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September 18-20, 1863: The Battle of Chickamauga

On September 18-20, 1863, Union and Confederate forces engaged in the Battle of Chickamauga, a bloody Civil War battle fought near the Chickamauga Creek in Georgia. The battle ended in a victory for Confederate forces and resulted in 34,000 casualties. It marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia known as the Chickamauga Campaign. It is widely considered to be the second deadliest battle of the Civil War, following the Battle of Gettysburg.  

In the summer of 1863, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans led his Union Army of the Cumberland from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, towards Chattanooga, 140 miles to the south. Chattanooga was an important rail junction for the South. The goal was to use the Federal army of about 60,000 to surround the city and cut off escape for Gen. Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee numbering about 40,000.

As the Union Army approached Chattanooga in early September, Bragg and his army abandoned the city and retreated to Chickamauga Creek, just 12 miles away. There they awaited reinforcements. More than 30,000 Confederate troops poured in, boosting morale.  Now on the offensive, the Confederates set out on the morning of September 18, 1863, to cross two bridges on the Chickamauga Creek. They encountered Union infantry and cavalrymen armed with Spencer repeating rifles blocking the way. Skirmishes ensued but Bragg’s army eventually made it across the creek.

As evening approached, the Confederates encountered Union troops north of Lee and Gordon’s Mills. Rosecrans huddled with George Thomas, a Union general, to strategize and hold open a path of retreat back to Chattanooga for Union forces. Thomas gathered troops and marched through the night to extend Union lines northward and guarantee safe passage. After marching all night, the weary and thirsty soldiers stopped to prepare breakfast near a farm owned by Elijah Kelly. Thomas soon learned that an isolated enemy force was nearby in the woods. He sent a division of his men eastward to contend with them. Fighting broke out in earnest and intensified as it spread across an area covering four miles.

The battle raged throughout September 19th. Confederate forces pounded away at the Union line but were not able to break it, leaving both sides exhausted. As night fell, temperatures dropped, and soldiers endured a night of freezing temperatures. The dead and wounded littered the fields including Merritt J. Simonds of the 42nd Illinois, Company K. He lay wounded on the battlefield for nearly a week before being attended to. On October 8th, he wrote his father a letter saying he had been severely wounded but was optimistic for recovery. He wrote a second letter on October 27th saying, “My leg is now mortifying above the knee and doctors say I cannot live more than two days at the longest. You must not take this to heart but look to a higher source for God’s comfort, for it is God’s will and I feel resigned to my fate…I would like to have my body taken home and buried beside my mother.” Simonds died shortly after and his remains lie in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

The morning of September 20th, Bragg planned a dawn attack against Union forces but a breakdown in communication delayed the first engagement until 9:30 a.m. This allowed Federal soldiers time to organize and set up a defense. In the late morning, incorrect information was transmitted to Rosecrans stating that a gap had developed in the Union line. While attempting to shore up the gap, he inadvertently moved units and created an actual gap. Confederates quickly exploited the weakness and surged through and pushed 1/3 of the Union army, including Rosecrans, off the field. Union soldiers began to retreat. Some of them, however, created a defensive line on Horseshoe Ridge near the farm of George Snodgrass. They held the ridge until evening allowing more Union soldiers to retreat, but the Confederates earned the victory. If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Chickamauga or other Civil War battles, search our Fold3 Civil War collection today!


  1. I was a history major and knew of thisbattle but not to this extent. It was horrifying to realize how much the solders on both endured. It made me very sad.

    • My great grandfather, a Confederate soldier was wounded on the second day of battle. He had fingers shot off. He was given a Convalescent leave.

      I have his billfold and his leave papers showing the amount of money he was given while on leave.

      He returned to fight in almost every major battle until General Lee surrendered. My great grandfather walked from Virginia to Alabama adr was pardoned

  2. Had the honor of visiting this site a couple of years ago. Sacred ground for sure. Thank you for a great summary of the battle, wish I would of had it to read before my trip.

