BATTLE OF CHATTANOOGA
The precursor to the Battle of Chattanooga was the Battle of Chickamauga, in which Confederate General Braxton Bragg was able to secure a victory over Union commander William Rosecrans, a key victory in the pursuit for the ever so desired Chattanooga railroad center. During the late summer and early fall of 1863, this railroad center was becoming the focus point of the Western Theater in the American Civil War. The conflict at hand started when the Union army, led by General Rosecrans, was able to push the Confederates out of Tennessee back over the Georgia border. Morale for the Confederate side had hit an all-time low. Only two months had passed since the decisive turning point of Gettysburg, and with Ulysses S. Grant causing havoc in Mississippi, the Confederate side was desperate for a victory to keep hope in their soldiers alive.
After being pushed out of Chattanooga and settling in Chickamauga Georgia, Bragg’s forces were to be reinforced by the arrival of James Longstreet who was bringing soldiers to fill up the lines, giving Bragg the confidence to turn the tables and go on the offensive. Even though Bragg had the confidence in the fighting with the imminent arrival of Longstreet, the initial attacks on the Union forces failed, leading many to question the decisions by their general. Thankfully Longstreet arrived before it was too late, and Bragg, with 65,000 soldiers at his disposal (a significant numerical advantage over his counterpart) was able to unleash a full blown attack. On September 19, the fighting began in the woods alongside the banks of Chickamauga Creek.
The two sides exchanged a days’ worth of blows back and forth with casualties mounting on both sides. It wasn’t until Bragg split his forces that things began to turn in favor of the Confederate army. In a stroke of luck, the left side of Bragg’s army (led by Longstreet) happened to reach the Union side at 11:30 AM on September 20, just as Rosecrans and General George Thomas were shifting the Union troops. The unfortunate timing for the northerners left them no choice but to retreat towards Chattanooga. Thomas showed incredible courage by making a last stand to help Rosecrans’ troops escape towards Chattanooga. Thomas would go down in history as the “Rock of Chickamauga” for his efforts to rally remaining troops and keep the fight from becoming a route.
In the end, the Battle of Chickamauga was a decisive win for the Confederate side as they were able to push back into fighting position for Chattanooga. It was not without cost however, as both sides suffered mass casualties. The Union side had 16,000 injured or dead soldiers, while the Confederates suffered 20,000 casualties themselves, including the death or injury to ten Confederate generals. If not for the disastrous toll of the battle, the Southern side may have been able to complete the pursuit and regain Chattanooga, but as it stood, it would simply be a step towards their overall goal, and a strategic defeat, if not an overwhelming war changer that it could have been.