Volume XXV Issue #2 • An Excerpt From:

The Chickamauga Campaign:
The Battle of Chickamauga
Day 2, September 20, 1863

By William Glenn Robertson

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Having directed changes in the arrangement of two corps, Rosecrans (left) and his entourage hastened to the northern end of the army’s line, where he found Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. Upon his return from the evening conference at army headquarters, Thomas had discovered that Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird’s First Division did not reach to the Reed’s Bridge Road as Thomas had intended. Knowing how critical the roads to Rossville and McFarland’s Gap were if the army needed to return to Chattanooga, Thomas wanted to stretch his XIV Corps far enough north to protect the road junction in the vicinity of John McDonald’s modest log home. Thomas’ Second Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. James S. Negley, had been detached for two days, first to guard the Chickamauga crossing at Glass’ Mill and most recently to fill a gap in the battle line in Alex McCook’s sector. Desiring to reunite the elements of his corps and simultaneously stretch northward to defend the key ground around the McDonald House, Thomas sent a message to Rosecrans at 6:00 a.m. calling for Negley’s return. Rosecrans probably did not receive the initial request, but when he found Thomas in the vicinity of the McDonald House, the corps commander vigorously renewed his plea. At 6:30 a.m. Rosecrans dictated a message to Negley ordering him to join Thomas at once and placing him on the left of Thomas’ line. Five minutes later Rosecrans dictated a message to McCook, detailing Negley’s new orders and ordering McCook to fill Negley’s place in line, “if practicable.” Ominously, in view of the critical terrain yet undefended, Rosecrans told McCook that “the enemy appears to be moving toward our left.” If the Confederates attacked before Negley arrived, Thomas, the XIV Corps and, indeed, the entire army would be in trouble.6

After leaving the McDonald House, Rosecrans turned southward and resumed the survey of his army’s defensive line (see Map, Pg. 11). If he followed the line of Thomas’ troops, he would initially have encountered Baird’s division. Baird’s three brigades all held sections of the line, but none had all of its regiments in firing position. Baird’s left brigade, Brig. Gen. John H. King’s, occupied a one-regiment front, Col. Benjamin F. Scribner’s center brigade had two of its five regiments in reserve, and Brig. Gen. John C. Starkweather’s brigade on the division right formed in the conventional pattern of two regiments each in two lines. Only Starkweather was supported by a battery, the others having lost their guns on the previous day. Next in line to the south was Brig. Gen. Richard W. Johnson’s XX Corps division. Johnson occupied a very narrow sector, with only Col. William W. Berry’s brigade in line, and it maintained the usual two-regiment front. Behind Berry, the brigades of Col. Joseph B. Dodge and Brig. Gen. August Willich lay in reserve. Beyond Johnson, Maj. Gen. John M. Palmer of the XXI Corps placed two brigades in the front line, those of Brig. Gens. Charles Cruft and William B. Hazen, keeping Col. William Grose’s brigade in reserve. Both Cruft and Hazen maintained two-regiment fronts, in keeping with the common Federal practice. South of Palmer, Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds placed Brig. Gen. John B. Turchin’s brigade on the left and Col. Edward A. King’s brigade on the right, again with each brigade maintaining a two-regiment front. All told, Thomas’ four divisions in the perimeter tracing the northern, eastern, and southern edges of the Kelly Farm had 16 regiments in the front line and 30 either in second lines or reserve. Compounding the natural strength of the position was the fact that virtually all front-line units had fortified themselves with logs, either found in the forest or cut on the spot.7

By the time Thomas’ line reached the La Fayette Road, it faced southeast, with the road splitting Reynolds’ division. On Edward King’s right flank, the line turned and again faced east in the sector held by Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan’s division. Brannan had originally been in a reserve position in the north end of the Dyer Field, but at some point during the night the division moved into a new position extending the Federal line southward along the west edge of the small Larkin Poe farm. Brannan placed Col. John T. Croxton’s brigade on the left and Col. John M. Connell’s brigade on the right. Croxton held the front line with two of his five regiments, while Connell placed two of his three in the same position. Each brigade was supported by a battery. Brannan’s Third Brigade, commanded by Col. Ferdinand Van Derveer, lay behind the two front-line brigades in a reserve position. Beyond Brannan’s division, the last under Thomas’ direct control, General Negley’s (right) division extended the Federal line farther south. Entering the line on the previous afternoon as part of the effort to close the large hole in the Federal position ripped by Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate division, Negley’s command had fallen under the control of Alex McCook at that time and remained so on the morning of September 20. Negley held the front with the brigades of Cols. Timothy R. Stanley and William Sirwell, while Brig. Gen. John Beatty’s brigade supported the front from a reserve position. Both Stanley and Sirwell occupied three-regiment fronts, while their artillery batteries were kept some distance in the rear. The division’s front line lay along the west edge of the Brotherton Farm. Like their compatriots to the north, Negley’s men fortified their positions with logs and deadfall.8

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