  3. I had two great-great-uncles with the 2nd Minnesota there on Snodgrass Hill. They later fought at Chattanooga and one died in Jan. 1864 after re-enlisting. I believe he died in Nashville while heading home on the furlough given to the troops who re-enlisted. His brother, who didn’t re-enlist must have stayed in the Chattanooga area and lived to return to Minnesota in July 1864. A third brother, my great-grandfather, served with the 4th Minnesota until being discharged due to disability in Nov. 1862. He had fought at Mills Springs, KY. A fourth relative, a man who would marry the brothers’ sister after the war and become another great-great-uncle was a sergeant in the 4th and in July 1863 he transferred to become an official in a U.S. Colored Troops regiment.

    • I wouldn’t be so proud of being associated with invaders engaging in an unconstitutional attack against sovereign states ( which was the general consensus of 90 % of everyone in the nation). Their desire for glory and to prove their superiority over those in the south led to 750,000 deaths on both sides , the mutilation , disability and subsequent deaths of several hundred thousand more and the destruction of many hundreds of thousands of families including mine. The boys of the south were fighting the second revolution defending their lands against oppression and subjigation. I lost two gg and ggg grandfathers, uncle’s, and cousins ( one that I know of at this battle) so it is a touchy subject. I had some yankee ancestors on one side but I hate to even think about it as one famous surgeon in Stonewall’s command said.

    • Michael Davis, Who were your great uncles.? Have you looked up to see if they are listed in the “History of the Minnesota Valley”?

    • They were George and Abram Chadderdon, ggg-grandsons of the Michael Chatterton who farmed Chatterton Hill where the Revolutionary War Battle of White Plains took place on. The family brought the family to the Belle Plaine area of the Minnesota River valley from NY in about 1855. The father, Jonathan, served in the MN legislature 1859-60. I’ve heard of the work you mentioned but haven’t seen it.

  4. The famous muddled order of Chickamauga brought about the defeat of the Union Army but immortalized Thomas as the Rock of Chickamauga because he organized the forces that covered tje Union retreat. Later the Union defeated the Confederates in the Battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge that secured Cattanooga for North.

    • Yes, it is not allowed to celebrate a victory, so a nanny nanny has to repeat the obvious. We Southerners are aware that the South lost the war. And it was the end of united states and the beginning of the Federal Government, our ruler.

  5. A well-done summary of the battle and one that any history buff should read. I was taken back at what appeared the calmness of the young man dying. I figure that this was somewhat redone if not, it is amazing!

    • I read that a Confederate Soldier was passed for dead by a detail sent out to bring in the wounded. He was passed over because he had been shot in the chest at the heart area. Some time passed and moaning was heard from the battlefield. Troops went out and recovered the man. It was determined that his heart was not on the left side but almost in the middle of his chest. The bullet had missed his heart completely.

    • I was also amazed at the young mans faith…in the face of death…he had surrendered his life and situation to his Creator…and seemed at peace with his fate…brave soldier he was.

  6. I hope that you follow up with a summary of the Battle of Missionary Ridge. My great grandmother’s brother, Sgt. Daniel Moore, survived Chickamauga, but was “grievously wounded” with the 9th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry during their charge up Missionary Ridge. He died of his wounds perhaps ten days later & is buried at the Chattanooga cemetery.

    • My 2nd great grandfather, Isaac Thomas Barry, aka Tom Berry, also fought with the 9th KY Inf.,Co. H, at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. In late April of 1864 he and 99 others, including George Grainger who was in the same company, were transferred to the Confederate Navy and ordered to Macon, Georgia. It seems likely they served as part of the Savannah River Squadron. Tom went on to a long career as a steamboat engineer after the war, even serving as 2nd engineer on the “Robert E Lee” during the famous race with the “Natchez”. He died at age 73 in 1900.

    • Turns out that my Ggrandmother’s brother was in the Union Army 9th KVI. Both the Confederate & the Union 9th Regiments fought at Stone’s River, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. A bit confusing some times!

    • My great great grandfather was a corporal in Company C 27th Mississippi Infantry. He fought at Missionary Ridge where he was captured on November 25, 1863. He was held prisoner at Rock Island Barracks, Illinois till June 18, 1865. Rock Island Barracks was considered the Andersonville of the north but he survived and I’m proud to be his ancestor.

