Ominous Portents

October 17, 2019

Ulysses S. Grant’s rail route to Louisville also took him through Indianapolis, arriving there sometime in the afternoon of October 17. Stanton had waited for Grant’s train. While on the platform, Stanton met with Indiana’s powerful Republican Governor, Oliver P. Morton, who was stunned to learn that “relieving General Rosecrans . . . [was] the object of [Stanton’s] trip.”

Though Rosecrans was a Democrat, he was also very popular with the rank and file of the Army of the Cumberland, many thousands of which were Morton’s constituents; Morton himself “had great admiration” for Rosecrans. Stanton further astounded Morton when he told the Governor that Rosecrans had wired Lincoln on October 3rd, claiming that it “was useless to talk of putting down the rebellion and recommending an armistice with a view of agreeing on terms of peace.”

Had that been true, Morton would certainly have reason to be taken aback. But in relating this tale, Stanton did Rosecrans a great injustice: Rosecrans’s original dispatch said nothing of the kind. Instead, Rosecrans suggested to Lincoln that the Federal Government should offer a general amnesty to any Rebel deserters. While Lincoln agreed in concept, he also realized how such an offer would be perceived as weak in the wake of a defeat like Chickamauga, and politely rebuffed the idea as untimely. Besides, it far overstepped Rosecrans’ authority. Stanton took umbrage at this new example of Rosecrans’ temerity, and misrepresented it to Morton (and probably others) to further justify removing Rosecrans from command.

Grant’s train was just pulling out of Indianapolis when “a messenger came running up to stop it, saying the Secretary of War was coming into the Station and wanted to see me.” This was the first face-to-face meeting between the North’s most victorious field commander and the Secretary.

Boarding Grant’s car, Stanton accompanied him to Louisville. As was his wont, Stanton wasted little time in small talk. In his memoirs Grant recalled that “soon after we started the Secretary handed me two orders, saying that I might take my choice of them. The two were identical in all but one particular. Both created the ‘Military Division of the Mississippi,’ (giving me command) composed of the Departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee.” In one, Rosecrans was left in command, while in the second, Rosecrans was replaced by Thomas. “I accepted the latter.”

Advertisements

#16 FRIDAYS WITH DAVE POWELL

October 5, 2019

crossposted from Facebook:

A conversation with Chickamauga’s leading author.

QUESTION: Dave, as we all know, Chickamauga was the second-bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War. Only the Battle of Gettysburg was bloodier. When I was very young, for Christmas my Dad gave me the huge America Heritage History of the Civil War (remember that?). Having grown up close to the Chickamauga Battlefield, I was very disappointed to see that Chickamauga and Chattanooga were barely footnotes in that massive volume (they did earn one of the cool maps though!). Only recently, and largely through YOUR effort, has Chickamauga, and the Western Theater as a whole, begun to garner national attention. My question to you is, why do you think Chickamauga was so “forgotten” for so many years? Was it because it was a “hollow” victory? Was it because of largely unknown and “forgotten” commanders? Was it because no Lee or Grant or Stonewall or JEB fought here? Was it because of the Eastern press? Chickamauga is (and WAS) certainly worthy of study. By volunteering at the Visitor Center at Chickamauga I can attest that many visitors have recently “discovered” Chickamauga and are driving in to visit the field in growing numbers. So….why was Chickamauga forgotten and ignored for so long?

ANSWER DAVID POWELL: I do remember the American Heritage History of the Civil War. My Dad had a well-thumbed copy. I went out and bought a replacement a few years ago.

Interest – and tourism – at Chickamauga began less than three weeks after the battle. When Jefferson Davis visited the army in October of 1863, he requested a tour, and park lore tells us that soldiers created signboards identifying key features of the field – the first such markers, and forerunners of today’s surviving “Fingerboard” signs that still dot the park in places. In December, after the Confederates were driven off Missionary Ridge, Grant, Thomas, and numerous other Federals visited the field. Grant and Thomas cut walking sticks from some of the timber on the field.

