This is the second installment of a reprint of an article of mine that was originally featured in the July 1998 issue of the magazine “America’s Civil War.”
Alfred Lacy Hough, an officer on [Major General James] Negley’s staff, reflected years later, “We supposed the enemy were in full retreat and our object was to intercept them, but we were mistaken, their intention was to drive us out and cut us off in detail.” General [John] Beatty watched from the top of Lookout Mountain and saw “far off to the east long lines of dust trending slowly to the south, and inferred from this that Bragg had abandoned Chattanooga and was either retiring before us or making preparations to check the center and right of our line.”
On September 10, [General] Thomas reluctantly ordered Negley to push his division across McLemore’s Cove and over Pigeon Mountain through Dug Gap. Negley revealed his own unease by urging Brigadier General Absalom Baird to hurry his division across Lookout Mountain to support him.
That morning dawned bright, promising another hot day. McLemore’s Cove spread out before the division in cedar thickets and rolling hills. Few people inhabited the narrow valley, which the west branch of Chickamauga Creek bisected from south to north. Negley described the valley: “Agricultural products and water are abundant… The country through which the road passes is peculiarly well suited for ambuscades; innumerable bridle-paths branch off, sometimes leading up the mountain.” Confident that the nearest Confederates were at Dug Gap, across the cove, Negley rode to the head of the column. Perhaps the beauty of the place distracted the former horticulturist, for Negley did not order any skirmishers thrown forward. Suddenly, Confederate pickets sent bullets whining close to the general, and he wheeled back toward the vanguard–the 78th Pennsylvania of Colonel William Sirwell’s brigade–shouting to the Pennsylvanians’ commander, “Into line, Colonel! Into line!”
The pickets belonged to the lead elements of Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division, which was holding Dug Gap. Bragg had recognized the opportunity to crush Negley while he was isolated in the cove. Three divisions under Major General Thomas Hindman were to sweep down upon Negley’s left flank from the northeast while Cleburne’s division attacked from the gap.
Bragg’s plan began to fall apart even before his troops could execute it. Orders to Cleburne’s corps commander, Lt. General Daniel H. Hill, did not arrive until 4:30 a.m. on the 10th, hours after they were written. Hill reported that Cleburne could be of no immediate help–not only was Cleburne’s division spread across Pigeon Mountain on picket duty, but it would also take hours to clear away the obstructions that Confederate cavalry had placed at Dug Gap. Bragg augmented Hindman’s force with two divisions from Maj. General Simon Buckner’s corps. But these two units were farther to the north, and Hindman, leery of the size of the Federal force, halted his advance to wait for the reinforcements.
Later on September 10, Sergeant [James] King of the 11th Michigan reported, “On reaching the vicinity of [Dug Gap] it was discovered that the obstructions had been removed and that a large force of the enemy had passed through during the night and were deploying in line of battle.” Alfred Hough added, “Until we reached a gap debouching from Pigeon Mountain we were not held in check. Here while attempting to force our way through at Dug Gap it was discovered that the enemy were pouring over Pigeon Mountain on both our flanks.”
Cleburne had arrived earlier than his commanders had expected. Brigadier General S.A.M. Wood’s brigade made up the vanguard of the division, followed by Brigadier General James Deshler’s Texas brigade. When a Confederate officer was taken prisoner by Negley’s forces, he warned that if the Federals advanced they would be whipped. According to Hough, “He was so defiant in his manner and boasted so loudly that we would have our hands full before we got through the ridge that [Negley] was led to suspect what really proved to be the truth in regard to the enemy.” Negley decided to retreat.
When Thomas arrived near Davis’ Crossroads, where Negley had set up a defensive line, he concurred with Negley’s decision to fall back from the gap. Rumors filtered in about Hindman’s approach from the northeast. Ever cautious, but not apt to overreact, Thomas sent orders to hurry along his remaining two divisions by way of Cooper’s Gap.
Night closed in. Originally, the 11th Michigan held the center of Negley’s divisional line, but as King explained: “On the morning of September 11, about three o’clock, the regiment changed position to the extreme right of the line, and upon throwing out skirmishers, the enemy was soon afterwards engaged. A spirited contest ensued. The enemy at daybreak attempted to turn Negley’s right and thereby cut off his line of retreat. The 11th again changed its position to the right and rear, where it threw up a strong barricade of logs and rails. Sections of a battery were placed upon each flank. Meanwhile, heavy skirmishing continued along the whole line.” Rumors swirled among the men of being outnumbered 5-to-1 by the Confederates.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this article.