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Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
Chapter 31a - Battle of Chickamauga.
Tactical Features—The Battle opened by Direct Attack on the Federals in the Early Morning of September 20—Repeated and Determined Front Assaults—Brigadiers Helm killed and Adams wounded—The Union Commands lay behind Defences—Hood's Brigades surged through the Forest against the Covered Infantry and Artillery— Hood wounded—Longstreet suggests a Plan for Progressive Action- Halting Tactics at High Tide of Success—The Confederate Left fought a Separate Battle—General Thomas retreats—First Confederate Victory in the West, and one of the Bloodiest Battles of the War—Forces engaged—Losses.


SATISFIED that the opening of the battle was to be the attack against his left, the Union commander ordered Negley's division out from its position near the Glen House to report to General Thomas and assist in meeting the attack, but only Beattie's brigade was in time for that service, the other brigades waiting to be relieved from their positions in line. Meanwhile, Baird's left had been extended by Dodge's brigade of Johnson's division of the Twentieth Corps.

Before the Confederate commander engaged his battle he found the road between the enemy's left and Chattanooga open, which gave him opportunity to interpose or force the enemy from his works to open battle to save his line. But .he preferred his plan of direct attack as the armies stood, and opened his battle by attack of the right wing at 9.30 A.M. of the 20th. He was there, and put the corps under Lieutenant-General D. H. Hill to the work. Breckenridge's and Cleburne's divisions, Breckenridge on the right, overreached the enemy's left by two brigades, Stovall's and Adams's, but the other brigade, Helm's, was marched through the wood into front assault of the enemy behind his field-works. This brigade made desperate repeated and gallant battle until the commander Benjamin H. Helm, one of the most promising brigadiers was killed, when its aggressive work was suspended.

The other brigades crossed the Chattanooga road changed front, and bore down against the enemy's left This gave them favorable ground and position. They made resolute attack against Baird's left, threatening his rear, but he had troops at hand to meet them. They had a four-gun battery of Slocum's of the Washington Artillery, and encountered Dodge's brigade and parts of Willick's, Berry's, and Stanley's, and superior artillery. In the severe contention General Adams fell seriously hurt, and the brigades were eventually forced back to and across the road, leaving General Adams on the field.

A separate attack was then made by Cleburne's division, the brigades of Polk and Wood assaulting the breast-works held by the divisions of Johnson and Palmer. These brigades, after severe fight, were repulsed, and their positions were covered by Deshler's brigade. General Deshler received a mortal wound from a fragment of shell, leaving the brigade in the hands of the gallant Colonel Roger Q. Mills (our afterwards distinguished statesman). General Thomas called repeatedly for reinforcements, and received assurances that they were coming, even to include the army if necessary to hold the left.

Johnson's brigade of Cheatham's division was ordered to support the brigade under Colonel Mills, and the reserve corps under General W. H. T. Walker (Gist's and Liddell's divisions) was ordered into the Breckenridge battle, Gist's brigade against the left angle of the breastworks, and Walthall's to the place of Cleburne's division. The other brigade of Gist's division supported the battle of his own brigade, and General Liddell was ordered with Govan's brigade to advance, passing beyond the enemy's left to the Chattanooga road, and wheel to the left against his left rear. The troops, without exception, made a brave, desperate fight, but were unsuccessful, and forced to suspend aggressive work.

As the grand wheel to the left did not progress, I sent, at eleven o'clock, to say to General Bragg that my column of attack could probably break the enemy's line if he cared to have it go in. Before answer came, General Stewart, commanding my right division, received a message from General Bragg to go in and attack by his division, and reported that the Confederate commander had sent similar orders to all division commanders. He advanced, and by his severe battle caused the Union reserve division under General Brannan to be drawn to the support of that front, and this attack, with that of the divisions of our right against those of Baird, Johnson, Palmer, and Reynolds, so disturbed General Thomas that other reinforcements were called to support his defence.

General Stewart was in hot engagement before word reached me that the battle had been put in the hands of division commanders; but my orders reached General Hood in time to hold him and commanders on his left before he received notice from the commanding general, and the brigades of Kershaw and Humphreys were ordered nearer the rear of his column. The divisions of B. R. Johnson and Hindman were ordered to follow in close echelon on Hood's left. Buckner's pivoting division under Preston was left to the position to which the Confederate chief had assigned it.

