tv The Civil War Battle of Chickamauga Horseshoe Ridge Defense CSPAN December 23, 2017 7:17pm-8:01pm EST
that still resounds today and about how many people were fathered by u.s. g.i.'s in vietnam -- how they were treated after their departure. >> you can be featured during our next live program. about how many people were fathered join the cn facebook. and on twitter @cspanhistory. author david powell talks about the union defense of horseshoe ridge during the 1863 battle in georgia. troops under general george thomas halted a confederate assault that threaten to overwhelm the union army of the cumberland. this 45 minute talk was part of his imposing on great defenses of the civil war posted by the emerging civil war. [applause] >> i'd better deliver with that.
thank you for having me. withdelighted to be here the emerging civil war. let's talk about horseshoe ridge. let me tell you that it's not a horseshoe shaped nor a ridge. more on that later. in september 1863, the union army of a cumberland and confederate army of tennessee came together in north georgia and thought the three-day battle. the second-largest battle of the civil war, 130,000 men. approximately 340,000 casualties
confederate army of tennessee out of that. one of the things i found while researching this is that everybody has a different number for the casualties. as noted, it is i a confusing battle. i will give you a brief sketch of the first two days of the battle. september 18, 1863, largely a recovering force action. thank you, derek. you're defining that. there are a lot of parallels with reactions on july 1 at gettysburg. brigades went well. across chickamauga creek for the best part of a full day. they disrupt the confederate battle plan. as a result, the fighting that begins next day, which is sometimes seen as the traditional first day of the battle, but i think it's in midst -- the fighting that
begins on september 19, 1863 will begin at 7:30 in the morning. it was at night and consist mostly of back and forth in the woods between the road called the lafayette road. the fighting is very indecisive. it decides nothing, achieves nothing. it runs up enormous casualties for both sides -- they find themselves fighting oppositions that comes in from unexpected directions. they are unprepared for the nature of the combat. even though the primary goal is attack the union army, drive that away the city of chattanooga, the battlefield is some 10 miles -- chattanooga it is right on the tennessee georgia line.
even other plans don't work out very well at all, september 20 the next days battle -- on the night of september 19, general rosecrans and break holds command conferences -- rosecrans especially much like at stones river. court commanders gather and decide what to do. once again they decide to stay. they are going to fight it out. in the morning of september 20, when the two armies wake up, when daylight comes, they prepare for battle. september 20 is where -- a couple major mistakes in civil war history. the first is made by the confederates -- to attack at day dawn. that angst and confusion -- and incompetent, translates into a 10:00 in the morning assault. not very efficient.
as if to see them and do them one better, the union issues such the union command issues a confused order, the atheist to close the app in the union battle line. the server goes to a man named thomas j would. it orders him to pull out of line and move north immediately. this happens about one hour after confederates begin their assault. on that party will are part of the field where general would is, it's quiet for the moment, but can that are general james -- who is just arrived from virginia will mass 11,000 troops. this is the luckiest accident of
the civil war. confederates drive, one third of the union army of the battlefield -- they route two union court commanders, and the union army commander, william thecrans is caught up in retreat. this senior officers will end up back in chattanooga. the union army is essentially shattered on september 20. only general george h. thomas is left to conduct the battle. as i said about two thirds of the union army, roughly 30,000 troop this is clearly a disaster. here is general thomas. interesting things. about the defense that stabilizes after this disaster. george thomas is the man who gets -- the defensive horseshoe ridge.
defend horseshoe ridge. he ultimately doesn't have that role. these are the two generals who probably played the greatest role in actually coalescing this defense. it's their troops from their presence on the battlefield will stabilize union army in the immediate aftermath of this disastrous order. that order went to general wood and he pulled out of line. but that actually meant was he was not cut in this. after this disaster was discovered, he turned around and or specs became intimately involved in the fighting. the battle lines looked like on the morning of september 20.
you see the union line in blue there, confederates are red. plan was to begin an attack in the north there and push the whole union army south. bragg wants to push these people down to a box canyon in north georgia. he can trap them there, destroy them, or the very least, drive them back into alabama and across the tennessee river and bus, recapture chattanooga and that the union. on the morning of september 20 -- the confederates make little
he was worried about being cut off from chattanooga. this road we saw -- the third direct route to chattanooga. he ordered the general to he ordered the general to establish an artillery position. if the wrong button, sorry. this overlooks the main union defensive line. your him to establish -- he ordered him to position the light blue. of course the breakthrough
didn't happen up north, it happens down south. down this way. ultimately, the purple line i drew, the arrows down, that's where the battle of horseshoe ridge ultimately happened. thomas had the position to post-truth on high ground. but, not the plan that he is the defending -- he ended up defending. on september 20 at noon, the confederates broke through to the south. they overran thre divisions. they overran horacio vancleave. sheridan's division -- the
division, a small division of jefferson columbus, not the confederate president. they got into a quarrel with general nelson in 1862, shot and killed him on the gulf house in louisville. who was indicted but never tried. three union divisions were driven off the battlefield by approximately noon. is left to union divisions. he, you can see here -- he is moving south. they probably should get the most immediate credit for -- or through bridge. the initial counterattacks that
forces the confederates to react. forces the confederates to react. starting to pull some troops away from the main breakthrough. they had a choice to make. general bragg's original plan was to attack in the north. up can see general polk there. each commanded half of the confederate army. general polk's up there. attack was to push the federal army south. as they were being pushed out
and complete the offensive. it worked better than expected. behind, whenshing james long street pulled through, he had all of this stuff south, the south end of the union line. all of that stuff was driven off the field. -- well, he has choice. he can either push push west and follow those troops as they retreat, or if he's going to deal with the bulk of the union army still on the battlefield, he will have to turn north and go up this way. that's ultimately the decision he makes, to turn and head north. that will create the conditions to bring us to the battle
of horseshoe ridge. i mentioned john brennan -- these are his troops that formed this initial line here. who wasned james negley originally tasked with holding this line. the results of the breakthrough badly confused -- the army commanders not on the battle. he sends a courier to general rosecrans to try and get through and find out what he should do. sends the carrier back with the words that he can offer no more hell. -- no more help. sends the carriernegley cannots person, george thomas. he therefore ultimately decides
that he is going to join the retreat. george thomas isn't very far from general negley on this battlefield. but by the time george thomas rich is the beginning of the defensive horseshoe ridge, and this snaking blue line that --ms on the hills, 1, 2, 3 negley is nowhere to be found. approximately 12:30 in the afternoon, he retreated from the battlefield and taken with him roughly 2500 troops and somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 artillery. i just caught up a lot of the rescues of the retreating army, try to organize a command
retreat to this place, or he can form a new defense. thomas knows nothing about this retreat. he ultimately would be very unhappy with negley for conducting this. the reason i discuss this with you is to show you one of the things about the conduct of this fight. the union army's very confused. some of the defenses touched on, the great defenses, the impressive defensive many of , them have all reaction to changed circumstance, dealing with crisis. arguably, the best defenses are the ones that never get test. confederate defenses -- are so strong that the other side simply decides not to attack, or if they do -- it's a disaster.
what i sent an unfinished preparation and timing, without a chance or the battle guilt, that leaves us with reactive moments, moments of crisis. leadership becomes paramount, and troops themselves often end up forming the most critical piece of our great defense. this line of troops that you see here that initially forms -- this line of troops that you see parts of command, detachments of a handful of men ranging to a regiment of maybe 100. there aren't too many single
formed units. there are a couple of regiments loaned out. james negley actually leaves on regiment. it's on the end of the line there. he loans that out and to help stabilize the line. this is not, at this point, a hierarchical military organization anymore. these are officers, divisional and brigade commanders. mostly what they are trying to together, real warm them and mount a stout defense. a little bit about the actual structure for horseshoe ridge.
opennsists of one long hilltop which is out here. book, thet in my failed to differentiate it from the rest of the ridge. in reality, horseshoe ridge is a complex of hills that are an offshoot of the larger missionary ridge complex that runs from deep down in a place called macklemore's code and most famously when you are in chattanooga, you look east of the city and you see the wall of missionary ridge. today there are some very nice homes in 1863. it was largely barren. in 10 miles south of the city, it is not nearly as
dramatic. it's also less dramatic on its easterly face than on its western face. that's where we are now. the union line and forms on the eastern. the open area, the side of not the hell. ande hilltops, fills 1, 2 three. big round top. andust get hills 1, 2 three. no one ever -- people have tried to name them over the years but the only name that ever stuck are the numbers. that, we have another narrow ridge line that runs this way.
i guess we could argue, 1 of the most important things about the way those three hills work together, and i have to think matt for giving you a crash course in engineering. if you notice, these hills will end up forming what could be described as natural rodin. one of the problem that confederates will come from as they turn north to face is complex and start running into these positions -- is that each time they advance, especially as they advance into the trust between those hills, they run into crossfire. it's exactly as if some engineer had laid out that position and fortified it to make it more defensible. in that way, it is very naturally defensible and becomes very important.
the other thing we should notice is that initially, we have some a --derate forces here and some union forces here and a tenuous union line one along these hills. general thomas has no point in support of a really no point support on either flank. i didn't show it on a map here because i didn't want to try and overwhelm you with maps, but there is a gap of some 800 yards running from that union left here to the kelly field line, which was the original and on this member showed to, the northern half of that original line. the northern half of that original line. with the 21stight ohio is, there's nothing at all.
and so thomas and briand coupled together this initial line -- i'm sorry, coupled together this initial line. general thomas comes up and has the position -- but he doesn't have nearly enough to defend the whole line. he is going to get better one of those happy accidents, but sometimes happens. james longstreet, the confederate commander as he terms north at one point asked them for reinforcements. george thomas was left on the field. his early commander is gone.
he gets 4000 men almost four in the form of gordon granger's reserve corps. when they get to thomas, it's one of the most dramatic scenes in his life. it is one of the moments where it is most described in literature. and when the moments where george thomas for a brief moment appears a little emotional. he is a man of a few words. he's usually portrayed as unperturbed will. fishery --union in infantry is approaching the horseshoe ridge position, they can be observed from afar. it is very dry and dusty. they are in the middle of a long
drought so even the smallest troop movement kicks up these huge plumes of dust. at one point, the union general on horseshoe ridge and cabin, or having a debate about what kind of dust they were seeing. one officer offers a opinion that the plume of dust that is approaching is a confederate calvary column. and a regular army soldier no, dust and says while up in spirals infantry columns was going straight in the air. they had a good idea that it was in fishery -- infantry. the question was whose infantry? it was approaching from this direction, then they are doomed.
they have no troops to defend that sector. they will be surrounded and will have to surrender. they can't tell the troops are because the dust coats the uniform so thickly. at one point, thomas actually hands his field glasses to an aide and says you look, i cannot look. out and theyourier find that it is general stedman and general granger. he waves his hat and everyone i'm sure took a huge out and thy find that it is general stedmane sigh of relief realizing these were federal troops. thomas pushed in on his right. they arrived literally in the neck of time. a confederate infantry division
under bushrod johnson is approaching up this flank there. there is our friends, the 21st ohio. they are about to be flanked by brigades of confederate industry -- infantry and here comes james p. stedman. i will tell you one quick story. "steedman."pelled in this initial collision on the western end of horseshoe ridge, stedman has a horse shot from under him and does a flying vault over the head of the horse. he is relatively unheard. -- unhurt. he's got cuts on his face so he is bloody on his uniform and face. an aid rushes up and says take my horse, are you ok? i'm fine.
do you need anything? one of the aides says, general, should i tell your family anything in case you are killed? stedman says we will not be killed here today. stedman is a believer that he had taken his bullet for the day and he was going to be safe for the rest of the battle. he performs magnificently on horseshoe ridge and that legend begun rightdo you need anything? here as almost as an afterthought he turns and says one thing -- yes, if i am killed, make sure they spell my name right. in case you did not know, an ohiois also politician and that name spelling is very important. the federals arrive in literally the nick of time. the fight for horseshoe ridge
stabilizes to a back-and-forth for the next couple of hours. ahead.kip this will give you an example of what the battlefield looks like at 4 p.m. here is that field line that i talked about. there is the gap that thomas was never able to fill. these are stedman's people approaching. this is where they prolonged the union line. the confederates also fed troops into the battlefield. prevail.y, they will the biggest problem the federals space by 4:00 in the afternoon is ammunition. corps whicherve brings 100,000 were with them can only replenish a small portion of the ammunition that
is being expended on horseshoe ridge. by the end of the battle or by the in of the action as it is , about close to dark 5:00, both sides are running desperately low on ammunition. that is what will ultimately motivate general thomas to decide upon a retreat from horseshoe ridge. federal officers, gordon granger and the army chief of staff garfield, will general, ifue that we can just hold the battlefield, we can stabilize crisis and we can still win the day. we can win tomorrow's fight. thomas says, we don't have the ammunition for that. ultimately, thomas will make the decision to begin retreating at dusk first from the kelly field position and then from the horseshoe ridge position.
