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Detail of "Chickamauga" Confederate line advancing through forest toward Union troops. | Artist: Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph), 1828-1891 | Source: Library of Congress

Battle of Chickamauga

September 19-20, 1863

MajGen William Rosecrans

Maj. General William Rosecrans

The battle of Chickamauga, fought on 19-20 September 1863, was the bloodiest battle in the western theater during the American Civil War. Along the banks of Chickamauga Creek in Northwest Georgia, less than a day's march south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Union Army of the Cumberland led by Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans clashed with Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee in a two day mêlée that left almost 35,000 men dead, wounded, or missing.

MajGen Braxton Bragg

Maj. General Braxton Bragg

Beginning in the summer of 1863, Rosecrans advanced his Federal army southeast from Murfreesboro, Tennessee toward the key river and railroad city, Chattanooga. He skillfully maneuvered his forces to push the rebel troops under Bragg back toward Chattanooga and North Georgia, and on 8 September the Federals forced the Confederates out of the city. Bragg regrouped at La Fayette, Georgia, and began plans to retake Chattanooga, particularly since he expected to receive significant reinforcements from Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's corps from the Army of Northern Virginia, and Brig. Gen. Bushrod Johnson's division from Mississippi.

LtGen John Bell Hood

LtGen John Bell Hood

Bragg's troops began crossing the creek to attack the bluecoats on the morning of 19 September with concentrated assaults launched from the rebels' right (northern) flank. In a day of bloody fighting they were unable to break the Union lines, but they inflicted heavy casualties among the northern regiments. Longstreet's troops arrived by rail near the field of battle that night, and were in position to attack by the next morning acrsoss from Rosecrans' right flank. Due to a mix up of orders and confusing commands, a large gap in the Union line near Rosecrans' center opened at precisely the time of Longstreet's powerful attack at 1100 (led by Maj. Gen. John B. Hood), and created a panic among much of the Federal forces on the southern part of their position. Many of the Federal troops ran for the rear, and Rosecrans fled the field.

Gen George H. Thomas

Gen George H. Thomas

But the day was not completely lost for the Union that day, as Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas gathered the remaining bluecoats into a strong defensive position on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill on the battlefield's northern section. Here he and his men fought off powerful rebel attacks by Longstreet's advancing troops and Confederates led by Lt. Gen. William Polk who commanded the rebel right wing. Thomas became known as “The Rock of Chickamauga” for his stout defense and rearguard action, which allowed the Yankee troops to withdraw northwestward to join Rosecrans and the routed troops in Chattanooga later that day.

Chickamauga was an undisputed Confederate victory, but at a frightful cost. Adding up the over 16,000 Union and 18,000 Confederate casualties, the battle resulted in the highest casualties of any battle in the Western theater.


CMH Related Publications

  • The Battle of Cedar Creek
  • The Shenandoah Valley Campaign
  • The Overland Campaign
  • The Civil War in the Western Theater 1862
  • The Gettysburg Campaign | June - July 1863
  • The Chancellorsville Campaign | January - May 1863
  • The Vicksburg Campaign | November 1862 - July 1863
  • The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861

Additional Resources

Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients