Bad news from Chattanooga

August 19, 2016

Another excerpt from Volume 3: Barren Victory; detailing the reaction of various members of the administration in Washington upon learning the details of Rosecrans’s defeat:


Lincoln standingThrough the night and into the early morning hours of September 21, telegraph wires across the North hummed with constant activity. In Washington DC, President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck waited for news, pouncing on every morsel, and firing off wire after wire in response. To Rosecrans, Lincoln wrote at 12:35 a.m.: “Be of good cheer. We have unabated confidence in you and in your soldiers and officers. . . . I would say save your army by taking strong positions until [Maj. Gen. Ambrose] Burnside joins you, when I hope you can turn the tide. . . . We shall do our utmost to assist you.” Burnside, whose forces in East Tennessee were the closest possible source of reinforcements for the Army of the Cumberland, now figured prominently in Lincoln’s thoughts. At 2:00 a.m., the President wired a terse, unequivocal order to Burnside: “Go to Rosecrans with your force without a moment’s delay.”

To those around him, the President clearly appeared downbeat. He had been so for several days, fearing the worst. Those fears were now confirmed. In the small hours of Monday morning he visited his private secretary, John Hay, barging into Hay’s bedroom while the latter was still abed. “Well, R[osecrans] has been whipped as I feared. I have feared it for several days. I believe I feel trouble in the air before it comes,” blurted the frustrated commander-in-chief. On the subject of Burnside, Lincoln vented his spleen. “Instead of obeying the orders . . . and going to R[osecrans],” he exploded in clear disgust, “[he] has gone up on a foolish affair to Jonesboro to capture a party of guerrillas.”[1]

Halleck StandingEspecially vexing was the discovery that Robert E. Lee sent Longstreet’s entire corps to reinforce Bragg, all done directly under the nose of a curiously passive Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Meade and the Army of the Potomac sat quietly at Culpepper, Virginia, while Lee coolly reduced his own forces by a third. “I asked what Meade was doing with his immense army,” noted Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles in his diary, given “Lee’s skeleton and depleted show . . .” Again Lincoln gave voice to his dismay. “It is . . . the same old story of this Army of the Potomac. Imbecility, inefficiency – don’t want to do – is defending the capital. . . . Oh, it is terrible, terrible, this weakness, this indifference, of our Potomac generals.” Welles felt Halleck should share equally in the blame. “General Halleck has earnestly and constantly smoked cigars and rubbed his elbows,” snorted a derisive Welles, “while the rebels have been vigorously concentrating their forces to overwhelm Rosecrans.”

[1] Martin Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay (Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), 85. Prior to the fight at Chickamauga, Burnside and Rosecrans had been in regular communication. With the capture of Chattanooga on September 9, it looked to both men as if Bragg were retreating, leaving Burnside nothing to fear from that quarter. Accordingly, Burnside took that part of his force not tied down occupying Knoxville towards Jonesboro Tennessee, near the Virginia-Tennessee border, to try and secure his northern flank. A small force of Confederates under Major General Samuel Jones still controlled southwest Virginia and, if reinforced, could pose a threat to Burnside’s control of East Tennessee. At Jonesboro, Burnside was about 100 miles northwest of Knoxville, and more than 200 miles from Chattanooga.

Bragg vs. Longstreet

August 16, 2016


Sometime on the morning of September 21, Braxton Bragg and James Longstreet had their first post-victory meeting. Bragg conferred with Longstreet twice before: near midnight on the 19th, when Longstreet reached Bragg’s headquarters after an circuitous journey from the Catoosa Platform; and about mid-afternoon on September 20, after Longstreet’s breaking of the Union line at Brotherton cabin, but while the fight for Horseshoe Ridge still raged.

In that first meeting, Bragg outlined his plans after a day of frustration, probably hoping that Longstreet could change the dynamic. In the second, Bragg seemed entirely pessimistic, borne down by the failures on the Confederate Right, while Longstreet was ebullient, energized by his tremendous success. The contrasting attitudes of this last meeting could not help but weigh on Longstreet’s mind.

