With the scars from Gettysburg still fresh in the mind of the Union, attentions were turned on September 19 and 20, 1863, to the Battle of Chickamauga. Along the Chickamauga Creek in Georgia, Confederate General Braxton Braggs, Union General William Rosecrans and more than 120,000 men came to blows. The casualties were the worst that the western campaigns would endure, with approximately 34,000 men injured, captured or killed, including Mary Todd Lincoln’s brother-in-law and Confederate brigadier general Benjamin Hardin Helm.
The battle’s outcome would determine who would gain control of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which, at the time, was a crucial railway gateway. The first day of battle resulted in heavy artillery firing on both ends, but the Union lines held through the night. The Union showed promising signs, the next morning until a crucial error by General Rosecrans created a large gap in his lines, which allowed the Confederates to move in. A large majority of Union soldiers, including Rosecrans, retreated soon after. The remaining Union soldiers rallied behind Major General George Thomas, who became known as the “Rock of Chickamauga.” For hours, Thomas and a small group of soldiers would hold off the Confederates until they could finally retreat under the cover of nightfall.
The casualties at Chickamauga were momentous, and the Union’s loss was a crushing blow. The North’s offensive control of large sections of Tennessee and Georgia would end and the city of Chattanooga would now be controlled by the Confederates.
Connie Golding earned a bachelor’s degree in History with a minor in Fine Arts from The George Washington University.