A great victory at Chickamauga
September 26, 2019
As the morning of September 20, 1863 began, Confederate forces stood defiant amidst the hard won ground of the previous day's fighting. Longstreet's men now supported Bragg's fledgling forces and Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest stood prepared to deliver a crushing blow to Rosecrans forces.
At 10:15 am Bragg ordered a full frontal assault on the Union lines. As the frontal attack gained momentum Rosecrans made a fateful decision. At about 11 a.m., Rosecrans ordered General T.J. Wood to replace Brig. Gen. Brannan's division. In the confusion Brannan had not followed the order because the order was poorly written.
As bullets zipped into the surrounding hardwoods in the Chickamauga woods Brannan's forces left a serious gap in the Union lines. As a Union corps commander by the name of Alexander McCook feverishly attempted to fill the gap, Longstreet's entire wing of the army fell on the confused Union lines.
The result was that Longstreet's Virginians were able to attack the Union where they could not defend. As the Union high command poured over crinkled maps the sound of the rebel yell could be heard advancing through the forest like an invisible army.
The Union troops in the gap began a frantic retreat, carrying Rosecrans along with them, as well as McCook's and Crittenden's commands. By 1 p.m., Thomas was the sole commander left on the battlefield. He received word from Rosecrans to withdraw the troops to Rossville, Georgia, a few miles to the north in the direction of Chattanooga. But Thomas was pinned down by the Confederates. He began consolidating forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill.
With things going so well for the Confederates it would seem as though Bragg would now certainly move to annihilate the enemy. Bragg summoned Longstreet to his headquarters around 3pm. Longstreet reported the success of the day yet Bragg failed to see it as such. Even though victory had been obtained, victory had not been obtained on Bragg's terms.
Historian Shelby Foote would later analyze Bragg at Chickamauga this way "if Bragg could not win in just the way he wanted, he did not care about winning at all, or anyhow he wanted no personal share in such a victory." Such is the result from generals or politicians appointed for who they know, not what they know. Those appointed by such methods do a disservice to their republic and play a hoax on those they proport serve.
Longstreet now knew that total victory at Chickamauga would be entirely up to him. Longstreet readied himself for the attacks that could lead to the annihilation of the Federal army. Bushrod Johnson aligned his division and that of Hindman facing Snodgrass Hill, with Hood on his right and the division of William Preston in reserve. Joseph Kershaw coordinated the attacks.
Longstreet continued to pound Thomas' position on Snodgrass Hill with a total of 25 attacks lasting until sunset. As the sun began to set, the Union forces on Snodgrass Hill slowly sulked away to join the rest of their vanquished comrades in Chattanooga. As the fleeting rays of sunlight fell across the sky with streamers of amber and red, it must have seemed that even Heaven was celebrating the Confederate victory.
Longstreet ordered the ammunition boxes to be replenished and the men reequipped for the advance to continue in the early morning hours of the 21st. As the Union forces retreated through the woods the sound of the rebel yell filled the ravines and hillsides with such force and ferocity that Union survivors would remember it for years to come.
Yet back at Bragg's tent, he refused to believe the Union was actually retreating. A Confederate soldier who had been captured, but escaped, was produced to corroborate the story of the retreating Federals. Bragg still refused to believe. "Do you know what a retreat looks like?" he snapped at the soldier. The Confederate fired back, "I ought to, General; I've been with you during your whole campaign."
Nathan Bedford Forrest intended to pursue the Federals regardless of Bragg's instruction. After being given a direct order from Bragg not to pursue the Federals, Forrest informed Bragg that if he ever got in his way again he would personally kill Bragg. The Confederate high command thereafter moved Forrest to a different area to keep the feuding commanders apart.
Bragg eventually followed the Federals to Chattanooga and besieged the city, but not before the Federals could reinforce the city. The battle of Chickamauga had been a great success with regiments brought together from across the South to deliver a hammer blow to the Union forces.
Men such as John William McKinley, James Monroe McKinley, the Stacey brothers, and Monroe Cooper, all from South Alabama, were present for the fight. Soon these men would meet other challenges at Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain.