Maps of Chickamauga
Sept. 18th, 1863
Sept. 19th, 1863
Sept. 20th, 1863
Then and Now
Order of Battle
The evening of September 19th and the early morning hours of the 20th found both armies attempting to rest, reorganize, and make plans for continue the battle come sunrise. For the Union Army of the Cumberland, the Fourteenth Corps consolidated its position around Kelly Field. Its line ran from the northeast end of the field, around the eastern perimeter in an arc, and then turned due south along the western edges of the fields of the Poe and Brotherton farms. The Twentieth and Twenty-first Corps, minus the two divisions from each corps attached Thomas and the Fourteenth Corps, were pulled from their exposed positions near Viniard Farm late at night and bivouacked in the hills west of the Dry Valley Road. The plan was to defend the roads leading to Rossville and McFarland Gap, the two main routes back to Chattanooga. Every corps and division commander was informed of the need to guard these roads, and the possibility that their units may be called upon to shift north to defend them, based on further developments.
The night was much more chaotic and disorganized for the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Late in the evening, General Bragg decided to completely reorganize the command structure of his army. He created two wings, one commanded by Lieutenant General Longstreet, and the other by Lieutenant General Polk. The composition of these wings was dictated by the position of each division at the close of the day’s battle. One result was that the two divisions of Polk’s Corps were each assigned to a different wing of the army. Another was that four corps commanders, Hill, Buckner, Hood, and Walker, suddenly found themselves another step removed from Bragg in the chain of command. This had immediate repercussions. Bragg’s plan of attack was for the entire army to attack at dawn. Starting with his right, or northernmost division, each division to the left would begin its attack when the division to the right stepped off. This was known as at attack en echelon. Unfortunately the new command structure broke down almost immediately. Couriers got lost in the night, and Hill, whose division commanded by Major General John C. Breckinridge was expected to begin the assault, never received the order to attack at dawn. When dawn arrived and no attack was launched, Bragg was furious. When Hill was finally informed of his role in beginning the attack, he delayed it until almost 9:30 AM, citing the need to feed his troops.
This delay had three immediate consequences. First, when the fighting did not renew at dawn the Federal troops under Thomas’ command at the Kelly, Poe, and Brotherton farms began to fortify their positions. They constructed hasty barricades from fallen timber, rocks, and whatever other material was available. When finished, these works gave them a measure of protection against small arms fire about two to three feet high.
Second, the delay allowed Longstreet the chance to adjust his lines. He wanted to have Hood’s Division on the front lines for the upcoming attack, with McLaw’s Division, scheduled to arrive soon, immediately behind it in support. He therefore ordered Stewart’s Division north about 500 yards to make room. Unfortunately, Generals Bushrod Johnson and Thomas Hindman, stationed to the left of Stewart, did not understand the purpose. They also shifted to the right, the result being that Hood’s Division remained in the second supporting line. When McLaw’s Division arrived, commanded by Brigadier General Kershaw, it would form a third line. This attacking column, three divisions deep, was not planned, but occurred by happy accident.
The final consequence of the postponed attack at dawn was caused by Longstreet’s shift. When Stewart moved north and settled into his new position, he unknowingly put himself in front of Cleburne’s Division. When Cleburne finally attacked, one of his brigades would end up behind Stewart, creating confusion and fatally disrupting Bragg’s plan of attack en echelon.