This Day in Georgia Civil War History
September 20, 1863
Battle of Chickamauga Ended
The Battle of Chickamauga had began in earnest the previous day. While fighting had been heavy, neither side had gained an advantage. But with the arrival of native Georgian James Longstreet and his corps, Confederate General Braxton Bragg planned a new attack on this day. He ordered the right wing of his army to attack the Union left at dawn, in hopes of driving them away from Chattanooga. But because of miscommunication, the attack did not begin for hours later. A small group of Confederates did briefly break through the Union lines, but were quickly driven back by reinforcements.
At around 11:00 A.M., Union General William Rosecrans made a disastrous mistake; he incorrectly believed there was a gap in the Union center, and ordered a division from the right to move north and plug the non-existent gap. The movement created a real gap, where Longstreet led a Confederate charge that routed half the Union army, including Rosecrans, sending them fleeing back toward Chattanooga. Union General George H. Thomas, in command of the other half of the Union army, quickly reorganized them into a defensive position along a small ridge called Snodgrass Hill. There, the remainder of the Union line held throughout the afternoon, despite repeated assaults from the Confederates. After nightfall, Thomas led the remainder of the Union forces as they began an orderly retreat back to Chattanooga. For his exploits on this day, Thomas earned the nickname “Rock of Chickamauga.”
The Battle of Chickamauga was bloody on both sides; the Union lost approximately 16,000 men killed, wounded or missing, while the Confederate casualties were even higher - around 18,000. Although the battle was a Confederate victory, with the Union forces being driven out of Georgia, it was not without controversy or consequence. Bragg was slow in reacting to Longstreet’s charge and the emerging rout of the Union; several of his subordinates, including Longstreet and General Nathan Bedford Forrest, were openly critical of Bragg for not taking advantage of an opportunity to destroy the Union army. While the Union army was defeated, it was entrenched in Chattanooga, still intact. The Confederates did hold the heights overlooking the city.
The failure at Chickamauga would ultimately lead to the dismissal of Rosecrans. He would be replaced by General Ulysses S. Grant, and his second in command, General William T. Sherman - who would play a vital role in the next invasion of Georgia. Overall, the Battle of Chickamauga was the bloodiest two day battle in the Civil War, and the largest battle ever fought in the state of Georgia.