This is the third 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.”
As dawn crept over Pigeon Mountain on September 11, [General George H.] Thomas was relieved to see that two more of his brigades, Colonel Benjamin F. Scribner’s and Brigadier General John Starkweather’s, had arrived. [Confederate General] Hindman still delayed his advance, and the morning slipped away while Cleburne waited in vain for the sounds of Hindman’s guns–the signal for Cleburne to begin his own attack.
With visibility in the cove limited due to the trees and hills, [Maj. General James] Negley desperately wanted to know what was happening around him. Second Lieutenant Stephen P. Marsh of Company A, 11th Michigan [Infantry], volunteered to find out. [Sergeant James] King described the scene: “Lieutenant Marsh, at the risk of his life from the enemy’s sharpshooters, climbed a tall tree where he could gain a view of the surrounding country. General Negley and staff were under the tree and the lieutenant announced that he could see a heavy column of infantry moving around the left flank of Negley’s line.”
His fears now confirmed, Negley ordered the 2nd Division’s large supply train back to Bailey’s Crossroads. Scribner and Starkweather would withdraw as well. With these two brigades in motion, Beatty’s and Sirwell’s brigades began their retrograde movement westward, leaving Stanley’s brigade behind to buy time.
Stanley, a 53-year-old lawyer and native of Connecticut, had under his command his former regiment, the 18th Ohio, along with the 11th Michigan and another regiment that had fought at Stones River, the 19th Illinois. The brigade’s fourth regiment, the 69th Ohio, was detached to Colonel Daniel McCook’s brigade of the Reserve Corps. Together, the three regiments could barely muster 800 men.
King reported that Stanley’s brigade remained in line while the two other brigades secured strong positions in the rear. Pressed by Confederate skirmishers, Stanley’s brigade fell back across Chickamauga Creek and took up a position on a ridge in an open field adjoining the creek. One brigade member, Major Benjamin Bennet of the 11th Michigan, wrote in a letter to a Michigan newspaper, the Western Chronicle: “We soon found that we had stirred up a hornets nest. The rebels outnumbering [us] at least five to one.”
Stanley halted his command on a small north-south ridge and deployed his men. Sirwell’s and Beatty’s brigades formed on a ridge behind Stanley’s position. In his after-action report, Stanley explained: “I placed the 19th Illinois and 11th Michigan in line on the slope in front of the Fourth Indiana Battery and in rear of a fence, directing them to build breastworks of rails and stones to protect them from musketry… The 18th Ohio I placed in double column as a reserve… Battery M, 1st Ohio Artillery, was ordered to take position on the side of the hill in my rear.” Two companies of the 19th Illinois were sent forward. J. Henry Haynie, a member of that regiment, recalled, “Company I was posted to the right and front, behind a barn, while Company K was sent to the left and front, to take position behind a stone wall which commanded the road.”
The Confederates’ golden opportunity was rapidly slipping away from them. An exasperated Bragg sent Hindman a final directive: “The attack which was ordered at daybreak must be made at once or it will be too late.”
As the Southern forces pressed westward toward Chickamauga Creek and the Federal rearguard, they flushed out a company of the 24th Illinois from Starkweather’s brigade that had been left behind. The company took refuge behind the stone wall on the west side of the creek with their fellow Illinoisans of the 19th. Two members of the 24th, however, had fallen even farther behind. The Rebel yell pierced the air, coming from the woods on the creek’s east side, and the Federal troops on the ridge saw mounted Confederates in hot pursuit of the two men from the 24th Illinois. Alfred Hough described the result: “They came up cheering, thinking we were all on the next hill, but their cheering suddenly turned to wailing.” From behind the stone wall, the two combined companies delivered a devastating volley into the horsemen, unseating “all of the pursuing party who were in sight,” killing 13 and wounding several others. This put an abrupt end to any further advance on that flank.
Finally, Hindman sent his men forward. The Federals commenced firing as the Confederates crossed Chickamauga Creek. Captain Frederick Schultz’s Battery M, 1st Ohio Artillery, “opened on the enemy, firing over us with one section, and worked with good effect,” Stanley reported. On the brigade’s right flank, bayonets glistened among the tall stalks of a large cornfield. The Confederates concentrated on the flank, but Schultz’s guns raked the cornfield with canister fire, holding the Rebels at bay. Yet soon, Stanley noted, “The enemy placed a battery in position, which was well handled and did terrible execution, especially upon the 18th Ohio, which had been placed on the right flank to guard against the enemy, who appeared there in strong force.” King added, “A number of pieces of Confederate artillery were pushed forward by hand through the cornfield, followed by several lines of infantry closed en masse.”
Although the Union regiments had the advantage of the higher ground and breastworks, casualties mounted. Sergeant James Lovette of the 11th Michigan had both his legs taken off above the knees by cannon fire. Six others from the regiment would also be wounded before the engagement was over. Sergeant Elmer Bradley and newly promoted Corporal Oliver Brockway of Company K already had been captured while on picket duty that day (they would both later die at Andersonville prison).
Pressure increased from Hindman’s and Cleburne’s attacks. Confederate Brig. Gen. Patton Anderson remembered, “Never were troops in better spirit and more eager to meet the foe.”
Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of this article.