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Battle of Chattanooga

Painting above: Image shows Union officers on horseback during the Battle of Chattanooga. Right: The Battle of Chickamauga painting by Kurz and Allison, 1890. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.

Battle of Chickamauga

Chattanooga and Chickamauga

When the Civil War raged throughout the Union and Confederate lands from 1861 to 1865, if ranged to Tennessee, from the fields of Shiloh to the town of 5,545 citizens at the time of the Great Rebellion along the bend of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga, and into the state just south, at Chickamauga. Now interpreted at the national battlefield park that bears both names, the battles of Chattanooga and Chickamauga, it almost seems fitting to twin these two names, the second of which stems from the first battle of Chattanooga when the branch of the Cherokee Indians, known as the Chickamaugua were moved west in the Trail of Tears from the area only two decades before.

  • The Tennessee Campaign of the Civil War was raging in the fall of 1863. The battle of Gettysburg had been won on northern soil, turning the high point of the Conferacy into Union territory and pushing back any hope of British or French recognition of the CSA sovereingty, a faint hope even then since Emancipation had been codified by Lincoln over the past year. The dual victories by the Union in Pennsylvania and Vicksburg had quelled a good portion of the calls from the northern citizenry to end the war with a two nation solution, which would have soared if those victories had not been won. However, as the Virginia theater slowed its war machine during the late summer and early fall of 1863, the Tennessee Campaign took precedent and the calls of war transferred, at least for the moment, to more southern cities and the War in the South and West. (Chattanooga and Chickamauga are most often referred to as campaigns in the War in the West, despite, of course, their southern location).

    By fall 1863, General Rosecrans had advanced his 55,000 man army of Union soldiers on Chattanooga, only to see the Confederate forces, 70,000 strong, under Bragg evacuate the city and move south toward Chickamauga. When the Battle of Chicakamauga ensued on the 19th and 20th of September, it was a sound defeat for Union forces. The battlefield was thickly wooded, creating much confusion, and the gaping hole in the Union right flank line was taken advantage of by four divisions under Longstreet. Union forces, a total disaster only averted by the left flank stand under Union General Thomas. Federal forces were forced to retreat back to the city.

    It took the better part of the next month for Bragg to follow. Confederate forces at Chickamauga had lost 17,000 men, but eventually he marshalled his troops and artillery on Lookout Mountain south of Chatttanooga, effectively causing a siege for Northern soldiers who occupied the town. But General Grant, now commander of the new Military Division of the Mississippi, consisting of the Armies of the West (Cumberland, Ohio, and Tennesse), reinforced the city with his own Army of the Tennessee at the end of October, and along with the soldiers of Rosecrans, now commanded by George H. Thomas, the Battle of Chattanooga became a sound Union victory. They took the strong Confederate position on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge during the three day battle, November 23-25, 1863.

    Casualties in both battles were high, with 11,500 Union and those 17,000 Confederate casualties in Chickamauga and 2,500 Union and 5,500 Confederate at Chattanooga. The effect of the Battle of Chattanooga would stay with the city for the remainder of the war. By the end of the conflict, its population would dwindle to barely 1,500.

  • Chattanooga and Chickamauga Then

    Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battle Timeline

    June 1863 - The campaign for Chattanooga begins with Union forces under Rosecrans from Murfreesboro against Bragg, who was defending the road into the city. Bragg retreated into Chattanooga.
    September 1863 - Bragg defended the Tennessee River north of the city, but early in the month, Union movement below the city forced the Confederate Army to withdraw to LaFayette, Georgia.
    September 18 - Bragg posted his forces on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek.
    September 19 - The Battle of Chickamauga began at Jay's Mill. They fought along a four mile front.
    September 20 - Longstreet moves through a gap in Rosecrans line, forcing Union forces, except for those of General Thomas on Snodgrass Hill.
    October - The Union retreated to Chattanooga and waited for reinforcements from Hooker and Sherman. General Thomas replaces Rosecrans with General Grant assuming full control.
    October 28 - Federal troops break the supply siege, opeing the Cracker Line.
    November 23 - General Thomas attacks Orchard Knob and routs Confederate forces there.
    November 24 - In a heavy fogg, General Sherman takes the slopes of Lookout Mountain around the Craven House.
    November 25 - On Missionary Ridge, Bragg's forces are attacked on the left by Hooker and right by Sherman. When Sherman's attack on the right flank failed, Grant ordered General Thomas to assault the base of the ridge. This success, which Thomas followed up, without orders, into an attack up the heights, caused the Confederate lines to collapse and retreat.

    Famous Folks at Chattanooga and Chicamauga - Two names more famous for other accomplishments were soldiers in these battles; the father of Douglas MacArthur, Arthur MacArthur, Jr. won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his part in the Missionary Ridge battle at Chattanooga. Ely Lilly, founder of the pharmaceutical firm, was a cannoneer in the Union army during the battle of Chickamauga.

    Chattanooga and Chickamauga Now

    The Battlefields - Both parts of the battlefield are accessible for visitors with the Lookout Mountain section (below left, cannon position in the park with the city below) in Chattanooga in Point Park. The national park was created in 1890. While many think the Battle for Lookout Mountain was fought on its top, it was actually fought on its side.

  • Chattanooga and Chickamauga


    1. Take advantage of a park ranger tour when they are available. There's so much history surrounding the Battles at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, whether it be the Chickamauga battle itself, the final major victory of the war by the Confederacy, or the siege, supply lines, and eventual victory by Union forces at Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, that you need the context and detail that only the park rangers can bring. Take the time to listen to their stories. They bring history alive.

    2. Although it's not part of the National Park itself, check out the Incline Railway and check out the spectacular views from the mile long journey into the clouds.

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