In the 1870s and 1880s, the railroads promoted Chickamauga and other western battlefields, since so many of those fields lay alongside their tracks through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. In 1892 the famous “Dixie Flyer” – first-class passenger service from origin points at Chicago and St. Louis all the way to Florida, via Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta – began service. To promote it, the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis RR, along with the W & A (Western & Atlantic) published a guide highlighting those battlefields. In it, the guide described Chickamauga (incorrectly) as “the bloodiest battle of the war.” Reunions were held in Chattanooga for both sides, and, as evidence of the national interest, today you can travel to Civil War museums and memorial halls all over the country to find “Chickamauga Logs”: battle-scarred tree-trunks cut from the field and shipped everywhere. They were in such demand that there was actually a cottage industry of creating fake Battle Logs, embedding shells and shell fragments in drilled out tree-trunks to produce suitably impressive artifacts.

Certainly among the reasons Chickamauga and Chattanooga were selected to jointly form the country’s first National Battlefield Park was because of the importance of the campaign, and not the least, because so many soldiers from almost every state in the Union contributed men who fought there.

So the Veterans remembered.

But times change. The rise of the Lost Cause in Civil War lore was driven largely by prominent ex-Confederates who fought in the Army of Northern Virginia and for whom Robert E. Lee was Southern Manhood personified. The focus on Lee’s campaigns, and especially Gettysburg, was a natural outpouring of that. Lee and Jackson also caught the attention of a certain class of foreign officers, primarily British, who wrote extensively about the Eastern Theater.

As a result, by the time of the centennial, (1960s) the entire Western Theater had been eclipsed by the war in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Antietam and Gettysburg studies appeared frequently. What attention that was paid to the west centered largely on Grant, as a sort of curtain-raiser to his title bout with the southern heavyweight contender, Lee, in 1864. Sherman absorbed most of the remaining energy not absorbed by the East.

Chickamauga was the subject of one of the earliest battle studies, by Union participant John Turchin in the 1880s. After that, however, it barely merited a mention. Glen Tucker’s monograph appeared in 1961. No other single study of the battle would appear for another 31 years until Peter Cozzens tackled it in 1992. Chattanooga has done a little better, with modern studies by Cozzens, Wiley Sword, and a couple of others; but even the least decisive battles in the East (Fredericksburg, say) have had more works.

I think that as a study subject, Chickamauga suffers from a host of “problems.” Firstly, neither Bragg nor Rosecrans are first-rank personalities; certainly not A-list CW Celebrities. Secondly, The Army of Tennessee was an army ravaged by constant defeat; ill-fated and seemingly inept. The army’s tactical successes never produced lasting results, and thus, were seemingly wasted. There was no panache of victory as with the Army of Northern Virginia. Only frustration and confusion.

Thirdly, Chickamauga’s immense tactical complexity works against it. It was the most confusing battle of the war, bar none. The same ground exchanged hands repeatedly, and one side’s tactical advantage could be supplanted within just a short span of time by the other side’s resurgence. Regiments found themselves fighting over the same positions from multiple directions. For a modern historian untangling all this confusion represents a major investment of time and commitment. The sage of all Chickamauga Historians, Glenn Robertson, took decades to finally publish his work. My own efforts consumed nearly fifteen years. This is a very hard battle to digest and understand, let alone explain.

I have also noticed an upswing in interest, however, and I love to see it. At last Chickamauga is receiving the attention it deserves.

Chickamauga Study Group 2020 Seminar in the Woods

October 1, 2019

Mission Statement: The purpose of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Study Group is to create a forum to bring students of the American Civil War together to study and explore those events in the fall of 1863 that led ultimately to the creation of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, as well as explore other nearby Civil War-related sites.

Tour Leaders: Jim Ogden and Dave Powell

Date: Friday, March 6, and Saturday, March 7, 2020; By bus and car caravan.

All tours begin and end at the Visitor’s Center.