They met again when Bragg rode up to Longstreet’s headquarters, now somewhere near the Dyer House, at about 8:00 a.m. This proved to be a fateful encounter.

[Ecerpted from Volume 3]

Bragg left no record of their exact conversation. Longstreet described it variously, outlining the same basic course each time. It was clear to both men the Federals had disengaged successfully, and now held Rossville in sufficient strength to make a frontal attack there unpalatable. Accordingly, Longstreet advocated a solution that would have been right at home in Virginia: a turning movement. The Army of Tennessee, he argued, should move northeast, cross the Tennessee River upstream from Chattanooga, and operate either against Ambrose Burnside at Knoxville, Rosecrans’s supply line back to Bridgeport, or more daringly, march back into Middle Tennessee. Longstreet’s accounts are vague on details, offering up different versions of the discussion in his multiple descriptions of the encounter, but they all follow the same general course.

Longstreet recorded his first account of the meeting just four days later on September 25 in a confidential wire to Secretary of War James Seddon. In it, Longstreet “suggested at once to strike at Burnside, and if he made his escape, to march upon Rosecrans’ communications upon rear of Nashville.” The next version came in his official report, written sometime in October. Here Longstreet said he advocated “crossing the river above Chattanooga, so as to make ourselves sufficiently felt on the enemy’s rear as to force his evacuation of Chattanooga, and indeed, force him back upon Nashville, and if we should find our transportation inadequate for a continuance of this movement, to follow up the railroad to Knoxville, destroy Burnside, and from there threaten the enemy’s railroad communications in rear of Nashville.” In an 1884 letter to D. H. Hill, Longstreet explained that he was “laying a plan by which we might overhaul the enemy at Chattanooga, or between that point and Nashville.” In 1904 memoirs, the Georgian reiterated the version of the plan found in his official report: Cross the Tennessee, force Rosecrans out of Chattanooga, and then move on either Knoxville or Nashville.

Far from being fully formed, Longstreet’s concept was really only a broad strategic outline. The variations in objective (the destruction of Burnside, flanking Rosecrans out of Chattanooga, or moving into Middle Tennessee) were simply the possibilities that suggested themselves to Longstreet as he contemplated what should come next, and should not be regarded as anything more definite. All three options were equally feasible and strategically sound, supposing the army could move with alacrity. His thinking foundered, however, on the shoals of logistical reality.

Longstreet had only recently arrived in North Georgia, and so had no way of knowing that the Army of Tennessee was crippled by a lack of transportation. Bragg’s army may have recently doubled in size in terms of combat power, but all those reinforcements greatly complicated his army’s logistical problems. None of Longstreet’s nor W. H. T. Walker’s men brought with them their own wagons from, respectively, Virginia or Mississippi. This lack only exacerbated a problem Bragg already faced. When he was operating in Tennessee, Bragg couldn’t fully feed the men he had because, as historian Thomas Connelly observed, “Bragg’s own transportation system had been on the verge of collapse since early 1863.”

Unless the army’s supply trains could be vastly and rapidly augmented, the Rebels could not venture more than a few miles from a secure rail-head. Longstreet’s men were already feeling the effects of that limitation. Just that morning, Longstreet “complained to Bragg that many of his men needed provisions, and as his staff officers had not been provided with the means of supplying the troops, he [Longstreet] could do nothing” about the problem.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, neither could Bragg. The Western & Atlantic Railroad, over which all of this logistical traffic must flow, was stressed to the breaking point. The rail line had spent the past week shuttling Longstreet’s infantry to the front—a high priority for Bragg’s army. The result was that the army was much stronger, and had won a decisive tactical victory, but the men were now short on rations. Catoosa Platform, where the rail line terminated, was 12 miles distant from the McDonald farmstead, which now marked the center of mass for Bragg’s army. Ideally, Bragg wanted to advance the army’s rail depot northward to Chickamauga Station, about 15 miles beyond Catoosa and just a couple of miles from McDonald’s, but to do so the intervening line through Ringgold would have to be put back into service. Most significantly, four bridges destroyed by Forrest’s men would have to be repaired before the rail-head could be advanced. Bragg had already begun that job, ordering at least one company of the newly formed 3rd Confederate Engineers onto the task on September 17, but the work was nowhere close to complete by the morning of the 21st.

