Friday, September 20, 2013

Battle of Chickamauga – Day 2

As the day dawned over the bloody field of Chickamauga on, Sunday, September 20th, William Rosecrans, commander of the Union army, was riding along his lines, encouraging the troops. They had been sorely tested the day before with several Confederate attacks nearly breaking their line, but Rosecrans urged them to fight on, saying, “Fight today as well as you did yesterday, and we shall whip them!”

Across the field, Confederate commander Braxton Bragg had planned to attack at daylight, but the orders he had sent to D. H. Hill had been lost. When morning came Hill was unprepared, still getting his troops into position. They would attack on their right, where the Federal right had formed into a semicircle around the Kelly House. The Yankees had spent their night profitably, building breastworks to better defend themselves. Finally, at about 9:45 am, the Confederate attack began.

On the Confederate far right was Breckinridge's division. It was in such a position that his two rightmost brigades extended beyond the left of George Thomas's breastworks. Thomas, seeing that he was flanked, requested reinforcements. He withdrew two brigades from his line and threw them in front of Breckinridge. They fought hard, and although they were driven back, they bought enough time for Van Cleve to bring his division up from the right. Thomas was able to hold back the Confederate attack with these troops, but he did not feel his line was secure. As the battle raged, he requested Rosecrans to send him more troops from the center and right. Breckinridge and Cleburne continued to press forward, meeting heavy resistance. Liddell's and Gist's men were brought up and the attack was renewed, but fresh Union troops were moved to that portion of the line and no progress could be made. Stewart's division gained some success, but they were driven back by a Federal counter attack. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry were dismounted and fighting on foot. When Hill saw them, he asked what infantry they were. When he was told they were Forrest's cavalry, he said:
General Forrest, I wish to congratulate you and those brave men moving across that field like veteran infantry upon their magnificent behavior. In Virginia I made myself extremely unpopular with the cavalry because I said I had not seen a dead man with spurs on. No one could speak disparagingly of such troops as yours.
By noon, the attacks slowed down. Polk and Bragg had failed to break Thomas's line, protected as it was by breastworks. As on the previous day, Bragg had not concentrated enough strength on one point to crush the line, and instead dispersed the blow. But Rosecrans had a problem. Because of the heavy pressure on the left, he had sent Thomas many reinforcements, leaving only four divisions on the right.

It was Longstreet's turn to attack. Because of all the troops rushed to Thomas, a hole had developed in the center of the Union line. Rosecrans had received false information about a gap in his line, and in giving orders to correct it, actually created a gap. Longstreet got permission from Bragg to attack with his wing. Instead of the piecemeal attacks used in the battle so far, throwing in only one a division at a time, Longstreet marshaled four divisions with which to crush the Federals. He ordered his men forward at 11:15 am. Confederate Bushrod Johnson wrote:
The scene now presented was unspeakably grand. The resolute and impetuous charge, the rush of our heavy columns sweeping out from the shadow and gloom of the forest into the open fields flooded with sunlight, the glitter of arms, the onward dash of artillery and mounted men, the retreat of the foe, the shouts of the hosts of our army, the dust, the smoke, the noise of fire-arms—of whistling balls and grape-shot and of bursting shell—made up a battle scene of unsurpassed grandeur.

Longstreet's men went right through the hole in the Federal line, past the Brotherton Farm, crushing any resistance they encountered. By noon he was a mile deep in the Federal center, having capturing 17 cannon and over 1000 prisoners along the way. Soon the entire left and center of the Yankee line was one race to get away from Longstreet's advancing men. But the Texas Brigade was struck with a counterattack from a Union unit, and driven into retreat. Hood, seeing his old brigade in full retreat, rode to rally them. He was shot through the leg, and carried off the field. Although such woods were frequently fatal during, he had his leg amputated and survived. This left him with only two limbs, as he had lost the use of his arm in another battle.

Having crushed through the Union center, Longstreet ordered his men to execute a right wheel and turn on Thomas. This complicated maneuver took time to preform, and during the lull he ordered that his men be fed to prepare them for further fighting. Bragg was annoyed that his battle plan had was unsuccessful, and that Longstreet had developed his own plan, and it was winning the day. So he rode off the field and left the management of the battle to his subordinates.

Bragg was not the only commander leaving the field. Rosecrans himself, joined by two of his corps commanders and thousands of men, was making off as fast as possible, believing further defense useless. Most officers completely lost their heads and tried to get away just like the common soldiers. But not all of the Federals were retreating. George Thomas remained on the field to organize the Union defense, and his firmness in stemming the Union rout would earn him the title the “Rock of Chickamauga.” He established a line of defense on Horseshoe Ridge, at right angles to the original position. Many Federals rallied there, still determined to resist the victorious southerners. They declared with resolution, “We will hold this ground or go to heaven from it.”