By Bus:
Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00: Out of the Cove, and the Dry Valley Road
We will track the Union movements out of McLemore’s Cove, from Pond Spring and Gower’s Ford to Crawfish Spring, Rosecrans’ HQ at the Gordon-Lee Mansion, and then follow the Union retreat up the Dry Valley Road on September 20, 1863.
We will be taking a lunch break from about 11:30 to 1 PM. Lunch is on your own, it will not be provided.
We will also be walking more than usual on a Friday tour, as we explore the Dry Valley Road retreat route.

Friday evening, 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. – Q&A Panel with Jim Ogden, Dave Powell, and others (as announced)

Site: Constitution Hall, 201 Forrest Road, Fort Oglethorpe, GA
Reprise of the Annual free-form Question and Answer session.

Car Caravan – Saturday Morning, 8:30 to Noon: Bushrod Johnson’s advance, Afternoon of September 19.
At 2 pm on September 19, Bushrod Johnson’s division was attacked by the Federals of Hans Heg’s Brigade in the woods north of Viniard Field. In response, Bushrod Johnson counter-attacked, under orders from John Bell Hood. But Johnson’s front fractured, with Fulton’s and a portion of Gregg’s brigades veering northwest, ultimately striking into the south end of Brotherton Field, where at 4 pm they helped unravel the Union line there.

Car Caravan – Saturday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: Negley and Sirwell occupy Snodgrass Hill, morning til noon, September 20
Early on the morning of September 20, Union General James S. Negley received orders to pull out of line and move north to rejoin the rest of George Thomas’s XIV Corps in and around the Kelly Field Line. What did Thomas intend? What did Negley understand he was to do? Negley’s division became fragmented by those orders, and eventually, to his everlasting mortification, James Negley retired from the field at a crucial moment.

Costs:
Friday’s Tours will be by Bus. Pre-registration and Fee required: $45, due by February 1 2019.

Sign-up after February 1 or on-site Fee (based on space available): $50

Saturday: no charge.

Fees raised in excess of our costs (as well as any donations) will be used to support the causes of battlefield preservation, interpretation, and renovation.
In 2019 the Study Group donated $500 to the Jewell Monument fund, run by the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, for maintenance and restoration needs.

Send to (and make checks payable to):
David Powell
1300 Mark Street
Bensenville IL 60106

This fee is NON-REFUNDABLE after February 1st, 2020. Once we are committed to the bus, we will be charged the booking fee, no matter what.

Please note that everyone is responsible for their own lodging, meals, snacks and incidentals.
Thank you, see you in March.

#15 FRIDAYS WITH DAVID POWELL—August 23, 2019

August 23, 2019

WHO’S TO BLAME? ROSECRANS AND THE GAP

QUESTION: Dave, after the Battle of Chickamauga recriminations and finger-pointing ran rampant in the high command of both armies. With a Federal defeat, I’m sure both Army of the Cumberland commander William S. Rosecrans and division commander Thomas J. Wood had their detractors and supporters. Since it was Wood’s Division that left the gap on September 20, there were those on Rosecrans’ staff that blamed Wood totally for the mistake, but it seems Rosecrans himself did not blame Wood personally. Talk to us about the rumors and blaming that went on in the Federal army after the battle. In addition, who did the men in the ranks blame for their defeat?

ANSWER: While Thomas Wood would appear to be an obvious candidate for assigning blame, (and in fact did catch a lion’s share of that blame from Rosecrans partisans in years to come) initially, he was not targeted for the “fatal order of the day.” In Rosecrans’s report of the battle, Wood was named in Rosecrans’ “List of Special Mentions,” as well as praised by Thomas, Crittenden, and McCook. The fact that Wood’s division was not driven from the field but instead were crucial in helping to defend Horseshoe Ridge probably saved Wood from a court of inquiry – which, given his possession of Rosecrans’ written order, would almost certainly have cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Despite all the praise, however, the army fractionalized in the days after Chickamauga. Both Thomas Crittenden and Alexander McDowell McCook bore the brunt of criticism in the immediate aftermath of the battle, for having fled the field. Rightly or wrongly, the army feared serving under both men again – especially McCook, whose corps had now been routed on a field of battle for the third time in as many battles. Perryville, Stones River and Chickamauga added up to a record of failure the troops refused to ignore.

