The Battle of Chickamauga was fought in September 1863. The battle was bad for the North in terms of men lost but they could recover from this. For the South, a 25% loss of manpower at Chickamauga was a disaster. September 1863 also saw the North specifically target Chattanooga.
September 1st: Six more Union gun ships sailed into Charleston harbour to assist with the attack on the city.
September 2nd: Union forces captured Knoxville, Tennessee. This cut in half the railroad from Chattanooga to Virginia and meant that the South would have to supply its men in Virginia via railways through Atlanta.
September 4th: General Grant was injured falling from his horse. Observers claimed that it was because he was drunk – possibly with some justification. Allegations of drunkenness were to follow Grant for many years.
September 5th: An infantry assault on Battery Wagner started after the “sub-surface torpedo mines” had been cleared. General Rosecrans started his attack on Chattanooga. The British government seized two ironclads being built for the South in Liverpool after strenuous pressure from Washington DC.
September 6th: Chattanooga was evacuated on the orders of General Bragg.
September 7th: A full-scale infantry assault on Battery Wagner was planned for 09.00. However, by this time the battery had been evacuated.
September 9th: President Davis ordered 12,000 troops to Chattanooga, as he believed that the city could not be allowed to fall. They were to come from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
September 10th: The South’s commander at Chattanooga, Bragg, ordered an attack on the Union forces as they approached the city. However, he was unaware of the size of Rosecrans force or where they all were. The dense forests that surrounded the city hid many Union soldiers. Bragg chose not to use trained scouts. He used his own cavalry for reconnaissance and they failed to spot that the Union army approaching Chattanooga had split into three.
September 12th: General Polk was ordered by Bragg to attack the Union’s known positions. Polk refused to do so. No one accused Polk of cowardice, as he had a reputation for enjoying battle, such was his fiery temperament. What stopped Polk was his lack of information – he did not know the size of the army he was meant to attack. Polk also knew from past experience that Bragg was rarely keen to gather as much intelligence as was possible. Even Bragg did not know the whereabouts of the main force of Union troops and his subordinate generals started to think that he was bewildered by what was going on around Chattanooga. It did not help matters that Bragg pointed the finger of blame at everyone except himself.
September 13th: Bragg was informed by officers on the ground that Rosecrans force was scattered and any one section was open to a concerted attack. Bragg refused to accept this and planned for an attack against a sizeable and concentrated enemy. If he had followed the information given to him by his subordinates, the outcome of the battle to come may have been different. As it was, Bragg’s indecision allowed Rosecrans the time to move his XX Corps commanded by General McCook to the frontline. XX Corps was the furthest away of Rosecrans army. McCook’s men had to march 57 miles to reach where the bulk of Rosecrans force was.
September 15th: Bragg planned for an attack on September 18th. However, chaotic communications within the Confederate camp meant that there were delays in getting this information to the generals in the field.
September 17th: Rosecrans correctly guessed what Bragg planned to do. He moved his units accordingly. The move took place at night to ensure that they were not seen.
September 18th: Bragg issued his orders to attack. With the additional men, he had an army that had numerical supremacy over Rosecrans – 75,000 troops against 57,000.
September 19th: Neither side had made any ground against the other. Just before midnight both Rosecrans and Bragg met with their junior generals to discuss the battle.
September 20th: The battle recommenced at Chickamauga. On this day Ben Hardin Helm was killed fighting for the South. He was brother-in-law to President Lincoln’s wife. A major misinterpretation of orders sent by Rosecrans left the Union’s middle front line exposed to attack after the men who had been there were moved to the Union’s left flank – not what Rosecrans had wanted. The attack duly came when three Southern divisions attacked and inflicted major casualties on the Union forces in front of them. The senior Union commander in the field, Major-General Thomas stopped the rout from becoming a disaster by a valiant and well co-ordinated rear guard action that earned him the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga”. The battle cost the Union 1,656 dead, 9,749 wounded and 4774 captured – 28% of Rosecrans’ total force. The South lost 2,389 killed, 13,412 wounded and 2,003 missing – 24% of the Army of Tennessee’s total.
September 21st: Union forces headed for Chattanooga. Observer’s for Bragg sent him word that Rosecrans Army of the Cumberland was disorganised and scattered and that a robust chase could destroy what was left. Brigadier-General Nathan Bedford Forrest wrote to Bragg “every hour (lost) is worth a thousand men”. Bragg did not seem to fully comprehend the magnitude of the South’s victory. Some elements of the Confederate Army did attempt a follow up but it was piecemeal and Rosecrans was let off of the hook.
September 22nd: Rosecrans informed President Lincoln about the scale of his defeat. Lincoln had put a great deal on capturing Chattanooga and viewed Rosecrans’ failure as a bitter blow.
September 23rd: Rosecrans informed Lincoln that he could hold Chattanooga unless he had to face a much superior force in terms of numbers.
September 24th: Lincoln, believing that Chattanooga had to be held, ordered that 20,000 extra men should be sent there. However, supplying Rosecrans would be problematic, as Bragg had captured Lockout Valley cutting in half the Union’s supply line.
September 25th: Lincoln described Rosecrans as “confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head”. 20,000 Union troops started their journey to support Rosecrans.
September 28th: Rosecrans brought charges against some of his commanders – Generals McCook and Crittenden. Both were ordered to face a court of inquiry. Conditions in Chattanooga were becoming worse as food was in short supply.
September 29th: General U Grant was ordered to direct towards Chattanooga as many men as he could spare. Grant had pre-empted this command and sent a force led by Sherman.