Sunday, May 29, 2016

Prattville Dragoons May Camp Meeting - Part 2, The Battle of Chickamauga

Tyler Suttle provided a presentation on the historical novel on the Battle of Chickamauga he recently completed, "This Terrible Sound", part of a trilogy by Peter Cozzens. After the Battle of Stone River in the Tullahoma Campaign which was highlighted by the disastrous suicidal charge under Confederate General Bragg, his forces withdrew from Chattanooga on August 21st in the face of Union forces recently outfitted with repeating Spencer rifles.  Mj. Gen. William Rosecrans led the Union forces chasing Bragg and while he was a brilliant graduate of West Point, he was overconfident and didn't recognize the concentration of Confederate forces and how spread out his own forces were.  Bragg was also a West Point graduate class of 1827 and his faults included trust and personality issues.

Bragg's Army of Tennessee required reinforcements after the previous battle losses and received them from Longstreet and from Vicksburg. The Battle of Chickamauga was the second bloodiest battle of the War Between the States and started on September 19, 1863.  Chickamauga was Indian for River of Blood.

The Battle of Chickamauga commenced with a morning skirmish in Winfrey Field.  Confederates pushed the Federals back to Brock Field where the battle raged for 3-4 hours.  7th Indiana Private Jacob Miller was the first recipient of the U.S. Medal of Honor when he sustained facial/skull injuries and doctored himself to walk off the battlefield.

The East Viniard Field was where the fighting moved in the early afternoon with Confederates seeking to take the Lafayette Road for the infantry to hold the ground. Confederate General Benning's forces provided reinforcements.  Bodies were slain and laid so deep that it was said you could walk across the 300 yard wide field without stepping on grass, just on bodies.  Fighting lasted here into late afternoon around 5:30pm. Federals used grapeshot at close range in a crossfire pattern to hold the Confederates at bay but eventually the Union artillery and forces withdrew and some fled to Chattanooga.  The Wilder Tower Monument provides visitors to the battlefield park today a panoramic view of these fields.

Major General Patrick Cleburne's forces arrived for reinforcements in the Winfrey Field and starting at 6pm the fighting evolved into some of the first night time fighting of the war which resulted in many friendly fire casualties.  Col. Baldwin's Brigade set up breastworks which held until 7pm when after hand to hand combat, Baldwin was killed and the Federals retreated.

Night time falls and as the firing ceased you started to hear that terrible sound as wounded men lay dying in the battlefields, some burned alive as fires started by the artillery blasts burned brush and grass and consumed the men who couldn't move for their injuries.  Enemies provided humanitarian aid to enemy soldiers.

The next fighting the following day involved Major General Henry Thomas, commander of the Federal 14th Corps of the Cumberland, the "Rock of Chickamauga".  Bragg ordered an attack at 6am on August 22nd but orders were late and the charge was postponed until 9am. Some Confederate forces were led by Maj Gen. John Breckinridge who was formerly the youngest ever Vice President of the United States.  At 9:45am fighting was in Kelly Field and McDonald Field but a poorly executed charge led Breckinridge to be reminded of the disastrous charge at Stone River.

Fighting loved to Horseshoe Hill and Snodgrass Hill where the Federals held spots until 5-7pm.  South Carolina troops organized by Alabama troops led by future Alabama governor too Hill No. 1.  Fighting finally ceased at 10pm that night and the final Union troops retreated without any further Confederate attack.  General Nathan Bedford Forrest recon'd the area and saw the Federals in disarray and believed the Confederates could retake Chattanooga but Bragg ignored this suggestion/advice.

This battle was 18000 Confederate casualties and 16000 Union casualties. It was tactically a Confederate victory but the Confederates forfeited the opportunity to pursue and finally defeat the Federals. Many called for Bragg's dismissal but were rebutted by President Jefferson Davis.

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