    • Do you know if he was related to the Moore’s of South Carolina? Probably not closely, as most local units remained together. My gg grandfather Gabriel Cannon Moore was retained at Petersburg during the Gettysburg campaign, but was wounded there, probably from the tunnel explosion and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. The report said he suffered from “ambustion.”

  7. Just visited Lookout Mountain in June, while on a trip to GSM to scatter mother’s ashes.. Had passed thru (and stopped) with family as a kid back in the 1960’s, but rode the incline up this time. Chickamauga was mentioned in the small theatrical center presentation they had at the visitor’s center/gift shop. One of my great-grandfathers then went on with Sherman’s march to the sea.

  8. My ancestor fought with the 15th WI infantry at this battle. He was taken prisoner and went to Libby prison. The commander of his regiment was Col Hans C Heg who was killed in action at Chickamauga. His statute stands on the Capitol square in Madison, WI.

    • Thre are two other identical statues dedicated to Col. Hans Christian Heg. One is located in Norway, Wisconsin just northeast of the Village of Waterford where Heg lived and raised the 15th up (only regiment in either army where commands were given in Norwegian and they also had 87 Ole Olson’s in the regiment!). The other one in Oslo, Norway where Heg was born.

  9. My maternal grandfather lost both his maternal and paternal grandfathers at the battle of Chickamauga. Family history says they were buried in the same grave.
    Thanks for the information.

  10. My great, great grandfather was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga. He survived and endured months of recovery. He went on to finish his service and was paroled in April 1865. He fought with the 1st Battalion, Tennessee Infantry (Colms’). After much research, I learned he also was a prisoner of war, held in a camp in Indiana. It is amazing that he survived years of this horrible conflict.

  11. My great grandfather’s brother Martin Duke Hendrick died there fighting on the Confederate side.

    • Robert,

      My greatgrandfather also had a brother killed in this battle.
      John (Jack) Hendrick born about 1842 in Chesterfield County, SC and died in battle in Sept.1863. I miss emails from Will Hendricks keeping us all coordinated.


  12. My great grandfather missed the battle (Michael weese union soldier) from Chattanooga area and was captured at Rogersville Tn and sent to Andersonville prison in Ga and died of starvation,such a waste and sorrow for the family at least he and his 18 year old son have a tombstone

  13. I transcribed a letter Bryan Morel Thomas, my 2nd great grandfather, wrote his aunt who became his mother when his mama died. Very interesting details were included in his letter from this time.

  14. My 3rd great uncle, George W. Iler was killed at Chickamauga on Sept, 19th 1863. He was possibly the first killed on that day. I still have not been able to determine where he is buried.

  15. My great grandfather arrived after the battle there. He wrote in his log “the river was red with the blood of the wounded and dead”. It must have been awful. He served in the SC Second Rifles.

  16. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to tour the Chickamauga battleground a few years ago. My great grandfather, Nathaniel Holmes, fought there. He was a member of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, who were mounted infantry. He enlisted in the Union Army at the first call for volunteers, survived the war, and lived to be ninety years old.

  17. My 3rd G. uncle, Isaac Flick, 38th Indiana Vol. Infantry Co. I. was wounded Sept. 19th 1863 at Chickamauga. He lay on the bare ground for 3 weeks, then sent by rail to Libby Prison. He was in prison for 24 hrs. then sent to the hospital for about 3 months. From there he was sent to City-Point Va. from there to Annapolis for 2 months, from there to Indianapolis In. for 4 or 5 months then discharged.

  18. I visited the site a few years back. It is one of the best sites to see how a battle unfolds. They have turned the area into 1 big history lesson. I was so pressed. It is one of the best Civl War sites I’ve ever visited

    • I agree. Outside of Gettysburg and Antietnam, it is probably one of the best preserved battlefields untouched, mostly, by development encroachment. The staff is very helpful. The walking tour is a must, and the audio tour for your car is helpful. (Not sure that today’s cars without a CD player or cassette player can use the tour. Perhaps they have developed it for bluetooth use.)

  19. So glad to see so many keeping track of their family’s heritage, it’s so important for future generations to understand what our forefathers endured for us to have this great country we have. I knew nothing about my family history until I started my account and have learned so much. Thank you, Fold3 for these great articles.

