Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Visit to Chickamauga

In keeping with my previous set of posts regarding my January trip to Georgia, I wanted to share some pictures from my visit to Chickamauga. Originally, my trip was supposed to stretch from January 5th through January 10th. However, due to an impending snow storm (I use the term lightly: the 6 inches that qualify as a blizzard worthy of crippling air travel and cities in the South barely count as a dusting in Ohio) I was forced to leave a day early, on the 9th. Thus, on the 8th, my last day in Georgia, my awesome Uncle Jeff and I made the drive north from Kennesaw towards the remote northwestern corner of the state. It was a cold January day, but we didn't mind (well, I think Jeff minded, but this grizzled Ohioan not as much...). I am one who rarely passes on Civil War excursions and quality family time, and this outing offered both, making it one of the more memorable trips I have made.

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought on September 19 and 20, 1863, and it holds the distinction of being the bloodiest two day battle of the war. It ranks second behind Gettysburg on the list of bloodiest battles overall. Antietam was the costliest single day battle, Chickamauga the bloodiest two day fight, and Gettysburg takes first prize as being far and away the bloodiest fight of the entire war. Chickamauga's casualty count came in at around 34,000 killed, wounded and missing. Chickamauga was a decisive Confederate victory, the last major Southern battlefield victory of the Civil War. Braxton Bragg's Confederate forces routed Union forces commaded by William Rosencrans, sending them back towards Tennessee where two months later, in the city of Chattanooga, General Ulysses S. Grant would arrive to help salvage Union hopes and lead Union forces to victory at the Battle of Chattanooga.

My Uncle Jeff and I arrived at Chickamauga around mid-afternoon, and had just a few hours to take the standard driving tour of the field. We began at the Visitor Center, and soon made our way out onto the battlefield on a blustery and cold January day...

The Brotherton Cabin at Chickamauga. This was the site of the Confederate breakthrough of the Union lines on the second day of the battle. Due to a confusion in orders, the division which held this area was sent to reinforce another section of the line, leaving it vulnerable to the massive frontal assault launched by the troops of Longstreet's command.

This is one of the rather stylish war department tablets on the Chickamauga Battlefield. In the 1890s, the War Department created 5 national battlefields: Antietam, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga-Chickamauga. These parks were set aside and protected to serve as open air classrooms for military groups to study and learn from. As a result, they are very well preserved and are dotted with war department tablets, such as the one you see above. While I have been to three of these battlefields, Shiloh and Vicksburg are still on my must see list, and I hope to cross them off sometime in the not too distant future.
Another view of the Brotherton Cabin. For being a well known spot on the battlefield, it is a small structure. My Uncle Jeff, being the crazy man that he is, was constantly trying to get past the bars on the doors to get inside. Apparently, just seeing the inside wasn't enough...

The 105th Ohio Monument at Chickamauga. I must admit, I am not very knowledgeable about this battle and this battlefield, as I only had a couple hours to spend driving through. However, the 105th Ohio is one of the regiments that stood out for me during my research on the Atlanta Campaign, which occured several months later in 1864. They were recruited from Northeastern Ohio, especially from Lake and Geauga Counties (my neck of the woods). I found several published collections of letters, and the Western Reserve Historical Society had a good deal of information on the unit as well. As I learned more and more about the regiment, I became more and more interested in the Western Theater of the war. Thus, finding their monument at Chickamauga was especially fascinating for me.
The rear view of the monument, listing names and numbers of casualties from the battle.

The Wilder Brigade Monument, towering 85 feet into the air. Also known as the Lightning Brigade, the brigade was commanded by Colonel John T. Wilder and it helped to slow the Confederate advance that broke through at the Brotherton Cabin on September 20, 1863. Wilder's men were largely armed with 7 shot Spencer carbines. After they slowed part of the Confederate advance, Wilder led a counterattack in the direction of Snodgrass Hill (see below) where they helped to further slow the attack and to allow Major General George Thomas and his 4th Corps to save the day and prevent a complete Union rout.

It should be noted that here as well my Uncle Jeff was angry that he could not get past the iron gate. For some reason, the gate was locked that cold day, and we couldn't ascend the spiral staircase to the top of the monument. Of course, it should also be noted that I managed to talk my Uncle Jeff out of his desire to climb the monument, preventing a situation which undoubteldy would have resulted in the 2nd Battle of Chickamauga...

The Snodgrass House, sitting on Snodgrass Hill. It was here, late in the day on September 20th, 1863, where Major General George Thomas managed to slow the rapidly advancing Confederate forces and hold his ground long enough to allow for an orderly Union retreat from the field. As a result of his actions on this spot, Thomas was thenceforward known as the "Rock of Chickamauga."

The monuments to the men who fought and died on Snodgrass Hill.

Finally, we came across a few Civil War deer while traversing the Chickamauga Battlefield. One can certainly debate which side these deer would have been fighting for, as they seem to be lacking any clear unit identity. However, I must say that I always enjoy seeing deer and other wildlife out on battlefields, as it reminds the visitor that these places are not only preserved lanscapes from history, but they are also National Parks that offer great natural beauty as well. Thus, the next time you visit a Civil War battlefield, try to make sure you leave it a little cleaner, a little nicer, and a little bit better preserved than it was when you found it. Preserving these places for future generations to learn from is important, but preserving their natural beauty is crucial as well. 

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