Chickamauga 150 Countdown: The Battle

By Ron Fritze


So what’s up with this Battle of Chickamauga? Well, it was one of the American Civil War’s major battles and the bloodiest battle fought in the Western theater of the war. Over 120,000 soldiers fought at Chickamauga. Scattered fighting occurred on 18 September 1863 followed by two days of all-out battle on 19 and 20 September. The Union army numbered 58,000 men under William Rosecrans while the Confederate army consisted of 66,000 men commanded by Braxton Bragg. It is a unique battle in that it was one of the few Civil War battles where the Southern army had numerical superiority. Also, as far as the events of the Western theater of the Civil War went, it was the only major victory for Southern forces in that theater of the war.
Chickamauga was a costly battle in terms of casualties. The Union army lost 16,170 killed, wounded, and missing. Confederate forces suffered 18,397 killed, wounded, and missing. The percentage of casualties for both armies was about thirty percent which is generally considered to be a mauling.
The South’s victory at Chickamauga gave the Confederacy a badly needed boost in morale. The first few days of July 1863 had seen the two great Northern victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, widely considered by historians to be turning points in the Civil War. For people in both the North and the South living through those events, Chickamauga seemed to reverse the effects of Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The defeated Union army had retreated into Chattanooga where it was besieged by Confederate forces. It was in grave danger of being forced to surrender.
The Northern military rallied in response to the crisis. Heroic efforts were made to supply the hungry Union troops bottled up in Chattanooga. Reinforcements from Grant’s army at Vicksburg and from the Army of the Potomac in the Eastern theater were rushed to Chattanooga. By late November, with Grant in command, Union forces went the offensive, breaking the siege of Chattanooga and badly defeating Braxton Bragg’s army. Once more the pendulum of victory had swung back to favor the North.
Today there is a Chickamauga/Chattanooga Battlefield Park that is operated by the National Park Service. Although the city of Chattanooga has grown over much of the Chattanooga battlefield, the Chickamauga battlefield is very well preserved. It is also the first battlefield park to be authorized by Congress in 1890. Authorizations followed for Shiloh in 1894, Gettysburg in 1895, and Vicksburg in 1899. These parks are all worth visiting and exploring. Remember the Center for Lifelong Learning is sponsoring a bus trip to Chickamauga on 21 September for the 150th anniversary.

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