict lasting but twenty minutes, drove them from their ground, and occupied the ridge and gorge.

The Rebels launched two determined assaults to retake the ground. Both failed. Now ammunition was in short supply not only for Steedman's men, but all the Union forces. During the advance Granger had given his reserve ammunition to other companies as they approached Thomas' headquarters. It seemed, however, that the Rebels might not try a third attack. Both the charge and the subsequent counter-attacks had been devastating to Granger's Corps. 80% of his senior staff was either injured or dead, including Steedman, who had been wounded.

In the wild retreat of the Union forces after the Confederate breakthrough at the Brotherton Cabin, Thomas had quickly formed line near his headquarters on Snodgrass Hill. A large gap separated this line from his men along today's Battleline Road. Thomas left to inspect his left flank and prepare for withdrawal. As senior officer, Granger was placed in charge. Just before 6pm the Rebels prepared for another assault. A commander approached and asked Granger what to do. "Fix bayonets and charge," Granger replied. He had no other options. There was no more ammunition.

Rebels pushed forward along a broad front, facing a line of Union soldiers rarely more than one man deep. Unit commanders walked behind their men telling them to stay down until the command came to move. Closer marched the Confederates, their gray uniforms now stained with red. When the Rebels reached a point less than 50 feet from the Union lines, the commanders screamed, almost in unison, "Forward, Forward" and the line of soldiers rose and advanced.

The two lines met with a fury unlike that of men firing at each other. Slowly the Federals gained the upper hand, driving the attackers back across the entire front. At one point the Union advance was so fierce it actually broke through the Rebel lines.

Confederate commanders attempted two additional assaults of the Union line. Both failed. At 7pm, less than five hours after he arrived, Granger received orders from Thomas to withdraw to Rossville.

From William Rosecrans
Major-General Granger, by his promptitude, arrived and carried his troops into action in time to save the day. He deserves the highest praise.

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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Army of the Cumberland
Chattanooga, Tennessee
George Henry Thomas
John Bell Hood
Nathan Bedford Forrest
Official Records
William S. Rosecrans

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