  20. Am looking for any information on my great grandfather, Lawson Charles Williams. He was in the Confederate Army from Texas. I would like to know where he served and if he if he was in any of the battles with the Union.
    Thanks, Roger Williams Email: [email protected]
    At times he was called, Lawcy or Lawson or Charles

  21. My gr-gr-gr grandfather Reuben Binkley was captured during Chickmauga while returning to his unit, Indiana 81st. Also captured was the pack train and other supplies. There were about 200 prisoners captured the day on the 19th and marched to Libby Prison, in Richmond [?]. Every thing my ancestor endured gives me courage and endurance. He has become a real hero of mine.

  22. My gr-gr-gr grandfather Reuben Binkley was captured during Chickmauga while returning to his unit, Indiana 81st. Also captured was the pack train and other supplies. There were about 200 prisoners captured the day on the 19th and marched to Libby Prison, in Richmond [?]. Every thing my ancestor endured gives me courage and endurance. He has become a real hero of mine.

  23. Well done. Chickamauga is not easily condensed. We use this battle as a leadership and team study for management teams. It holds a rich palette of lessons regarding such topics as personal leadership, or the correlation between internal culture and external performance. And an outstanding example of a high-performance team in Wilder’s Lightning Brigade! Glad to see the feature on Chickamauga!

  24. Thomas earned the nickname “Rock of Chickamauga” and Rosecrans was forever, perhaps unfairly, disgraced for riding back to Chattanooga to organize the defense from the broken units streaming back there from the Union right, shattered by Longstreet’s attack through the gap in the lines. However, some responsibility should have been shouldered by Thomas for his constant pleas sent back to Rosecrans for reinforcements to be sent to his sector. That led, in part, to the Union right sliding to the left. Additionally, there is evidence, sometimes disputed, that the unit that moved thus creating the gap was led by a general who had earlier been chewed out by Rosecrans and that he knew there was no gap for his unit to close, but moved anyway, perhaps either out of spite or to avoid another tough-lashing from Rosecrans.

    • Additionally, the first day’s battle began on the north end of the field and progressed to the south and southwest with each side feeding in units that tended to catch the enemy in the flank. Because of the thick underbrush of the battlefield, it was often difficult to see beyond 50 to 100 feet, thus enemy units ran into each other in a series of flanking attacks progressing south – with Confederates hitting the right flank of Union units and Union units hitting the left flank of Southern units. My great-great-uncles 2nd Minnesota took part in the opening attacks of the battle at the northeast end of the field.

  25. I often wonder what those who lived at the time of the Civil War (War Between the States) would think of the state of the US today. So many on both sides were non-citizen immigrants fight for something they could not receive from their homelands. Whether North or South or the product of later immigration, one must recognize what they endured. History is just that, History.

    • You may be right, and I have often wondered the same thing; although my conclusion is that the North had the bulk of fresh immigrates, as they recruited directly from Ellis Island. My understanding is that the North was fighting for the concept of the Union as a whole, while the Southerners were fighting because they were protecting their farms from a Northern invasion. It infuriates me that modern scholars, who should know better, are so eager to disgrace all Southerners as fighting to preserve slavery when the majority did not own slaves and probably hated the slave-holding aristocrates for bringing on a Northern invasion as much as the Abolitionists hated them for owning slaves.

    • Many with History backgrounds and or degrees understand most of the South fought for States Rights. I am one of them.
      I also had family who fought on both sides, Irish immigrants from NY who fought in the 164 th NY Infantry, Corcoran’s Brigade, and from the South who fought with the 2nd Confederate Cavalry and other Southern units. Very few of my relatives owned slaves.
      I have to shake my head when i hear about the alturistic North. There were anti draft riots in several Northern cities and many in the North owned slaves at one time. The Triangular Trade, manufacured goods from Europe to Africa, then Slaved to the Americas and Sugar, Rum from the Americas to Europe often was financed by NY and Boston financiers. The Civil War was a fairly complex event. It cannot be explained or described by simply stating North=Abolition, South =Slave Holders.

