Friday, September 20, 2013

Chickamauga, Sept.20, 1863, (Part 3)

The ferocity and timeliness of Johnson's attack thoroughly destroyed the Union lines at Brotherton's and Dyer's fields by noon.

The pandemonium spread like a contagion through the blue ranks. Packed tightly behind Connell's line, Beatty's four regiments had been subject to enemy fire through at least three assaults without being able to fire back.  Now they were being run over and through by a routed battery (the 8th Indiana), which crushed men indiscriminately where they lay. These same men were facing the collapse of the Federal line to their front.  Not surprisingly, they also broke.  Indiana Pvt. Leander Munhall recalled the moment, "We were just literally tore to pieces and scattered in every direction."  [Powell and Friedrichs, page 172]

Much of the brigade fell back in disarray and left the field, retreating toward Rossville Gap.  This is the point where many scholars (Powell and Friedrichs among them) lose track of the Seventeenth Kentucky and the rest of Sam Beatty's brigade.

Retreating in order under the command of Col. Alexander Stout, the 17th Kentucky along with the 9th Kentucky under Col. Fredrick George H. Cram ..."with officers and men of the 19th Ohio and 79th Indiana in all from 330 to 360 men were rallied [on Snodgrass Hill] and with other troops held the position until withdrawn about dark." [Iron tablet on Snodgrass Hill]

Their participation in this epic defensive battle is clear, but certain facts are still in doubt.

The following excerpts are copied from one of my favorite links, the Seventeenth Kentucky Homepage on and they present a strong argument against those who claim that Sam Beatty's brigade was routed and disorganized.  Sam may not have joined them on Snodgrass Hill, but his officers and men served well and with distinction.

In Gen. Crittenden's report [page 611, Chap XXII of this battle he mentions three regiments, 44th Ind., 9th Ky., and 17th Ky., which rallied and formed on Snodgrass Hill on the right of the main line on the second day, and fighting all day, only left the field when ordered at 7:30 p. m. Gen. Thos. J. Wood mentions this fact in his report, and says the fact that these regiments preserved their formation and did not retire when other troops did, was most creditable. Gen. Beatty, in the report of his brigade, says these regiments made a stand and held the hill by the most terrific fighting, until dark, when they withdrew by order and joined the army at Rossville. 

(** Of the engagement on Snodgrass Hill, Col. Stout, in a letter, November 23, 1893, says: "I have always contended that the 17th Ky. was the first to start the line, and the others came up and formed." In another letter, dated November 26, 1893, he says: "I lay great stress upon my statement that we were the first to form the new line upon the right of Thomas, almost at right angles with him. He (Gen. Walker) says that we were the first to raise our colors on the new line." Gen. N. B. Walker, who was then colonel of the 31st Ohio Volunteer and an officer in the regular army, was a member that day, of Gen. Brannan's staff, in a letter, December 2, 1881, to Col. Stout, says: "You will remember that there was much confusion with the troops on the morning of the 20th of September, 1863. Your regiment was formed on the line with some of Gen. Brannan's, and some others, which did not belong to his division. For instance, the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and, I think, the general meant to include both your regiment, the 17th Ky., and 21st Ohio, in his report, but he ought to have mentioned both regiments in the most honorable manner. I now say that your regiment the 17th Ky., was the first organized body of troops on the new line on the hills on the morning of the 20th. I well remember that when your regiment came upon the first hill one of your captains was carrying your colors, and I directed him where to plant the colors, as a guide to the deployment I wanted you to make. I offered to take the flag in my hand to indicate the precise point I wanted it to occupy, but the captain would not allow me to take it out of his hand, but stepped forward with me and planted the staff, saying that the flag should not quit his living hand. Your regiment immediately deployed on the right, and there remained and fought as bravely as men ever did. through the entire battle of the day." As early as July 4, 1878, Gen. Walker wrote to Col. Stout, saying: "Yours were the first colors on the new line, and they waved in grand defiance of the enemy all the day long, and until the unfortunate order to fall back came."  []

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