The Battle of Chickamauga, fought on 19-20 September 1863, was a turning point in the American Civil War. The Union forces, under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans, were defeated by the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by Gen. Braxton Bragg, in what would become one of the bloodiest battles of the war in terms of casualties. This battle marked the end of the Union offensive, known as the Chickamauga Campaign, in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia.

The Battle of Chickamauga was a significant victory for the Confederacy, as it halted the Union's advance into southern territory and prevented them from taking the city of Chattanooga. It was also the first major battle fought in Georgia during the Civil War. The battle involved the second-highest number of casualties after the Battle of Gettysburg, with over 34,000 casualties and over 18,000 killed or wounded.

The conflict began when Rosecrans, following his successful Tullahoma Campaign, renewed his offensive against Bragg's army in Chattanooga. Bragg was determined to reoccupy Chattanooga and decided to meet and defeat part of Rosecrans's army in the hopes of moving back into the city. On September 18, 1863, as Bragg headed north, his cavalry and infantry engaged with Union cavalry and mounted infantry, who were armed with Spencer repeating rifles, at Alexander's Bridge and Reed's Bridge.

Fighting started on the morning of September 19 when Bragg's men strongly assaulted but could not break the Union line. The next day, Bragg resumed his assault, and Rosecrans was misinformed that he had a gap in his line. By moving units to shore up the supposed gap, Rosecrans created an actual gap directly in the path of an eight-brigade assault on a narrow front by Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. In the resulting chaos, Longstreet's attack drove one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field.

Despite the retreat, Union units spontaneously rallied to create a defensive line on Horseshoe Ridge, forming a new right wing for the line of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, who assumed overall command of remaining forces. Although the Confederates launched costly and determined assaults, Thomas and his men held until twilight. Union forces then retired to Chattanooga while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights, besieging the city.


The aftermath of the battle had significant consequences. Rosecrans's army withdrew to Chattanooga and established strong defensive positions, but the supply lines into Chattanooga were at risk, and the Confederates soon occupied the surrounding heights, laying siege upon the Union forces. Rosecrans was relieved of his command of the Army of the Cumberland, replaced by Thomas, and other officers also lost their commands. On the Confederate side, Bragg began waging a battle against his subordinates, suspending both officers from their commands.

The Battle of Chickamauga was one of the deadliest engagements of the American Civil War, resulting in staggering losses on both sides. The Union suffered a total of 16,170 casualties, including 1,657 soldiers killed, 9,756 wounded, and 4,757 captured or missing. Likewise, the Confederate Army experienced a harrowing toll of 18,454 casualties, with 2,312 soldiers killed, 14,674 wounded, and 1,468 captured or missing. Among the notable casualties of the Battle of Chickamauga were prominent Confederate generals, including Benjamin Hardin Helm, James Deshler, and Preston Smith, and Union General William H. Lytle. Additionally, Confederate General John Bell Hood was severely wounded, receiving a bullet in his leg that required amputation. This tragic outcome was particularly devastating for Hood, who had already lost the use of his left arm due to a prior wound sustained during the Battle of Gettysburg. - Scott Lyons, Ed.



Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Random House, 2011.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Robertson, William G. River of Death: The Chickamauga Campaign: Volume 1: The Fall of Chattanooga. Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books, 2018.

Sheehan-Dean, Aaron, editor. The Cambridge History of the American Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

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