  26. My GGGrandfather was Pvt Thomas Hamilton Adkisson Co E 38th Alabama Infantry CSA Army Of Tennessee he was wounded twice and was in the service from June 1862- may1865 a native of Pulaski Co Georgia moved to Leon Co Texas in January of 1873 and buried in Old Dublin Erath Co Texas cemetery in May 1915

  27. Great article! I now my g-g-grandfather fought in E Company of 10th Indiana Volunteers. At Springs Mills, at this battle, and his company listed as forefront of Missionary Ridge charge in Chattanooga.
    I read the Union generals really desired a feint to draw out the enemy but ended up with their men trapped/exposed in front of ridge taking fire. They’d had it, so charged uphill to survive. Surprised the generals, who had to back them up with troops and supplies! Of course this was taken from 10th IN record book.
    My ancestor came home to IN to be mustered out as a sergeant, then re-enlisted in the Calvary. Served about a year, then all were mustered out. I suspect Thomas Ellis was glad to say goodbye to it all!
    G-g-grandpa actually walked the grounds of a civil war arsenal in Indianapolis where I attended high school in the 1960s, (Arsenal Technical HS). My four years were easier than his!

  28. (Second sentence is “know” instead of “now”. Ooops. )

  29. I had two great grandfathers fight for the union army. One was my namesake, and he fought for Pennsylvania. The other on my mothers
    others side fought for Wisconsin. There are others that fought for the confederacy. I have no hatred for either side and I’m deeply offended that confederate statues are being removed or torn down by liberal confederates. Leave history alone, especially from you people that don’t have a clue what it means! At some point we will fight against liberal tyranny. Just. Keep. Pushing.

    • Thank you. That was well said, and true. College kids presently have it pumped in their heads that the war was all about slavery and are urged to go out and change the world to conform with their newly indoctrinated and flaming Liberal beliefs.

  30. Amazing that the story doesn’t mention that Lee sent Longstreet’s Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia to help Bragg win the battle. Lee was a master tactician, seeing things that others didn’t. Used the railroads to great advantage, keeping the Union off balance by shifting troops around.

  31. I had three half brothers in my family who fought each other at Chickamauga. Two other brothers had already been captured or wounded in earlier campaigns, but three still were fighting at Chickamauga. Until 4 years ago I did not know about the one brother who fought for the Confederacy, as the rest were Union. Seeing the severity of the battle, how close it was to home for these men from Tennessee, and the utter humiliation it must have been for the Union brothers, I now understand why we did not know about the Confederate brother until we verified his family through DNA. We knew there was another brother from census records, but the family never spoke of him.

  32. Great history here but… freezing overnight temps in northern GA on Sept 20th??? I very highly doubt that!

  33. I hav visited many Civil War Battlefields. have donated $ to preserve same. I was at Chicamaugua in May 2018. The staff was so responsive, while I watched the movie in their thetre, a young lady researched my relatives that fought in the Civil War and gave me a wonderful detailed accounting of their rank, unit, etc. when I was finsihed watching the story of the Battle of Chickamaugua. I highly recommend visiting this battlefield

  34. My great-great grandfather George
    Quincey Gardner (Wisconsin regiment) fought in this Battle.

  35. My paternal Ggrandfather and his brother, were in Co K 42nd Ill infantry. His brother died here. My maternal gGrandfather and two brothers fought for the South at this battle, one brother died, and another lost a leg. In history discussions at family gatherings, this battle is reverently “off limits”. I think this might be the case in a lot of US families. The Civil War was hell.

    • The rulantance by our ancestors to discuss the war is a very good observation, and almost universal. I should think that my grandfather would be proud that his grandfather spent the entire war in Lee’s army, rose to the rank of 3rd sergeant, and was paroled at Appomattox…but he never said a word. I am 56 and from South Carolina, and I remember Confederate car tags that read, “Forget Hell”; but no one wanted to talk about it. Moreover, my best friend was a black kid who lived in a house provided by my grandfather in exchange for his family’s help on the farm. We had cattle and peaches, and we all drank from the same water dipper. Although the work was hard, it remains my fondest memory of childhood. There was no hint of racism, and we knew nothing about a war, nor slavery, we enjoyed a symbiotic relationship.

