Volume XXIV Issue #6 • An Excerpt From:

The Chickamauga Campaign:
The Battle of Chickamauga
Day 1, September 19, 1863

By William Glenn Robertson

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Note: All Blue & Gray feature articles are annotated.

Postwar view of the Reed's Bridge site on West Chickamauga Creek where the 69th Ohio attempted to destroy the crossing.

Throughout the history of warfare, commanders’ plans have been implemented by subordinates, many of whom, with the best of intentions, have frequently acted in ways counter to their leader’s wishes. The struggle that became the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19, 1863 was no different, with random encounters by small units opening the fight at a place and time contrary to Bragg’s and Rosecrans’ wishes. Instead of beginning near Lee and Gordon’s Mills, as Bragg intended, it would start several miles to the north, near William Jay’s steam-powered sawmill just west of Reed’s Bridge over the Chickamauga. On the previous day Confederate units under Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood and Brig. Gens. Bushrod Johnson and Nathan Bedford Forrest (right) gained the Reed’s Bridge crossing, turned left at Jay’s Mill, and marched two and a half miles southward through the forest. Arriving several hundred yards west of Jay’s Mill just as the tail of Hood’s column departed, Col. Daniel McCook’s Federal brigade established defensive positions on a slight elevation and sent scouts forward. Those scouts captured numerous stragglers and found them to be part of Brig. Gen. Evander McNair’s brigade of Johnson’s Division. McCook’s command belonged to Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger’s Reserve Corps, part of which lay at Rossville Gap, several miles to the northwest. McCook had come to Jay’s Mill to support the Federal defense of Reed’s Bridge, but arrived too late to assist Col. Robert Minty’s cavalry brigade. During the evening, after being reinforced by another Reserve Corps unit, Col. John Mitchell’s brigade, McCook advanced a strong picket line toward Jay’s Mill. Less than a mile away, Confederate pickets from units still east of the stream stood guard at Reed’s Bridge.2

Not long after 2:00 a.m. on the 19th, Dan McCook (left) had reached a decision. He believed that if he destroyed Reed’s Bridge, the Confederate units that had crossed the Chickamauga the evening before would be prevented from recrossing the stream. In addition to his own four Ohio and Illinois regiments, McCook had the 69th Ohio Infantry under Lt. Col. Joseph Brigham as an attachment. Using the unwritten but time-tested rule regarding attachments, McCook ordered Brigham’s unit to advance to the wooden bridge and burn it. With Capt. Lewis Hicks and Cos. A and F in the lead, guided by a reluctant civilian, the Ohio regiment moved through the darkness toward Reed’s Bridge. Quickly capturing the Confederate pickets west of the stream, Hicks’ men charged across the structure, driving other surprised Confederates before them. The remainder of the regiment rapidly tore up the flooring and set it ablaze using kindling they had brought with them. Meanwhile, Hicks’ two companies could hear Confederates stirring in nearby bivouacs and snapping musket caps to dry their guns preparatory to responding to the alarm. With the bridge beginning to burn behind him, Hicks quickly withdrew across the stringers and joined the regiment in rapid flight back to McCook’s position. Upon reaching safety within the Federal picket line, some of the 69th Ohio passed back beyond the pickets of the 86th Illinois in search of water at a small spring near Jay’s Mill. There they joined other Federal soldiers boiling water over a small fire for their morning coffee.3

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