Another huge obstacle to Longstreet’s plans was the Tennessee River itself. The drought had made the Tennessee fordable in many places, at least by infantry and cavalry. Even some artillery might be rafted across. Crossing an entire army and keeping it supplied indefinitely, of course, required bridges. And bridging materials Bragg had in sufficient supply. In fact, he probably had more bridging assets than did Rosecrans. Back in July, during the retreat to Chattanooga, the Rebels had sufficient pontoons to span the Tennessee twice, once at Battle Creek and again at Kelly’s Ferry. In August, these same pontoons were towed to Chattanooga, where later that month some of them formed the swinging bridge that occupied John T. Wilder’s attention while Eli Lilly’s guns shelled the city. A couple of weeks later, while he was preparing to abandon Chattanooga, Bragg ordered the bridges taken up and shipped south.

On the 21st of September, Bragg’s pontoon train was all the way back at Cartersville Georgia, more than 60 miles to the south. Moving the boats back north would also require the use of the railroad—once again at the expense of other supplies like rations and ammunition. Once at Catoosa, more horses and mules would have to be assigned to pull those pontoons, a further drain on the army’s already limited supply of livestock. However feasible that task might be in the long term, it certainly could not be accomplished quickly.

The final problem with this solution, as Bragg saw it, was that Longstreet’s proposed movement would mean exposing the Army of Tennessee’s supply line to a direct thrust by Rosecrans. Despite all the new Confederate reinforcements, Bragg still harbored the misapprehension that the Union army was “now more than double our numbers.” Who would defend Ringgold and/or Chickamauga Station once the army was on the far side of the Tennessee? To Bragg, the risks seemed too great. Moving the Army of Tennessee back into its namesake state exposed the Rebels to the very real danger of being isolated and destroyed in turn, more so than such a move threatened Rosecrans’s Federals. It was far more likely that Union reinforcements could be quickly sent to defend Stevenson and Bridgeport than could more Rebels be stripped from other departments to defend Ringgold.

For all of these reasons, Bragg understood that Longstreet’s concept was simply impractical. However, he failed to make that point clear to Old Pete. According to Longstreet, Bragg told him just the opposite. “He stated that he would follow that course,” claimed the Georgian in his memoirs. Whether Bragg did a poor job of updating Longstreet, or Longstreet simply ignored the facts in order to further his own idea, this fundamental divide would produce no end of difficulties between these two men in the days to come.

This fundamental misunderstanding between the men would vastly complicate Bragg’s future tenure in command. Longstreet did not instigate the mutiny which was to soon ravage the Army of Tennessee’s command structure – the seeds of that “revolt of the generals” lay elsewhere. But when the time came to choose sides, Longstreet chose unhesitatingly: in opposition to Braxton Bragg.

How would you choose?

Barren Victory, Volume 3 of the Chickamauga Campaign, at the Printer

August 12, 2016

Volume 3 is at the printer. That means that in a few short weeks, I will have copies in my hands. We finished proofing last week, and I have seen a pdf of the whole thing: at about 450 pages, it won’t be as lengthy a tome as the previous volumes, but it is still a large chunk of paper and ink.

For those of you who wish to have signed copies, now is the time to order. You can get them direct from Savas Beatie, or come visit me at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park over the battle’s anniversary weekend – September 16-18 – where I expect to be doing signings. That weekend will mark the book’s official debut.

Volume 3 covers the battle’s aftermath, with discussion of each side’s options (did Bragg bungle away the CSA’s best shot at victory?) and includes extensive order of battle detail.

Now is the time to get all three volumes in hardcover, if you don’t have the first two, or complete the set.


Layout 1

A Visit to the Rock

August 4, 2016

Yesterday I had the chance to swing by Troy, NY, where I could at last pay my respects to a man central to the Chickamauga story


Here is the text of the  nearby tablet


Local Connections

July 10, 2016

Do you like road trips?