  36. While visiting this battlefield years ago I discovered a small hill that had been occupied by an Indiana Artillery Battery. They repelled three frontal assaults by the Confederates and took almost 50% casualties but held the hill! The commander of that battery was CPT Eli Lilly the founder of the company that bares his name today!

  37. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I do have a relative who fought in this battle but do not know much. His name was McAmis and after reading the comments, I will try to do some research. Thank you all for the information that has spurred me on. Joan C. McAmis Good

  38. Why, Joan Girdler, are you a bit embarrassed to have a relative who fought in this battle? There were brave men who fought, injured, and died in this war from all backgrounds. North and South fighting over the South wanting to remain as their own sovereign entity. Lots of great stories about the ones who fought. My 5th great grandfather Pvt. Mitchell Spencer was killed at the Battle of Shiloh. His brother, a surgeon, Captain John Spencer, fighting, and tending to the medical needs of the 44th Battalion. I’m proud that they showed such bravery and valor.

  39. I had a gr., gr., gr. Uncle David C. Jennings with the 31st Ohio Infantry Company D, who at age 18, was killed at Chickamauga. I visited the battlefield in April 2009 and was directed by a helpful park employee to the monument near where he died. In touring the battlefield, I was stunned by the brutality of the close range conflict and the huge amounts of casualties. On the other side of my family were soldiers at Bull Run, Gettysburg, and other battles, but David was the only family member killed in the conflict.

  40. I worked at Fort Devens in Massachusetts for many years. The Army post was named after Brevet Major General Charles Devens who was an abolitionist lawyer from Worcester , Mass. He was a Union soldier wounded at Chickamagua. He was later named U.S. Attorney General under President Rutherford B. Hayes.

  41. My great Uncle Owen Oliver was killed at Chickamauga on September 20th 1863.

  42. Anyone who wishes to wishes to read a great, descriptive short story about the battle of Chickamauga, written by a Union solder, Ambrose Bierce, who later vanished in Mexico, can access it at the following link:

  43. My gggrandfather Gabriel Cannon Moore arrived with Hood’s division too late to late to take part in the Confederate victory at Chickamauga; but I visited the battlefield in 1997. In terms of human history, it was not that long ago. I found the South Carolina monument in a remote area. It is a real shame that we do not have Federal laws protecting all such monuments for future generations.

  44. Both my paternal and maternal great grand fathers were in Indiana units. We still have 3 pieces of furniture made by one of them. They were not in these particular battles but marched unbelievable distances in short times.
    I just wanted to say it is heartening to see so many informed and polite comments with none of the ill informed political nonsense and name calling common on the Trivia Today threads.

  45. My g uncle, Casper Shoupe was killed at Chickamauga fighting with the 45th Alabama.
    Have been trying to locate where he was buried since 1958. No luck.

  46. To Charles Belser,
    Looking over my post you replied to, I fail to see where I expressed being proud. You need to get over it. Almost no one except you took this as an opportunity to refight the war and make it political. Sad.

  47. Jenny Ashcraft,

    You misidentified Gen. Braxton Bragg’s army as the Army of the Tennessee. The Army of the Tennessee was a Union army named for the Tennessee River. Bragg’s army was the Army of Tennessee.

  48. Charles Belser
    I would be interested in reading the source of the 90% information you reference.
    I also had relatives fight on both sides. As a History major i would have to step back from the claim you make about unConstitutionality of the Union’s stance.

  49. My great-grandfather Col John Lafayette Camp was in this battle and was shot in the leg. His manservant King Beasley (known as a mulatto) saved his life by stopping the bleeding with a hot iron.

  50. My research concerning my MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER’S FATHER has not been sufficient to develop the kind of information so many have shared in this Fold3 blog. PERHAPS SOMEONE CAN POINT ME TO THE CORRECT PATH, OR EVEN SHARE SOME INFORMATION ABOUT THE MAN WHO WAS MY GREAT GRANDFATHER, a young man from Alabama who fought on the side of the Confederates, and died from wounds sustained in battle. His name was Samuel Lawrence Whaley. His only known child was Hester Ann Whaley, my grandmother, who was two years old when her father died.