As the Confederate units prepared to move toward the Yankees, they did not know the information on which their plan was based was faulty. The Federal troops were further north than they expected. Bragg had planned to strike Crittenden's crops, at Lee and Gordon's Mill, which he assumed was Rosecrans's left flank. What he did not know was that the Union command had moved Thomas's corps beyond Crittenden. The battle began almost by accident this morning, with a skirmish over water resulting in a Union division being sent to clear off what was believed to be a single Confederate brigade on the west side of Chickamauga Creek. In fact, it was the entire rebel army.
|September 19, Morning|
All this talk of generalship displayed on either side is sheer nonsense. There was no generalship in it. It was a soldier's fight purely, wherein the only question involved was the question of endurance. The two armies came together like two wild beats, and each fought as long as it could stand up in a knock-down and drag-out encounter. If there had been any high order of generalship displayed, the disasters to both armies might have been less.
|September 19, Afternoon|
|September 19, evening|
On they come, in the very face of fire and lead, until the strike the right of our regiment... but when too close to load and fire, the rebels were clubbed over the head and checked for the moment, while, instinctively, both sides recoiled a few steps without breaking the lines, and with that cool, deliberate determination and recklessness which characterizes all soldiers after breathing an atmosphere strongly impregnated with powder smoke, these deadly foes practiced the art of loading and firing in a manner that I believe was never surpassed on any battle field during the rebellion.
How we suffered that night no one knows. Water could not be found; the rebels had possession of the Chickamauga, and we had to do without. Few of us had blankets, and the night was very cold. All looked with anxiety for the coming of dawn; for although we had given the enemy a rough handling, he had certainly used us very hard.
|Daniel Harvey Hill|
Unfortunately for the Confederates, there was no general advance, as there might have been along the whole line - an advance that must have given a more decisive victory on the 19th than was gained on the 20th. It was desultory fighting from right to left, without concert, and at inopportune times. It was the sparring of the amateur boxer, and not the crushing blows of the trained pugilist.Bragg did not focus on one area of the Union line and throw all his strength into it. He had come close to victory, two attacks came within sight of the Federal headquarters, but not enough reserved arrived to finish the blow. He moved his focus the line. Aiming everywhere, he hit nowhere hard enough.
Although the attacks had been uncoordinated and the Federals had not been broken, the Confederates were hopeful for the morrow. More of Longstreet's men arrived from Virginia late that night, bringing fresh reinforcements to Bragg. Bragg reorganized the army into two wings, the right was given to Leonidas Polk and the left to Longstreet. This arrangement offended the testy, D. H. Hill, the other Lieutenant General on the field, who was angry that he was not made a wing commander.
On the other side of the field Rosecrans held a council of war with his generals. They agreed that an attempt to attack would be futile, as they had only a few fresh troops and were outnumbered by the Confederates. Rosecrans decided not to retreat, hoping that Bragg would fall back the next day, as he had at Perryville and Murfresborro. But Bragg would not retreat, and the terrible fighting would resume the next day.