In our immediate front were the parts of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps in two lines covered by rail defences and well-posted batteries. At the early surging of his lines through the forest, General Hood came under the fire of this formidable array of artillery and infantry, and found his lines staggering under their galling missiles, and fast losing strength as the fire thickened. His leading brigade was decimated, but his others pushed to the front to take and pursue the assault. The divisions of B. R. Johnson and Hindman were pressed hard on Hood's left, and the brigades of Kershaw and Humphreys closed to his support, when a bold push gave us the first line of the enemy and a large number of his guns; but General Hood was fearfully wounded, supposed to be fatally ; General Benning, of his " Rock Brigade," lost his horse, and thought General Hood was killed. He cut a horse loose from a captured gun, mounted, and using part of a rope trace as his riding whip, rode to meet me and report disaster. He had lost his hat in the melee, and the brigade disappeared under the steady crushing fire so quickly that he was a little surprised. He reported, " General Hood killed, my horse killed, my brigade torn to pieces, and I haven't a man left." I asked if he didn't think he could find one man. The question or the manner seemed to quiet somewhat his apprehensions and brought affirmative answer, when he was told to collect his men and join us at the front; that we had broken and carried the first line; that Johnson's division, on his left, was then in the breach and pushing on, with Hindman on his left, spreading battle to the enemy's limits; that Stewart's division would hold it on our right, and the brigades of Kershaw and Humphreys then on the quick step would be with us in a minute and help restore the battle to good organization. Just then these two brigades burst through the brush in cheerful, gallant march, and brought him back to his usual courageous, hopeful confidence.

As we approached a second line, Johnson's division happened to strike it while in the act of changing position of some of the troops, charged upon and carried it, capturing some artillery, Hood's and Hindman's troops pressing in close connection. This attack forced the parts of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps from that part of the field, back over Missionary Ridge, in disordered retreat, and part of Negley's division of the Fourteenth Corps by the same impulsion. As our right wing had failed of the progress anticipated, and had become fixed by the firm holding of the enemy's left, we could find no practicable field for our work except by a change of the order of battle from wheel to the left, to a swing to the right on my division under General Stewart. The fire of the enemy off my right readily drew Hood's brigades to that bearing. Johnson's and Hindman's divisions were called to a similar move, and Buckner's pivotal division under General Preston, but General Buckner objected to having his left " in the air."

Presently a discouraging account came from General Hindman, that in the progress of his battle his left and rear had been struck by a formidable force of cavalry; that Manigault's brigade was forced back in disorder, and his other brigades exposed on their open left could not be handled. I wrote him a note commending the brave work of his division, and encouraging renewed efforts; urged him to have his brigades in hand, and bring them around to close connection on Johnson's left.

On the most open parts of the Confederate side of the field one's vision could not reach farther than the length of a brigade. Trigg's brigade was ordered to the relief of Manigault's, which had been forced back to the Lafayette road, and the balance of Preston's division was ordered to follow, if necessary, to support that part of the field, and our cavalry far away from my left was called to clean it up and pursue the retreating columns. It seems that Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry had struck Manigault's left and put it back in disorder, and a brigade, or part of a brigade, of cavalry coming against the rear, increased the confusion and drove it back to the Lafayette road, when Trigg's brigade advanced to its relief. The two put the attacking forces back until they found it necessary to retire beyond the ridge and cover the withdrawal of trains left exposed by the retreat of troops of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps. General Hindman gathered his forces and marched for the left of Johnson's division, and Preston's brigade under General Trigg was returned to the point of its first holding.

Our front, cleared of opposing forces, was soon changed forward, and formed at right angle to its first line to seek the enemy's line standing against our right wing. Calls were repeated for the cavalry to ride in pursuit of the retreating forces, and guard the gaps of the ridge behind the enemy standing in front of our right wing. In the new position of the left wing its extreme left encountered the enemy rallying in strong position that was heavily manned by field batteries. At the same time my left was approaching the line of fire of one of our batteries of the right wing.

General Johnson thought that he had the key of the battle near Snodgrass Hill. It was a key, but a rough one. He was ordered to reorganize his own brigades and those of Hindman's division for renewed work; to advance a line of skirmishers, and give time to the troops for refreshment, while I rode along the line to observe the enemy and find relations with our right wing.