Now, to me, road trips mean a week of open running, usually stuffed with obscure historical sites, good food, and fine (or at least decent) wine. Oh, and bookstores. I brake for bookstores.

I don’t often get a full week to do exactly what I want, when I want.  I know, I know. Suck it up.

But if I go too long between trips, I scratch my itch with local history. And here’s the deal: everywhere has history. I can sniff out the Civil War connections to almost any place.

This week has been a case in point. I visited several local connections over the past few days. Each time, I got that visceral little thrill that tells me that the beast is feeding.

First up: Des Plaines Illinois. More Specifically, Camp Slemmer.

You’ve never heard of Camp Slemmer? What about Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer? He is the guy who defended Fort Pickens in early 1861, while Sumter was drawing all that attention over on the Atlantic Coast.  In the summer of 1861, the newly promoted Captain Slemmer was sent to Chicago to recruit a new regiment of US Army regulars, the 16th Infantry. In September, he established the aforementioned camp, on the east bank of the Des Plaines River, just south of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bridge. Camp Slemmer operated for several months until the 1at Battalion of the 16th departed for the Army of the Cumberland that fall. The 16th, then led by Maj. Phillip Sidney Coolidge, would be virtually destroyed at Chickamauga two years hence. More on Maj. Coolidge – a fascinating character in his own right – another day.



Today, no vestige of Camp Slemmer remains, but it is still a campground – the Methodist Campground, part of the Cook County Forest Preserve System. Here is the historical marker.

Camp Slemmer marker 2Camp Slemmer marker


In Barrington Illinois – one of our ritzier Chicago suburbs – I make a point of visiting this monument every few years.

Barrington Gun 1Barrington MonumentBarrington gun 2


Note the two artillery tubes. Those guns, according to the plaque, were Union fieldpieces lost at Chickamauga, and then recaptured at Missionary Ridge. Their provenance, I admit, is doubtful.  I ran the idea past the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park some years ago, and they – shall we say – expressed some skepticism. But to that, I don’t really care. I like the connection, and I like the fact that it is 20 minutes from my home even more.

Barrington text

On Saturday I felt the need to wander a bit farther afield. Pat McCormick was willing to ride along. We visited a couple more Chickamauga connections.

Next up: the flag of the 100th Illinois Infantry, newly conserved and proudly displayed at the historical museum in Joliet Illinois. Here is an image of that flag:

100 Illinois Flag

The 100th was commanded by Col. Frederic A. Bartelson, who lost an arm at Shiloh, returned to raise the 100th, and was captured at Chickamauga. He kept a fascinating diary of his time in Libby Prison, including careful documentation of the famous 1864 escape, until he was exchanged in time to return to the front later that summer. He was killed at Kennesaw.

Some of you might be more familiar with Joliet because of a certain film extravaganza. Jake! Elwood!

Joliet State Prison - now closed

Joliet State Prison – now closed








Next stop was the grave of Col. Silas Miller, who commanded the 36th Illinois at Chickamauga. He was also mortally wounded at Kennesaw. His grave and marker can now be found in Spring Grove Cemetery, Aurora Illinois, on a gentle rise above the Fox River. His funeral was the largest seen in Aurora to that date.


GAR Hall insideGAR Hall outside

Then it was off to downtown Aurora, to a place almost unique in modern America; a restored Grand Army of the Republic Hall. Here veterans of (among others) the 36th Illinois Infantry, 8th Illinois Cavalry, and 127th Illinois Infantry all met in fellowship, ice cream, cigars and whiskey. A fine body of men, no doubt.

There are but few GAR Halls remaining. Kudos to the City of Aurora for fighting so hard to save this one.


Bottom line: If you can’t be with the history you love, love the history you’re with.


(apologies to Mr. Stills.)

July 1, 1916.

June 30, 2016

July 1, 1916 was one of the darkest days in a dark war. The British summer offensive in Flanders began. For the United Kingdom, it was the largest action of the war to date, and marked the entry of what amounted to a new army into the fray.