Some of Rosecrans’ staff soured on Wood for another reason: his vindictive campaign to have James S. Negley punished for that officer’s decision to abandon Snodgrass Hill just minutes before Wood’s own troops arrived there. Wood seems to have made a real pest of himself at army headquarters, as noted in Charles A. Dana’s gossipy (and equally vindictive) dispatches to Washington. Dana speculated that Wood might be grinding that axe against Negley to cover his own failures at the Brotherton farm.

Negley was ill and went home pending his own court of inquiry within days of reaching Chattanooga. His subsequent efforts to return were rebuffed, even after that court cleared him of wrongdoing as well. When the Federal army was reorganized that fall, the Union XX and XXI Corps were eliminated, removing the need for McCook and Crittenden; Negley’s Division was similarly broken up, obviating Negley’s position. Negley, understanding that this boded ill for his future as a soldier, attempted to return to the army over that winter, until no less a person than U. S. Grant ordered him out of the department.

Officially, Wood experienced no stigma from the “fatal Order.” He remained in active service, commanding a division of the IV Corps under Howard into 1864. He suffered a severe leg wound at Lovejoy Station in August of that year. He commanded troops at Nashville, and was promoted to Major General near the end of the war. He also served during reconstruction, but retired in 1868. His leg wound and a hernia suffered when his horse threw him at Chickamauga invalided him out of the service.

After the war, a number of Rosecrans partisans attempted to blame Wood for following the order. The most prominent of these was probably Capt. Henry Cist, who excoriated Wood in his History of the Army of the Cumberland, published in 1882. Wood, then living in Toledo, responded with alacrity, mounting a vigorous defense in the New York Times, dismissing Cist as a rear-echelon poseur. Cist, who wasn’t present on the battlefield, was actually with the Army of the Cumberland’s permanent headquarters in Chattanooga from September 9, 1863; thus Cist had no firsthand knowledge of what happened at the Brotherton Farm.

John B. Turchin, the expatriate Russian officer who commanded a brigade at Chickamauga, faulted Wood for following the order too quickly, though without the same degree of conspiratorial blame-finding Cist brought to the debate. Turchin’s history of the battle appeared in 1887, just one of many opinions expressed on the subject. Wood partisans (chief among them Emerson Opdycke of the 125th Ohio, a member of Wood’s old division) retaliated with published opinions of their own.

Interestingly, almost everyone seemed to forget McCook’s presence – even Wood, who mentioned McCook but also insisted that the decision was taken on his own responsibility – but it cannot be ignored that McCook directly influenced the decision to move immediately, and took responsibility for filling the resultant gap.

The rank and file of the Army of the Cumberland might not have known of the particulars of McCook’s involvement, but – as noted above – they definitely felt McCook was at fault. There was little grumbling among the troops when McCook and Crittenden departed the army.

In an interesting coda to the affair, McCook and Crittenden each held limited commands again. McCook was sent to Washington DC, where he was in command when Jubal Early assaulted the city’s defenses in July 1864. Crittenden was given a division in Virginia during the Spotsylvania Campaign, but lasted little more than a month until he requested to be relieved, feeling that he had been passed over in rank.

Study Group Donation

August 19, 2019

Hello to all who read here.

Yes, things have been slow lately, but I do have an announcement.
Every year about this time I decide where to commit the money we raised at the Study Group in March of 2019. In general, the group goal is to keep the funds local to the Chickamauga-Chattanooga area. And as so much money is raised for acquisition, but so little is raised for maintenance, I try to donate to monument repair where possible.

I also like to wait and see what special matching plans and contributions are offered over the course of the year – things like Brown’s Ferry, for example, might need our help.