It was after one o'clock, and the hot and dry and dusty day made work fatiguing. My lunch was called up and ordered spread at some convenient point while I rode with General Buckner and the staffs to view the changed conditions of the battle. I could see but little of the enemy's line, and only knew of it by the occasional exchange of fire between the lines of skirmishers, until we approached the angle of the lines. I passed the right of our skirmishers, and, thinking I had passed the enemy's, rode forward to be accurately assured, when I suddenly found myself under near fire of his sharpshooters concealed behind the trees and under the brush. I saw enough, however, to mark the ground line of his field-works as they were spread along the front of the right wing, and found that I was very fortunate in having the forest to cover the ride back until out of reach of their fire. In the absence of a chief of artillery, General Buckner was asked to establish a twelve-gun battery on my right to enfilade the enemy's works and line standing before our right wing, and then I rode away to enjoy my spread of Nassau bacon and Georgia sweet potatoes. We were not accustomed to potatoes of any kind in Virginia, and thought we had a luxury, but it was very dry, as the river was a mile and more from us, and other liquids were over the border. Then, before we had half finished, our pleasures were interrupted by a fragment of shell that came tearing through the woods, passed through a book in the hands of a courier who sat on his horse hard by reading, and struck down our chief of ordnance, Colonel P. T. Manning, gasping, as was supposed, in the struggles of death. Friends sprang forward to look for the wound and to give some aid and relief. In his hurry to enjoy and finish his lunch he had just taken a large bite of sweet potato, which seemed to be suffocating him. I suggested that it would be well to first relieve him of the potato and give him a chance to breathe. This done, he revived, his breath came freer, and he was soon on his feet ready to be conveyed to the hospital. In a few days he was again on duty.

After caring for and sending him off, and before we were through with our lunch, General Bragg sent for me. He was some little distance in rear of our new position. The change of the order of battle was explained, and the necessity under which it came to be made. We had taken some forty or more field-pieces and a large number of small-arms, and thought that we had cut off and put to disorder the Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps that had retreated through the pass of the Ridge by the Dry Valley road. He was informed of orders given General Johnson for my left, and General Buckner for a battery on the right. I then offered as suggestion of the way to finish our work that he abandon the plan for battle by our right wing, or hold it to defence, draw off a force from that front that had rested since the left wing took up the battle, join them with the left wing, move swiftly down the Dry Valley road, pursue the retreating forces, occupy the gaps of the Ridge behind the enemy standing before our right, and call that force to its own relief.

He was disturbed by the failure of his plan and the severe repulse of his right wing, and was little prepared to hear suggestions from subordinates for other moves or progressive work. His words, as I recall them, were: " There is not a man in the right wing who has any fight in him." From accounts of his former operations I was prepared for halting work, but this, when the battle was at its tide and in partial success, was a little surprising. His humor, however, was such that his subordinate was at a loss for a reopening of the discussion. He did not wait, nor did he express approval or disapproval of the operations of the left wing, but rode for his head-quarters at Reed's Bridge.

There was nothing for the left wing to do but work along as best it could. The right wing ceased its active battle as the left forced the enemy's right centre, and the account of the commanding general was such as to give little hope of his active use of it in supporting us. After his lunch, General Johnson was ordered to make ready his own and Hindman's brigades, to see that those of Hood's were in just connection with his right, and await the opening of our battery. Preston's division was pulled away from its mooring on the river bank to reinforce our worn battle. The battery not opening as promptly as expected, General Johnson was finally ordered into strong, steady battle. He pushed through part of the woodland, drove back an array of artillery and the supporting infantry, and gained other elevated ground. The sound of battle in his rear, its fire drawing nearer, had attracted the attention of General Granger of the reserve corps, and warned him that it was the opportunity for his command. He marched, without orders, towards the noise, and passed by the front of Forrest's cavalry and the front of our right wing, but no report of his march was sent us. Day was on the wane. Night was advancing. The sun dipped to the palisades of Lookout Mountain, when Lieutenant-Colonel Claiborne reported that the cavalry was not riding in response to my calls. He was asked to repeat the order in writing, and despatched as follows:

"BATTLE-FIELD, September 20, 1863, 5.09 P.M.


"Lieutenant-General Longstreet orders you to proceed down the road towards the enemy's right, and with your artillery endeavor to enfilade his line, with celerity.

"By order of Lieutenant-General Longstreet.

" Lieutenant-Colonel Cavalry.'"

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