Through the afternoon waves of Confederates attacked Thomas's troops on Horseshoe Ridge. At 4:30 pm Longstreet's troops advanced. The fighting centered around Snodgrass Hill, upon which Longstreet made 25 attacks. The Federals were holding firm with hard fighting, but Thomas knew that this could not last forever. He was attacked on two sides by forces twice his number. He realized that at some point the position had to fold, and so he determined to conduct an orderly retreat. The gradual retreat began at 5:30 pm and continued over the next two hours. A rearguard of three regiments was left to defend the hill to the last. When they ran out of ammunition, they stood firm with bayonets. Refusing to abandon the position, they were finally surrounded and forced to surrender.

Horseshoe Ridge
The Federals retreated during the evening, routed but not destroyed. Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga had been able to put up a last ditch defense so that the Union army was saved from complete destruction. This good defense would have important implications in the campaign, and it prevented a Union army from being nearly wiped off the map.

The Confederates were elated at their victory, the first real victory won by Bragg's army. They let out cheers the like of which would be never heard again. They had captured 8000 prisoners, 51 cannon, over 23,000 rifles and much ammunition and other supplies. It was the largest quantity of supplies captured in one battle in the war. But it had been a costly battle. Rosecrans had lost 16,170 men, Bragg, 18,454. The total of almost 35,000 was a huge number. It was the second bloodiest battle of the war, only exceeded by Gettysburg. D. H. Hill wrote after the war,
There was no more splendid fighting in '61, when the flower of the Southern youth was in the field, than was displayed in those bloody days of September, '63. But it seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Cickamauga .... He fought stoutly to the last, but, after Cickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Battle of Chickamauga – Day 1

On September 18th Braxton Bragg's advance units encountered the Union army and captured a crossing over Chickamauga Creek. But as had been done several times during this campaign, the Confederates failed to exploit any surprise they might have gained. When he advanced on September 19th, 150 years ago today, the fighting would develop into one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War.

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
These northern soldiers encountered much more resistance than they anticipated from men which turned out to be Forrest's cavalry men on the Confederate flank. The battle swayed back and forth throughout the morning as each side, threw more men into the increasing fight on the northern portion of the battle. Colonel John T. Wilder wrote this portion of the fight lines which apply well to the entire battle:
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
The fighting was furious in the thick woods of Chickamauga. In the rolling, wooded ground, commanders could see little, and it was what historian Steven Woodworth called “a soldier's battle.” As the day progressed, each side brought up more troops to add to the battle in the upper part of the field. The third wave of men Bragg threw into the fight was the division of Alexander Stewart. He was ordered to move to the Confederate right, but instead he attacked the left on his own authority. It was an opportune moment, and hitting three of Thomas's brigades around Brotherton Farm, he drove them into a rout after a fierce fight he drove them into a rout. The rebels rushed through the woods after the retreating bluecoats, and succeeded in crossing the Lafayette road. George Thomas brought up two more divisions and threw them into the fight against Stewart, driving the weary men back.

Brotherton Farm
Seeing an opportunity John Bell Hood ordered in his Texas division from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to aid Stewart, striking on the left of his position. Hood's gallant boys chard through the woods and again broke the Federal line. Pressing forward, they penetrated so deep that some units were very close to Rosecrans's headquarters. But at this critical juncture two more Federal divisions arrived from the south, and falling into line, halted Hood's men and pushed them back some distance.

September 19, evening
As darkness was falling over the bloody field, Bragg ordered Patrick Cleburne's men to make another attack on the Union left, where there had been a lull in the fighting. Cleburne's three brigades stretched a mile through the woods, and they rushed forward, striking hard the blue line with twice their numbers. One Federal wrote of the attack:
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.
Confederate attack
Cleburne's men pushed the Federals back, but were ultimately unable to break the line. When darkness made further fighting impossible, the men made camp all across the battlefield wherever they happened to be. The Confederates could hear the Federals digging entrenchments that they would have to attack the next morning. Both sides suffered as they lay on the fields over which they had fought. As one Yankee recorded,
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
The day's fighting was over. The Confederates had hit the Federals hard. On several occasions they had even penetrated the line. But in the end, Union reinforcements arrived and the Confederates were unable to give the final blow to rout them. Confederate General D. H. Hill explained what he thought had hindered their success:
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.