Realizing that the European war was going to require an army larger than any yet fielded by an English speaking people, in 1915 Lord Kitchener began advocating for a dramatic increase in the troops fielded. By the summer of 1916, that army was ready for its first real effort in France.

On July 1, 1916, 13 British and 5 French divisions attacked the German 2nd army.

On that day alone, the United Kingdom lost 57,500 men, 19,000 of them killed. That staggering loss has largely overshadowed the fact that the Germans suffered no less a body blow.


I see one important connection to the American Civil War, one that always gives me pause.

A critical motivating factor in Kitchener’s recruitment drive was the concept of the “Pals” – battalions that were recruited locally, from communities, and sent to war together. Dockworkers, stockbrokers, even coal-miners, despite how badly men were needed in the mines for the war effort. “Pals” spurred recruitment, morale, and motivation.

Sound familiar?

One bad day could devastate a community. And July 1, 1916, was, for many of the men that went over t he top, most definitely a bad day. Many communities paid the price for sending “Pals” to war.

At Chickamauga, regiment after regiment of men in blue and gray understood that price. The 36th Illinois, with 2 companies raised in Elgin and two raised in Aurora, understood that price. They took 358 men into action, and suffered 141 casualties in less than one hour’s fighting.

The Somme lasted 141 days, and cost nearly 1.1 million casualties – 625,000 Allies and 465,000 Germans. It was war on a massive scale.

By November, as the Battle of the Somme drew to a fitful close, the British quietly discarded the “Pals” concept.

I think we can understand why.

A bit of Bragg

May 22, 2016

I present to you part of a letter from Lt. Col. Bolling Hall, Jr, of the 59th Alabama Infantry. It was written on December 6, 1863, addressed to Hall’s father. I find it very interesting.

Speaking of the battle of Missionary Ridge, notes Hall, “All blame Hardee with it that I have seen. Every body says Bragg is not at all to blame. You would be, I can almost say, astoundeBolling Halld were you to go into the army to see what a calamity all without exception regard the removal of Bragg.

I have talked to many from different commands & the confidence is universal in him. Of course I do not refer to general officers. I talked to none of them about it. Col. Sawyer [of the 24th Alabama Infantry] told me he always knew that Btagg was popular with a majority but he has been astonished to find how strong & universal the feeling is for Bragg and how great the confidence in him.

I heard several say the defeat at Missionary ridge was not as great a calamity as the removal of Genl Bragg & the latter has demoralized the army more than the former. What are we to come to if newspapers and politicians too cowardly themselves to go into danger are thus to break down our best & bravest Generals.

I have seen but one man who thinks Hardee can replace Bragg, i.e. is competent to take his place.”


Not the usual sort of commentary.



A day at Perryville

May 6, 2016

Last Saturday I spent a (soggy) day at Perryville, Kentucky’s state battlefield park commemorating the engagement of October 8, 1862. I was there because I was coming home from Chattanooga, and the Western Theater Civil War Historians’ conference, an annual event I try and attend every spring.

Good friends Andy Papen and Darryl Smith, both of whom have often joined me at Chickamauga for the March Study Group, were at Perryville – Darryl acting as guide for Andy’s CWRT, out of Missouri.They invited me to tag along.

I have been to Perryville several times, and once designed a game on it. The park has grown exponentially over the years – when I first visited, the entire park encompassed something like 98 acres. Now, it boasts of over a thousand acres. Heady stuff, for preservationists.

We spent the day on the field, despite the morning’s light rain. The park is now amazingly well interpreted, and Darryl delivered a solid interpretation. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
We ended the day discussing the fighting at Starkweather’s Hill, where one of my favorite stories to emerge out of the battle of Perryville was played out. At Perryville, the 1st Wisconsin Infantry supported and helped defend the 4th Indiana Battery. The 4th Indiana did not forget that service. In the summer of 1863, the men of the 4th took up a collection to help purchase a new set of colors for the 1st Wisconsin – which were presented with all due ceremony.

1st Wisc flag

On September 20, 1863, the men of the 1st Wisconsin were carrying this same flag when they were in support of the same 4th Indiana Battery.