This year I have committed $500 of the group’s money to the Jewel Monument Fund, which is a special project of the Friends of the National Parks organization for Chickamauga and Chattanooga. (they merged with the Moccasin Bend group a while back, and selected the new name.) Here is a link to the fund, in case anyone else wants to help out.

https://www.npp-ccm.org/donate-1

The fund (which also has a donation box in the Visitor’s Center, you might have seen it) helps to pay for the upkeep and repair of the park’s hundreds of monuments, markers, tablets, and assorted other objects.

This leaves the group with about $300. I use some of that as a “cushion reserve” for future expenses or donation to other worthy causes.

Thanks to all who attended and contributed.

Let’s have a picnic!

July 4, 2019

July 4, 1863. Where would I have like to have been?

At Gettysburg, watching the Army of the Potomac cautiously probe Lee’s positions?

Or maybe at Vicksburg, watching Ulysses S. Grant’s army enter the newly surrendered city?

Or, how about at Winchester, Tennessee?

                          William Rosecrans and staff in Tennessee.

On July 4, 1863, William S. Rosecrans declared the Tullahoma Campaign at an end. Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee (CSA, this time) had escaped Middle Tennessee, and were even then crossing the Tennessee River towards Chattanooga. Bragg was at Bridgeport Alabama, where he did not tarry long.

Alexander McDowell McCook’s XX Corps came to rest at Winchester, having reached the end of their effective supply line, the railhead on the Nashville & Chattanooga Line which was still north of the Duck River. Bridges needs must be repaired, and until then, the Federals were all on short rations.

Which did not preclude McCook – one of the most popular officers in the army – from throwing a party. He arranged for a massive picnic, inviting 60 senior officers ranging from colonels to two-star generals. Rosecrans attended, as did David S. Stanley, Chief of Cavalry. Garfield, naturally enough, was also present. Both Thomas and Crittenden were both too far away to make the ride.

McCook constructed an outdoor “bower” to shade the attendees. Regimental bands provided entertainment. while artillery units fired salutes in honor of the day.

Of course, it being the Tullahoma Campaign, heavy rains moved much of the party indoors, where conditions were much more crowded. Still, the party was considered a great success.

So I might have wanted to sit in on that afternoon’s festivities.

Friday’s with Dave Powell #13

June 22, 2019

Reposted from the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2224172787868382/permalink/2336701663282160/

#13 FRIDAYS WITH DAVE POWELL—June 21, 2019

A conversation with Chickamauga’s leading author.

QUESTION: Dave, a lot of visitors come to the battlefield and think of Wilder’s Brigade as a brigade of cavalry. Can you shed some light on this brigade of infantry originally in Joseph J. Reynolds’ Fourteenth Corps Division, its development, and its actions in the Battle of Chickamauga? As a follow-up, one does not hear much of Wilder’s Brigade after their wildly successful fighting at Chickamauga. Why is this?

DAVE POWELL: Wilder’s brigade never included any cavalry; instead the brigade was comprised of four (later five) regiments of infantry who mounted themselves initially on local livestock seized from Middle Tennessee in the spring of 1863. These four regiments were the 17th and 72nd Indiana, and the 98th and 123rd Illinois. Later, the 92nd Illinois joined them when the 92nd’s Colonel, Smith D. Atkins, agitated for a transfer to Wilder’s “fighting command” that summer.

Wilder always claimed that he conceived the idea for a brigade of mounted infantry, armed with Spencer repeating rifles, on his own, based on his frustrating experiences chasing Rebel raiders in 1862. This may well be, but in fact the concept dovetailed with a larger scheme that army commander William Rosecrans developed: to create a picked battalion of sharpshooters from each infantry brigade, mount them and arm them with similar weapons. These units, which Rosecrans dubbed “Elite Battalions” would serve as scouts and an elite strike force, mainly designed to counteract the Confederate superiority in cavalry. Rosecrans never got his elite battalions; the War Department said no. But he did get the go-ahead to mount several regiments of foot soldiers. When Wilder’s proposal reached him, Rosecrans quickly authorized the Indiana Colonel to proceed.

Wilder’s troops were the best-known of these forces, but at least one other regiment followed suit: the 39th Indiana in McCook’s 20th Corps. The 39th is less well-known, mainly because it never really served with Wilder’s command and later formally converted to become the 8th Indiana Cavalry, but it performed similar service in 1863.

