Friday, September 20, 2013

Chickamauga, Sept. 20, 1863 (Part 2)

When the Confederate attack came that Sunday morning the men of the Seventeenth Kentucky were again in the second line of defense, but only a few paces behind the front line.  The two lines were so close together that there was really little difference in the amount of fire received from the attacking gray lines.

At the moment of the attack...the Seventeenth had, in the immediate group, about a hundred men. [Blackburn, pages 127-128] 

Approximately 1,200 men were mustered in to the 17th and 25th Kentucky regiments 21 months prior at Calhoun, Kentucky and 425 had formed the combined unit after Shiloh.

By 10:15 AM, despite the reinforcements purloined from McCook and Crittenden, General George Thomas' left had indeed been turned by Breckinridge and he called for the last of his reserves (four regiments of Grose's brigade) to shore up his flank.  Grose's four regiments provided little resistence to the 13 regiments of Adams and Stovall (CS) and he was immediately routed, taking refuge in Kelly Field. [Powell and Friedrichs, pages 150-155]   Breckinridge's sweeping action, however, had the effect of stretching his lines thin and concentrating Thomas' men.  Thus the battle in the northern part of the field continued while Thomas bombarded Rosecrans with requests for more men, as has been his habit.

Contemporaneous with this battle,  A. P. Stewart  has ordered his men across Lafayette Road from Poe Field.  The fighting between the Union and Confederate lines in this part of the field is horrendous, with heavy fire from artillery and musketry being accurately aimed in both directions, neither army able to get the upper hand until...

About 10:30 a.m. Capt. Sanford Kellogg, Thomas' nephew and aide, instructed Brig. Gen. John Brannan in Poe Field to move the rest of the division to Kelly Field.....Brannan consulted with Fourth Division commander Maj. Gen. Joseph A. Reynolds. In the wake of A. P. Stewart's repulse, Reynolds believed he could hold on alone, but urged Kellogg to ride to Rosecrans and inform him that Brannan's move would leave Reynolds' right flank near Poe Field exposed.  After Kellogg left, Brannan and Reynolds changed their mind but failed to recall Kellogg or send another courier to clarify matters.  Kellogg wasted no time informing Rosecrans of the original decision, and Rosecrans reacted just as quickly by dictating an order (later referred to as "the fateful order of the day") instructing Brig. General Thomas J. Wood to "close up on Reynolds as fast as possible and support him."

Wood's front was quiet, but plenty of Rebels lurked in the timber to the east.  Wood knew that Brannan's men were in line netween his division and the position Reynolds occupied farther north, but he had no idea that Brannan had been ordered away.  Puzzled by the order and seeking clarification, Wood showed it to XX Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook, who happend to be present.  McCook insisted that it was peremptory, and that Wood must pull his brigades out of line, move north behind Brannan, find Reynolds, and report to him immediately. [Powell and Friedrichs, page 166]

Wood followed the order, leaving a second gaping whole in the Union line. Tragically, Sam Beatty's brigade had earlier found their hole to fill. It was between Brannan and Beatty.  Thus, when Brannan departed they were exposed on their left and when Wood abandoned his position they became exposed on their right. The later consequence proved to be catastrophic as Brig. Gen Bushrod Johnson (CS) chose that moment to attack with McNair in a frontal assault and Sugg sweeping the Union's right (Beatty's brigade) obliquely to the north.

...The Confederates rushed forward in great numbers, firing rapidly and with great accuracy, into the blue lines.  The front line immediately rushed back in confusion and Colonel Stout's men [the 17th Ky] found themselves in the front line.  Sam Cox and his men [A Co.] found suddenly that there was nothing between them and the enemy except a small growth of timber and brush.

Even a battery of artillery, which had moved to the support of the Seventeenth, rushed back through the ranks of the Kentuckians, leaving them without support of any kind.  A retreat was in order again as it would have been foolish to stand against such overwhelming odds as were rushing through the underbrush.  
[Blackburn, pages 127-128]

Note:  The events leading to the Confederate Breakthrough have been the subject of much study through the years, as well as the central point of multiple Military Courts of Inquiry.  Powell's succinct and factually based  version has been reprinted here.  For an entirely different viewpoint, try Van Horne's History of the Army of the Cumberland   (beginning at page 335) written at the direction of one Major-General George H. Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga".

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