If you are interested in exploiring Perryville with Darryl, I suggest his new venture, Walking with History; or follow his own musings about the battle on his blog, Ohio at Perryville.

Flags, flags, and more flags: A Confederate odyssey.

April 23, 2016

Here is what today we call the Rebel Flag. Of all the flags pictured below, it is the only one that was NEVER carried into action at Chickamauga.

Modern rebel flag

By Dave Powell and Greg Biggs

(Note: I am not a civil war flag expert. As the saying goes, I know just enough to get myself in trouble. But I wanted to address the flags of Chickamauga, and not appear too dimwitted. Ergo, I asked Greg Biggs, who really is an ACW flag expert, to comment/correct my post. He ended up adding so much to the process that I feel it only fair he get co-writing credit. Thank you Greg.)

A Chickamauga Park Ranger once told me an interesting story. One day a man walked into the Visitor’s Center. The lobby is impressive, lined with portraits of Union and Confederate commanders, draped with U.S. flag bunting, state flags hanging from the ceiling. This visitor, however, was unimpressed.

“Where are the Confederate flags?” he demanded. So the ranger took him over to the Hardee-pattern corps flag on display, and pointed it out. Next he showed the man the Polk-pattern corps flag. “There,” said the ranger.

That visitor’s confusion is forgivable. Moreover, it is historically accurate. Sorting out flags at Chickamauga was, in fact, pretty difficult – and sometimes deadly.

Today, the Confederate battle flag – the familiar red field, blue-and-white St. Andrews Cross and white stars, often misidentified as the “Stars and Bars” – can be seen around the world. People wave it for all sorts of reasons, and it is the subject of much debate, especially here in the United States.

But at Chickamauga, it was not common at all. There were probably as many as eight different patterns of flag carried as Confederate battle flags, and most of them looked nothing like what we now call “the” battle flag. And that doesn’t even count the minor variants within the larger pattern types.

The key is the flag history of the Army of Tennessee, itself created as the Army of the Mississippi in March 1862 from four other armies.  Forming at Corinth, MS after the fall of Fort Donelson and Nashville, the core components were; the Army of Central Kentucky, Polk’s Grand Division; Bragg’s Army of Mobile and Pensacola, and the Eastern Division of the District of Kentucky & East Tennessee.

Hardee flagIn January 1862, the Central Kentucky troops adopted a simple blue flag with white disc in the center designed by Simon B. Buckner, possibly modeled after flags used by the pre-war Kentucky State Guard.  First employed at Fort Donelson, these flags were later carried by Gen. William Hardee’s Corps and thus, have borne his name since.  Six versions of this flag would see use over the course of the war.

Polk flagPolk’s troops adopted large blue silk flags, bearing a red St. George’s Cross adorned with thirteen white stars.  These flags waved over his corps at Shiloh. On the orders of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, they were replaced shortly thereafter  by the Southern Cross flags made in New Orleans, and modeled on flags in use in Virginia.  Beauregard left the army in June 1862, replaced by Gen. Braxton Bragg, who seemed not to care about flag design: Bragg offered no objection when  Polk went back to a version of his previous battle flag; a smaller version made of wool bunting, and bearing eleven white stars.  The flag was inspired by Episcopalian Church heraldry, of which Polk had been a bishop.

First nationalThe troops from Mobile and Pensacola arrived bearing First National flags and these were ordered replaced by Beauregard with the Southern Cross flags made in New Orleans.  These were the square versions and Bragg’s troops followed them at Shiloh and through the rest of 1862 and even into 1863.  Later, a rectangular version of the flag was issued serving late into 1863.  As stated, some of these flew over Polk’s troops for a time.

Breckinridge flagThe troops from East Tennessee, defeated at Mill Springs in January 1862, carried mostly First National flags.  At Shiloh they were the core of Gen. John Breckinridge’s Reserve Corps, which also carried one or two other flag patterns thanks to new unit additions.  In May 1862, Breckinridge’s Corps, then two divisions, created its own distinctive battle flag; blue field with large red Latin cross adorned with thirteen white stars.