Wilder’s brigade first proved their worth at Hoover’s Gap on June 24, 1863; during the opening stages of the Tullahoma Campaign. Wilder’s four regiments, supported by Eli Lilly’s 18th Indiana Battery, thundered through this gap in the Highland Rim (south of Murfreesboro) to seize its southern end and defend it against Confederate counterattacks for the rest of the day. The gap proved crucial in Rosecrans’s advance on Manchester Tennessee, and its capture forced Bragg to retreat from Shelbyville. According to Wilder, no less a figure than George Thomas informed him that capturing Hoover’s Gap so quickly saved the Federals a thousand casualties.

Though Wilder’s brigade nominally remained a part of Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds’ 4th Division, 14th Corps during the ensuing Chickamauga campaign, Wilder was not fond of Reynolds, who felt the brigade was too free in their foraging, and was therefore delighted when Rosecrans detached Wilder’s force to use it mainly as an army asset. During the entire Chickamauga campaign, Wilder acted independently of the division, usually reporting either directly to Rosecrans or to one of the Union corps commanders.

Wilder’s value was proven during the campaign. He helped deceive Bragg as to the Union army’s intentions prior to Chattanooga’s capture; and led Crittenden’s 21st Corps south along the railroad towards Dalton on September 10 and 11. Thomas wanted Wilder returned to his control during the advance on LaFayette, going so far as to write that he felt sure he would have captured the gaps in Pigeon Mountain by September 10, if Wilder had been with him.

Of course, Wilder’s role in the fighting on September 18-19-20 is justly famous. Elements of his brigade held Alexander’s Bridge on the 18th, and his whole brigade (minus the 92nd) was in action on the 19th, at Viniard Field, and on the 20th, at the Widow Glenn farm. His encounter with Charles A. Dana happened shortly after the action at the Glenn Cabin, where Dana attempted to order (or not, according to Dana) Wilder’s men to escort him back to Chattanooga.

John T. Wilder’s health was not good by 1863, and he took leave right after Chickamauga. He would return only intermittently, and never again commanded the brigade in an active campaign. The brigade’s next important service was in October, pursuing Joe Wheeler’s Rebel cavalry as it attacked Union supply lines in Tennessee. Under command of Col. Abram O. Miller of the 72nd Indiana the brigade attacked and shattered Wheeler’s troopers at Farmington, Tennessee, on October 7. They captured nearly 300 Rebels in that action.

As a result, the brigade, while it served well in 1864 and 1865, suffers from a lack of name recognition. The brigade was transferred to the Army of the Cumberland’s Cavalry Corps in 1864, and they served under Miller for the duration of the Atlanta campaign. In the fall of 1864, after Atlanta fell, the brigade was sent to Kentucky to obtain remounts; returning to the field only after the battle of Nashville. Miller and the Lightning brigade, however, were a key element of Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson’s celebrated cavalry raid across Alabama to Selma in 1865.

It is worth noting that neither Thomas nor Sherman used Wilder’s men in the way Rosecrans employed them; as a specialized army asset that could strike rapidly and hard, on missions of more than usual importance. In part, this was because by 1864 the Federal cavalry in general was greatly improved, both in skill and equipment. Spencer carbines were now in full production, and their rapid-shooting firepower was much more common in the army.

Also, however, Thomas and Sherman were simply more conventional thinkers than was Rosecrans; they took fewer risks and disliked unusual formations. Under Rosecrans, the Lightning Brigade drew special note; under Sherman and Thomas, they served as well but more anonymously.

Image may contain: 1 person, beard

Fridays with Dave Powell

May 10, 2019

Recently, my friend Robert Carter has started doing a regular feature on a Chickamauga group page, on Facebook.

It occurred to me (belatedly) that these should be posted here, as well…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

#12 FRIDAYS WITH DAVE POWELL—May 10, 2019
A conversation with Chickamauga’s leading author.

