The “Chickamauga Rule”

Yes, today is September 20th, the 146th Anniversary of the 3rd day of the battle of Chickamauga. (I count September 18th as the first day, just so you know…)

The park always does a good job with their limited resources to provide walks, ranger-led driving tours, and living history displays for the anniversary. I usually try and attend, but that, of course, all depends on the ‘Real Job.’ You know, the one that pays the bills. I am going to be down at Chickamauga the entire last week of the month, and thus, cannot make this weekend as well.

The park also has a volunteer co-ordinator now, and one of my friends, Scott Day, has been doing a lot of volunteer guiding this summer. He’s been there this weekend, so I look forward to hearing how the tours went this weekend.

On the whole, September 20th was a memorable day for both sides. For the Confederate Army of Tennessee, it was a brief moment of real triumph amidst a long, four year career of defeat, retreat, and might-have-been. For the Federals, it was about a defiant stand that snatched victory – of a sort – from the jaws of disaster, and any Army of the Cumberland Vet, should you have been so lucky as to have met him on the sidewalk on this date and had the presence of mind to ask him about the battle, would have been quick to tell you that the Federals, not the Rebs, ended up possessing the objective of the campaign (Chattanooga) at the end of the day.

Three regiments of Yankees had a particularly bitter end to their weekend (in 1863, September 19 and 20 were also a Saturday and Sunday) that fateful day. They were the 22nd Michigan, 21st and 89th Ohio. None of them were serving with thier proper commands, and their fate helped inspire Dr. Glenn Robertson’s famous “Chickamauga Rule,” well known to any who have walked the ground with Glenn. Basically, the “Chickamauga Rule” simply states that when a commander has the choice of tasking either his own troops or some temporarily attached force to handle a dirty job, the attached force gets the work every time.

In this case, as the dark gathered on Horseshoe Ridge and the Federals began to retreat, someone had to be the rear guard. Brigadier General James B. Steedman’s 1st Division of the Union Reserve Corps included the 89th Ohio, on loan from the 14th Corps, and the 22nd Michigan, recently ordered up from Nashville. In addition, the 21st Ohio had been loaned by Major General James S. Negley to Brigadier General John Brannan, to help defend Brannan’s right – and then Negley took the rest of his command off the field.

At the end of the day these three regiments were ordered to hold the ridge at all costs even while the rest of the Federals fell back. They had no ammo, but were told to hold the hill at the point of the bayonet. By 8:00 p.m., as the Rebels made one last effort to take the high ground, the remainder of these three regiments were captured. Their final sacrifice was needless, and they all could have gotten away with the rest of the army, but they were effectively orphans.

Long months of imprisonment awaited them.

Dave Powell

8 Responses to “The “Chickamauga Rule””

  1. Lee White Says:

    We had a good weekend, but the weather was awful, rained almost the entire time, so bad Saturday that we cancelled the living history programs.


  2. Scott Says:


    As Lee said it was horrible weather. Believe it or not, there were still people out seeing the field (my kind of people.) As usual, the park staff was great. It was disappointing to see their planning and hard work ruined by bad weather. There seems to be a refreshing new attitude at the park with the expansion of the volunteer program and lots of new interpretive talks and tours by folks like Lee all of which were first class. I hope more people will visit. If we only had a good book of maps. You don’t know where I could find one do you?


  3. Mike Peters Says:

    Rain at Chickamauga? Now that’s different. 🙂

    Mike Peters

  4. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    The fate of the 22nd Michigan, 21st and 89th Ohio reminds me of the saying that ‘A borrowed saw cuts anything.’

  5. Joe Evans Says:


    Just found your blog from a posting on the miniature page. I like it and already ordered your book.

    I sure could use your book right now. I am stuck in the recliner for 2 weeks recovering from surgery, so I have been going through Cozzen’s book plotting out each fight on a topographical map. I moved to GA last year and have become very interested in Chickamauga. The public awareness contrast between this battle and Gettysburg is amazing.


  6. davidpowell334 Says:


    My original interest in Chickamauga was fueled in part by the contrast in information available between Gettysburg and Chickamauga. Gettysburg is the largest battle of the war, and clearly public interest in it is huge.

    Chickamauga is the second largest, at least in terms of losses, and remains largely unknown. Wilson’s Creek – not to knock any other ACW field – has several good and useful works on it, for example.


  7. Terry Burns Says:

    I have just found out that one of my relatives fought at Chickamauga and am looking for information about the battle. He was with Company E, Thirty-Second Indiana Volunteer Infantry (the first German regiment). If you have any information on this unit I would like to know how to get it myself. He was injured there but after he recovered he went on to Atlanta with Sherman. Thank You

    • davidpowell334 Says:


      There is some good stuff on the 32nd. Joseph R. Reinhart has done very good work with the German-American community in the Civil War. Here’s a website link to the 32nd Infantry, and I suggest you get a copy of “August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen” from Kent State University press, if you don’t have it already.


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