It’s been a good week.
I got back from Chickamauga mid-week, after Jim Ogden’s Jay’s Mill talk on Tuesday night. The battle walks this year were more in-depth than I have seen in previous years, a nice mix of detail and overview that appeal to me, and I think, to the rest of the audiences we saw this past week. We had some big turnouts, with no less than 57 people attending our Viniard Field walk on Saturday.
Chris Evans asked for some comments on the walks, and so I will try and recap those I attended or participated in.
On Saturday morning, I followed Mr. Ogden down to Thedford’s and Dalton’s (Hunt’s) Fords. Jim talked about the crossings there by Buckner’s Corps, (Stewart’s and Preston’s Divisions) and how tentative they seemed. Bragg’s original plan was to mass three corps (Buckner, plus Hood and Walker) across West Chickamauga Creek by early on the 18th, and then pivot southwest to strike the Union flank at Lee & Gordon’s Mills. Thanks largely to Minty and Wilder, that did not happen. Buckner, however, faced no real opposition on the 18th, and most of his time was taken up with waiting for other Rebels. only a brigade from each division managed to get across the Creek by first light on the 19th. We discussed Buckner’s unwillingness to take much iniatitive, and also the geography problem created by using these two fords – a big northward bend in the Creek at Hall’s ford means that Buckner was depoying in a cul-de-sac, and would have to shift position quite a bit in order to get at any Yankees.
On Saturday afternoon, we tackled Viniard Field. This is a hard walk to do in the time alotted, given the back and forth nature of the fighting here. We did four stands, and covered things in pretty fair detail, I think, but any way you slice it the fight there is a confusing one. I was surprised that we had such a large turnout, and pleased that they all stuck with us all the way through.
On Sunday Morning, I tagged along on part of Jim’s walk discussing Breckinridge and his attack on the morning of September 20th. I had to break away after about 15 minutes to go sign books in the bookstore, and as much fun as that is, I would have liked to follow Jim. he did tell me that the group got into a bit of a discussion on the employment of Hardee’s tactics vs. Casey’s tactics within the Army of the Cumberland, which sounded interesting. In a nutshell, the old tactics called for all the regiments in a brigade to line up side by side, while using Casey’s, the regiments would form in two lines, one behind the other, in more of a square formation.
At midday, I led a walk looking at the “the Fateful Order Of the Day.” This one spent time at the Brotherton House and then at the Wood divisional Tablet on the west side of Brotherton Field – more talk than walk. I like to focus on the largely ignored presence of Alexander McDowell McCook, and the impact of two other orders that I think usually get overlooked in any discussion of Wood. Rosecrans’ order to Wood is well known – “Close up and support Reynolds.” This order was written at 10:45 a.m., delivered at about 10:55, and being executed by 11:15 or 11:20 – with Longstreet attacking between 11:15 and 11:30, to disastrous (for the Federals) result.
Less well known are two orders written at 10:10 and 10:30 a.m., from Rosecrans to McCook, both of which were received by McCook at about 10:50 or 10:55 – probably literally within minutes of McCook riding up to find Wood getting his order from Rosecrans. The two earlier orders informed McCook that Rosecrans was sending Sheridan to Thomas, and also that the right flank of the army was about to be drawn back west and north. In short, Rosecrans was shifting his entire line. With the order to Wood seen in that context, McCook’s haste can be seen as a little more understandable, if still a disaster in the making.
When I first started studying Chickamauga, I accepted the Wood-as-Snidely-Whiplash style villian of this story, but both Dr. Robertson and Jim Ogden have, through their own takes on the issue, challenged me into revising my thinking. Now I think there isn’t a villian, per se, just a bad situation unfolding dangerously quickly.
Lee White’s Sunday evening walk focused on Cleburne’s night attack on the 19th. Lee outlined the situation that led to the attack, and led some discussion on whether it was a good idea. he explained the difficulties concerning night attacks in general, and finished up with General Smith, the 77th Pennsylvania, and the story told by their tablets on the field. Lee was tired, having played artilleryman all day in Poe Field, but I thought he rose to the occaision very well. It was very dark when we finished, which set the tone nicely.
The Park Superintendent, Cathy Cook, attended all the walks on Sunday. I managed to chat with her a little, and hope to have further opportunity to do so in the future.
I think the 150th is on track to be very interesting indeed.