QUESTION: Dave, after Longstreet’s Breakthrough and Thomas’s gathering of troops on Horseshoe Ridge, there was a 900-yard gap in the Federal line between Snodgrass Hill and the Kelly Field that was never closed. Was this a missed opportunity for the Confederates? Could they have exploited this gap? Why did they miss it? In addition, did Longstreet also miss an opportunity on the Confederate left flank?

ANSWER: The Confederate breakthrough left the Federals grouped in two distinct lines – the half-moon or semi-circle around Kelly Field, and a long line that ran from the open end of Snodgrass Field across Hills One, Two, and Three, then due west along the spine of a narrow ridge for several hundred more yards. The Kelly Field Line largely faced east, in an arc; the Horseshoe Ridge Line largely faced south.

Between them lay 900 yards of open timber, undefended. That gap was never filled. It offered a way to further split the Union lines, turn the flanks of both positions, and complete the destruction of the Army of the Cumberland. So why didn’t this happen?

The easiest answer to that question is one of ignorance: Senior Rebel commanders were simply unaware that the gap existed. This is primarily due to poor battlefield reconnaissance, and the experiences of two Confederate brigades early on the afternoon of September 20. Those brigades were Joseph B. Kershaw’s South Carolina command and Benjamin G. Humphreys’ four Mississippi regiments. Both brigades belonged to Lafayette McLaws’ Division, but since McLaws and his remaining two brigades were not yet present, both were temporarily commanded by Kershaw – who also retained control of his own brigade.

When Kershaw’s large brigade (five regiments and a battalion) drove Federal Colonel Charles G. Harker’s brigade back to the Snodgrass Hill mass, Kershaw’s line became stretched across an extremely wide front – perhaps 1,600 yards. Most of Kershaw’s men fetched up against the slopes of Hill One, but as the 8th South Carolina tried to flank Harker’s line to the east, that regiment drifted into the very gap in question. They met little opposition, only stragglers and perhaps a skirmish line; in contrast to the fierce resistance encountered by the rest of Kershaw’s men.

The 8th was so far to the east (the Confederate right) that when Humphreys’ four regiments came up to support Kershaw, his brigade entered the fight between the 8th and the rest of the South Carolina line. Humphreys’ two left-most regiments met with equally fierce resistance from Harker’s reformed troops cresting the ridge in Snodgrass Field, so much so that Humphreys decided the position was impregnable and chose to fall back several hundred yards.
Here the story gets murky. Kershaw, acting as both brigadier and divisional head, remained constantly with his own brigade’s left wing through the engagement, never taking the time to examine Humphreys’ action or digest the reports (if any were made) of his own 8th SC Regiment. Since the 8th left no official report nor any detailed personal accounts, we simply don’t know if the men of the 8th understood they had found a gap – we do know that they never reported it to any senior officer, since no senior officer talks about such a report. Humphreys only adds to the confusion. He had just assumed command of the brigade after Gettysburg, where former commander William Barksdale was killed, and Humphreys himself later admitted he was too cautious on September 20. He focused on the fierce bullet-storm faced by his left-most regiments, ignoring the much weaker opposition on his own right.

As a result, though elements of two Rebel brigades faced off against (and in the 8th’s case, entered) the gap, word of this weakness never filtered up to higher command. The situation was further complicated by the fact the corps commander John B. Hood was down with a crippling leg wound, and no other officer took over that role. Thus, with Longstreet in command of the entire Wing, the next two steps below him in the chain of command – corps commander and division commander – were effectively vacant. Though Kershaw nominally stepped up to divisional command in McLaws’s absence, he never effectively filled that role, remaining with his brigade for the duration of the fight.

Later in the day, as A. P. Stewart’s and Evander Laws’ (formerly Hood’s) divisions reentered the fight, there was some movement towards the gap, but that movement came after 6 p.m. Acutely aware of his position’s vulnerabilities here, Union Corps Commander George Thomas had already decided to withdraw by that time. As a result, while some of the Federals fleeing Kelly Field at dusk on September 20 ended up being captured by Humphreys’ troops along the Glenn-Kelly Road, the Federals were gone by the time that movement amounted to anything.

