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My American History Tour: The Battle of Chickamauga

My American History Tour: The Battle of Chickamauga

The second-bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

***I promise I will get to Gettysburg. It is a huge park and it will take a while to put together the post.

We went to Chickamauga on our last day. If you’re not familiar with the Battle of Chickamauga you’re not the only one. I only heard of Chattanooga, which is connected to this battle.

The battle happened on September 18-20, 1863. It is the second-bloodiest battle in the Civil War.

Union General William Rosecrans wanted to push out Major General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Chattanooga, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South.”

Rosecrans managed to push Bragg and his forces from Tennessee to Georgia. But Bragg got help from Virginia and Mississippi as a way to outnumber the Union forces. The Confederacy wanted Chattanooga since it had a major crossroads for the railway. Massive transportation hub! The Union wanted to cut off the Confederacy.

Bragg wanted Chattanooga! They needed Chattanooga. The Confederacy held Chickamauga, but that is all.

The first stop is called Breckinridge’s Assault. It’s where former u.S. Vice President John Breckinridge attacked the Union line before going back south.

I loved Chickamauga park! It has a setup similar to Shiloh. Pristine, easy-to-read signs, and markings all over the place to commemorate where troops stood even for a little bit.

The first picture is of the Confederate line. The second picture is the Union line. Literally right across from each other.

Second stop: The Battle Line marks the entire line of the Union soldiers on the second day. It’s the one spot during the battle the Union soldiers stalled the Confederacy.

Lincoln’s brother-in-law Confederate General Benjamin Helm died at this spot. Helm married Emilie Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-sister. Helm left Breckinridge to get to the Union along this line. A shooter in the 15th Kentucky Union Infantry shot Helm in the chest.

Helm stayed in his saddle as he bled. But then he fell to the ground. The surgeons knew the shot was fatal and he died the next day.

The Lincolns mourned in private. They couldn’t be seen mourning an enemy. They allowed Emilie to come to the White House in December 1863.

Stop Three: Brotherton Cabin where it fell apart for the Union soldiers. Rosecrans accidentally left a gap in the area when he wanted to fix another gap that didn’t exist. The Confederates took advantage of it.

A replica of George and Mary Brotherton’s cabin is sitting on the spot. They survived with their children when they escaped to a nearby ravine. Four cows also survived.

Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet knew about the area because Tom Brotherton, their son, once lived at the cabin.

Adaline Brotherton returned to the house. She found the cows and wounded soldiers on both sides.

Adaline didn’t take sides. Instead, she helped all the wounded soldiers she could by giving them milk.

Stop Four: The Confederate breakthrough was in an area I couldn’t get to but it’s across from the road of stop five, which is…

Viniard Farm. Thousands and thousands died on this field. Supposedly you could not walk on the ground after this fight because dead bodies littered the field.

It ended in a stalemate, too. No one managed to capture the road we drive on through this portion of the park.

It’s also where General Hans Heg died. A memorial marks the exact spot where the Norwegian American fell. He led the Scandanavian 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment in the Union. A lot of them were from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

Heg was born in Norway but his family settled in Wisconsin in 1840. He became a passionate abolitionist and happily joined the army to defend his adopted home.

A Confederate shooter hit Heg in the abdomen with his rifle during the fight on September 19. He died the next day.

The field belonged to Tabler Viniard. He enlisted in the 1st Georgia Infantry. He died in 1864 when he was in Northern Alabama.

Stop Six: Wilder Brigade Monument, which was known as the Lightning brigade. Union Colonel John Wilder’s brigade had the most wanted weapon in the Civil War: 7-shot Spencer repeating rifle. You could shoot 14 shots a minute!

Wilder is the only Union guy who had any success against the Confederates on the southern end of the battlefield.

You can climb up this huge monument. I did not.

Stop Seven: This spot was blocked off because of construction. It is where the Confederates decimated the Union and forced Rosecrans to flee.

Stop Eight: Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. You can learn about the Snodgrass family here. The fighting displaced them.