The Chickamauga Campaign

In Tennessee in the summer of 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland under William Rosecrans was still facing Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee. In the Tullahoma Campaign Rosecrans had brilliantly outmaneuvered Bragg and nearly without bloodshed forced him back to Chattanooga, on the Tennessee-Georgia border. Rosecrans did not follow Lincoln's instructions and continue to press the Confederates. The Confederate army held an important position at Chattnooga. It was surrounded by mountains, and was an important rail hub – the gateway to the southern heartland. There was much dissension in the Confederate command. Bragg had won some successes as a combat commander, but had alienated his subordinates by his unpleasantness and his tendency to retreat after victories. President Davis urged him to go on the offensive, but the terrain was difficult in the area, and he would rather wait for Rosecrans to move against.

Towards the end of August that's just what happened. Rosecrans sent a cavalry unit called the Lightning Brigade, who were armed with repeating rifles and commanded by John Wilder to distract Bragg. They were positioned to the northeast of Chattanooga, and began shelling the town over several weeks. Meanwhile the rest of the Union army moved to the southwest of the city. When Bragg realized that he had been duped, he thought he had no choice but to retreat, abandoning Chattanooga on September 6th.

As the Confederates retreated into northern Georgia, Rosecrans pursued with three columns. He believed that the rebels were demoralized, and allowed his units to become separated in the mountainous terrain. The center Union column under George Thomas had rushed forward to seize mountain gaps, and Bragg ordered an attack on his men's position at Davis's Cross Roads in the front and flank. But expected reinforcements did not arrive to the units directed to make the attack, and their commanders agreed not to strike. Next morning more troops did arrive, but by that time the Union forces had been strengthened, and fell back skirmishing with the Confederates, having got word of the attack.

In this mangled movement the Confederates had missed a major opportunity, and Bragg was infuriated with the failure of his subordinates to obey orders. Bragg turned his focus to try to isolate and attack the left-most column of the Federal advance. In this movement his ranks would be greatly strengthened. The Confederate War Department had decided to reinforce him with James Longstreet's First Corps from Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. They would arrive by train in a few days, nearly stepping off of the cars into battle. In a council of war on September 15th Bragg and the other Confederate generals agreed on an advance towards Chattanooga and Rosecrans's rapidly concentrating army. This movement would culminate in a battle along Chickamauga Creek. Due to the sudden arrival of the Confederate reinforcements, the southerners would have the numerical advantage, one of the few times in the entire war.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Developments in Charleston Harbor

In the first weeks of September, 1863, the fighting continued as the Federals tried to overcome the Confederate defenses guarding Charleston, South Carolina. In July, the Union troops had landed on Morris Island and attacked Fort Wagner, but several attacks had been disastrously repulsed. They settled into a siege, maintaining a regular bombardment of the works. For two months the fort held out against the Union attacks. But near the end of August the Yankees were able to capture the line of rifle pits outside the fort, and began turning them into a siege lines. Subjected to constant bombardment, with only 400 men left to defend the fort and the Union lines drawing ever closer, P. G. T. Beauregard, Confederate commander in Charleston, ordered the fort abandoned on the night of September 6th. The next day the Federals occupied the works.

Ironclads Bombard Fort Moultrie
That same day the Union designs on Fort Sumter were moved forward. The first battle of the war had been fought there two years before when the Union garrison was forced to surrender after a bombardment. In subsequent fighting the walls had been reduced to a rubble, but still the garrison held firm. Beauregard withdrew the artillery crews from the position, as every gun had been dismounted, and replaced them with 320 infantry. The Union fleet demanded the surrender of the fort on September 7th, but the Confederates refused. The position was virtually useless, but it had great symbolic value.

Fort Sumter
The next night a naval landing party was sent to Fort Sumter. From all that they could tell from the ships, the Union commanders believed that the fort was a rubble and they would just have to brush away a few guards. One officer that attacked the fort wrote of the attack, saying,
As we neared Sumter we were hailed loudly by the enemy, but no answer was returned. Simultaneously a rocket was sent up from the fort, and almost as it exploded the air was filled with hissing, shrieking missiles from the James and Sullivan's Island batteries, which seemed alive with fire, while an iron-clad was pouring grape and canister into the boats and sweeping the approaches to the gorge. The parapets and crown of Sumter were filled with men pouring a murderous fire down on our defenseless party, and heavy missiles and hand grenades helped on the work of destruction. Before this fire had fully developed, two boats from the Powhatan and others had effected a landing. ... Under these conditions but one expedient was left - to effect an early withdrawal. ... We found [our loss] amounted to 124 killed, wounded and missing, out of 400 men.
The landing force had been completely defeated, and some who could not withdraw surrendered. Union bombardments continued, but the fort was held until Sherman advanced into South Carolina in February, 1865.

Union troops digging a trench