i could tell you couple thousand ridges about horseshoe because it is a fascinating affair. i will just leave you with this last. i mentioned before is that it was an amalgamation of ad-hoc units and confusion. nothing epitomizes the fighter for horseshoe ridge quite like the end of it. nothing demonstrates that confusion more clearly than the end of the fight. there are three federal regiment that essentially get left behind in the middle of this retreat. one of them was the 21st ohio division and did not retreat when negley retreated around 1:00. another two of them were the ninth ohio and 22nd michigan.
they were temporarily attached to the reserve corps but they belong to other forces, other corps in the union army. so, they and the 21st ohio formed an ad hoc little combat brigade, demi brigade. they're on and around hill three. when thomas sent out the orders to start retreating, john brannan ordered his troops off the field. he didn't remember, or thought that the 21st ohio was getting orders by somebody else. the reserve corps thought the same thing about the 89th ohio and 22nd michigan. 300 federals -- 500 federals and three regiment were essentially captured because
they never got the order to retreat.retreat. you can see the other formations withdrawing. here we have the last three. it was a, it was a -- certainly for the men captured, many were later exchanged. we are right at the end of the cartel breakdown. a number of these troops still managed to be exchanged and come back into the field in 1864. they will want to know why. they will spend a good portion of the rest of the war and even into the 1880's trying to figure out why they were left behind. why those orders never got to them to conduct their retreat. horseshoe ridge unquestionably saved the army of the cumberland from a much greater disaster.
it is somewhat ironic to me that general thomas wood, the men who would later get a lot of blame for pulling out of line is also generals who is most instrumental in saving the union army shortly thereafter with the on snodgrass hill and horseshoe ridge. generals whowood gets a good dt thrown his way because -- many writers, many of general rosecrans people would later invent this idea that woods pu lled out of line despite knowing better but he did so out of personal animosity towards general rosecrans. one could argue that if you really had it in for general rosecrans, perhaps the best
thing to do would also not defend horseshoe ridge. the argument falls apart in the face of it. there are plenty of other testimonies that suggest it is a fabrication after the war. also, even though george thomas wasn't the man on the spot from perhaps the very beginning of the fight, even though it is wood and john milton brannon who do the initial stabilization of the action, once thomas is there, his presence is undeniable. again, he is lent this huge weight to the federal soldiers and given parts to the defenders on horseshoe ridge. the are many tales told of him
the the snodgrass house where he established a temporary field headquarters. one of my favorites -- he sent another aide at about 2:30 in the afternoon to conduct gordon granger's troops off to the union right. before the aide leaves he turns to the general, where should i you after i it is pretty clear that even
with the union retreat before they ever come to grips. in effect, longstreet does make some move in that direction but it is at the very end of the day . it gets no attention because there was no fighting. one final question? >> from youngstown, ohio. earlier in the battle, was general wood reprimanded for acting slowly and perhaps that influenced him when the order was given that he felt uneasy with that he better do it no what? >> that depends on who you ask. , mostans will say yes importantly some of his defenders, some of his staff account thates an says exactly that. that he rode up to general wood and there was some earlier
confusion. wood was supposedly steaming very angry because of that earlier embarrassment. he writes a letter to the new york times and says i was never criticized by him on the battlefield. wood points out at the time of that conversation, he was a staff officer but was with the main what? army headquarters in chattanooga and not on the battlefield so he was in no position to whether it was or not. i tend to believe that did not happen. historians enough and seen enough primary evidence that evidence to suggest that is one of those rightly overblown stories that comes out of the postwar era.
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