The gap was potentially decisive; but given that the gap was obscured by timber, at least partially protected by Union skirmishers, there were serious holes in the Confederate chain of command, and poor scouting (or at least, reporting) meant that the Confederates never exploited it. The few Rebels who knew it was there failed to grasp its significance, and none of the more senior commanders were even aware it existed. Longstreet is usually faulted here, but unrealistically so, given the circumstances.

Was there a better chance to turn the Union line out on the Confederate left? Perhaps. It is worth noting that Longstreet did indeed try to do exactly that; ordering Hindman’s division to reinforce Bushrod Johnson, then engaged on the left, and who felt he was in position to outflank the Horseshoe Ridge line. Had not James B. Steedman’s division of Yankees come up in the nick of time and been sent to oppose Johnson, the Rebels would have indeed outflanked Thomas’s line. Evan as it was, Deas’s brigade of Hindman’s division did extend well beyond Steadman’s newly positioned right, and only determined fighting and the exhaustion of Deas’s men prevented a Union catastrophe. Once Deas was repulsed, however, that seemed to settle the issue.

Some have argued that if Longstreet had committed his last division under William Preston to an attack on the far left instead of a final charge up Hills One and Two, he might have pushed through McFarland’s Gap to either flank Steedman or move up to Rossville. The terrain on Steedman’s immediate right, however, is extremely rugged – probably very difficult for any troops to maneuver through. As for Rossville, it is often overlooked that Jefferson C. Davis’s division of the Union XX Corps, plus a number of other polyglot, rallied forces, blocked the gap. It seems unlikely that Preston’s three brigades could have swept them aside easily or quickly. After all, similar polyglot rallied scraps of brigades and regiments mounted an impressively stubborn defense on Horseshoe Ridge. I view the Confederate Left as unlikely to have produced a decisive result.

2019 Seminar in the Woods Update – Bus Full

February 16, 2019

Dear Friends,

The bus for Friday, March 8, is now FULL. If you sent me a check, make sure it was cashed. If you have a Check you think might be in transit, email me at dpowell334@aol.com so I can make sure you are on the list. As of right now, only one person has informed me that they still have a check on the way, and he fills the bus. waud_chickamauga

Also, I have arranged for Lunch on Friday. We will be deep in McLemore’s Cove on Friday, far from available eats, so I have arranged food with Pigeon Mountain Grill, right at Davis’s Crossroads. Pork BBQ and Tea.

So no need to bring lunch.

To repeat: THE BUS ON FRIDAY IS FULL. 

Of course, there is no limit on attendance for Saturday. Please come join us.

2019 Seminar in the woods update:

January 6, 2019

Dear friends at home,

(can you tell I have been reading a lot of Civil War Letters collections?)

damaged cannon

I want to update everyone on the Seminar, to be held March 8-9, 2019.

for details on the event, see here

As of right now, I have 26 confirmed reservations for the bus on Friday, so we are about half full. I know several folks who have expressed interest, but have not yet sent a check; please make sure you sign up soon. There is usually a flurry of sign-ups right after the Holidays.

If you have any question about whether I received your check, please check to see if it A) was cashed, or B) send me an email at dpowell334@aol.com. Or, of course, do both.:)

I did have one attendee ask about the Government shutdown. While the Seminar is nine weeks away, and we should be fine, there is a slim chance that we could face a park shutdown that weekend.

If the shutdown is still in effect, our plans are unchanged. The Friday bus tour meets at the History  Company parking lot, not on park property, and we can explore McLemore’s Cove whether or not the park is open. As for Saturday, as of this writing, while the facilities are closed the Chickamauga portion of the park is actually open to visitation. That means that we can proceed with the battle walks as planned, albeit without the support function the Visitor’s center provides.

Jim Ogden’s participation in the event that we face a shutdown remains uncertain.

That said, I do not expect any shutdown, but it is best to be prepared. If this remains an issue as we get closer to the event, I will provide further updates.