These patterns would fly over the Army of Tennessee into 1863 but these were not the only flags they carried at least until 1864.

ThCleburne flag 2e Hardee pattern flag has also been called the Cleburne flag, because Cleburne’s division was allowed to continue to carry these distinctive flags after December 1863. When Joseph E. Johnston assumed command of the Army of Tennessee, he replaced most of the army’s existing flags with a rectangular variant of the Army of Northern Virginia pattern flag (first designed by P.G.T. Beauregard.) As a mark of special favor, recognizing their outstanding fight at Ringgold Gap, Cleburne’s men kept their blue flags and, in fact, received new versions.  However, some units still bore other flags including First Nationals, Second Nationals, a few Bragg pattern flags and the twelve star Southern Cross battle flags from the Mobile Depot carried by Polk’s Army of Mississippi which had come to Georgia to reinforce Johnston.

At Chickamauga, D. H. Hill’s Corps mostly carried Hardee pattern flags – Breckinridge’s and Cleburne’s Divisions.

In September 1863 Polk’s Corps, included Cheatham’s and Hindman’s Divisions, still mostly carried Polk Pattern flags.  Based on surviving examples, new flags of this pattern seem to have been issued earlier in 1863.

22nd Alabama Polk Variant flagOne interesting variant of the Polk pattern flag can be found in Zacariah Deas’s Brigade of Hindman’s Division – the 22nd Alabama’s flag lacked the stars on the cross, which was solid white instead of red.  Based on flags of the pattern captured at Missionary Ridge, the rest of the brigade also carried this pattern.  These Alabama troops hailed from Southern Alabama which had been French long before the war.  It is possible that Imperial (pre-Revolution) army battle flags influenced the designed used by Deas’ men.


ANV 3rd BuntingHere is the Army of Northern Virginia flag, Third Bunting issue, which most if not all of Longstreet’s five brigades carried.  It is also known as the Richmond Depot flag. Some of Longstreet’s regiments also carried earlier Second Bunting issues of this flag, which are identical to the Third Bunting version save for orange exterior borders.  Many of these flags were unmarked; other bore unit designations or battle honors.  The regimental flags of Kershaw’s South Carolina Brigade had white battle honos, for example.  This pattern was designed in February 1861 by William Porcher Miles of the Committee of Flag and Seal of the Confederate Congress as the national flags of the new Confederacy.  Initially rejected, Miles brought hes design back in September 1861, showing it to Gen. P.G. T. Beauregard who, along with Gen. Joseph Johnston, was seeking to create a “war flag” for the main army in Virginia.

First nationalThe Confederate cavalry flags at Chickamauga were dominated by First National battle flags.  Unlike the cavalry of Robert E. Lee’s army, which standardized their flags from November 1861 onward, western cavalry units preferred First Nationals.  Army of Tennessee cavalry would not carry Southern Cross flags until 1864 when they received the rectangular versions like those issued to the artillery and infantry.  A few artillery batteries also carried First National flags.  Longstreet’s corps used First National flags to mark headquarters as did Army of Tennessee general officers.  The use of Second National flags for this purpose, despite being created in May 1863, would not occur until his corps returned to Virginia in 1864.  Based on evidence, even AOT units seemed not to adopt the flag very much and in 1864, this army created its own special designating flags.

Buckner’s Corps carried a mix of flags.

Most of Stewart’s Division previously belonged to Hardee’s Corps, and carried Hardee pattern flags of some sort. Preston’s Division, however, was a different story.

McCown 2 flagSome of Preston’s troops carried this flag, or a variant of it: The McCown battle flag as used by at least some of the Army of Kentucky in the 1862 invasion of that state.   Gen. John McCown was of Scottish heritage and the flag of Scotland formed the basis for this battle flag.  Surviving flags in the Alabama state collection for Hilliard’s legion, for example, tend to be McCown flags, at least one has a red St. Andrews Cross, instead of white. However, the 2nd Battalion of Hilliard’s Legion used a home made Southern Cross flag that was pierced by over 80 bullets at Chickamauga.

When it comes to flags, the Reserve Corps had by far the most varied set.