The Union soldiers held Horshoe Ridge but the Confederates did not stop pushing back. The big hill did not help the Union either.

The Union soldiers retreated in the night giving the Confederates a victory. But they lost a lot more people than the Union.

Confederates ended up losing Chattanooga. One soldier wrote that The Battle of Chattanooga was “the death-knell of the Confederacy.”


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I first read the following in the Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes:

Shortly after the Confederate surrender, General Benjamin F. Butler was engaged in administering the oath of allegiance to former combatants against the Union.

One Confederate soldier, when brought before him, impudently remarked, “We gave you hell at Chickamauga, General!”

Butler, infuriated, warned him that if he did not take the oath immediately he would be taken out and shot.

With some reluctance, the rebel duly took the oath. He then looked Butler in the eye and said, “General, I suppose I am a good Yankee and citizen of the United States now?”

“I hope so” replied Butler benignly.

“Well General, the rebels sure gave us hell at Chickamauga, didn’t they?”

A reminder about war, all that killing and America is still as bitterly divided as ever. We as a nation are soon to explode but it won’t look like these battle fields. The new battle fields will be urban. Human being only learn the hard way.

    amwick in reply to Whitewall. | June 23, 2022 at 8:39 am

    The bitter division is kinda recent and intentional…

      casualobserver in reply to amwick. | June 23, 2022 at 8:50 am

      Fueled by the deliberate lack of education on that specific war and for that matter key civil rights history as recently as the 60s. Essentially the lesson is – 1850 U.S. = 21st century U.S. Per the educators.

Chickamauga is another great experience for history buffs. I went as a Boy Scout way back when and the park is very educational and accessible. The various battlefields of the ‘western’ theater of the Civil War are sometimes overshadowed and overlooked by those in proximity to DC. These battlefields are well worth the journey.

    Mary Chastain in reply to CommoChief. | June 23, 2022 at 8:50 am

    I plan on visiting a few more out here this summer, including two in my lovely Oklahoma! I’m addicted to touring these places, especially the lesser known ones.

TY Mary… I now have a destination for a quick get away… only two and a half hours west of my home in North GA. I have friends that live in Gettysburg, so I have visited several times, but I had no idea that a huge battle raged near here…

I visited Chickamauga last fall on my circular route that took me from Andersonville to Vicksburg to Shiloh to Kennesaw Mtn. I agree it is very much like Shiloh in its clarity and storytelling. Thankfully, the encroachment of the city isn’t too noticeable yet.

Colonel Travis | June 23, 2022 at 10:00 am

What a trip. Thanks for the dispatches.

Thanks, Mary.

Steven Brizel | June 23, 2022 at 11:03 am

Any photos of where General George Thomas made his reputation as the Rock of Chickamauga?

I’m from Walker County, GA (Lookout Mountain…another battle site). We used to take the kids to the battlefield at night and tell them about “The Legend of Green Eyes”. There is also an old battlefield hospital in Ft. Ogelthorpe..just north of the park boundaries.

OwenKellogg-Engineer | June 23, 2022 at 7:23 pm

I have a copy of my g-g-grandfathers diary of 1863. He was in Negley’s division of the 78th PA Vols. They were part of the group that got pulled out of line that the Confederates exploited. His diary also mentioned an early encounter prior to the battle with the Confederates, most likely at Dugg’s Gap. Bragg was lying in wait for the Union salient, and pushed them back to what is now the battlefield of Chickamauga.

The entire year of 1863 from Stones River to Lookout Mountain is a riveting story of one unit.

Never been there in person, sure would like to.

DDsModernLife | June 23, 2022 at 8:28 pm

For anyone who’d like to learn more about the Civil War (including interesting and authoritative accounts of Shiloh, Stones River, Gettysburg, Chickamauga) I’d strongly recommend Bruce Catton’s “This Hallowed Ground”.
Really, any of Bruce Catton’s extensive Civil War writings are worth the investment in time and money to explore them.