Of the five brigades comprising the corps, only two likely had the same type of flags.

16th South Carolina flagColquitt’s Brigade (formerly commanded by Gist, until he was elevated to command the division) and at least some of Wilson’s Brigade carried this flag, very similar to the ANV battle flag, issued to them at Charleston in the spring of 1863. When P. G. T. Beauregard took command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; he ordered flags similar to those he had championed in Virginia.   These were made through the Charleston Depot.


mccown_battle_flag_1863Ector’s and McNair’s brigades, however, still carried McCown pattern flags. One additional unusual feature of the McCown pattern flag of the 39th North Carolina Infantry is that colored triangles were added to the corners of the flag, as shown in this example, to further distinguish it.

Liddell’s division was similarly mismatched. Govan’s brigade carried Hardee pattern flags, since they had come from Hardee’s Corps. Walthall’s Mississippians, despite serving in Polk’s Corps in their history, also carried Hardee flags.  They lost several of these in late November on Lookout Mountain.


Cassidy 3rd patternThis flag is known as the Bragg/Cassidy pattern flag, thought it owes its existence to Beauregard as well. When Beauregard arrived in the West in January 1862, he began to standardize the myriad of battle flags in use by the various Confederate armies.  With Albert Sidney Johnston’s approval, Beauregard forced two of the corps to adopt flags like those in Virginia; Bragg’s and Polk’s.  However, Polk’s shipment got lost and did not arrive until after Shiloh so his older Polk Corps flags were used there instead.  Assuming command of the Army of the Mississippi after Albert Sidney Johnston’s death at Shiloh, he continued his attempts to standardize flags on the pre-existing ANV pattern.   Events largely outpaced this effort, and Hardee’s Corps simply refused to change their blue and white flags.  Later, Breckinridge’s Corps adopted distinctive colors that also differed from the Virginia flag.   The Bragg/Cassidy flags (named for their maker, Henry Cassidy of New Orleans) came in square and later rectangular versions.  Both were used at Chickamauga.

First pattern cassidyThe flag pictured above is a third issue Cassidy, used intermittently within the army of Tennessee to replace worn-out flags as needed. Here is a first issue Cassidy, by way of comparison. Similar to the ANV Pattern flags, there are still some noteworthy differences even between the Cassidy flags. For one, the third-issue is rectangular, not square. On both flags, the stars are six-pointed, and there are only 12, not 13. These flags were issued from the summer of 1862 up through some time in 1863. The square versions had yellow borders; third-issues had pink; later versions had neither. .

The Battle of Chickamauga, Sept. 18-20, 1863, saw the biggest diversity of Confederate flag patterns of any Western battle. Most of what we know about flag usage here is based on surviving examples. However, we cannot be 100 per cent certain that our understanding of the colors carried into action by Confederate units is comprehensive or complete. Many flags are missing, their details never recorded, in part due to the constant shifting of units within the Army of Tennessee prior to Chickamauga.

That said, we know of at least eight different major patterns of battle flag present:


*First National

* Hardee battle flag (three versions)

* Polk Corps (possibly both versions)

* Bragg Corps pattern (both versions)

* Breckinridge pattern

* Army of Kentucky pattern

*Richmond Depot battle flag (2 versions)

* Charleston Depot pattern

Additionally, there were almost certainly  other flags of unique design or ANV variants

People today know that the Confederate flag, the “battle flag,” is red overall.  However, at Chickamauga, as at earlier Western battles like Stones River and Perryville, the majority of the Confederate battle flags were blue!  The Union troops who faced the Western Confederates for over a year were very familiar with these flags on numerous fields.  What must have offered some confusion were the red battle flags that dominated Longstreet’s eastern Confederates, although they had seen some red flags from Bragg’s corps for a time as well.


A little help from my friends…

April 13, 2016

Just a quick note. We are preparing to publish a paperback edition of The Chickamauga Campaign, Vol. I – A Mad Irregular Battle.

This means that we can clean up annoying typos.

So, if you know of any, please send them my way. Be specific – page and paragraph, etc.

We will try and correct as many as possible.



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